Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sixteen days on the road. Powdery peaks, Pinot Noir & perpetual motion.

Colorado and California. The two states I have spent the most time in other than my native Pennsylvania. Lived in California in 1971 to 1972 and then for 4 months in 1976 and 5 months in 1977. Moved again to the Bay Area in 1987 and left in 1994. Colorado was were I ski bummed for two successive winters in 1979 and 1980. Returned to finish my undergraduate degree at University of Colorado from 1982 to 1985. Every time I leave either state, I can't wait to return. Two diverse and incredibly beautiful places. Two very distinct but related mindsets. I can't seem to get enough of either place and every time I return, the list lengthens of places I still want to experience or revisit. Here's a cool tune: Rufus Wainwright's California
Mt. Audobon Colorado 1984, photo credit Jeffrey Z. Gilbert
Los Padres National Forest, California 1975, photo credit Kevin Bacon
This latest journey, which ended on Thursday March 12th, was propagated by my previous trip last spring. Visiting catering co-conspirator Damon Miele in Santa Barbara and hearing more about the event he runs, The World of Pinot Noir (WOPN), made me determined to work the next event, and if I had to volunteer to get there, then so be it. Last fall, Damon let me know that he wanted me to work and could pay me and take care of some expenses. Yes. A few months later, some of my closest friends from college decided to have a reunion the weekend before WOPN in Frisco Colorado with 4 days of skiing and catching up. A journey was born.
Damon, running the catering show on the USS NJ with Kathy & Sunny, 2001.
First stop Denver and a couple days with my daughter Katie. I was actually there for her last academic functions as an undergraduate, finals week of her last classes before her final trimester which is a working internship. Got to do one of my favorite dad things, cooking for Katie, I think I made 4 meals over 2 days. Great start to the trip. Took Denver's light rail system to Centennial to meet my very close friend Tim and ride with him to the mountains. We had been contemplating turning the ski trip into a golf trip in early February before the storms and cold began tracking through Colorado again. We checked in at Timmy's townhouse, and bee-lined for Copper Mountain, an old favorite ski area in Summit County. On the slopes by 1:30p, with a complimentary lift ticket (thanks dude from Vermont), I did my best to keep up with Tim, his altitude conditioned lungs, and his much closer to college weight. My technique is still there, but I was gasping for air and needed a hot tub desperately by the time we finished. The rest of the gang arrived that night and it was really an amazing reunion. Kicked myself for not making more of these trips in the past and resolved not to miss anymore. The rest of the guys reside in Seattle, New Mexico, Colorado, Vermont and NJ. All are good skiers, in shape, and within 10 lbs. of their college weight. Could I keep up for more than one run? I was able to hang for at least part of the first day with the main group and was quite proud of my ability and horrified at my lung capacity. We skied that Friday at Copper again and then headed to Vail on Saturday. By Sunday, my body said STOP. So I did. Hung out at the condo, hit the hot tub repeatedly, caught up on some work, and headed back to Denver with old pal Roger and back to Katie's the next morning.
At Vail. Jake, me, Sean, Tim, Eric & New Guy
A couple more days in Denver cooking for K, then it's off to California and the World of Pinot Noir at Barcara Resort in Goleta, CA, just north of Santa Barbara. Here's is a great California travel tip for you. Amtrak's Surfliner train is a great way to travel and see the coast. I decided to fly into LAX, take a shuttle bus to LA's Union Station, a classic old train station, where I had a very nice meal at Traxx Restaurant. I ordered the wedge salad, they served it 3 ways, with iceberg, butter lettuce and grilled radicchio wedges, each with different toppings and dressings: Traxx website. Then I boarded the Surfliner. Good meal not withstanding, next time, I would fly into Burbank airport, usually it's the same price flight as LAX but there is an Amtrak station there and you can skip the shuttle and grab the Surfliner there.
Union Station LA. All aboard the Surfliner.
It was about a three hour train trip, the last hour of which was all on the coast, from Ventura, to my final stop at Goleta. Arriving at Bacara around 5pm, I began getting multiple tours of the facility. Getting to know where all the events would be, how to get from one place to another with a large cart or pallet jack full of wine and where our storage, staging areas and office space where located would be most important for me to be an efficient team worker. Here is the complete event schedule at Bacara. There was a tech seminar for winemakers that happened before my arrival, and was held at a nearby campground where they stayed in luxe camping accommodations known as "glamping".

Industry dinner: for all participating wineries

Seminar Series: Latitudes & Longitudes with Jancis Robinson Seminar 9:00am – 2:15 p.m. Santa Ynez Room – 2nd Floor 

Pinot Noir by the Sea Focus Tasting 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. Early Access Ticket Entry to Focus Tasting 2:30pm Bacara Ballroom - Silent Auction at Focus Tasting Opens 2:30pm - 

Movie Screening in the Bacara Theatre: Vintage 2014 or American Wine Story 

Featured Burgundy Dinner with Domaine Marc Roy 7:00pm to 10:30pm Miro Restaurant Wine Cellar 

FIRE Dinner 7:00pm to 10:30pm Director’s Lounge on Ballroom level 

WATER Dinner 7:00pm to 10:30pm Miro Restaurant Dining Room 

EARTH Dinner 7:00pm to 10:30pm Bacara Rotunda 2nd Floor

Burgundy Seminar with Don Kinnan & Nick Poletto 9 a.m. – 2:15 p.m. Santa Ynez Room – 2nd Floor 

Foodie Frenzy Seminars 
He’s a Funghi - Mushroom Seminar 10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Salon Room # 4 
Enigmatic Uni - Sea Urchin Seminar 12 noon – 1:30 p.m. Salon Room # 4 

Saturday Pinot Noir by the Sea Grand Tasting 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. Early Access Ticket Entry to Grand Tasting 2:30pm Bacara Ballroom - Silent Auction at Grand Tasting Opens 2:30pm - 

Movie Screening in the Bacara Theatre: Vintage 2014 or American Wine Story 

Rock Stars of Pinot Noir Dinner 7 pm to 10:30pm Rotunda, Terrace – 2nd Floor 

WOPN Crystal Anniversary Dinner 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Miro Restaurant Dining Room 

Vintage Burgundy Dinner with Fred Dame & Court of Master Sommeliers 7 p.m. 10:30 p.m. Miro Restaurant Wine Cellar

Complete event schedule description, click here.

One of the pool complexes at Bacara. Nice.
They have 311 rooms, some of the Casitas go for $10,000 per night!
Courtyard of Bacara, Damon in 2014, pre-fatherhood, behind are the areas where some of the 
seminars and most of the wine was staged from.
Bacara Resort as it sits on the Pacific, just north of Santa Barbara
After touring the resort a few times, guided, and then on my own, trying to get lost and find my way again, it was time to check in at our hotel and have dinner. The Goodland Hotel in Goleta is a rare find. Recently remodeled and managed by the Kimpton Group, this is a fun, hip and funky former cheap motel. The rooms are very comfortable and feature some very unique touches like real old fashioned functioning turntables, along with half a dozen vinyl albums. "It was twenty years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play"...they knew I was coming! With two different airstream trailers out front that can be rented instead of a room, a very eclectic menu and delicious food, very chill pool area, this place could be my version of The Hotel California. Definitely coming back there soon.

The Goodland. You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave...
After dinner it was back to Bacara for a few hours of wine organization and distribution. I don't know the total, but I'm guessing that there were over 1000 cases of wine (most less than 12 to a case) for the entire event, with two initial staging areas that wine was stored. The one area on the lobby level of the hotel was the only one I really needed to be concerned with as the mass amounts of wine for the two grand tastings were in a separate area downstairs and would be managed and distributed by another team. So we broke apart pallets and got most of the Silent Auction wine down to the green room that was the home of the crack auction team of Annika Sousa and Craig Hamm, who are also having their first child soon! One of my favorite things about Damon is that he is an incredible manager of people, and the team that he assembled for WOPN was as good as it gets. Mika Tanimoto, Samantha Payette and Kristin Hight were his core team and were ultra professional, as well as easy going and very fun when it came time to punch out and enjoy the resort and the wine. Plus everyone was very experienced in the world of catering which makes me want to return to the Central Coast and do more events.
One of the large format embossed logo wines for the Silent Auction
Thursday dawned with a great breakfast in Goleta at a Mexican Restaurant whose name escapes me. Update: Mika just messaged me that the restaurant was Domingo's Cafe, we highly recommend it, thanks Mika! I had pictures, but I lost my phone in Vegas before downloading the pix. Arghh. Back to Bacara and a huge day of wine transport, then setting up and helping with the opening night function, the Industry Dinner for all the winemakers that wanted to attend. Great event, delicious food and a super group of people. WOPN 2015 was underway. Working with a hotel in executing an event was so much different than my normal off premise catering world in very many ways. An endless supply of people and great equipment were always at our disposal. It was very interesting to see how the responsibilities for the event were divided between the WOPN staff, the group of World class Sommeliers (Somms) and the Bacara team. The Somms seemed to be as much of the stars of the event as the winemakers.
Samantha & Brandon, all set and ready for the Industry Dinner.
Friday was the first official day of WOPN and we arrived quite early to be set and ready for the first seminar with Jancis Robinson, who is one of the very top wine writers and critics. After making sure all the wine related aspects were ready, we set up for registration and began to hone our system of getting people checked in and wrist banded as quickly as possible. We all had similar feelings about trying our best to make people wait the least amount of time possible. Next up was the Friday Focus Tasting, one of the two huge signature huge tasting events. Over a hundred Pinot Noir producers from all over the world, great snacks from the hotel and a local gourmet store called C'est Cheese (get it?), and a very groovy cast of attendees, this event was well worth the ticket price. In addition to the tasting, there were 2 wine movies playing in Bacara's theater. One movie called Somm featured many of the Somms working the event. It's a cult classic and shows the extreme difficulty in passing the test to be a Master Sommelier.
I was dying to sit by the pool with a nice Pinot. Patience.
Had a nice hour or so to enjoy the tasting then it was time to prep for the evenings dinner events that were themed on the Elements, Earth, Fire & Water. Thankfully Air was skipped, foam on food has seemed to run it's course. I worked registration for the Water event, but when it was time for us to eat it was all about the Fire. Frank Ostini, owner of the Hitching Post Restaurant that was prominent in the movie Sideways, is known for his amazing version of the Santa Maria Style BBQ, featuring meats grilled over a red oak fire.
Frank and his partner Gray Hartley also make delicious wines under the name Hitching Post
Frank Ostini on the left. The crank in front raises and lowers the grill.
A great rig for off premise grilling. Not a bad spot to work either!
Usually featuring tri tip steak as the main protein, the Fire Dinner was off the hook with the selection of grilled meats and vegetables. The meats that were served were filet, lamb & pork chops, chicken and shrimp, but to me the stars of the meal were the perfectly grilled California veggies. As good as the whole organic, farm to table movement is anywhere else, it all started in California where the astounding variety of the highest quality produce is enough to make you want to move there, let alone the weather and the scenery and all the other components of the lifestyle that make those of us who have lived there and left wonder what the hell we were thinking. Delicious and healthy, thanks Frank. Hoping I get to work with him sometime on a huge catered event.
Saturdays Grand Tasting
Saturday's event schedule followed the same flow as Friday. Seminars in the morning, Grand Tasting in the early afternoon, followed by theme dinners at night. If you go next year, make sure to buy your dinner tickets ahead of time, they all sell out and they are special and shouldn't be missed. Some of the best fun for me was doing registration and check in for the big events. Damon and team had a great system from Eventbrite that worked on everyone's (except mine) phones. I got to be the guy at the head of the line directing people to who was next and what check in person they should go to. For Saturday's tasting we checked in around 300 people in about 9 minutes, quite gratifying. Saturday night at the "Rock stars of Pinot Noir" Dinner, I tasted my favorite wines of the weekend. Kosta Browne, a very highly regarded winery introduced a new label called CIRQ Estates. Wow. It will be almost impossible to get on the East Coast, the winemaker was telling me how small the allocations were for some of the top California restaurants. I would be remiss in not mentioning the names of three other real pros on Damon's WOPN team that I really enjoyed working with as well: Dan Fredman, king and mouthpiece of the Somms and Brette Womack & Dana Matteson, queens of organizing and beautifying the grand tastings.
Future Rock Star of Pinot Noir? Gannon Miele, so cute!
Sunday consisted of rounding up all the leftover wines, packing up all the associated materials, and having a great farewell brunch with Damon's family and Team WOPN. A phenomenal 5 days. Hard work, good fun, yummy wines & food and great new friends. After finally getting my swim and hot tub in, it was back on the highway, to the train and South to Orange County to see sister Jenny, her husband Terry and my niece Sofia. Two fine days with them was not enough, but Jen and I had a great afternoon at Laguna Beach, I even swam in the ocean. Took the LA area light rail back to Union Station where I got my $15 Megabus ride to Vegas. About 36 hours in Vegas was 36 hours too many. Lost my phone. Computer broke down. Couldn't get in a hotel as I didn't have $100 on a credit card to secure my one night $23 hotel room. Couldn't get a check cashed and lugged my now 25 lbs. heavier baggage (wine) all over town. Vegas ain't fun with $20 in your pocket. But I did get to see the whole Catersource Tradeshow, meet with some of the folks I needed to see, and got out of town safely. A down ending to a great trip. Can't win 'em all. Until next time, thanks for reading the blog, hope you can join us for World of Pinot Noir 2016. I am getting rehired, right Damon?

This land is your land, Woody Guthrie. Theme song for the trip, couldn't get it out of my head. "I roamed and rambled and I follered my footsteps..."

Look for the next installment of "Reminiscences of Max & Me Catering" soon. Since I'm into this writing thing, I may start it now.

A late addition to the blog post, for posterity. My very good friend Mat who is a excellent winemaker in the Russian River Valley, and he specializes in Pinot Noir, had schedule conflicts and couldn't make it to WOPN this year. Yesterday he told me about one of his favorite wine critics who is called the HoseMaster of wine. The HoseMaster was invited to WOPN this year, and here is what he said about the production aspects of the event:

"World of Pinot Noir may be one of the best run events I've ever attended. From my perspective, that of an attendee, everything ran seamlessly, from the small seminars to the grand tastings to the dinners. I know how hard that is to do. Imagine wrestling with more than 100 wineries each day, co-ordinating the service of a bunch of sommeliers (I think the proper phrase is "a mixed case of sommeliers," or "a caravan of Coravins", getting the resort kitchen to perform on time, create the right menus, have everything set up and running on time, and make it seem like you're enjoying it. If I wore a hat, I would tip it to Damon Miele, and the rest of the people involved."

Couldn't be prouder of you Damon, that dude is a harsh critic, read some of his comments about the wine...


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