Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Storytime at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands with the Wines of Joseph Swan

This posted on Edible Monterey Bay's blog this morning (14 May 2013). Click to read it on Edible's blog.

Storytime at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands with 
the Wines of Joseph Swan
Story and Photos by Camilla M. Mann

The evening began overlooking the Pacific with flutes of Julien Fouet Crémant de Loire Rosé in our hands. We mingled, reveled in the view, and eagerly anticipated the adventure we were about to have.

Ushering us into the glass-enclosed Pacific’s Edge Wine Room at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands, Wine Director Paul Fried set the stage for the fifth Artisan Wines of California Winemaker’s Dinner. “Artisans are people who toil away in relative obscurity,” Fried began. He partners with winemakers to shine the spotlight on a specific wine-growing region and showcase seldom-available vintages, with the help of Executive Chef Matt Bolton. Our focus for the evening: Sonoma and the wines of Joseph Swan Vineyards.

Prohibition had almost decimated the wine industry in California, but Russian-born, French-trained André Tchelistcheff reinvigorated the area by replanting both the Napa and Sonoma Valleys and educating local winemakers in grape growing and wine-making. Somewhere along the way, a Hatfield and McCoy-style feud began between the neighboring valleys. “Napa really likes itself,” joked Rod Berglund, owner of Joseph Swan Vineyards. “Sonoma has a more artistic spirit, diverging from the more commercial operations of Napa.” Maybe he was only partially joking about Napa’s egocentrism. He is, after all, a life-long Sonoma County resident.

“My philosophy is that wine’s first duty is to express a sense of place and time,” says Berglund. “Its second job is to take its place on the dinner table.” With that declaration, Berglund launched a veritable parade of courses for An Evening with the Wines of Joseph Swan.

Bolton kicked off the dinner with what he called an Ocean Mosaic, colorful tiles of fresh or lightly cured seafood, including ahi, scallop, kampachi, wild salmon, and uni. Caviar and sea beans added bursts that tasted like the ocean. Tempering the saltiness of the plate, the 2010 Saralee’s Vineyard Roussane-Marsanne was both bright and rich with aromas of pear, minerals, and a slight nuttiness.

As we made our way through six offerings—three courses, an entrée, a charcuterie plate, and desserts—Berglund wove an intriguing tale about the history of winemaking in Sonoma and poured some surprising wines. I am not normally a fan of Chardonnays; I find them heavy and creamy. But the 2011 Ritchie Vineyard caught me off-guard. Not yet released, Berglund’s Chardonnay verges on spicy with seductive vanilla notes. It was simultaneously lush and refreshing, complementing Boulton’s paella topped with Monterey Bay red abalone. Boulton explained that he makes his paella with carnaroli rice because it retains its shape and has a firmer bite than other rice varieties.

With Boulton’s wild boar chop—plated with English peas and shoots, morels, and a thyme jus—we moved to red wine, tasting the 2010 Saralee Pinot Noir. But it was the 2010 Trenton Estate Vineyard, served with a Sonoma duck breast, that stole the show. Berglund detailed his thoughts about Pinot Noir: “The less you to do it, the better it is. It’s delicate and you don’t want to bruise the wine.” I’ve never heard anyone talk about bruising wine and, through all of my years of enjoying wine, I’ve never heard anyone describe a wine as ‘pretty.’ But Berglund was right. That wine was pretty, but modest. While many Pinot Noirs are big, bold, and voluptuous, this one was alluring in its restraint.

Pastry Chef Gina Hudson created gorgeous platters of mignardises as the final offering of the night. Mignardises derives from the Old French word for “precious” or “cute.” Hudson’s miniature sweets had flavors and textures that ranged from sweet to bitter and fluffy to dense.

“Wines are made in the vineyard, not the cellars,” Berglund said, “And every place has a story to tell.” He went on to talk about small pockets where Pinot Noirs can flourish—Anderson Valley, Carneros Valley, Russian River Valley, the Sonoma coast, and the Santa Lucia Highlands. And he mentioned one particular Pinot Noir producer that I am going to have to track down, especially since they are right here on the Monterey Bay: Rhys Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

While Berglund was referring to the terroir revealing its story through the wines, the room where we sat also had a story to tell. Fried narrated a tale about the beginning of the Masters—the Masters of Food & Wine. “It all began here, in this room. Before that, people ate and people drank wine. But no one was really pairing them in a formal way.” And for twenty-one years, Hyatt Carmel Highlands, formerly Highlands Inn, was home to the celebration of great food and wine. The final event was hosted in early 2007.

Though the Masters has moved on to the Park Hyatt Mendoza, in Argentina, we are lucky to have numerous local events with the same model of combining gastronomy and wine. On a large scale, Cooking for Solutions, Big Sur Food & Wine, and Pebble Beach Food & Wine all aim to join chefs, sommeliers, and wineries for unforgettable culinary experiences. While on the more intimate side, Paul Fried, Matt Bolton and Gina Hudson are creating some magic of their own with vintners from around the state at Hyatt Carmel Highlands.

There is one more Artisan Wines of California Winemaker’s Dinner this season. On June 20th, Pacific’s Edge Wine Room will host An Evening with Sheldon Wines. I previewed the menu and it includes razor clam chowder seasoned with coriander blossom, antelope with pearl barley and Rainier cherries, and a white chocolate-espresso crémeux with bacon-pecan streusel and candy cap ice cream. And, if the dinner I attended is any indication, you won’t want to miss it. Gustatory delights await!