I expected a nice dinner, fun company and good wine, which I got, but at the HMNMH Foundation fundraiser I also had some interesting one-on-one time with Ojai Vineyard’s assistant winemaker Fabien Castel.
But first we must start with some hand passed appetizers – marinated tuna and red potatoes – paired with a bright and cheery 2012 rosé that cooled off the guests as they entered and mingled in the private Salt Creek Grille patio.
I got to say hello to Marlee Lauffer, Wendy Whitehead, Jason and April Price, Jill Friedman, Tim and Jenny Ketchepaw, Charlie Borreson, Julia Vose and Jay Cappilla, Diana Vose, Bob and Margo Hudson, Robert Herring, Cindy Tompkins, Jennifer Chadwick, Chef Tamra Levine and Greg Amsler.
Then, settling us down to our tables, Wendy Whitehead, the president of the Guild, thanked the board, Salt Creek Grille and the guests before introducing Castel.
Winemaker Fabien Castel
Castel is French, and his only experience with wine was that he had drank it. Then he met Ojai Vineyards’ winemaker Adam Tolmach and began as his apprentice.
Castel talked about prohibition, how wine had to then be reintroduced, the consequence of that down period and resurgence is what you see today. “Everybody in America is into wine and into learning.” Castel said. They make 20 wines every year but have 150 different bottlings offered at the tasting room. (See my notes below on the 1991 Pinot we got to have!)
“In older wines what I want you to get is that wine is unlike any other product,” Castel said, “Age ability makes it an almost mythical drink. It can stay in cellars and not ever be wasted.”
“To me it’s about sitting down (with wine) and being together with friends and eating. Notice how it interacts with the food. And tonight is about fun, and how wine enhances the experience.”
“What’s not really talked about is that older wines, wine in general, are all different in taste and different in effect. And it was used as a medication, to cleanse wounds, back in the Middle Ages. Fermentation itself is magical in creating a product that helps our digestion and lifts our spirits.”
Castel produced his first vintage in 2001. “When making wine you are reminded of the time it takes to make the wine, even a change in equipment changes aesthetic of the wine.
Winemakers want another voice; a literary voice of America, and that’s what I’m trying to find. We are looking for the next brilliant writer. With wine writers…there isn’t this greatness that has transpired yet. We need a more emotional voice. Writing about wine is not that linear, as a sense of smell and taste is not scientific, so why describe wines in a predictable, practical, one-dimensional way?”
Tonight Castel said he was met by very interested people; a wide diversity of how people approach wine, and (pleasantly) very unpredictable.
“I hear the sound bytes of culture, but reality is more complex and doesn’t fit the sound bites. We have to take the time to taste all over the world and gain worldwide knowledge.”
Back to the Wine and the Dinner
Executive Chef Ignacio Munoz and his staff cooked all of the dishes and Catering Director Tamra Levine designed the pairing menu.
After the appetizers the guests enjoyed a ‘10 Chardonnay with a roasted beet salad; the Chardonnay, similar in taste to a Sauvignon Blanc but with more balance and less acidity, was a nice complement to the tangerine cream dressing that Chef Tamra had designed.
The ‘10 Pinot Noir was excellent with the salmon and steak course – and because I wanted to save the ‘08 Syrah for the decadent chocolate soufflé dessert.
By 7:30 p.m. the sun had set, the air had cooled and the conversation swelled. Most guests revisited the wines we had been served while chatting. Then we got a big surprise as a magnum of cellared Pinot Noir made its rounds.
A ‘91 Pinot, that we were warned had a distinct barnyard nose, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on. The manure aromas before and after tasting, blew off in a few minutes of swirling in my glass. It was totally amazing: dry, mature fruit, pepper, 2011 port notes…how was that possible? Those at my table, when I mentioned port could both smell and taste it. Why 2011? Well, only because of the ’11 Vintage port tasting I had attended a few weeks ago had jaded me. It had lingered on my palate as long as this Pinot Noir, from Ojai California, did.
As we neared the end of the evening Salt Creek Grille owner Greg Amsler came out and thanked his chefs and staff. And yes, there was applause.
From Chef Tamra Levine came this inspired menu
Rose with Passed Appetizer
Nicoise Canapés…Marinated Tuna/Haricot Verts/Baby Red Potatoes
Nicoise Olive Aioli
Chardonnay –First Course
Vari-Colored Roasted Beet Salad with Romaine/Spring Vegetables/
Tangerine Cream Dressing
Pinot Noir /Syrah Course
Wood-Grilled Fennel Crusted Salmon
Fireside Cocoa Rub Steak/ Syrah-Cherry Sauce/
Garlic-Rosemary Roasted Potatoes/Catalan Spinach
Petite Chocolate Soufflé/Ganache Drizzle
The Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Health Foundation
From the website: http://henrymayogiving.com/
Established in 1984, the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Health Foundation strives to increase community awareness of Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, and raise vital funds for expanding services and acquiring new technology to bolster the level of care already available at the Hospital. The Foundation has raised more than $50 million to give the residents of our community access to exceptional medical care.