By Mira Advani Honeycutt
Once again Sunset Magazine’s Savor the Central Coast demonstrated that the event has become a mecca for foodies. For the sixth year, true believers descended on San Luis Obispo County for a heady culinary immersion from Sept. 24 to 27.
For its opening night celebration, Savor took a detour this year and opted for Vina Robles Amphitheater, a more informal venue than Hearst Castle in previous years.
The four-day multi-sensory event kicked off with Strings at Sunset, a mix of wine and food coupled with a music extravaganza featuring performance artist String Theory and DJ Violinist Spags on stage and Brazilian guitarist Jon Stephen on the VIP terrace. Guests sipped wines from the collection of this year’s Sunset Magazine’s International Wine Competition winners, among them Clavo Cellars, Guglielmo, Summerwood, Oakville Ranch, Roxo Port Cellars, La Rochelle and Grapeheart.
Food matched the superb wines: modern Mexican cuisine by Los Angeles chef/restaurateur Mary Sue Milliken’s Border Grill food truck, Joanne Weir’s signature paella, Brigit Binns’ dungeness crab mac & cheese, James Siao’s duck confit and smoked trout deviled eggs and sweet heat brownies at Torani dessert bar.
From Pismo Beach to San Simeon, events were spread out all over Central Coast over four days. There were visits to Ocean Rose Abalone Farm in Cayucos, the historic Hearst Castle, and hay wagon-rides pulled by Clydesdale at Cambria’s Covell Ranch as well as Catch of the Day experience in Morro Bay and learning the art of filleting a fish.
Other culinary events ranged from a cowboy-themed lunch at Harris Stage Lines and cocktail mixology at La Cosecha in Paso Robles to intimate dinners at Adelaida and Justin wineries, the Dolphin Bay Resort, the Refugio retreat and Atlas Peak Wine dinner at Paso Robles Inn & Steakhouse.
Among the popular events was the lively Cocktail Shoot-out at the Paso Robles Inn. The wild west showdown featured Alex Villicana’s Re:Find spirits — vodka and gin — put to the test in a competition of six Central Coast mixologists. Dominique Gonzalez of Granada Hotel in San Luis Obispo won the Judge’s Award for her concoction of gin with Grenache honey syrup and Cocchi Verjus while the People’s choice went to The Highway Man, crafted by Matthew Hansen of Fish Gaucho for his gin with limoncello, toasted almond orgeat, charred cedar backstrap and lavender honey syrup.
Although the multitude of events kept the visitors busy up and down the coast, it was the two-day Main Event held on Saturday and Sunday that was the focus of Savor. Over 100 wineries, restaurants and food purveyors gathered on the sprawling Santa Margarita Ranch to showcase the best of San Luis Obispo County’s bounty.
In 90-plus degree temperature, visitors got some respite sipping white wines and beer under umbrellas in the lounge areas or resting on bales of hay-seating in the CA Grown pavilion. There Sunset Senior Editor Johanna Silver offered tips on gardening in dry times while chef Louis Maldonado revealed techniques on chopping and dicing.
The Best of the West wineries poured everything from bold Rhöne and zinfandel wines and elegant pinot noirs to cool chardonnay, riesling and sparkling wines. There was a lot of grilling going on — octopus salad from Fig restaurant and juicy burgers from Eureka and Thomas Hill Organics. The chilled vichysoisse at the Lido at Dolphin Bay booth added a refreshing interruption between the red-wine tastings.
The Chef Central was located in the cavernous cool barn where noted chefs Joanne Weir, Yousef Ghalaini, Frank Pellegrino, Binns and Milliken demonstrated signature recipes.
“The food here is amazing and it gets better all the time. We live in paradise,” commented Milliken on the Central Coast bounty as she finished preparing her two-minute kale salad with Caesar dressing. As for the wines, she favored the Tangent Albariño and noted that Central Coast wines are food friendly. “I like to drink a lot of wine but if it’s too high in alcohol, I get drunk,” she laughed.
Over at the Winemaker Central pavilion, Sunset wine editor Sara Schneider held court discussing various styles of Central Coast syrahs and chardonnays from the cool Edna Valley appellation. Schneider also took attendees behind the scenes of Sunset International Wine Competition with a panel of three judges — Gary Eberle, founder of Eberle Winery; Christian Roguenant, winemaker at Niven Family Winery; and Adam Lazarre of Lazarre Wine — who revealed their judging tips.
Eberle commented that it’s more challenging to judge some 80 wines now than it was 30 years ago. “The quality of wine has taken a jump, they are spectacular wines now,” he said. “Every wine would qualify for at least a bronze.”
Chef Ghalaini of Santa Monica’s Fig Restaurant concurred about the quality and availability of food. “You can go from inland to ocean in one hour. In terms of food there are tomatoes, figs, Morro Bay oysters and abalone.”
“This is a special area because of abundance of things,” Ghalaini said – and that sums up what Central Coast bounty is all about.