Wednesday, August 10, 2016

IN PHOTOS: Oakland Wine Festival - Tater Tots, Bacon, Millennials and Vino

Was it like a prom day for wines? A day to luxuriate at the elegant Sequoyah Country Club? A perfect moment to take selfies with your friends, as you drink wine? Or a place to get some decent biscuits and a whole lotta bacon? 

The Oakland Wine Festival was all that and more. Ultimately it about wine - and about gathering in a new way.

Most of all it was a full day to take in a variety of wine experiences, starting with brunch at 9 am with a buffet breakfast of bacon, biscuits and tater tots.

Personally I was amazed at well the festival was run. It was my first experience of a festival that was run by a black community of wine lovers, and the differences were illuminating.

For one thing, the volunteers were the nicest and friendliest and most helpful of any wine event I have ever been to - showing off Oakland style hospitality at its finest.

The moneyed, older, white people of Oakland did not turn out for this event (was it aimed at them? I don't know) but the black community came in strength, along with white, Asian and other wine lovers. Within the back community there was a lot of diversity and range of wine lovers. Some were new to wine; some were pros who'd been to many wineries up north. That's part of what makes Oakland so special. While Napa has one black-owned winery, Brown Estate up in Chiles Valley, and at least one black somm, at Hall, in St. Helena, there are few opportunities to be among such a racially diverse crowd of wine lovers who bring their own unique style to the party.

This festival was the picture of the good life - with the country club pool setting, fancy pillars and golf course. And indoors was a very elegant venue for the day's events.

After the brunch, the festival progressed to the Judgement of Oakland, a blind wine tasting of 100 wines which everyone was supposed to vote on. (The results will be published this fall).

Personally I am not a fan of mass blind wine tastings, and most people did not take it that seriously, being more interested in socializing with their friends as they tasted. But it was an engaging way to get people involved.

Later on there were intimate luncheons with winemakers (I chose the one of only two with organic vines - Storybook Mountain Vineyards from Napa, a favorite!) and a grand tasting. That was followed by winemaker dinners. Again it was great to get a spot at Chappellet's table - another great winery with organic estate vines.

The Judgement of Oakland tasting
This menu was made for millenials, who gave the festival high points for serving Tater tots for brunch
Brunch was served by the pool

The elegant setting
Everyone received a free Oakland Wine Festival Reidel glass
A number of Napa wines contributed bottles for a silent auction
to support the festival. Pictured here are some of the
organically grown bottles.

Is it a selfie if someone else is taking the photo? Pictured in the middle
is Melody Fuller, festival organizer
Intimate winemaker luncheons let you spend time
with the winemakers; I grabbed a seat at the Storybook
Mountain Vineyards table
It was a pleasure to have an hour to talk with Jerry Seps
and the other diners; they had plenty of questions for him. 
Evan Goldstine gave a rock star performance after lunch on how to pair wine and food, distilling
what seems so complicated to simple and sound essentials - and he did it in 15 minutes flat.

In the evening, there were winemaker dinners, at various restaurants in downtown Oakland.
I joined the Chappellet dinner, hosted by winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus at Pican
(a San Francisco Chronicle Top 100 restaurant) where French born chef Jerome Fressinier
cooked up a surprising menu, pairing Chappellet wines with a variety of dishes,
including a unique take on fried oysters and meltingly delicious lamb.

A native of New Orleans, Pican restaurant owner Michael LeBlanc, left, stopped by to visit us and chat with Chappellet winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus (right). LeBlanc is a former Polaroid executive who then became an entrepreneur, starting the first black-owned beer company. He wanted Pican to be a place where fine fried chicken could be served with
sparkling wine. (Apologies for the poor photo quality - it was the end of a long day!)
By day's end, the festival, in its second year, seemed to have been a sweet success.
The organizer, Melody Fuller, has plenty of future events planned, too, including a
wine boot camp in the fall.

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