It’s Solstice Saturday afternoon in picturesque Santa Barbara and you are at a food and wine festival unlike any other. After tasting various wine and food pairings you follow an oak tree shaded path past a butterfly pavilion filled with over 1,000 butterflies. Wonderful flavors and aromas set against this whimsical backdrop inspires you to begin hobnobbing with Santa Barbara’s most enthusiastic wine lovers, bloggers, and foodies. “Make sure you stop by the Fiddlehead Cellars’ booth! They are pouring a vertical of Sta Rita HIlls pinot from 2013, 2014 and 2016!” Geneva Ives, a self-proclaimed “Food Groupie” tells you excitedly. So you set across a bridge over a babbling brook to find the booth, with a quick stop for a freshly shucked oyster from Get Shucked. Before long, you are sipping Fiddlehead’s 2016 Gewürztraminer in a prehistoric dinosaur filled forest surrounded by massive red wooded tree trunks. It’s just then you realize you haven’t had this much fun at the Natural History museum since you were a kid.
The perpetually sold out annual food and wine event supports the nature and science programs at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.This year’s 34th annual festival invited 1,100 guests to taste wines, food and spirits from more than 75 purveyors stationed along the shaded banks of Mission Creek amongst the enchanted backdrop of the Museum’s 17 acres. While wine festivals occur quite often in Santa Barbara, few rival the culinary show put on by the chefs who participate in the Museum’s food and wine fest. Some of the samplings included a jambalaya filled egg roll from Rondeno Culinary Designs, led by Chef Ryan Rondeno; Ahi “Pesce Crudo,” a fresh sashimi grade ahi tuna tartare seasoned with sesame oil and avocado mustard dressing on a freshly made sesame cracker by Chef Peter McNee, of Convivo; and for desert; Kimpton Hotel’s Nathan Lingle whipped up a summer classic: California olive oil cake, with bourbon caramel glaze, fresh chantilly cream and micro mint and Rieger’s Farm yellow summer peaches.
On the wine side, Kathy Joseph of Fiddlehead Cellars brought one of most interesting line-ups, giving guests an opportunity to taste through multiple vintages of her iconic ‘728’ Sta Rita Hills pinot noir and lesser known wine from Fiddlesticks Vineyard; Gewürztraminer, an aromatic Austrian white grape that grows best in cooler climates. Another favorite was Fidencio Flores (owner/winemaker) of Esfuerzo Wines whose story of three generations of grape growing, beginning with his immigrant grandfather, Salvador Zepada, led him to the path of becoming a winemaker. Flores currently farms his own label using grapes planted by his father Armondo Zepada. Santa Barbara wine enthusiasts are sure to recognize the familiar flavor of Esfuerzo Wines Wines’ Foxen Roads vineyard riesling, also sourced by Firestone, perfect for summer with its tropical fruit flavor and crisp, dry finish. The Museum featured local favorite wineries Jaffurs and Andrew Murray Winery pouring their classic viognier and local wine legend Greg Brewer, who hosted his very own Brewer-Clifton booth while making sure to include small up and coming wineries like Dusty Nabor’s eponymous label, showcasing a bolder style with a notable cabernet sauvignon from Los Olivos’s Villa Colibri Vineyard standing out amongst the sea of Sta Rita Hills pinot noir.
As one of the Museum’s largest fundraisers, guests can expect more of the same next year. Hopeful attendees should be sure to keep an eye out for early entry tickets which go on sale July 2023.