Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Drink like a US President at this year's VHF bash

On Monday, I learned tickets for this year's Vintners Hall of Fame induction ceremony are selling at about 4 times the pace of last year's shindig.

Joel Peterson
It could be because this year's induction class includes three popular living legends -- Ravenswood winemaker Joel Peterson, UC Davis professor Vernon Singleton and Bob Trinchero, who invented White Zinfandel at Sutter Home.

Vernon Singleton
But it's just possible that people are licking their lips at the menu plans -- because you can drink and nosh like a US President, on President's Day no less.

The CIA -- the cooking school, not the guys who put microphones in lint -- has gone through more than 25 years of White House menus to find wines produced by members of the Vintners Hall of Fame. At the reception, you can sample those wines, or the current vintages if necessary, with the same dishes they were paired with at the White House.

And that's not even the main event!

August Sebastiani

Richard Graff
At 5:30, we* will induct this year's class of new Hall of Famers: the three stars above, along with Chalone founder Richard Graff and populist patriarch August Sebastiani.
* (I have the honor of being Chairman of the Vintners Hall of Fame Electoral College.)

Then it's time for a walk-around dinner in the CIA kitchens, staffed by some of the many celebrity chefs in northern California who have graduated from the institute. The White House theme continues here, as former White House chef Walter Scheib will be manning some pots and pans, along with current Congressman Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena). And there's no shortage of wines, from both the current induction class and previously honored Hall of Fame members.

I saw Thompson on Monday and told him he had chutzpah last year for making and serving risotto in front of a great lineup of professional chefs, but he might have to step up his game this year for the bigger crowd. He was unfazed, stating, "I think I'll make my second risotto recipe. I'm going to show off my range." I think that's a pun.

Bob Trinchero
If you haven't been to a VHF induction ceremony, you're missing a great chance to drink and chat with some of the legends of the California wine industry. Many of the living Hall of Famers show up to celebrate with the new induction class. Winemakers tell war stories; their friends share anecdotes. And everybody is right there in one room; it's not like the Baseball Hall of Fame, where the players are on stage and the fans are on the lawn. If you want to ask Trinchero how he decided to call a pink wine "white," now's your chance.

I also saw Andy Beckstoffer on Monday -- he was inducted last year -- and he told me that he was more moved by being chosen for the Vintners Hall of Fame than by any other honor he has received. This from a guy who has been a leader of grapegrowers and a pretty successful businessman. Beckstoffer said the VHF mattered to him because the award was presented by wine writers, who could not as a group be affected by business concerns, and that he believed he was honored for some of the stances he took that were not popular at the time, like fighting to change the way wineries pay farmers, or preventing development in Napa Valley.

I can't say why voters choose or don't choose one great candidate over another; every voter has his or her own motivation. But I do love the idea that the VHF Electoral College honors greatness and vision. That's appropriate for President's Day.

Tickets are still available; I don't know how close they are to a sellout. Tickets are $175, of which $100 is tax deductible.

Details: Vintners Hall of Fame 5th Annual Induction Ceremony
Monday, Feb. 21, 2011
Culinary Institute of America, Greystone, St. Helena
4 p.m. reception with Presidential pairings
5:30 p.m. induction ceremony (The only time all year I wear a necktie)
6:30 p.m. walk-around celebrity chef dinner

Tickets and more information are available here.


Anonymous said...

No Lunch this year?

W. Blake Gray said...

No, it's a shorter, more concentrated event.

jo6pac said...

Thanks, lunch sound like more fun to me.