Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta 2009
With its superb dining venues and unbeatable atmosphere, it’s no surprise that Santa Fe is an exceptional venue for a culinary event. The city’s 19th annual Wine and Chile Fiesta, held this month between the 23rd and 27th, will welcome 104 wine makers and 71 restaurants to host another series of outstanding tastings. Over the years, Wine and Chile has drawn thousands of wine makers, importers and master sommeliers from around the country. Several have been long-time supporters of the event, pouring some of their best vintages year after year. localflavor spoke with four of the Fiesta’s “regulars” to find out what makes this event special for them and what keeps them coming back.
“I have to confess we could have easily passed on the first year’s invitation,” says Nancy Ponzi, owner of Ponzi Vineyards and winner of this year’s Honorary Wine Achievement Award. “Wineries have to be practical,” she explains. “New Mexico was a minor market for Ponzi and frankly, the basic concept of pairing wine with chiles left us skeptical.” In retrospect, Nancy is glad she took the chance. “We love Santa Fe!” she enthuses. Not only is it her family’s favorite vacation destination, “the food is exciting, the hotels great, the history, landscape, art community, spas, and winter skiing are all excellent. And,” she adds, “we have hospitable relatives living here!”
Ponzi Vineyards was founded in 1970 in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The Ponzi family was one of the first to plant and bottle pinot noir there. Since then, Nancy and her husband Dick have been instrumental in developing the foundation of Oregon’s wine industry. They helped found the Oregon Wine Growers Association and the Oregon Wine Advisory Board (now the Oregon Wine Board), and continue to be active supporters of their state’s land use goals of sustainable agricultural and business practices. All 120 vineyard acres are LIVE Certified Sustainable, producing pinot noir, pinot gris, pinot blanc, chardonnay and white riesling, along with two Italian varietals, Arneis and Dolcetto.
During this year’s Fiesta, the Ponzis will be releasing their 2007 Ponzi Pinot Noir and Ponzi Chardonnay Reserves. Both, according to Nancy, express the “slow, full ripening” of Willamette Valley fruit. They will also conduct a Retrospective Wine Tasting where they will include a five vintage vertical of their Pinot Noir.
“This is the only wine festival I know that truly incorporates and promotes the local restaurants,” says Nancy. “The guests are enchanted with the diversity of venues and the sophisticated yet casual ambiance. Inviting the public to the Grande Finale at Santa Fe Opera,” she adds, “is a coup for the Fiesta and a rare treat for participants — a winner all around!”
Jason Haas of Tablas Creek Vineyard has been attending the Fiesta for five years, but Tablas Creek has been represented for eleven. “I love Santa Fe,” says Jason. “It’s such a beautiful place anyway, and in late September, with the aspens on the hillsides changing color and a chill in the air at night, it’s stunning.”
Jason agrees with Nancy that Wine and Chile’s recipe of food, venues, atmosphere and wine is a real winner. “I love the way the festival really combines wine and food,” he says, pointing out that “many wine festivals are just that: wine festivals, with food an afterthought. Wine and Chile gets great participation from the local restaurants so attendees enjoy a great food and wine experience.”
“Because of this,” Jason adds, “the event gets one of the best crowds of attendees of any festival in which we participate, drawing wine enthusiasts and foodies from the entire Southwest.” This, along with feeling well taken care of during their stay, keeps Tablas coming back. “Greg O’Byrne and his staff really make us feel welcome. They’ve built an event that has exceptional educational components (seminars), great walk-around tastings, and a wonderful collection of wine dinners.”
Jason’s father Robert is the co-founder of Tablas Creek with the Perrin brothers of Chateau de Beaucastel. The vineyards, located in Paso Robles California, are known for their Rhône varietals and blends in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape tradition. This year, Tablas’s national sales manager, Tommy Oldre, will represent Tablas, making his third visit. Tommy will be pouring new releases of their signature Esprit de Beaucastel and Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, along with their “always-popular-in-Santa Fe” 2008 Rosé. Tablas Creek will also join the Inn of the Anasazi for a Friday evening wine dinner.
Sandy Day, the Rocky Mountain Manager of Vineyard Brands National Import Company will be attending Wine and Chile for the 17th time this year. Sandy imports many excellent wines from around the world. “This is one of the best food and wine festivals in the country,” says Sandy, and along with Nancy and Jason, she appreciates the inclusion of food. “There is a very strong participation from the restaurant segment, making it a true culinary festival,” she says, pointing out that similar festivals often “become diminished over time” thanks to large sponsorships from appliance companies or car manufacturers with deep, advertising pockets. While the money is often helpful, the agendas of such sponsors detract from the pure wine, or food and wine focus.
Sandy considers Santa Fe to be one of the nation’s culinary capitols, and particularly appreciates the natural beauty of the area. “The cultural mix and stunning high desert beauty make for a lovely setting that sets the location apart. In September the natural light plays in a magical way that accentuates all of the area’s attributes.”
This year Sandy will be pouring a variety of international wines, including samples from France, Germany, Portugal, South Africa, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina. Expect to see labels such as Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc, Domaine Roger Perrin Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Les Sinards, Cono Sur “20 Barrels” Pinot Noir, Jean Marc Boillot Rully Meix Cadot, and Warre’s Warrior Port, to name a few.
Although Sandy will not conduct any seminars this year, she will be pouring Château de Beaucastel’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc and Rouge 2006, both from France’s Rhône Valley, at the Reserve Tasting on Friday. “The Chile Fiesta is extremely well organized,” she concludes, “and attended by an interesting mix of fun folks.”
Dick Reeves is the National Sales Manager for Heck Estates, representing Kenwood Vineyards, Korbel Brandy, Valley of the Moon, and Lake Sonoma Winery. Dick has attended Wine and Chile for fifteen out of the last eighteen years. What brought him here in the first place is the beauty of the city, and what brings him back is the event itself. “It’s a wonderful event,” says Dick. “The people who attend are warm, fun-loving, wine and food-interested folks. And the food is spectacular –- always!” he adds.
In fact, Dick and his team at Heck are so fond of Wine and Chile and the city that they use the event as an incentive for their sales team. “One of the great pleasures surrounding Wine and Chile for me is that I have had the opportunity to introduce many people to the event and the city,” he explains. “My company has run incentive programs for the past few years for distributor sales contest winners to come spend the weekend and attend the Reserve and Grand Tastings.” Since they started the program, Heck Estates has brought more than 200 sales representatives and their partners to Santa Fe. “They’ve all raved about both Wine and Chile and Santa Fe afterwards,” says Dick.
This year, Terry Armentor, Heck Estate’s Southwestern U.S. Manager will be representing Heck Estates at the Fiesta. He will be pouring a number of wines with a focus on “wines that pair well with chile-based meals.” This will include sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, merlot, and zinfandel from Kenwood; pinot blanc, unoaked chardonnay, syrah, and sangiovese from Valley of the Moon; and sauvignon blanc and Old Vine Zin from Lake Sonoma.
Dick echoes the sentiments of all four participants — and no doubt, many more who come back to Santa Fe for Wine and Chile year after year — when he says, “It’s nice to return to places, especially beautiful ones where you feel welcome.”