Seventy-four-year-old Aubert de Villaine has aged as gracefully as his vineyard, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (or DRC), arguably the most celebrated and distinguished wine estate in all of France.
Over the last four decades, de Villaine has become the oracle of Burgundy. His advice and moral conscience has led the way for a new generation of wine producers and drinkers.
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti has been producing the most sought-after (and expensive) wines in the world since its first vintage in 1232, and it's widely accepted that the first sip of DRC is a wine drinker's rite of passage.
The de Villaine family has owned this hallowed ground since 1869, and the soon-to-retire Aubert has served as custodian since the 1970s.
This humble hero will find his way to our coast soon, and if you're fortunate to have the highest bid at the Big Sur Food & Wine live auction next weekend, you can hike the soon-to-be verdant hills of Big Sur with this wine deity before sitting down for an intimate dinner at nearby Deetjen's. (Note: Please let Aubert choose the wine).
"This is something that Aubert has never offered any other auction," said BSFW founder Toby Rowland-Jones. "And it stems from our friendship of over 20 years. It's a most remarkable chance to spend a day with arguably the most respected winemaker in the world."
Rowland-Jones will lead the 30-plus-item lunch auction (Saturday from 11:30a.m. to 3p.m.
The de Villaine hike and dinner prize is indicative of the rising cachet of this event, celebrating its fifth year, with a plethora of activities beginning Thursday as Hyatt Carmel Highlands kicks things off with its Gateway to Big Sur gala.
Hyatt Carmel Highlands and its famed restaurant Pacific's Edge have earned a reputation as the epicenter of culinary talent as past hosts of the prestigious and now-retired Masters of Food and Wine.
"It still means something to gather at the Highlands and cook great food," said Pacific's Edge executive chef Matt Bolton, the culinary host for the gala. "I make sure I appreciate this place every day."
Bolton is hoping the recent rains bring chanterelles up from their earthly hiding places, because he's planning to make wild mushroom cannelloni with Parmesan foam and wild greens.
Bolton is looking forward to sharing ideas and clinking glasses with fellow chefs he may see only a few times a year. The Highlands will transform the Pacific's Edge dining room and the adjacent Sunset Lounge into an enchanting oasis featuring 18 local and regional chefs (among them Cal Stamenov, Ben Spungin, Marinus, Carmel Valley; Michelle Rizzolo, Phil Wojtowicz, Big Sur Bakery; Matt Glazer, Big Sur Roadhouse; Jerry Regester, C Restaurant, Monterey; Brad Briske, La Balena, Carmel; Justin Cogley, Aubergine, Carmel; Ted Walter, Passionfish, Pacific Grove; Jacques Zagouri, Andre's Bouchée, Carmel; Cy Yontz, Rio Grill, Carmel; and Frank Ostini, The Hitching Post II, Buellton) and 42 vintners (among them, Bernardus, Chappellet, Cold Heaven, Justin, Kristi-Lynn, Morgan, Talbott and Pisoni).
"That event is so reminiscent of the old Masters," said Rowland-Jones. "The quality of the participants is phenomenal, and to have Hyatt host this again is so generous."
Friday brings the always-popular Wine and Swine event at The Henry Miller Memorial Library. The porcine celebration features brews from Firestone Walker, wines from makers like Louis-Roederer, Pride Mountain and Wind Gap, and the Pig Wizard himself. Jonathan Roberts earns that moniker by demonstrating how to break down a whole pig as celebrity chef Todd Fisher ("United States of Bacon") emcees the festivities.
After the eating is done, the after party takes place as the band Darktown Rounders reunites to help guests burn off the calories with their infectious energy and early-rock and blues sound.
That same night there are simultaneous events, including what's billed as a Gathering of Friends at Sierra Mar Restaurant, where chef John Cox welcomes three of the finest chefs from the north of us.
Chef Cox welcomes Rocky Maselli fromA16in Oakland, Suzette Gresham ofAcquarelloin San Francisco and Jeff Fitzgerald ofDio Dekain Los Gatos. Call 667-2800 for details.
Nearby Big Sur Bakery holds a winemaker dinner at 7p.m. featuring ROAR Wines and winegrower Gary Franscioni from the famed Santa Lucia Highlands. Info: 667-0520.
The Big Sur Roadhouse is holding a similar dinner at the same moment, with four California wine growers joining chef Matt Glazer and his Coastal Cajun flair. Info: 667-2370.
Saturday begins at 11:30a.m. with the live auction at Henry Miller Library, where 30 lots (including the rendezvous with de Villaine, as well as overnight stays at Ventana Inn, Post Ranch Inn and the St. Francis in San Francisco) are on the block, along with high-end wines and food prepared by the likes of Brian Overhauser of Jamieson Ranch Vineyards, Michael Rotondo of Parallel 37 at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco and Michael Jones of the Cachagua General Store.
Saturday also includes a Magical Mystery Tour of South Big Sur, Dinner with Friends at Henry Miller Library, a Rancho Supper at Big Sur Bakery and a Night of Somms Dinner at Big Sur Roadhouse, where local sommeliers educate guests and pour hard-to-find gems.
Sunday begins with a brunch at Big Sur Roadhouse (look for a crawfish boil and New Orleans-slanted cuisine). The ambitious among us will sign up for Hiking with Stemware, a term Rowland-Jones actually had copywrited. It involves 30 guests taking the steep climb up hills while sipping wine. The reward is a lunch prepared by Passionfish chef Ted Walter.
The exclamation point is the Lexus Grand Public Tasting held from noon to 3p.m. at the Post Ranch Inn property under a 10,000-square-foot tent. The tent will house 52 wineries and 22 chefs. Cost is $95. All schedule and ticket information is available on the event website at www.bigsurfoodandwine.org.
With more than $100,000 raised over the first four years in support of Big Sur nonprofits, Rowland-Jones is understandably proud of his festival, his staff and a legion of volunteers. Proceeds have helped fund all five local schools, the Big Sur Health Center, the Henry Miller Library and even the local rec softball league.
"This is just a great chance for our guests to come and enjoy the magnificent beauty of Big Sur, make new friends and see old friends," he said. "I'm proud to say it's an event not to be missed."
Mike Hale can be reached at email@example.com. GO!
FOOD & WINE FESTIVAL
·What: Fifth annual Big Sur Food & Wine Festival
·Where: Various venues from Carmel Highlands to Big Sur
·When: Thursday, Nov. 7 through Sunday, Nov. 10
·Tickets: Tickets for all events and shuttles are on sale at www.bigsurfoodandwine.org, or call 667-0800
FOOD & WINE FESTIVAL