This weekend, fruits of the land mingle with fruits of the sea at the Monterey Wine Festival.
Now in its 36th year, the oldest multi-day wine festival in North America has expanded to include not only wine but clam chowder, oysters and an array of other foods, from cheeses to charcuterie, that should make for a number of pairings with wines of the Monterey region and beyond.
But as far as beverages go, it's even evolved beyond wine. This year's festival includes a variety of spirits and cocktails, beer, cider and champagne.
"We're trying to cover all categories of interest that pertain to food, wine and beverages," said Tina Curry, festival director. "It's still oriented toward individuals (as well as) people from the trade, but we've added even more attractions to make it more interesting."
The 36th annual Monterey Wine Festival begins Friday night at Custom House Plaza in Monterey, where it will continue on Saturday for an afternoon of revelry.
Friday's festivities include a sampling of Monterey County's finest wines, as well as varieties from vintners in the greater Central California region, from Paso Robles to Napa Valley. Guests will get the chance to pair these wines — as well as spirits, beers and champagnes — with oysters and other seafood delicacies, chocolates, cheeses, gourmet meats and more.
The celebration will continue on Saturday when wine and food vendors return, along with live music by acoustic guitarist Steve Lin.
The Bartender's Fedora Professional Cocktail Competition Throw Down will take place Saturday afternoon, when local bartenders will compete to create an original cocktail using one of the spirits from the festival's participating distillers. The winner will receive a bartender's fedora (sponsored by Jorcal Hat Co.), a selection of spirits and a cash prize.
Later in the afternoon, the third annual West Coast Chowder Competition will feature chowders by chefs from local restaurants, as well as from Seattle, San Francisco and Portland. Categories include clam, seafood and creative chowders. Guests can sample or buy a cup of chowder, choose their favorites and vote for the "People's Choice Award." Professional judges will award a big copper pot, in addition to a cash prize, to the chef whose chowder they deem "Best of Show."
"It's great we can incorporate the local restaurants competing together, as well as restaurants from as far away as Seattle," said Willi Franz, executive chef at the Marriott in Monterey. "Getting everyone together from all over builds up the Monterey culinary end to match the great wines that are also prepared from the fields of the local area."
Franz won last year's chowder competition with the house clam chowder that he creates for the Marriott every day, made from local and sustainable products with fresh herb flavorings and no additives or potato starch fillers.
He described it as "a real good clam chowder," adding, "This year we'll be entering the same chowder — garnished with clam strips and crumbles of pancetta."
Curry said this sort of friendly competition is something that extends the limits of the Monterey wine and food market. "The public gets to reap the rewards of living in a fantastic food environment, and one that is driven by tourism. Tourists are the most demanding people; they push restaurants to perform at extraordinary levels. It's hard to find a more competitive market than the Wharf or Cannery Row. It's always bustling."
"This festival has been going on for a long time, but it's more dynamic now with food, wine and education," said Michael Michaud, owner of Michaud Vineyard. "It's a great opportunity for people to learn more about wines of Monterey, as well as other regions."
At this year's festival, Michaud Vineyard will showcase their chardonnay, marsanne, pinot noir and syrah — all estate-grown varietals in the Pinnacles region.
Michaud said the added emphasis on food brings a vital aspect to the festival that reflects the Monterey region.
"This culture of wine and food is important in Monterey," he said. "Monterey has historically been the salad bowl of the U.S., and today a lot of people don't remember where their food comes from. The wine business is also farming — farming grapes. Bringing wine awareness also brings back awareness of where our food comes from."
He added, "It brings all of us together in Monterey."
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·What: 36th annual Monterey Wine Festival
·Where: Custom House Plaza, Monterey
·When: 5-9 p.m. Friday, June 8; 11a.m.-4p.m. Saturday, June 9
·Tickets: a variety of packages offered, ranging from $50-$260, available online at www.montereywine.com