Harvest Party: Vintners’ Fall Fete Marks Change

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Bob Dickey, wineguydotcom@yahoo.com
(story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 10/9/14)


Celebration of Harvest 2013, Old Mission Santa Ines
Santa Barbara Vintners – the dues-based association that represents the vast majority of wineries in Santa Barbara County – is undergoing a metamorphosis.  Its public outreach is getting a facelift.  And this weekend’s Celebration of Harvest puts it in full view.

For years, this fete has attracted thousands of aficionados to mingle with winemakers in the throes of harvest.  The main event?  Saturday’s Grand Tasting, which brings together more than 100 wineries, along with top chefs and several live bands.  This year, it takes place from 1-4pm on the pastoral grounds of Old Mission Santa Ines in Solvang.  Tickets are $75.  Parking is free.

Delights for the taste buds aside, special focus is being placed this year on the Tasting’s Silent Auction because of the unprecedented quality of wine items up for grabs, most of them coming from local vintners’ own cellars.  Included are more than 40 large format bottles, like magnums of vineyard-designate Foxen pinot noir and double magnums of Babcock pinot noir, as well as a 12-bottle collection of wines all made by different labels – like Hitching Post and Dragonette – and all from Fiddlestix Vineyard fruit.  Produced by the philanthropic Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation, proceeds are earmarked for Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.

Chase Carhartt pours for a thirsty fan (2013)
For many years, this autumn affair has also included a Vintners Visa ($50, or $40 if bought in conjunction with the Grand Tasting).  The special pass gives you access to a dozen wineries throughout the festival weekend – Friday through Monday – and a slew of exclusive tastings, pairing and discounts. Wineries from Buellton to Los Olivos to downtown Santa Barbara are participating.

But wait, there’s more.

This year’s Celebration of Harvest is part of the vintners’ brand new collaboration with Relevé Unlimited, a local destination management company.  This year launched a five-year contract that puts Relevé in charge of producing specialty wine events aimed at elevating consumer experience, expanding offerings and adding wow factor.  We got our first glimpse at this partnership last spring, at the annual Vintners Festival in Lompoc, where the longstanding annual event exploded into a slew of activities, including live concerts, intimate seminars and rare tastings.  It was an ambitious experiment, to be sure; in fact, a handful of offerings were canceled last minute, due to slow ticket sales.  But there’s no denying that it kicked that festival up a few notches.
Louisa and Bob Lindquist of the Qupe and Verdad labels

For this weekend’s soiree, the new experiences are more streamlined, better synchronized, and at better price points.
There’s an opening night feast Friday night – the first-ever La Paulee de Santa Barbara Dinner ($90).  Consumers will mingle with growers and winemakers as each guest shares one special bottle from their private cellar, and as Chef Pink of Bacon & Brine in Solvang doles out food.  The dinner takes place at the Veterans Hall, right across from Old Mission Santa Ines, and mingling from table to table is encouraged.

A Saturday morning seminar ($30) will feature top notch Santa Barbara wine talent – the likes of Richard Sanford and Andrew Murray – telling personal stories.  And Saturday night, after the Grand Tasting, the popular band Toad the Wet Sprocket will descend on the Solvang Festival Theater; the concert ($65, or $150 with VIP great-and-mingle reception) will feature a tasting of Santa Barbara County wines.

It’s an impressive roster of wine-fueled action – priced right and accessible – and proof that the made-over Celebration of Harvest is ready for its close-up.

Get info and tickets at www.celebrationofharvest.com.

My pal and KEYT Senior Rerpoter John Palminteri covering the 2013 Celebration of Harvest


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