All Ears: Santa Barbara Winemakers Lead Seminars at Disney Culinary Fete

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 3/15/16

After a five year hiatus, the Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival is back.  Held on the weekends through May 1, the culinary fete is expected to draw thousands of foodies to California Adventure in Anaheim, the Disneyland Resort’s sister park.  Dozens of seminars, demos and celebrity experiences highlighting California-inspired wine, beer and food are scheduled throughout the month.

Winemaker Tara Gomez
Santa Barbara wine country is getting some high-profile representation this year.  Actor-turned-vintner Kurt Russell, for one, will star in an intimate conversation about movies and wine on April 16th ($199).  Mr. Russell apprentices under winemaker Peter Work of Sta. Rita Hills' Ampelos Vineyard and pours his GoGi wines at Los Alamos' 1880 Union Hotel.

What's more, two Santa Barbara winemakers – Tara Gomez and Eric Mohseni – are among the experts leading a wide range of beverage seminars.  Each 45-minute seminar costs $15 and includes at least three tastings.  They’re held at Sonoma Terrace of the California Adventure park’s Golden Vine Winery.

“I’ve never attended before and so I’m very excited,” says Ms. Gomez, winemaker for Kita Wines and a member of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.  The label sources the majority of its grapes from the 19 varieties planted at the famous Camp 4 Vineyard, located near the intersection of Highway 154 and State Route 246, which the Chumash own.  Her seminars, held in the afternoons of April 8 and April 9, will focus on blending.

“It allows me to show my artistic side,” says Ms. Gomez of the winemaker’s ability to blend several grapes into one wine, rather than bottling single grape varieties.  “Blending gives me the ability to be free, in the sense that I can create something that’s my own and I’m allowed to look outside the box.”  With Kita (which means “our valley oak” in the tribe’s Samala language), Ms. Gomez crafts blends with native names like T’AYA (abalone shell), SPE’Y (flower) and KALAS (breathe) and uses lesser-known grapes like carignan and marsanne to enhance qualities like color and aroma.

“I’m trying to be different in my own way,” she adds.

Eric Mohseni, director of winemaking at Zaca Mesa Winery, will also mark his Festival debut this year.  His three seminars will focus on California’s foray into Rhone wines – syrah, grenache, mourvedre – and are slated to take place on April 22, 23 and 24.  Zaca Mesa, located along Foxen Canyon Road, is famous for being home to Santa Barbara County’s very first syrah vines, planted in 1978.

Eric Mohseni leading a tour at Zaca Mesa Winery
“It’s always challenging when you’re working with varietals that the masses are not familiar with,” says Mr. Mohseni, admitting that more recognizable grapes like cabernet sauvignon and merlot offer stiff competition in the marketplace.  “But there’s a growing interest in red wine these days, and that helps open up the floodgates to a lot of the Rhone varietals I work with.”

Mr. Mohseni believes consumer education and exposure, especially through focused seminars like these, are essential to the growth of Rhone wines in California.  “My job is to show off these varietals and to show how versatile they are,” he says, “because once people taste them, they really like them.” 

Aside from other seminars on wine, beer and spirits, the Festival will also turn Hollywood Land into an exposition kitchen of sorts, with presentations by celeb chef like Guy Fieri and Robert Irvine ($99) and complimentary cooking demos.  There will be lifestyle roundtable discussions on topics like horticulture and gardening, as well.  For more information and tickets, go to Disney's website.


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