Big Sur is paradise, plain and simple. A town on the edge of the cliffs of humanity, surrounded by tourist trap towns and heavy doses of fog. Big Sur exposes it’s spiritual might by leaving the mind to listen to the roar of the Pacific Ocean, the wind flowing through the old trees and the beautiful peaceful silence which pristine nature blesses us with when we find it. In the midst of the relentless beauty, exists the Esalen Institute, a retreat center for the mind, body, and soul. Esalen is a place where you can watch the moon rise while soaking your bones in their hot springs, get lost in a book while the sun sets into the sea, enjoy a feast from the local garden and take classes in a multitude of different sciences and interests. Esalen and Idle Cellars share ideas about farm to table dining, respecting and appreciating the earth and learning how to relax and be Idle from time to time. They have been serving our wine at their wine bar for the last few years so we’ve had the opportunity to personally drop off wine and meet many of the wonderful people who pass through and work there. It’s always a pleasure to drive down with a car full of wine and chat with the good folks who make Esalen run and take advantage of the settings. We were asked about 4 months ago to do a wine dinner with their head chef Phillip Burrus during the Big Sur Food and Wine Fest which happened last weekend. Needless to say we were very excited. Phillip is a killer cook, who we love working with so we created a menu based on farm to table cuisine with food from Esalen’s garden and well thought out and discussed wine pairings.
Here are a few shots of Big Sur California:
We did 2 five course Idle Cellars paired dinners, one on Friday night and one on Saturday night. The dinners took place at the Murphy House, a semi Victorian house on the edge of the cliff in the middle of the Esalen property. With a couple of huge beautiful windows exposing the Pacific ocean and the cypress trees hanging off the cliffs, four large round tables were set up. The room was decorated with beautiful Warm fall foliage, flowers from the Esalen garden and the lighting was warm and friendly .
As guests slowly trickled in after a soak in the hot springs on the cliffs, we introduced ourselves to everyone with a smile, a handshake, and a glass of 2012 Viognier. Light, crisp and mellow, it was the perfect ice breaker. Laughter and short conversations followed, with guests intermingling, brought together by food and wine. Before we knew it, the festivities had started. Guests took their seats, music was turned lower, and the energy was now focused on Chef Phillip who presented the first course.
Photo taken in the kitchen while the first course was being prepped.
We share many of the same ideas about life, sustainability and creativity with Phillip Burrus. Phillip created a menu based on what they grow in the Esalen garden and what’s available from local farms, fisherman and foragers. Nothing is canned or pre-packaged. Phillip is artistic with his cuisine using elements from his community. We have a similar ideology at Idle Cellars. We use organic sustainable grapes, use our barrels for many years and make our wine using recycled water. We’re trying to adhere to the most sustainable practices with our wine making. We all share the idea that if you are going to create, that doesn’t means you have to destroy to get what you want. By going over the menu with Phillip, we were all able to accent the flavors of the food with the delicate nuances of the wine.
The friendly, fun crew delivered the first dish; a smoked duck breast and local citrus salad with vanilla oil & garden herbs. This was paired with the 2012 Viognier. Since our Viognier is a mix of barrel and stainless steel tank fermentation, the stone fruit flavors and low acidity brought out the smoky joy of the duck and gave it a great balance to the citrus fruit.
The next course was a cool eclectic medley of flavors. Thin slices of toasted baguettes were laid on every tabel and a plate with 3 small dishes was passed around. There was a Potted Shrimp, which was a 19th century English dish until they over fished the English channel. A Fennel a la Greque dish and a carrot caponata. This was paired with our 2010 Chardonnay. The 3 year aging process with the Chardonnay brought out a fruity, mineral, delicate and rounded flavor. Each of the dishes would bring out new tastes, it was like playing Scrabble for the pallet.
As the chatter and laughter grew louder and better, the groove of the night started to mesh perfectly. The third course of the night was a crispy polenta cake with black pepper & parmigiano, long cooked greens and mushroom ragout. This joined forces with our 2010 Syrah. The Syrah contains a 20% Grenache that gave it a earthy, French style love fest in the mouth. From sip of wine, to bite of earthy mushroom ragout, a roller coaster of delicious proportions was brought out. This dish was a fantastic representation of the local food grown in Big Sur.
From there, we moved on to the Duck confit with Peruano beans, beet greens, , ollalieberries and beet kvass. We paired this dish with the 2011 Grenache. This pairing was like a subtle lucid daydream of a velvet Elvis painting, producing qualities of a smooth, sexy caress and bringing out the feeling of Fall. Epic! Phillip nailed it with this one. Trying to get all the sections of the food on the fork was the hardest part. Once succeeded, it would dance with the Grenache to a hushed crowd.
Out of nowhere, we hit the last course. The dessert. Apple Cider Donut with caramel apple compote and whipped cream. This joined forces with the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. We added some Cab Franc and Merlot to the Cabernet Sauvignon to create a balance from start to finish. Where neither the dessert or wine took over the other, the repetitive process of food, wine, food, wine, food, wine had been succeeded.
As the evening began to slow down, wine was enjoyed on the deck outside the house. As the moon was hovering over the ocean shining light through the trees giving a harmonious silhouette to all who watched. Everyone got lost in conversation, laughter, and more wine. The perfect Idle Moment.
To be able to work with an artist such as Chef Phillip Burrus, in a place like Esalen, and meet new friends from all over the states, was a humble pleasure that will not be forgotten. Wine dinners could easily be pumped out with nothing new to offer. When mixed with someone familiar with the local gardens and farms, that also believes in a sustainable culture, with people with the like minds and livers, a community for a new millennium is created and brought to life.
Thanks for coming to those who did and to those who didn’t we hope to see you at the next one.