Communal feasts serve up great wine, stunning vistas
There’s something magical about family-style, al fresco dining in wine country. Maybe it’s the fortunate pairing of good food, good wine and good company. Or maybe the secret is simply being out in the cool, crisp, evening air.
Whatever the case, dining under the stars has become big business in Napa and Sonoma.
Several wineries and independent organizations now offer special opportunities for visitors to experience a farm-to-table meal outdoors. Some set up long tables in the middle of a vineyard. Others set up in the middle of a garden. Still others pitch their tables inside a winery, in some cases on
the spot where the grapes are crushed.
Here’s a rundown on a trio of al fresco meals worth adding to your calendar.
Outstanding in the Field
Without question, the most sought-after al fresco meals in the summer of 2019 were those from Outstanding in the Field. Since 1999, the company has brought together chefs and winemakers to collaborate on outdoor dinners all over the world.
The company’s open-air suppers are always held in mind-bendingly beautiful spots. In California wine country, that means most are served at long banquet tables set simply and elegantly in the middle of a vineyard.
Perhaps the company’s most famous dinner in Napa and Sonoma took place after the 2017 wildfires. Dubbed “The Grateful Table,” the event seated 500 people at a table that spanned the county line in the Carneros region and served as a thank you for first responders and a reprieve for families who had lost everything. Celebrity chef Tyler Florence headlined the meal, which was featured in the chef’s documentary, “Uncrushable.” The event raised nearly $150,000 for fire relief.
Since then, all Outstanding in the Field dinners in Napa and Sonoma counties have sold out.
One event this summer attracted 200 guests to a table set in the middle of a vineyard at the 1,100-acre Bohan Ranch in the mountains overlooking the Sonoma County coast. The vineyard’s remote location only added to the vibe — just about every seat at the table had unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean.
The setting provided the perfect backdrop for gourmet food from Gonzalo Guzman, chef at Nopalito in San Francisco, and wine from Jamie Kutch, winemaker at Kutch Wines in Sonoma.
The most delicious pairing of the night was tamales with organic chicken, spices, chilies and pickled onion served with a smooth and silky pinot noir made by Kutch, with grapes from Bohan Ranch. A close second: Appetizers of chicken taquitos, squash quesadillas and albacore tostadita, all of which were served with Kutch Pinot Noir Rosé.
Tickets to Outstanding in the Field dinners such as this one sell out fast. The best way to score them is to buy early. Tickets for the 2020 season go on sale March 19. Mark your calendars now.
Kendall-Jackson Farm-to-Table Dinner Series
Elsewhere in Sonoma County, dining outdoors takes other forms. Kendall-Jackson is one of the largest family-owned wine companies in the region, and every summer the outfit hosts a farm-to-table
dinner series in the four-acre garden outside
of its Santa Rosa estate. The setup for the monthly dinners is familiar for the genre: One long table
of family-style dining. But everything else is
Each event begins with an appetizer hour in the garden, where guests can sip Kendall-Jackson wines and drift from station to station sampling raw oysters, freshly sliced charcuterie and hors d’oeuvres. Next, visitors are ushered to seats.
Dinner is presented in courses paired with Kendall-Jackson estate wines. The first few plates spotlight fruits and vegetables pulled from the garden, while the main course features a protein raised by a local farmer.
Tucker Taylor and Justin Wangler, Kendall-Jackson’s culinary gardener and executive chef, respectively, take turns regaling diners with details about what they’re eating and the creative vision behind each dish. Both are celebrities around these parts, so they also spend time posing
for pictures with guests.
The August 2019 dinner was spectacular. One salad featured celtuce, cucumber, avocado and cucamelons; another was composed simply of heirloom tomatoes, peaches, basil and salt. The main course was aged duck breast, mustard greens and peach-and-green-tomato chow chow. Jim Reichart, the bearded and bespectacled Sonoma County icon who farmed the duck, was on hand to meet diners. kj.com
Jordan Winery Sunset Suppers
There are several ways to experience great wine-and-food pairings at Jordan Winery
in Healdsburg, California, including
summer picnics on the chateau lawn and lunches on the terrace. The most exquisite, the Sunset Supper, is offered once a year
at Vista Point, the highest spot on the
The night begins with appetizers and Champagne at the winery chateau. Guests are then shuttled in tricked-out Sprinter vans to the hilltop for the main event. The evening plays out in an open-air pavilion surrounded by vines, where executive chef Todd Knoll masterminds a multicourse dinner showcasing fresh ingredients from the 1.5-acre culinary garden and artisan farmers from around the region.
The 2019 dinner featured roasted Maine lobster and sweet-water scallops in a chilled, tropical soup, grilled Sonoma duck breast farro and pickled cherries, and a chocolate pot-du-crème. Each course — including dessert — was paired with multiple vintages of Jordan wines.
Every Sunset Supper plays out in time for guests to marvel as the sun dips below the mountains to the west, a show that turns the sky pink, then orange, then purple before the darkness descends. It’s a fitting end to a glorious night. jordanwinery.com