Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Tesuque-based cookbook author Cheryl Alters Jamison remembers the very first Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta in 1991. “It was in the parking lot behind what was then Sanbusco Center. I loved it from the beginning. I remember they rented stoves to have in the parking lot,” she reminisced.
Like many of 2020’s festivals and markets, this year’s SFWC Fiesta ran the risk of being cancelled, another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. How could the bustling restaurant dinners, wine seminars, food demonstrations and foodie schmoozing possibly comply with social distancing and health mandates?
Enter the era of the Zoom wine tasting. After attending an online tasting organized by Spottswoode Winery in Napa Valley, Wine and Chile Fiesta executive director Greg O’Byrne saw that, with a few creative tweaks, he could shift the festival to a largely virtual format. With a combination of Zoom events, and outdoor patio wine luncheons and dinners, the Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta will celebrate its 30th year from Sept. 23-27.
Participants can register for a host of events featuring more than two dozen winemakers, from a virtual live auction to virtual cooking demonstrations and wine tastings. For the tastings, attendees will pick up a three-bottle kit in advance from the Inn at Loretto starting Friday, Sept. 18 (or arrange with organizers for shipping). Since that amount of wine exceeds the smaller pours of an in-person tasting, festival organizers are encouraging participants to make an evening of it, inviting a few friends over for a socially distant dinner to go along with their wine tasting and Q&A.
O’Byrne says this year’s virtual format for tastings has some unexpected upsides.
“The lineup of wineries and wines we have participating in the virtual wine tastings is better than any live set of seminars we’ve had in the past,” he explained.
Many esteemed panelists who would otherwise not have been able to attend a weeklong festival were able to commit to online presentations. He’s particularly excited about The Wines of Friuli with Bobby Stuckey, a Colorado-based sommelier and restaurant owner. “After 20 years of asking, this is the first time he can come,” O’Byrne said.
Attendees of Stuckey’s seminar can do their homework by ordering a newly published book on wines and food from the Friuli region of Italy, co-written with Lachlan Patterson, chef and co-owner of the Boulder restaurant Frasca, and lay in a supply of prosciutto and Italian cheeses to taste alongside the wines.
Other notable participants include Heitz Cellar CEO and wine expert Carlton McCoy, one of a very few Black Master Sommeliers, who will present an hourlong tasting of a suite of Heitz’s celebrated Napa Valley wines.
“It’s a real score for us to have an hour of his time,” O’Byrne said.
The number of chef demonstrations has been scaled down, but they, too, will go live on Zoom via the Santa Fe School of Cooking. Chefs Sllin Cruz of Geronimo and Martin Rios of Restaurant Martin will prepare several of their favorite dishes, while Jamison will be demonstrating a technique for smoking “bragging rights brisket,” a recipe from her latest cookbook, Texas Q.
Jamison says there are some silver linings to viewing a cooking demonstration from your couch.
“Doing this with the cooking school has been a real pleasure. They’re really set up with a professional operation and setting in terms of having the proper lighting and multiple cameras. It allows the viewers to be really immersed in it. You’re getting to see probably more than you would if you were sitting there,” she said.
The festival also offers several opportunities to support the struggling restaurant industry, with winery-partnered luncheons and dinners offered every day of the festival at such venues as Izanami, La Fonda, Inn of the Anasazi, and 315 Restaurant and Wine Bar.
“It’s been such a difficult year for restaurants,” O’Byrne said. “If you live in Albuquerque, you can come up for a couple of nights, get a hotel room, go to some lunches and dinners, and do tastings in your room.”
Jamison says that even though this year’s Wine and Chile Fiesta is worlds removed from its humble beginnings in that Sanbusco parking lot – or the elegance of its usual Grand Tasting at the Santa Fe Opera – the homegrown event still retains its signature Santa Fe flair.
“It has a character to it,” she said. “To me, it showcases the true spirit of Santa Fe, whereas a lot of food events today can be interchangeable.”
For information on this year’s Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta, go to santafewineandchile.org.