Last week in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, the 6th Annual Relais & Châteaux GourmetFest captivated the senses of both culinary enthusiasts and hospitality leaders at the historic landmark hotel, La Playa.
As a “global fellowship” of independently-owned and operated gourmet restaurants and luxury hotels around the world, Relais & Châteaux invites you to discover the ‘best of the best’ in hospitality.
Relais & Châteaux GourmetFest
Celebrating exceptional food and wine, the Relais & Châteaux GourmetFest is a highly-anticipated annual gathering of Michelin star-rated chefs, award-winning wineries, breweries, and spirits brands, and outstanding gourmet food brands. The 4-day gala festival is an extravagant display of what it truly means to be a foodie, a wine aficionado, or a connoisseur of spirits.
David Fink, Founder / CEO of Mirabel Hotel & Restaurant Group (pictured above) exclaims, “We were so thrilled at the wonderful guest, Chef, winemaker and partner feedback for the 2019 Relais & Châteaux GourmetFest.”
He continues, “I was especially pleased to welcome Los Gatos Luxury Cars and Rolls Royce as our car partner this year, and to have so many international Chefs and Wineries in attendance including Toni Mörwald, our first ever Austrian Chef, Eduardo Marin, our first Mexican Chef, Clovis Taittinger from Champagne Taittinger and Eric Kohler from Chateau Lafite. I am extremely proud of my team led by Olivia Carnahan and Chef Justin Cogley.”
On Thursday evening, we were graciously greeted at the “Welcome Party” with a glass of bubbly. We were then treated to oysters from Morro Bay Oyster Company and caviar bumps from Black River Caviar with guests like local restaurateurs Chef Richard Pepe and Sandra Pepe (pictured above right, and below, far right).
We also dined on a variety of picture-worthy bites from chefs around the globe. Dishes included Red Grouper with Habichuela Guisada Ragu and Lime (by Chef Adriano Venturini of Eden Roc Cap Cana in The Dominican Republic), a Venison Tartare with Cognac Mayonnaise and Horseradish (by Chef Mark Lundgaard of Kong Hans Kælder in Copenhagen), and more delectable truffles that you can imagine.
Not to mention – the best wineries in the world, like Chateau Lafite and Almaviva Winery were on hand pouring their renowned wines.
But the festival’s events didn’t stop there… so I’ll keep dishing about the details.
On Friday afternoon, we kicked off the weekend with a toast at the Opus One “An Expression of Time and Place” vertical wine tasting. The exclusive tasting was hosted by David Fink and led by David Pearson, CEO of Opus One Winery, accompanied by notable Sommeliers Larry Stone and Mark Bright.
Throughout the tasting, we learned the history of Opus One’s iconic brand, how they developed their legendary French-California blend, and got a taste of how their wine has evolved from the 1980s through the 2000s. To appeal to the changing palates of the consumer, the winery implemented different growing and harvesting processes, including investing in machinery to meticulously sort grapes. Throughout the vertical tasting, we sampled wine from eight vintages, which gave us a true taste of how the wine has evolved over time.
After the event, I caught up with Pearson to learn more about Opus One and its affiliation with GourmetFest, since the winery rarely partners on events like this.
He explained that “This is the first year that Opus One has participated in the GourmetFest. We are not able to participate in very many food and wine festivals. So we are quite selective in those with whom we do participate. I could not be more thrilled to have had Opus One be part of this year’s GourmetFest.”
He went on to say, “Wine is joy and pleasure; the pleasure of sharing wine and food, and the pleasure of storytelling. GourmetFest is an over-the-top weekend of joyous sharing of great wines and incredible cuisines. GourmetFest is large enough that it brings top wines and chefs from all around the world, and yet small enough to remain intimate and personal.
It was an honor to present a vertical tasting of eight vintages of Opus One, dating back to our earliest vintages. The audience was a mixture of trade professionals and wine enthusiasts all done in the most beautiful of settings. By the end of the event, we were all left totally exhausted but thoroughly satisfied with memories that will last a lifetime.”
When I asked “what is the vision behind the Opus One brand?”, he said, “Opus One is the vision of two great men of wine, Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Robert Mondavi.
These men dreamed of bringing to life a great wine that would marry together the wine culture and style of each of the men and their families. For the past forty years, we have pursued the path of bringing this dream of one single wine to life. Today, Opus One is sold in over 100 countries around the world and we are proud to be considered as amongst the finest wines of the world.
Our efforts remain entirely focused on producing the highest quality Opus One possible from our vineyards here in Oakville in Napa Valley. We continue to drive innovation in our vineyards and in our winemaking. Our charge is to be true and faithful stewards of Opus One so that this one unique wine will continue on its path for generations to come. While today we note that Opus One is 40 years old, we are working diligently and passionately so that Opus One will well be able to celebrate one day its 100th birthday!”
Having seen the iconic Opus One winery in Napa Valley, I was curious to discover the inspiration behind the design of the winery.
Pearson explains, “Everything about Opus One seeks contrast and balance between the two founding families of Opus One – the wine, the label… and the winery.
Built in 1991 by Scott Johnson, the objective was to create a state-of-the art winery to produce our one single red wine. The architect considered the design to be as much a landscape concept as an architectural statement. The winery succeeds in preserving the natural view corridors along the valley floor; while making a strong statement in and of itself, the winery nonetheless projects a quiet profile.
Scott often referred to his design as an ‘inverted jewel box’, where the heart and soul of the winery is found ‘buried’ in the center. The families are represented through the use of limestone, recalling the Rothschilds and Chateau Mouton, and California redwood, invoking the Mondavi family and their winery. Controversial at first, the winery has become recognized over time as an architectural masterpiece of both form and function.”
On Saturday evening, I attended the intimate Relais & Châteaux Grand Finale Dinner.
This elegant (and perfectly timed) dinner was a magnificent and memorable experience for all in attendance. Renowned chefs including Justin Cogley of Aubergine in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Eduardo Marin of Roc Cap Cana in the Dominican Republic, Toni Mörwald of TONI M in Austria, AJ Buchanio of Magee Homestead in Wyoming, and Yulanda Santos of Aubergine served beautiful dishes that were truly breathtaking to behold.
Chef Justin Cogley capped off the evening by saying “(GourmetFest) has been the Rolls-Royce of culinary events,” which couldn’t have described it any better.
From a crab appetizer with cultured cream and black river caviar to striped bass with green pipian and fava beans, fillet of veal with a bread filling served with sauteed artichokes, and even a venison tenderloin with bee pollen, preserved fava, smoked celeriac, fennel, and sweet onion – to say we dined on a feast is an understatement. To top things off, we were served a rose geranium profiterole. And I haven’t even mentioned the wine pairings!
Throughout the evening, sommeliers attended to us like we were royalty. From Champagne Taittinger toasts to pours of I. Brand Chardonnay, Paul Lato Pinot Noir, Catena Zapata Red, and even Reserva de la Familia | Jose Cuervo Extra Anejo, there was no shortage of options to enjoy.
To conclude the 4-day festival, we indulged in a final day of food and wine pairings at the Taste of Relais & Châteaux lunch (held on a picturesque Sunday afternoon at the hotel). Featuring 10 stations presented by a number of top restaurants, wineries, vodka, and beer brands, the strolling lunch was a festive fête to celebrate the beginning of Spring at.
One of the featured chefs there, AJ Buchanio, Chef de Cuisine at Magee Homestead in Saratoga, Wyoming explained that “This was Magee Homestead’s second year attending GourmetFest in Carmel. It was a truly memorable experience cooking alongside some of the best chefs in the industry. From the Rolls Royce shuttles to the caviar, everything about this event was world class!”
In addition to sampling food and wines from the world’s most prestigious brands, we enjoyed tastings from a variety of local wineries. Among them were a few of our favorites, such as Joyce Vineyards, Dawn’s Dream Winery, McIntyre Vineyards, and Caraccioli Cellars.
We were also introduced to a new local wine brand from Monterey County called Eden Rift. Based on a 500-acre estate in Hollister, California, Eden Rift produces a delightfully-flavored Chardonnay (that’s more fruit-forward and refreshing than it is oaky or buttery) and a sumptuous Pinot Noir.
In speaking with Cory Waller, the Winemaker for Eden Rift Vineyards, he said, “I’ve had my eye on this property since I started making wine so I consider this to be somewhat of a best case scenario for me. There’s so much appeal to growing Pinot and Chardonnay here.”
He continued, “With the attention to detail we take out in the vineyard, it’s really enabled me to take a minimalist approach in the cellar, and our climate is ideal for allowing this. My goal for making any wine is the focus. Wines with a balanced structure, acidity, depth, and finish. One of the reasons I love making Pinot and Chardonnay is the transparency that shows in the bottle. In my opinion, more so than most other grape varietals. Tasting the wines out in the vineyards really gives them a chance to tell their own story.”
In summary, the best way to describe GourmetFest is culinary decadence exalted in all its glorious splendor. If there’s anything we learned over this 4-day extravaganza, it’s that food and wine are truly art forms which should be celebrated to the fullest (and enjoyed along the way).
To learn about other exciting celebrations, visit the Special Events section on Inspirations & Celebrations.
[Photography by James Molinaro of James Michael °3 and Christina-Lauren Pollack of Inspirations & Celebrations]