Making love with food, wine and story 

Wine maker dinners have the winning formula

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There's dinner and there's wine and when the two meet it can make for a great time. Add the third element of story telling and a trifecta of fabulous is possible.

It is this melding of food, wine and story that makes the wine maker dinner the popular activity it is.

Big John Caudill of Sheridan Vineyard in Washington State's Yakima Valley is a veteran of the wine maker dinner circuit having participated in more than 50 such dinners over the course of his career as a chef and winery representative.

He attended the Cornucopia wine maker dinner at Aura.

Caudill enjoyed the dinner on the opening day of Cornucopia and really enjoyed the hospitality he received while visiting Whistler.

In his early experiences with wine maker dinners at Sheridan Vineyard, when clients were expected at the vineyard, he took wines home and he would use his culinary training to create a menu around the wines. He said he would go through the spice cabinet, go through the herb garden and try to get flavour profiles that matched his palette.

"Then I designed my protein or my element of that dish around that so I get the aromatics and the flavours to match," he says.

Caudill is a big proponent of building the menu around the wine.

"I think it is paramount that the chef gets that bottle in his hand and gets those wines in front of him," he says.

Sometimes, according to Big John, it takes a couple of hours or even a few days to figure out what foods work best with the wines.

With the food and the wines set, the story telling naturally flows like Shiraz spilling from a tipped bottle into a tall lead crystal vessel.

Big John has a great story of how he can walk into a restaurant with his black bag of sample bottles and quickly become everybody's best friend.

"For that reason I call it my bag of love," says Caudill. "Everybody is always curious. What have you got in the bag today?"

The story goes a little sideways from here as he explains that most people are fascinated with the romance of making wine.

"Everybody in the world wants to be a wine maker because it's such a glamorous field, says Big John. "You get paid for making an elixir that makes everybody happy."

The other side of that, he explains, is the reality that wine making is "mostly janitorial."

He says ask anyone in the business and they will tell you it is a lot of clean up.

"The wine makers work like dogs, especially during harvest," says Big John. "You're working 20 hours a day for three, four, sometimes five weeks."

Once those busy weeks are over, that is when the story starts to get good again for the wine maker.

This is the point where chef and wine maker can unite.

"It is the marriage of two fine craftsmen and not unlike an artist going in and spending three weeks on a sculpture or a painting," says Big John.

"There is some true art that goes into it and the thing about wine and food together is that it is so many more senses."

Your eyes create the visual affect, your nose draws in the aroma to send an early tease to the tongue, the taste hits even before the food enters your mouth and then there is the sound. Oh, the sounds of a good dinner.

"People laughing, glasses clanking, silver on china," Big John enthuses with passion in his voice. "It is a real sensory overload to a certain extent. Boy, when somebody pulls it off right where you are just ooo-ing and ahh-ing and getting inspiration to try and recreate that dish, there are few things more sensuous than a wine maker dinner with the wines that are perfectly paired to the meal."

For Big John a passionate love affair is right up with a fine wine maker dinner.

Somebody get this man a cigarette! Wait, he hasn't even started talking about the human fascination with naming everything and how names trigger the best stories.

Take for instance a wine called L'Orage, the French word for storm.

Sheridan originally had another name for its reds but l'orage seemed like the natural name after a June hale storm brought the vineyard to the ground in 2001.

"After that storm we renamed the red wine L'Orage and ever since then that's been our flagship red," he says.

There are so many stories, much more wine and food for the masses but only so many column inches in the newspaper.

With an open mind, sharp eyes, tuned ears, an eager nose, taste buds primed and an open heart, the story will continue at the next wine maker dinner.



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