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At 28 years, it's still classic 

The mother of Central Coast wine events

I met Archie McLaren, founder and executive director of the Central Coast Wine Classic (CCWC), at Wine Spectator in San Francisco in the early ’90s, when I was the tasting coordinator for the wine critics. With his signature beret and exotically colored attire, I was impressed by this intense man’s passion for the event.

click to enlarge WINE APLENTY :  Archie McLaren is still all smiles in the last weeks of organization for the Central Coast Wine Classic. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • WINE APLENTY : Archie McLaren is still all smiles in the last weeks of organization for the Central Coast Wine Classic.

He boldly strode into Wine Spectator’s offices in San Francisco to invite wine critics James Laube and Harvey Steiman to attend the classic. He wanted them to meet the Central Coast’s maverick winemakers in person while tasting their wines among the finest offerings from France and Napa Valley. McLaren’s intention was to prove that Central Coast wines were of equal caliber to the most highly praised wines in the world.

Neither editor was in that day, so I sat down to talk with McLaren, and I had no clue then I would be moving here within five years. He said he created CCWC to spotlight the brilliant, talented, and undiscovered winemakers and bring them the attention they well deserved. I candidly told him the editors weren’t big on attending wine festivals. Yet after moving here in 1996, I proudly witnessed Laube and Steiman honored as guests and moderators at CCWC. In celebration of its 28th year, McLaren is still its most ardent advocate.

“This year’s symposia are focused on major segments of California’s wine-producing regions and preeminent varietals,” McLaren explained. “We’re featuring Santa Barbara County Pinot Noirs and Paso Robles Rhone varietals, including Saxum, which was the first Central Coast wine to be rated No. 1 in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list in 2010. We also have the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Symposium where Cabernet Sauvignon is king. It’s all about three major wine regions from three distinctly different terroirs, and these varietals manifest those terroirs magnificently well.”

Many renowned wine events came about following CCWC, including Hospice du Rhone (which concluded following its recent 20th anniversary, to the disbelief of Rhone aficionados), World of Pinot Noir, and the newly established Chardonnay Symposium. They can all credit McLaren for pushing Central Coast wines to the forefront when wine critics had little respect for this region. That’s why I call CCWC the mother of all Central Coast festivals. I’ll never forget my first Hearst Castle dinner that featured the renowned New Orleans chefs, Jamie Shannon of Commander’s Palace and Susan Spicer of Bayona. The next year it featured French chef Jacques Pepin, and in 1998 chef Gary Danko of San Francisco.

- BEACH HOUSE BISTRO 4TH OF JULY BARBECUE:  This annual barbecue was created by chefs Liz and Gerald Bednorz to raise donations “benefitting the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.” For $14 per person, you get a bagged lunch with your choice of tri-tip or chicken, beans, salad, garlic bread, brownie, and a soda. “I’ve been walking in the fight against breast cancer for 14 years,” Liz said pointedly. “It’s time to stop cancer in its tracks. Please join us for great food and a worthy cause!” They close the bistro at 2770 Main St., Morro Bay, so they can crank out delicious lunches from noon to 4 p.m. -
  • BEACH HOUSE BISTRO 4TH OF JULY BARBECUE: This annual barbecue was created by chefs Liz and Gerald Bednorz to raise donations “benefitting the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.” For $14 per person, you get a bagged lunch with your choice of tri-tip or chicken, beans, salad, garlic bread, brownie, and a soda. “I’ve been walking in the fight against breast cancer for 14 years,” Liz said pointedly. “It’s time to stop cancer in its tracks. Please join us for great food and a worthy cause!” They close the bistro at 2770 Main St., Morro Bay, so they can crank out delicious lunches from noon to 4 p.m.

McLaren always invited great chefs, yet he blew locals away in 2010 when he announced chef Emeril Lagasse would come cook for us. Long before that superstar chef’s cooking demo at Lido in Dolphin Bay Resort, ticket sales soared, and McLaren ensured that 250 enthusiastic foodies made it inside. The demo was outstanding, and thanks to chef Evan Treadwell and his kitchen team, we enjoyed a perfectly replicated lunch of the dishes Emeril had demonstrated. To the kitchen team’s amazement, Emeril walked into the kitchen once he finished the demo to help the chef and team plate 250 lunches.

This year the chef focus is local. The CCWC will laud fine Central Coast chefs from Carmel to Santa Barbara: Laurent Grangien of Bistro Laurent Paso Robles; Kurt Grasing of Grasing’s Carmel; Michael Hutchings of Michael’s Catering Santa Barbara; Ian McPhee of McPhee’s Grill Templeton; Frank Ostini of Hitching Post II Buellton; and James Sly of Sly’s Carpinteria will create the outstanding menu for the Hearst Castle dinner.

Friday night, July 13, Lido will feature a multi-course dinner with Justin Winery by executive chef Pandee Pearson, sous chef Jacob Moss, and pastry and event chef Maegen Loring (Loring is selling the Neon Carrot to take this new position at Lido). Another Friday night dinner/dance at the Avila Beach Golf Resort features chef Maegen Loring. Each table will be hosted by winemakers from SLO, Santa Barbara County, and Napa, each of whom will share their wines with guests. Part of the fun is sharing wines with neighboring tables.

“We’re excited about showcasing the very special aspects of the Central Coast in wine and food,” McLaren explained. “The wine classic has always been egalitarian in our choices for wineries and chefs. Next year we’ll choose chefs from all over the state of California.”

All of the CCWC symposiums and dinners, including Hearst Castle, may be purchased separately. Tickets range from only $50 up to $125 per person—except the Hearst extravaganza, which is $1,250 per person and has additional bonuses. For full details about each event and/or to preview the auction catalogue, visit centralcoastwineclassic.org.

This year’s outstanding auction, an event I haven’t missed in all these years, will have raised more than $2 million for San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara County charities through the CCWC Foundation. Food and wine is plentiful, and the attitudes of bidders are extremely generous—not to mention it’s a particularly entertaining afternoon. The symposiums, as educational for novices as they are for wine connoisseurs, provide an extraordinary experience for everyone. And for those sorrowful Hospice du Rhone fans, you’ll find an excellent substitution on Sunday, July 15, when 12 of Paso Robles’ finest winemakers present their excellent Rhone varieties and blends. There’s something enticing for every wine lover at CCWC.

Contact New Times’ Cuisine columnist at khardesty@newtimesslo.com.

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