Thursday, June 24, 2010
After evacuating the claustrophobic crush at the U.S. Open – crowds I’ve seen eclipsed only at Obama’s inauguration and the first night concert at Golden Gate Park (for some group called Radiohead) – Brophy’s wide bowl of fresh littleneck clams steamed in homemade white wine and garlic tasted pretty damn good. Especially with garlic bread (ask for an extra side).
But I’m guessing whatever eventual Open winner Graeme McDowell had there tasted a little better.
McDowell, the only one to equal a course that had everyone else looking like they should be named Dufner and Lamely, took the party to Carmel’s Brophy’s Tavern (624-2476) for his post-championship celebration, signing their huge mural-photo of the 7th hole at Pebble and generally rowdying around like any self-respecting Irish national champ would and should.
For the record, Jason Dufner and Derek Lamely finished way over par. And I finished every drop of clam sauce.
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In 1988, Nicky Hahn sent a letter that would help make him a granddaddy. It would ultimately help make thousands of Pinot lovers as happy as new granddaddies too.
The letter encouraged a group of neighboring vintners living along a modest medley of South Monterey County mountains to advocate for its own appellation, the Santa Lucia Highlands.
Today the esteemed AVA plays home to plots of increasingly famous fruit stewarded by the likes of Gary Franscioni and Gary Pisoni and wineries like Tondre and Paraiso and Roar. Its cool afternoons allow the appellation’s Pinot to develop seductive, varietal-specific characteristics that have the grape and Santa Lucia still gathering momentum on the way up the superstar staircase years after Sideways. No other place in the country can ask as much for a ton of their Pinot Noir grapes.
Hahn and his wife Gaby purchased neighboring horse and cattle ranches in the mid-1970s before converting them into the Hahn Estates Winery and Smith & Hook. The AVA got the nod in 1991. The two milestones earned Nicky the nickname “Grandfather of the Santa Lucia Highlands” – and this weekend Hahn Family Wines celebrates three decades since its first vintage release with a big “Spaghetti Western” pasta cookoff at their scenic Soledad spread. It’s their team’s promotional savvy, though, that has earned the admiration of industry insiders.
“They’ve had brilliant marketing,” says Rhonda Motil, executive director of Monterey County Vintners and Growers. “And you have to respect what they’ve been able to do in terms of expanding wine [options] for all levels of consumers, from introductory wine palates to someone who is more of a connoiusseur.”
Interestingly, their lucrative Cycles Gladiator was already a big seller at an affordable price point when they received an unexpected marketing assist from the idiots running Alabama a month ago: The state that brought you George Wallace banned the bottle because the nymph on the label was a little too racy (the bike was more their speed). Now the brand’s selling better than ever.
Hahn’s affordable brands not only bring decent Monterey County wine into range for the many among us who can’t afford Pisoni, their profits afford the means to be more ambitious with its small-plot upmarket wines like Lucienne. Their 650 acres include an AVA-appropriate 400 acres of Pinot; fittingly, this Saturday’s Spaghetti Western event ($50) will feature Hahn’s flagship 2008 Pinot Noir (and some Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon, Lucienne Pinot Noir and Hahn SLH Chardonnay and Pinot Gris) in addition to pasta contenders like Cowboy Sausage Co.’s Butch Francis, celebrity judging by cookbook author James McNair, live music from the Sons of Bakersfield, a few hundred Hahn-loving souls and… a mechanical bull. I believe the word is “Yeehaw.”
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Hahn’s also starring at a wine dinner at TusCA tonight, June 24 – featuring some of their best Pinot Gris, Syrah, Cab Franc and Chardonnay with courses like rock cod with Bloomsdale spinach and roasted Gilroy garlic and grilled lamb chop in a Hahn Cab Franc reduction… TusCA just brought in a new chef, California Culinary Academy grad Russell Young, after distinguished stints at Beaver Creek, St. Lucia, Capitol Square inOhio and Tech Center Denver… Across town the Sardine Factory has a new exec chef in Brant Good, the youngest to chef a Mobil 4-Star restaurant in the U.S. at 23 (he’s now a 30-year veteran). “We are honored that Chef Good has made his return,” COO Bert Cutino says. Good was last great there in ’88… Down the road from the Spaghetti Western, Paraiso will host Monterey County Vintners and Growers Foundation’s big-hearted Winery Walk ($30) Saturday, June 26, with beautiful trail treks, wine sips, barbecue and more… Barley and hops hallelujah: Cannery Row Brewing Company (643-CRBC) is open on the Rec Trail. I repeat: CRBC is go for business… “Golf without mistakes is like watching haircuts,” Jim Murray once said. “A dinner without wine.”