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On the Block

Auction-Goers Enjoy Lunch, Wine and a Shot at Amazing Vacations

By Heather Wood
published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Food & Wine section
Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta returns for its 19th year with the ever-popular Live Auction & Guest Chefs Luncheon. Advanced reservations are required for this eagerly anticipated event, which is limited to 125 lucky oenophiles. The ticket, $175 ($75 tax-deductible), entitles auction-goers to preview incredible items while sipping Champagne Veuve Clicqout Rose, NV. Attendees also will enjoy hand-passed canapés prepared by Tony Smith, the Eldorado's new executive chef.

After the preliminaries comes the four-course lunch prepared by four more culinary minds accompanied by the finest wines from Oregon's highly regarded Ponzi Vineyard. Greg O'Byrne, executive director of Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta, said that Ponzi was selected as this year's winery for the Live Auction Luncheon because the "Fiesta wishes to honor a winery that has been a qualitative leader in their region for at least 30 years. Ponzi, being among the first wineries to plant pinot noir in Willamette Valley in 1970, has remained a reference point for quality pinot noir from Oregon."

Marketing and sales director Maria Ponzi said her family is excited to return to Wine & Chile and is delighted to be the featured wine at the Live Auction Luncheon. "It's such a great event," she said, "the whole festival. It attracts such fascinating people, and it's an honor to be included."

The five-course meal continues with an Osteria Mozza-inspired appetizer of Bufala mozzarella with herb salad, alici and lemon, which Nancy Silverton has paired with Ponzi Reserve Chardonnay, 2006. Mark Kiffin's second course features seared Hudson Valley duck breast with sweet potato and Spanish chorizo hash and chanterelles and black fig duck jus, highlighting Ponzi's Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, 2007. Kent Rathbun will be serving smoked lamb strip loins with chipotle-cilantro oil and grilled corn-blue cheese grits accompanied by Ponzi Reserve Pinot Noir, 2006. And putting the finishing touch on a meal worthy of Bacchus, an elegant cheese plate presented by cheese expert Laura Werlin. This artisanal cheese course features delights from three Oregon creameries coupled with a dessert wine, Ponzi Vino Gelato.

The live auction will be conducted by David Reynolds, a leading wine auctioneer based in San Francisco. Highlights of the auction include: a trip to South America to visit wine properties; a trip to Oregon to Ponzi and other neighboring wineries; "the dinner of a lifetime" for eight prepared in your home by Kiffin, The Compound Restaurant's chef and accompanied by vintage Champagne; and of course, a trip to the Napa Valley.There are 45 items ranging in value from $1,000 on up.

A concurrent silent auction of 50 rare wine lots will take place during the tasting to benefit the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta's education programs."The best wines of the week will be featured from all 100 participating wineries," O'Byrne said. "Wine & Chile breaks even on the event, but revenues from the auction, which was started about five years ago, reinvests in our Santa Fe restaurants and the people who staff them." The courses provided by the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta's "school" are directed by O'Byrne and his colleague, Susie Ross. Courses include cooking classes, service classes, wine service classes and a master sommelier course.

The Santa Fe Wine & Chile Restaurant Education Program is available to restaurants that participate in the annual fiesta. For more information, visit santafewineandchile.org/pages/school. Courses are offered January through April, typically a quieter time in the Santa Fe tourist and hospitality scene. The programs help reinvest in the local economy by providing training that many could not otherwise afford, notably the two-day master sommelier class, which is valued at $500 per student. The program graduated 50 local restaurant-industry students last year, and in just the past four years, more than 400 students have been trained. Some 70 Santa Fe County restaurants participated this year. The Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta began in 1991 through the efforts of local legends Al Lucero of Maria's New Mexican Kitchen and Mark Miller of Coyote Café and Red Sage. O'Byrne was hired as executive director in 1994. The Guest Chefs & Live Auction Luncheon was started to support the educational programming that serves to educate and enhance Santa Fe's restaurants and ensure Santa Fe remains a culinary capital of the Southwest and beyond. Let's raise a glass to that!


Heather Wood is a freelance writer and oenophile who lives in Santa Fe. She can be reached through her website at www.HeatherWoodFreelance.com.

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