Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Dinner with a View

I can’t think of a better place to have dinner than in a vineyard. If that vineyard has a stunning view, all the better. Add to that good friends and local food prepare by a talented chef, and you absolutely can’t go wrong. Especially if the weather cooperates.

Such was the scene on a recent evening back at Shelburne Farms. On land leased to Shelburne Vineyard, we toasted their annual Vineyard Dinner featuring wines from this award-winning sustainable winery and food produced on the farm.

Wine may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Vermont but, thanks to new varieties of grapes that thrive in a northern climate, vineyards are steadily blanketing the state’s gentler slopes.

More than a dozen registered wineries, and even more vineyards, are producing some surprisingly excellent wines. And not just prized sweet wines such as Ice Wine, but also complex, full bodied reds and crisp, dry whites (this from someone who has been called a wine snob more than once).

It was our second time attending the Vineyard Dinner, which sells out well in advance. We made plans to meet our friends Carolyn Hanson and Tom Simon there again, two other foodies with whom we go way back. I first met Carolyn more than two decades ago when we were both in graduate school in Virginia. I moved to Vermont a few years later, and Carolyn then happened to do the same shortly after that. Since moving here we’ve become even better friends, sharing many lunches, dinners, and family brunches together.

Photo by Tom Simon

We started off the meal with glasses of earthy Cabernet Franc Merlot and citrusy Cayuga White. After strolling the vineyard and catching up, we took our seats at a long, communal table. Brief presentations were delivered by Shelburne Farms Market Gardener Josh Carter, who oversees a seven-acre organic garden from which all of our eagerly anticipated meal’s vegetables (except the onions) were sourced;

David Hugo, head chef at the Inn at Shelburne Farms, who described this dinner as one of the more fun events that he has the privilege to cook for;

And Vintner Ken Albert, a former IBM engineer who is founder, grower, and winemaker of Shelburne Vineyards.

Last year we were lucky to sit beside Ken and his wife Gail and learn all about the winding path that led them to their winemaking venture.

Dinner was served buffet style,  and our plates runneth over with colors and tastes and textures: Red and Black Raspberry Salad with shaved fennel, Vermont Butter and Cheese Cremont, and honey-white balsamic vinaigrette; Red and White Beet Salad with peas, red onion, basil, and Jasper Hill blue cheese vinaigrette; Shelburne Vineyard “NuMondo” Coq au Vin with saffron rice; Stuffed Shelburne Farms Beef Shoulder with caramelized onions, red peppers, spinach, and Cayuga White currant BBQ sauce; Vegetable Tian with onions, squash, eggplant, and tomatoes; and roasted kohlrabi, turnips, beans, and peas. Whew! Oh and, by the way, seconds were optional.

Photo by Tom Simon

Also, lest I forget, one of my favorite items on the buffet was  a whole wheat flatbread topped with pesto, squash blossoms, scallions, fava beans, and Shelburne Farms two-year cheddar baked in a mobile, wood-fired beehive oven. 

This was a meal to linger over, and that we did. Laughter, more wine, and then the dessert platters were passed around, brimming with White Chocolate Blondies dotted with red and black raspberries.

We watched the sun begin to set over Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks, its rosy light washing over the vines and the sloping hillside,

and promised to be back again next year.

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