The interim between the end of summertime tourism and the winter holiday season inevitably brings gorgeous weather, blessedly quiet streets and a distinct lack of commerce in Santa Fe. Thankfully, then, the Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta runs Sunday to Sunday, Sept. 23-30, providing one last week of bustling activity before the off-season sets in.
The executive director of the fiesta, Greg O'Byrne, estimates that 4,000 guests are expected to attend, with 50 percent from out of state, 25 percent from Santa Fe and 25 percent from the rest of New Mexico. Attendees can enjoy cooking demonstrations at the Santa Fe School of Cooking (125 N Guadalupe St, 983-4511), wine tasting events at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center (201 W Marcy St., 955-6590) and guest chef luncheons during the daytime.
Tickets to each event are sold separately, and the costs are not for the faint of heart. For example, for $150 a pop you can attend an al fresco luncheon cooked by Josh Gerwin of Dr. Field Goods set against the stunning mountain views of the Allan Houser Sculpture Garden (3 pm Thursday Sept. 27. 26 Haozous Road). Transportation is provided from the Convention Center to the studio's out-of-town location. But when the wines in question are simply entry-level prosecco from Bisol and Jeio, why the prohibitive price tag? It must be one hell of a view.
Unquestionably, the fiesta caters to a high-end clientele. This is reflected in the nature and tone of its major events, which include a silent auction of 75 rare wine lots on Friday at 4 pm at the Convention Center. Tickets are available for $110 each. The culmination of Wine and Chile is the Grand Tasting at the Santa Fe Opera, from 1-4 pm on Saturday Sept. 28. Tickets ran $175 a pop and are already sold out, but your mileage may vary on the virtues of the wines being poured and celebrated—some of which are rare and important, and others which are decidedly not.
It wasn't always so glamorously exclusive. The Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta began as a one-day event in a parking lot with 20 wineries and 20 restaurants in 1991. Conceived by Mark Miller of Coyote Café, Al Lucero of Maria's and Gordon Heiss of La Casa Sena, the aim was to showcase the heights of both Santa Fe's hospitality and local cuisine in the context of fine American wine. The former general manager of Coyote Café, O'Byrne was brought on in 1994 to become the Fiesta's executive director.
As the years went by, the Fiesta's scope expanded, particularly when it came to the global wine community; 1994 featured 25 local restaurants partnered with 40 wineries, mostly from California. This year, nearly 90 wineries and importers and more than 40 local restaurants, plus a spate of sommeliers and chefs, fill the roster. O'Byrne credits the growing involvement of wine importers and wholesalers.
"The importer involvement has boosted the quality and scope of the event," he says. "And like the Santa Fe restaurant scene expanding, so have wines from other parts of North America, particularly Oregon, one of my favorite regions for quality people and wines."
Certainly, the presence of importers and their international portfolios provides much needed diversity to the Fiesta's focus on American wines, and are the only reason why German, Spanish and French wines make an appearance during the Fiesta's seminars and tastings.
Nowhere is this American-centric focus more apparent than in the series of wine dinners taking place throughout the week at the restaurants participating in the Fiesta's Grand Tasting. These are not fiesta-sponsored events, and reservations are required. Standard bearers of American winemaking are included, such as the Ridge Vineyards Dinner at Terra at Four Seasons Rancho Encantado (6 pm Thursday Sept. 27. $250 per person. 198 Hwy. 592, 946-5800). There's a Rombauer dinner at La Casa Sena (125 E Palace Ave., 988-1919) on the same night, for $125 a person.
But are the wines being poured the reason behind the dinner prices being so astronomical? Rombauer chardonnay is not that expensive. Even the dinners that take advantage of the wine world's movements towards inclusivity and diversity still ring in at a heavyweight price point. An example would be the wine dinner showcasing the cutting edge Spanish wine portfolio of Jose Pastor Selection taking place at Joseph's (6:30 pm Wednesday Sept. 26. 428 Agua Fría St., 982-1272). Tickets are $125 per person, featuring guest chef David Sellers of the Street Food Institute.
Wine and Chile is an exciting and important time for the business it brings to Santa Fe during the painful descent into the winter season. It galvanizes the service industry, the people who work in wine retail, the wholesalers and distributers who belong to the local beverage and hospitality community. Hopefully it will continue to evolve, with an eye towards better serving the people local to Santa Fe who simply love wine, all while continuing to attract different demographics of wine drinkers by representing a more modern view of the contemporary world of vino.
For a complete schedule of events, including tickets and links to participating restaurants, head to santafewineandchile.org.