Southern Foodways Alliance Does it Up Right in Napa

Pitmasters Nick Pihakis, Daniel Patterson, Rodney scott, Samuel Jones, Drew Robinson, Nicolas Pihakis, Jamey Whetstone (owner, Whetstone Winery), Christopher Kostow, and Stephen Barber.

Pitmasters Nick Pihakis, Daniel Patterson, Rodney Scott, Samuel Jones, Drew Robinson, Nicolas Pihakis, Jamey Whetstone (owner, Whetstone Winery), Christopher Kostow, and Stephen Barber.

When I signed up to attend the Southern Foodways Alliance Potlikker dinner in Napa Valley, I didn’t know what to expect. Northern California has certainly become one of America’s premier dining regions – but barbecue?

The event was held August 18 on the lush grounds surrounding the 19th-century French-style chateau of Whetstone Winery. Before dinner, thirsty guests imbibed on outstanding wines provided by Whetstone. But, to my surprise, the handcrafted beer chilled in washtubs was “imported” from Tennessee.

And when it was time to eat, all doubts about unfamiliar barbecue were dispelled, as pitmasters from South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama dished up some of the best pulled pork and ribs I’d ever eaten.

These guys had actually pulled their gigantic pits all the way to California, just for the event. And as it turns out, most of them also compete in the New Orleans annual “Hogs for a Cause” charity cookoff.  Proceeds from this event go to families with children who have cancer.  Hogs for a Cause is near and dear to my family, since my stepson Trey competes every year and especially since his two-year-old daughter Margaux is recovering from the disease.

Hard at work at the barbecue pits.

Hard at work at the barbecue pits.

It was also fun in Napa connecting with Potlikker’s organizers from the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA). SFA documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. The group sets a common table where black and white, rich and poor — all who gather — may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation.

A member-supported non-profit, based at the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture, SFA stages symposia, produces documentary films, collects oral histories, sponsors scholarship, mentors students, and publishes great writing. Donations from generous individuals, foundations, and companies fund their good work.

I’ve been a member of SFA for many years and consider their work and research important to the understanding of Southern food. And I now also know they know how to throw a good party.

Trendsetting Trinchero Winery

Trinchero Winery's  Vice-President of Trade Relations Barry Wiss, PR Director Nora Feeley, Head Winemaker Mario Monticellic, and Cynthia Nobles

Trinchero Winery’s Vice-President of Trade Relations Barry Wiss, PR Director Nora Feeley, Head Winemaker Mario Monticellic, and Cynthia Nobles

I am not ashamed to admit that the first wine I truly thought was delicious was white zinfandel.

Last week my husband Howard and I were honored with a private tasting by Barry Wiss and Nora Feeley at Napa Valley’s Trinchero Winery, the second largest family winery in the world.

As we sipped on outstanding flights of sauvignon blanc and cabernet, our hosts informed us, to our surprise, that Trinchero invented white zinfandel, the sweet stuff under the Sutter Home label that was all the rage in the 70s. Serious Napa winemakers of the time pooh-poohed what they considered a “bastardizing” wine that would hurt their lofty reputations. But the Trinchero family, who was trying not to waste juice that would have typically been thrown away, just shrugged, and the pink-colored wine took off, especially with women. For many of us, it was a springboard into the world of wines that had more nuance.

imageAside from their landmark zinfandel, Trinchero Napa Valley makes outstanding wines for every taste and budget, and that are sourced from the family’s more than 200 acres of sustainably farmed estates in some of the Napa Valley’s most sought after appellations, including St. Helena, Rutherford, Atlas Peak and Mt. Veeder. Their wines are strictly bordeaux varietals and, with the exception of Meritage and Signature, are all single-vineyard wines.

The winery has 32 wine labels, with 6-8 wines per label. And they’re also reaching in the the spirits market, with their Tres Agaves and Cruz tequilas.

My taste in wine has changed, but Sutter Home white zinfandel is still sweet and pink and selling very well. So here’s a raised glass to Trinchero Winery, a family business that dared take a chance and is still taking chances, and which helped nudge America into the world of fine wines.