2013 Eat Local Challenge Zotovich Dinner


Recently we attended a winemaker dinner that seemed tailor-made for my Eat Local Challenge. If you are aren’t familiar with the Eat Local Challenge, you can pop over here and read up on all the details.


It was the Wild Game Dinner at Zotovich Cellars in Lompoc hosted by winemaker/partner Ryan Zotovich. Actually it was more than hosted by Ryan—he hunted and caught the seafood and game, as well as prepared it. Who knew that Ryan was such a talented cook? It was also the first time they opened up the barrel room for an event like this, though I have the feeling that it won’t be the last.


We started off the evening with a glass of wine and a greeting by Chelsea Rushing (pictured above to my right), who was organizing the event. The setting was magical. It is amazing what a beautiful table setting and little white lights can do for a utilitarian space like a barrel room.


The first course was Yellowtail Tartar. This was the only item that wasn’t strictly local, but Ryan speared it off the coast of Baja. This still went with the “wild” theme and Ryan caught it himself, which still captures the spirit of the Eat Local Challenge. So, I happily made an exception to taste it. It had a nice spiciness to it and tasted absolutely fresh and succulent. It was paired with the Zotovich 2012 Viognier. It was so delicious that it was difficult to stop eating it, but I knew we had more courses on their way.


One of my favorite things… Lobster Bisque. Naturally this was spiny lobster that Ryan caught locally. It was rich, yet not heavy and it went beautifully with their 2010 Chardonnay. The bread that accompanied it was Lompoc’s own New Vineland Bakery bread. Everyone raved about the bread but we all knew that we needed to restrain ourselves because there were still three more courses…


If the lobster bisque tantilized us with that the decadent lobster flavor, the Lobster and Uni Risotto was about to send us over the top. Ryan doesn’t mind picking up a few urchin when diving for lobster, and the two of them went quite well together on our plate. The uni was the perfect creamy complement to the risotto, and there are few things I like better than a simple, but perfectly cooked lobster tail. Every bite was savored. It was paired with their 2011 Chardonnay which had a bit more brightness and acidity, making it ideal for this rich combo.


We then turned from sea to land, specifically the Zotovich vineyard where Ryan caught the quail for this dinner. These delicate little birds were roasted with rosemary and a little seasoning until they were just cooked through but still moist. I loved the simplicity of the dish plated with just a few roasted carrots and beets. Their earthy flavors were still subtle enough not to overpower the quail. The dish was served with their 2011 Pinot Noir, which again was a perfect match—enhancing not overpowering.


The next course was the venison. Ryan jokingly said this was a bit of revenge, for the damage that the deer do to the budding vines can be extensive. But it was interesting to ponder that we were eating meat that was fed with the same plants that produced the wines we were drinking. How often can you say that? This is truly wine country cuisine.

I have not had very many occasions to eat venison and was concerned that it might be tough or gamey. It was neither. Instead it was tender, moist and flavorful. The sauce that was drizzled on top also perked up the creamy mashed potatoes, and some crisp romaine added just the right amount of contrast to the plate. Their 2011 Syrah seemed made to pair with this dish. And I sipped a little more when a platter of cheeses, dried fruit, chocolate and honey was passed around.


As the meal came to a close, I realized that we had probably spent more than four hours. A respectable amount of time to eat leisurely, sip wine and get to know our fellow dinner guests. And what I also came away with was a better understanding of Ryan—as a winemaker, as a cook, and as someone who is more than in touch with local food. His approach and philosophy is what stayed with me, and I look forward to sharing another meal with him sometime in the future. Special thanks need to go out to not only Ryan but to the whole crew of Zotovich Cellars for their gracious hospitality. I have a feeling that this will be one of those dinners that I will talk about for a long time. And it really could not have been better timed with the Eat Local Challenge.

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Categories Category: Food