Since 2009 the Cayman Islands Tourism Association has hosted a Charity Winemaker’s Dinner in cooperation with BlackBeard’s. The sixth annual edition of the event was held at the Brasserie Restaurant, as it had been the previous two years. This time it featured wines from Elk Cove Vineyards in Oregon.
More than 4,000 people attended the annual Taste of Cayman Food & Wine Festival on Feb. 8, but the event’s culinary delights didn’t end that night. Exactly four weeks later, the Cayman Islands Tourism Association hosted the Taste of Cayman Charity Winemaker’s Dinner at the Brasserie.
Speaking to the guests at the beginning of the event, CITA Executive Director Jane van der Bol said the dinner was the nonprofit organization’s largest annual fundraiser.
“This fundraiser… supports our association’s efforts for continuing improvements and development of Cayman’s tourism industry,” she said, adding that she hoped people would bid generously during the live auction later on.
But before that time, guests were going to be treated to some great food and wine
During the opening reception, BlackBeard’s Lee Quessy welcomed guests and introduced the winemaker’s representative, Shirley Brooks, who talked about Elk Cove Vineyards and Oregon as a wine producing region in general.
“We are one of the pioneer wine producers in Oregon,” she said. “2014 marks an anniversary for us – 40 years that we’ve been growing grapes in the Willamette Valley.”
Elk Cove is still a family-owned winery started by Pat and Joe Campbell in 1974. These days, their son Adam holds the reins of the winery. Elk Cove got its name in the first year the Campbells owned the property when a herd of 40 Roosevelt elk bedded down in a clearing near the Campbells’ trailer. The elks’ presence, along with the bowl shape of the property, inspired the name.
Brooks said one thing that distinguishes Oregon wines is their sharp acidity, a result of the cooler growing climate. That acidity gives Oregon wines – reds, whites and roses – a refreshing quality and makes them very good for food pairings, something everyone experienced over the course of the evening.
Bubbles and whites
Guests were welcomed to the event with a glass of Elk Cove’s 1999 Brut, a sparkling wine made of 80 percent Pinot Noir and 20 percent Chardonnay that is usually only available at the winery.
This wine is produced by Elk Cove only in very cool years when the grapes can be harvested later, allowing for fuller flavor development and lower sugar content. It is made like traditional French Champagne, which means there is a secondary fermentation process that takes place in the bottle, creating the bubbles. As a result, Elk Cove’s dry sparkling wine has yeasty notes to go with flavors of apple and pear.
Because of the sharp acidity in almost all sparkling wines, they tend to pair well with many kinds of foods. During the reception, the Brasserie servers passed around a variety of canapés – including conch ceviche and a flavorful garden bean bruschetta with smoked eggplant – and they were all very tasty with the wine.
Two of Elk Cove’s other white wines were served with the Brasserie’s yellow fin tuna crudo and then a green salad that featured eggs produced by the restaurant’s “Chateau Chooks” hatchery.
The tuna was paired with Elk Cove’s 2010 Riesling Estate, a wine that turned out to be very popular with the guests.
The Riesling comes from vines that were planted in the winery’s second year.
“They are some of the oldest vines in the valley,” Brooks said.
Riesling the world over is known for its acidity, making it a white wine with good aging potential.
“I like to call Riesling the great chameleon,” said Brooks.
“It can really satisfy every desire in wine. It can be the sweetest, most seductive dessert wine, or it can be the driest, most austere, puckering wine you ever had.”
Riesling is known as being one of the most food-friendly white wines and was fantastic with the tuna crudo dish.
The salad was served with Elk Cove’s 2012 Pinot Gris, made from the same grape that makes Pinot Grigio in Italy.
“Pinot Gris is our flagship white wine and is the most widely planted grape in Oregon,” Brooks noted.
People like Pinot Gris for the same reason Pinot Grigio is so popular: It’s a refreshing wine with lively citrus flavors. Depending on where and how it’s grown, the grape can make simple wines that are crisp and light – like many produced by big wineries in Italy – or more complex wines that are rich and flavorful, like the ones produced in the Alsace region of France. Elk Cove mimics the French style.
“Our winemaker is passionate about immolating Alsace,” said Brooks.
The result is a vibrant wine with character that can still be enjoyed on its own, but also has enough flavor to stand up to hearty foods, even spicy foods.
Rosé and Red
Oregon isn’t exactly known for producing rosé wines, but Elk Cove makes a good one. Its 2012 Pinot Noir Rosé is made from very ripe grapes, but it is actually vinified white by omitting maceration. Only after the fermentation is completed does Elk Cove blend selected lots of fermented red Pinot Noir into the wine to give it color and texture.
Unlike California’s White Zinfandel, Elk Cove’s elegant rosé is completely dry with flavors of fresh fruit.
“It is serious pink wine,” said Brooks. “Big red wine drinkers could like this wine.”
Rosé is another wine that pairs nicely with a variety of dishes and on this evening it was served with freshly caught seared red snapper. But this rosé would also pair well with roasted poultry, roasted pork, and many ethnic foods.
“It’s a classic Thanksgiving wine,” Brooks said, referring to the large variety of foods that are often found on the table for America’s most loved eating holiday. “But it’s also a lovely patio pounder.”
The final savory course of the evening featured roasted veal loin with a veal cheek ravioli, served with 2011 Elk Cove Pinot Noir.
“What Oregon is most famous for and what has put us on the world wine map is Pinot Noir,” Brooks said.
Oregon tends to produce Pinot Noirs that are less fruity and more earthy than California, but more fruity and less earthy than Burgundy, giving it a niche of its own.
Elk Cove’s Pinot Noir is loaded with flavors of fruit and spice, along the expected soft tannins and good acidity, creating wine that is both complex and welcoming.
“I feel like it actually takes the best of both Burgundy and California,” Brooks says. “But which one it’s more like swings on the vintage. It leans more toward Burgundy some years and it leans toward California other years.”
For dessert, guests returned to the garden area where a selection of four dessert items was set out on trays. Elk Cove’s dessert wine, Ultima, a popular white blend driven by Riesling, was served along with dessert. Although it is not technically an ice wine, Ultima is made in a similar fashion, allowing the grapes to express their zesty natural acidity without being overly cloying.
While guests enjoyed their desserts, local personality James Bebarfald led the live charity auction with aplomb as nine items were put out to bid to raise money for CITA.
One of the most-sought items was a magnum bottle of Elk Cove’s 2009 Pinot Noir from its Roosevelt Vineyard, a very hard to find wine in a large format bottle, especially in this part of the world.
The dinner raised about $4,000 toward CITA’s Taste of Cayman budget, van der Bol said.