Keeping the vino in the family
January 21, 2012
One of the greatest marriages of all time is that of food and wine. On Wednesday at Mirabelle in Beaver Creek, a world-class chef, a talented Napa Valley winemaker and avid gastronomes will celebrate this “marriage” as one of life’s greatest pleasures. The Vail chapter (Bailliage) of the Chaine des Rotisseurs will pay homage to “30 years of Culinary Excellence at Mirabelle.” The Chaine is the largest and oldest international gastronomic organization, tracing its roots to the royal guild of “Les Ayeurs” (the goose roasters) King Louis IX founded in 1248. Chef Daniel Joly’s five-course tribute to three decades of Mirabelle’s menus will be paired with Napa Valley wines from Schweiger Vineyards, of St. Helena, Calif. Winemaker Andy Schweiger, who will make multiple appearances at the upcoming Beaver Creek Food & Wine culinary festival, will present the wines to Chaine members and guests. Schweiger is making his third trip to Beaver Creek for the winter culinary festival. In addition to the Chaine dinner at Mirabelle, he will show his family’s lovely wines and share his winemaking know-how at the Beaver Creek Food & Wine Weekend, including a benefit dinner for the Bright Future Foundation at Chaine officer chef David Walford’s Splendido restaurant on Jan. 27. The Schweigers’ donation this year includes all the wine for the Splendido dinner.
While Napa Valley and Sonoma wineries increasingly populate the balance sheets of private equity firms and hedge funds, Schweiger Vineyards stands as a bulwark in the battle to preserve the family-owned character of this region’s wineries. Schweiger’s father and mother, Fred and Sally Schweiger, purchased land atop Spring Mountain above St. Helena, adjacent to Fred’s parents’ parcel, in 1961. In 1970, Fred began to clear the land to make way for cultivating the rich volcanic soil, ideal for cabernet sauvignon vines. Along the way, Fred discovered old redwood hand-split grape stakes spaced at 1-by-1-meter intervals, confirming the land had been a prime viticulture region as far back as the late 1870s. Fred’s passion for the land and the environment is clearly evident today. Upon driving into the estate, visitors can see the solar panels nestled in the vineyards and the towering redwoods Fred preserved for future generations to enjoy. Fred planted his first vines in 1980 and harvested his first fruit in 1984. For the first 10 years of production, Fred and Sally sold their grapes to Cafaro Cellars, ZD, Newton and Stags Leap Winery. Schweiger, who honed his skills at some of the area’s most prestigious wineries after completing his enological degree at U.C. Davis, joined his father in 1994 as the part-time winemaker, in addition to his job at Chateau St. Jean. Thus began the family’s production of wines under their own label. In 1999, Schweiger became the full-time winemaker and the next generation of Schweigers tied to the land his father had so lovingly prepared for his children and his grandchildren.
Schweiger Vineyards now produces approximately 48,000 bottles of wine per annum. Their portfolio includes Sauvignon Blanc from the Uboldi vineyard in Sonoma county, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Dedication (a meticulously proportioned blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec) and Port. And there is no doubt a guarantee that in generations to come, the Schweiger label will be on wines produced by the family, not strangers. Fred’s love and passion for the land and sustainable farming of it is best summed up in this quote by John Ruskin that Schweiger found in one of his dad’s old notebooks:”When we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone. Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them and that men will say, as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, ‘See! This our father did for us.'”
Mirabelle is 30 years old, but portions of the building in which it is housed date back to 1898. Joly, who is a certified Belgian Master Chef, came to Mirabelle in 1992 as the chef and manager and, with his wife, Nathalie, purchased the restaurant in 1999. Since he began his tenure at Mirabelle, Joly has won acclaim for his unique, creative cuisine in many leading publications, including Bon Appetit, Zagat’s, Wine Spectator and the James Beard House. For the Chaine dinner, Joly has crafted a menu of memorable Mirabelle dishes to pair with the Schweiger wines, including dishes such as sauteed sea scallop with cauliflower truffle salad; kampachi cooked sous-vide with lemon-basil infusion and garlic parsley puree; veal oxtail confit with butternut squash ravioli and elk filet with creamy salsify and red beet-infused Yukon potato galette with wild mushrooms. Suzanne Hoffman is an attorney, wine importer and the Chambellan Provincial of the Southwest Region and Bailli (president) of the Vail chapter of the Chaine des Rotisseurs. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.