Two members of famed Pinot Posse co-host dinner in Vail |

Two members of famed Pinot Posse co-host dinner in Vail

Wren Wertin
Jodi George/Special to the DailyEd Kurtzman, Derek George, Peter Millette and Peter Cargasacchi co-hosted a slam-dunk of a winemakers' dinner at Sapphire Restaurant in Vail Friday night.

Some posses stop at dusk; others keep riding till the deed is done. On Friday, Sapphire Restaurant and Oyster Bar was the final destination for a handful of the Pinot Posse, a sassy group of West Coast winemakers and grape growers that has made a habit of cruising through Vail each spring for the past few years. Ed Kurtzman presented two of his Sandler Wine Company vintages, Peter Cargasacchi poured two Point Concepcion vinos and Craig Strehlow, of Keefer Ranch, pretended to chaperone but seemed prone simply to kick back and enjoy. And why not – executive chef Peter Millette’s culinary creations made for excellent bedfellows with Cargasacchi’s and Kurtzman’s wines.

“It went so smoothly, and everyone had such a great time,” said Sapphire sommelier Derek George. “People could really get to know each other and the winemakers.”

The intimate group of 18, which included both industry folks and casual foodies, sat at two communal tables in Sapphire’s wine room. The five courses and four wines seemed like a grand idea from the get-go. As the dinner progressed, it only got better.

“We poured wines they are less famous for,” George said. “Everybody knows Ed’s August West wine, and Peter’s Cargasacchi label is on a lot of wine lists, too. ”

It was a good call. Both the Point Concepcion and Sandler wines were imminently food friendly, thanks in part to chef Millette’s own palate.

Opening with Point Concepcion’s 2008 Caponera Chardonnay, a lilting chard if ever there was one, Millette went for oysters Rockefeller with a creamy, lemony hollandaise sauce threaded with truffle. The heft of the shellfish found a good partner in the barrel-fermented California Chardonnay, which had Kurtzman nodding in approval (perhaps with a little chard-envy).

In the second course, the salmon paillard’s toasty tumble of hazelnuts seemed magnetized by the 2008 Sandler Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands. It was a delicate dish for all its straightforwardness, and a marvelous pairing.

But Millette went all out on the next course, a roasted duck breast with foie gras French toast and a lingonberry demi glace. “It’s the heart of decadence,” Millette promised.

He’s clearly a man of his word. Heavily seasoned with cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and more, the sauce on the duck was made for the lusty 2008 Sandler Rock Hill Vineyard Zinfandel. A sexy mouthful indeed, full of spice.

The decadent reign continued with braised short ribs, cheesy polenta and endive, cleverly sweetened so as not to detract from the other flavors. Coupled with Point Concepcion’s 2004 Encantado Syrah, the food and wine seemed deep in its own conversation after the first bite and sip.

Last spring, George hosted a winemaker dinner solely with Cargasacchi at the Lodge at Vail. After switching from the large-scale Lodge operation to the independently owned Sapphire Restaurant – and restarting his passion for the wine biz in the process – George approached Cargasacchi about another dinner. The winemaker suggested bringing Kurtzman in on the event.

The two winemakers seem to have an affinity for each other that extends beyond professional courtesy. Kurtzman can spot one of Cargasacchi’s tall tales from a mile away; Cargasacchi doesn’t let that slow him down. Considering they’re ultimately in the same business, they lead pretty different lives – Cargasacchi’s a farmer as well as a winemaker, and has been known to work through the night, driving his tractor hither and yon through the fields. Kurtzman lives smack in the middle of the metropolis of San Francisco, and makes his wine right there in the city.

In fact all of the members of the Pinot Posse have different stories. It’s part of the magic of attending one of their events. As Cargasacchi pointed out, the taste and experience of wine is influenced by a variety of factors, including the company with whom you drink it. So, too, does getting to know the winemakers a little, and listening to their hopes and intentions for their wines, heighten the drinking experience.

And, it turns out, they’re also partial to Vail. While still in the middle of the 2010 tour, Pinot Posse members were already discussing their next visit.

“When we go on the Pinot Posse, every day is filled with excellent consumer and trade events, and we go right from one to the other,” Kurtzman said. “It all happens so quickly, but we enjoy every second of our trip. And having more than half of the Posse take place in one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Vail area, makes it even more special. Each one of us sells wine all over the U.S., but our favorite place to promote our wines is in Colorado.”

The Pinot Posse has a storied history in the valley. The group has grown from six to seven to eight over the years. From the Pinot Summits of the early days to the recent public and industry tastings, attendees have learned about a variety of issues from the winemakers – single-vineyard productions versus blends, discovering one’s own palate, Old World and New World styles, passion, farming, wooing women and exactly how much tequila should be involved in the winemaking process. Friday evening was partly about winemaking and mostly a celebration of the labor that went into the wines and food, in addition to the end result.

By briefly talking about the where and when of the grapes, and the how of the wines, the winemakers allowed us to revel in the present (the wine, the food) while looking over our shoulders at the past (the grapes, the process). It made for a rounder, fuller evening.

“Wine helps you relax and step back from the rat race,” Cargasacchi said. “Otherwise, you go to bed with all that stress on you.”

He’s right: Vino can help lighten the load. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always the possibility of a really nice buzz.

For more information on the wines visit and Both labels are distributed in Colorado. For more information on the Pinot Posse visit

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