Friday, December 19, 2014     Volume: 15, Issue: 41
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Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Vintage 2014: Unique project documents Santa Barbara County's grape growing season

BY WENDY THIES SELL

For several years, Wil Fernandez crisscrossed the country in an RV, trying to figure out where he wanted to live.

He returned to Santa Barbara County, intrigued by the landscape, the people, and the bountiful food and wine.

“People ask me, ‘Where’s your favorite place?’ This is my favorite place. This is it. There’s nowhere else like this area,” Fernandez said.


THE RINGMASTER
Wil Fernandez addressed a Phoenix audience in February during a test screening of his Vintage 2014 project, documenting this year’s Santa Barbara County wine crop.
PHOTO COURTESY OF WIL FERNANDEZ

Having worked in food and beverage marketing for years, Fernandez knows a lot about the bottle and what’s inside of it. But one morning, he woke up in a Lompoc vineyard after camping under the stars and realized something.

“It struck me; I knew nothing about the farming aspects of it,” he said.

The realization led him down a new path, and he started learning as much as he could about viticulture from the farmers on the ground.

A talented storyteller, Fernandez gathered other gifted artists and photographers to help him follow and learn from many of the passionate people in Santa Barbara County’s wine industry, documenting the 2014 vintage from “bud break to barreling.”

Fernandez calls the multimedia documentary project Vintage 2014.

“It really is following my journey, learning about all this stuff from a true layman’s standpoint,” he said.

Through a successful Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign, he had the funds he needed in January and immediately went to work lining up local collaborators, interviewing wine growers, and filming the dirt, the vines, and the fruit.

“The idea is to have a lot of different people showing their perspectives—including mine—in a lot of different mediums,” Fernandez said. “We’re doing macro photography, human interest stories, all these different things prior to that juice getting into the winery—kind of the untold story.”


KITCHEN ARTIST
Renowned Buenos Aires chef Diego Felix prepared berry pastry desserts for a July winemaker dinner as part of the Vintage 2014 project.
PHOTO COURTESY OF WIL FERNANDEZ

Over the course of the growing season, Fernandez and his team created three short films, in addition to podcasts, YouTube videos, a mobile app called “Dirt Don’t Lie,” and other content.

The first film beautifully documents grapevine bud break in the Sta. Rita Hills, and follows Wes Hagen from Clos Pepe, Karen Steinwachs from Buttonwood, and Laura Booras from Riverbench in the vineyard and during a bawdy roundtable discussion.

“All bring a different perspective: from a business perspective with Laura, from farming aspects with Wes, and from a winemaker’s perspective with Karen,” Fernandez explained. “There are so many personalities in the valley here, it is like Napa in the 1970s. It is so set back in time—an evolving wine region. It’s really cool getting to know people and getting this insider access.”

Fernandez’s first film will be unveiled Aug. 27 at the Vintage 2014 kick-off event during an interactive experience that pairs wine with film.

Attendees will enjoy a casual multi-course winemaker dinner at Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos and drink local artisan wines poured by their winemakers: Clarissa Nagy of Riverbench, Karen Steinwachs of Buttonwood, Michael Larner of Larner Wines, and Jonathan Nagy of Byron.


FARM TO BOTTLE
Buttonwood sauvignon blanc and Carucci viognier chilled at a Vintage 2014 dinner at Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos.
PHOTO COURTESY OF WIL FERNANDEZ

After dinner, the first short Vintage 2014 film will be projected outdoors onto the wall of the restaurant. With wine in glass, guests will watch the film that profiles the local artisans who made the wine and the Santa Barbara County vineyards where the wines were grown.

“Try the wines, meet the winemaker, and see the vineyards, all at this dinner,” Fernandez said.

Tickets for the dinner are available for $55 per person at vintage2014.brownpapertickets.com. The event is not recommended for children.

Also on Aug. 27, Fernandez will show a teaser of his second film, which features a July puerta cerrada (closed door) dinner hosted by Full of Life.

I was fortunate enough to be at the table the night the cameras rolled for the second film: breaking bread, drinking local boutique wines, visiting with local winemakers and community members, and experiencing the creative, seasonal cuisine of Diego Felix—a renowned Buenos Aires chef famous for his exciting closed-door meals.

The stories behind the vines
To watch and experience the Vintage 2014 multimedia project, visit Vintage2014.com. The premiere screening of the film and an accompanying winemaker dinner will be Aug. 27 at Full of Life Flatbread. For tickets go to vintage2014.brownpapertickets.com.

Then, starting in September, Fernandez is taking Vintage 2014 on the road to Los Angeles, Phoenix, New York, and Florida, hosting similar events during a national screening and tasting tour, spreading the word about Santa Barbara County wine country.

“I’m still the new guy, and I have a lot of big ideas, so I’m just trying to ride it out and prove myself. I sincerely, really love this area, and I want to establish myself here,” he said.

 

Sun wine and food columnist Wendy Thies Sell can be contacted at wthies@santamariasun.com.