The Austin Chronicle

In Good Taste

The Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival and the value of 'terroir'

By Virginia B. Wood, March 30, 2007, Food

Jeri Moore's vibrant poster art for the 2007 Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival (at right) evokes images of the best aspects of the annual event. The painting celebrates the romance of enjoying good food and wine in a lovely pastoral setting, surrounded by the abundance of agriculture. Starting today, several hundred people will gather in Austin to do just that: They will eat great food, drink good wine, and meet the talented artisans and dedicated producers responsible for those riches at an array of venues around Central Texas.

After several years of flirting with national magazine affiliation, extravagant New York City promotional tours, and celebrity chef lineups resembling those of the TV Food Network, festival organizers have opted to make Central Texas' considerable attributes the festival's main attraction. They are showcasing the area with a seasoning of music and film and an excellent selection of regional fare. Talk about maximizing the terroir.

The French word refers to all of the qualities of a wine growing region – soil, climate, elevation, etc. – that make grapes grown in one particular area produce wines that are distinctive from wines made from the same grapes grown somewhere else. And just as Texas winemakers have learned over the years to grow grapes and make wines that are best suited to their own particular terroir, the THCWFF organizers have opted to render their annual event from among the most attractive venues and homegrown talents available. This isn't to say there won't be some respected guest wineries and chefs as always. It's just that Texas – and the best this region has to offer – will star. The weekend is chock-full of wine tastings, luncheons, dinners, seminars, film, cooking classes, and demonstrations. Chronicle wine writer Wes Marshall has already told you about his favorite event (see "Eat, Drink, Laugh, and Learn With Kate MacMurray"). Here's a look at the festival elements that hold the most interest for me. A limited number of tickets are still available at the festival registration desk at the Four Seasons Hotel (98 San Jacinto, 478-4500) and at some selected Twin Liquors outlets. Call for availability.

Latin Sizzles

Texas Disposal Systems' exotic game ranch near Creedmore

Thursday, March 29, 6-9pm, $75

The TDS ranch sits on a gentle hill just south of Austin, offering a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. It is an amazing setting for a party. The festival's Latin Sizzles event will certainly put it to good use celebrating the exotic flavors and libations of Latin America. Guests can stroll the grounds and pavilion sampling foods and wines to the scintillating tropical rhythms of Austin's Seu Jacinto, a band that specializes in the traditional music of Northeastern Brazil. The best in Texas Latin cuisine will be presented by chefs from Casa Brasil, Doña Emilia's South American Bar & Grill, El Chile Cafe y Cantina, Oaxacan Tamaleo, Tacodeli, and Vivo from Austin, Hugo's of Houston, Los Barrios of San Antonio, and Via Real of Fort Worth. Both guest chefs at this event boast Texas roots: Jesse Perez of Nava in Atlanta is from San Antonio, and Aarón Sanchez of Paladar in NYC is a native of El Paso. Alongside wines from Texas, California, Chile, and Argentina, Tequila Corazón will be pouring their Latin-inspired cocktails.

Louisiana Lunchtime

Threadgill's World Headquarters' beer garden (301 Riverside)

Friday, March 30, noon-2pm, $40

The vibrant and distinctive regional cuisine and culture of Southwestern Louisiana and Southeast Texas create a memorable impression hereabouts, especially since we've been bequeathed some very talented transplants in the aftermath of Katrina. Threadgill's shady beer garden is the setting for this fais-do-do, and the rockin' zydeco will be provided by Charles Thibodeaux & the Bayou Cajun Band. The Cajun and Creole delectables will be provided by Threadgill's; Ms. B's Bistro; Gene's New Orleans Style Poboys & Deli; Evangeline Cafe; Quality Seafood's Aw, Shucks Oyster Bar; the Onion Creek Grille of Austin; Brennan's of Houston; and Citrus of San Antonio. In addition to wines from Becker, Driftwood, and Texas Hills vineyards, there will be libations from Bullet Bourbon, Sweet Leaf Tea, Nestlé waters, Lula Savannah Coffee, Maine Root beverages, and Louisiana's own Abita beer. Don't let the good times roll without you.

Stars Across Texas Grand Tasting

Austin Hilton Downtown

Friday, March 30, 7:30-10pm, $125

There are those (myself included) who find the crowd at this annual gastronomic extravaganza somewhat overwhelming, but it does offer some of the most talented chefs from around the state a big stage on which to strut their stuff. Just imagine having to create 1,000 free servings of a bite-sized signature dish with which to dazzle a hungry, surging horde of foodies, and you have some inkling of the challenge facing the chefs. There are usually more hits than misses, and each year yields a few remarkable finds. In addition to all the interesting food, vintners from Texas, California, Chile, Argentina, Australia, and South Africa will be pouring some of their best wines.

From Texas Farm to Table

Adjacent to the Austin Farmers' Market in Republic Square Park

Saturday, March 31, 10am-1pm, $50

The concept of this event is one that has long been dear to my heart: Local and guest chefs will pair with area growers and artisan food producers to demonstrate the growing bounty and diversity of homegrown foods. It demonstrates a self-fulfilling prophecy at work – the more we support and promote the markets, the more growers and producers we'll have. In addition to cooking, California guest chefs John Ash of Fetzer Vineyards and Eric Lee of Simi Winery will join Jeff Cox, author of The Organic Cook's Bible, and local producers in the speakers tent to discuss their practices and philosophies. Estate-grown wines from Flat Creek Estate and Pheasant Ridge of Texas and Bonterra and Simi from California will complement the chef's creations. Best tip: Bring a cooler, and come early to shop the adjacent market for the best selections. They will provide a "veggie valet" for festival guests.

Sunday Fair

San Gabriel Park in Georgetown

Sunday, April 1, noon-5pm, $45 adults; $10, 10 and younger; 3 and younger free

As always, this popular outdoor event offers the potential best bang for your entertainment buck of the entire weekend. The new setting on the scenic banks of the San Gabriel River makes it more accessible, with parking more plentiful. Guests can make the most of the opportunity to chat with chefs, vintners, and artisan producers in a relaxed and casual setting. This party offers something for everyone. Stroll among the outdoor cooking areas and the three tents to enjoy any and/or all of the following – authentic campfire cooking demos by cowboys and cowgirls, celebrity chef smackdown competitions, kid-friendly cooking demonstrations, live Texas music, seminars on wines and spirits, and plenty to drink. end story

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