Five years. That’s the soonest after planting a wine grower can even think of bottling wine. For perspective, Thomas Jefferson labored in the field for more than fifty years and never filled a single bottle. It’s a tough business, but Cory Bomgaars is starting to get it down out at Les Bourgeois. That was just one of many things I took away from Slow Food Katy Trail’s “Dinner in the Vineyard” event a couple of weeks ago.
The location was a beautiful old tobacco barn among the vines of Les Bourgeois’ property south of Rocheport and just off Roby Farm Road. The road turns to gravel, then sinks low beneath the embankments and the roots of trees as you approach. We were there to support Slow Food’s work with local schools, sure. The three piece jazz band was a nice touch. But really, we were there for the food and wine.
Inside, the tables were set for 100 diners. Flowers and twisted rolls adorned tables dappled with evening sun. The popping of champagne corks filled the air – it was going to be a good night. While Chefs Mike Odette, Brook Harlan, Craig Cyr and Aaron Wells-Morgan put the finishing touches on dinner, LB winemaker Cory Bomgaars took us on a hayride up into the hills to check out where their wine gets started.
Winemaking – from growing the grapes to bottling the finished product – is a really, really painful and uncertain process. First, it takes five years and plenty of good luck before your plantings even think about producing bottleable wine. Then, bugs and disease continually rear their ugly heads. Late freezes – a la 2007 – can virtually wipe out a year’s crop before it even gets under way (and then cranky bloggers rip the stuff anyway).
In sum, I heartily recommend a vineyard tour if you’ve never been on one. If nothing else, I guarantee you won’t be bitching about that $15 bottle of Norton at Hy-Vee next time. After crash course on grapes – Norton’s easy to grow and needs little spray, Chambourcin’s the opposite – we chugged back down to the barn for dinner.
The first course was a tray of heirloom tomatoes, pickled mushrooms and a selection of Brook’s cured meats, all paired wth Les Bourgeois’ excellent brut-style sparkling wine. They make only 500 gallons of the stuff, I would note, and it’s purely methode traditionale, which means loads of manual labor and they lose money on each bottle. But it’s an excellent wine; one they and we should be proud of.
Second, possibly my favorite course of the evening, was smoked trout on potato salad…truly phenomenal trout from Mike. We enjoyed this with LB’s Vidal Blanc.
The sliced beef round was on the tough side, but rich with rosemary and cooked perfectly. Then came an eye-opening squash and potato gratin I need to try to replicate. We closed things out with some of Goatsbeard’s amazing cheese and a trio of small desserts.
It was a wonderful evening full of remarkable food and company, and proper attention was paid to the people who’d produced the food for the dinner. During the meal, Mike raised a toast to Merritt and Dennis Van Landuyt of Troutdale Farm, saying “Their consistency in excellence and quality of customer service would be an inspiration to any business.”
Then Rob Hemwall of Pierpont Farms stepped to the front of the room to a rousing round of applause. As he described what a difficult year it had been for them on the farm and how much that simple gesture of gratitude meant, he grew emotional. We couldn’t know how much it meant, he said.
It was an evening we won’t soon forget; I encourage you to check it out next year. Thanks to everyone who helped put it on. See Slow Food’s slideshow for some additional photos.