Have you ever witnessed a sunset at Hearst Castle? We think we just found the best way to experience that.
It’s always enjoyable to attend a food and wine event in an outdoor environment based on award-winning wines and delicious food prepared by talented chefs. The level of enjoyment rises when live entertainment is thrown into the mix and microbrews are also available for attendees as an alternative beverage choice. But when you take all of that, locate it on the California Coast, schedule it at a time which includes watching the sun set, and then actually place the festivities in the middle of Hearst Castle, well now that’s an event composition that is going to be hard to top.
We recently experienced that alignment of elements at Sunset at Hearst Castle on September 25, 2014, the kickoff event for this year’s Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast weekend. This was our first time attending this dinner, a spectacular combination of food, wine, music, and setting which also showcased some of the best food and wine available in the central California coastal region. Keep reading and we’ll try to capture the highlights well enough to convince you that you should attend next year.
Located on the Central Coast, Hearst Castle was inherited in 1919 by William Randolph Hearst who worked with architect Julia Morgan to transform it into a stunning retreat called La Cuesta Encantada (Spanish for “Enchanted Hill”). The Castle is now a National and California Historical Landmark and for the Sunset at Hearst Castle event, guests were able to walk around the grounds enjoying the landscaping, terraces, and views as they sipped and dined.
We had a variety of tableaus at our disposal that night: wine and cheese tasting on the Unfinished Terrace, panoramic views of the sunset from the South Terrace, and outstanding food and wine at tables distributed throughout the property offering small bites such as Oysters, Sausages and an impressive appetizer from Chef James Siao of Finch & Fork: a Handmade Almond Cracker topped with Seared Ahi Tuna, Butternut Squash and Chipotle Purée, Pickled Apples and Crispy Almonds.
The superstar of the cheese offerings that night was an hors d’ouevre representing the Central Coast: Swedish Gingersnaps with Big Rock Blue Cheese (from Central Coast Creamery), Wildflower Honey (from TheraBee), Microgreens (from Bloom Microgreens), and Dried and Sweet Cranberries. Plated by Fromagerie Sophie, she also served up Tête de Moine (curled up into a flower), Goat Cheese Pyramid (from Rinconada Dairy) with fig spread, Brie L’Original (from Paysan Breton), Tome de Fontenay, Bandage Wrapped Cheddar (from Fiscalini), and Alle-Pia Finocchiona Salami.
Most of the heavy lifting on cooking that night was done under the direction of Chef Maegan Loring whose culinary offerings included Cucumber Medallions with Feta Cheese and Herb Pesto, Abalone Chowder, Couscous with Butternut Squash and Raisins and Almonds, Moroccan Carrot Salad, Snap Peas with Tangerine Olive Oil, Root Vegetable Purée, and Coq au Vin. Later in the evening, guests had the dilemma (potentially) of choosing between two outstanding Grilled Cheese Sandwiches made with San Luis Sourdough Bread: Grilled Cheddar with House Made Apple Butter or Holey Cow Swiss Cheese with Bacon and Leeks.
The Sunset at Hearst Castle event was our first introduction to the winners of the 2014 Sunset International Wine Competition where over 50 judges assessed almost 3,000 submitted wines. At the Sunset Dinner, over 25 wines from around the world were poured including several “Best in Class” winners in their respective categories. Our personal favorites of the evening were the Domaine Carneros 2009 Brut (Napa, CA), Troon Vineyard 2013 Foundation ’72 Vermentino (Grants Pass, OR), Halter Ranch 2013 Côtes de Paso Blanc (Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier) (Paso Robles, CA), Colagrossi Wines 2012 L’Inizio (Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier) (Windsor, CA), Domaine Porto Carras 2012 Malagouzia (Greece), Halter Ranch 2013 Rosé (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Picpoul Blanc) (Paso Robles, CA), Talley Vineyards 2012 Estate Pinot Noir (Arroyo Grande, CA) and Meadowlark Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (Santa Ynez, CA).
While we stayed with wine ourselves, other guests took advantage of the microbrews offered that evening and enjoyed beverages from Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Toro Creek Brewing Company and Central Coast Brewery.
Dessert course choices were made with Torani® flavored syrups, accompanied by recipes for each. Our favorites were the Raspberry Cake (a white cake flavored with Raspberry Syrup) and Pumpkin Pie Trifle with Candied Pecans (with Pumpkin Pie Syrup used in both the Pudding and Candied Pecan components of the trifle).
To burn off the calories they had just ingested, Sunset at Hearst Castle guests danced to the musical entertainment of the San Luis Jazz Band performing a diverse range of songs in the Castle’s Central Plaza. A week ago, we would have never expected to be able to cross “Hear a rendition of Baby Got Back performed on the grounds of Hearst Castle” off of our bucket list (which, for the record, was flawlessly performed by the band, rap and all).
The Sunset at Hearst Castle event was just the start of the 2014 Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast weekend, and what a beginning it was. We’ll write more about how enjoyable the subsequent parts of the weekend were, but we felt the Hearst Castle dinner was a particularly special event in and of itself. If you attended, we’d love to hear what your favorite parts of the evening were. To join in the festivities at the 2015 event, please keep an eye on the Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast website, or follow their Twitter account or the hashtag #SunsetSavor.
Visit San Luis Obispo County (producer and manager of Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast) promotes San Luis Obispo County through advertising, marketing, public relations and group sales. Its membership base is comprised of over 500 tourism industry-related businesses including lodging properties, restaurants, wineries, golf courses and retail stores.
Through magazines and books, events and experiences, and digital and social media, Sunset covers the West’s best flavors, destinations, design trends, and innovations. Sunset engages and inspires its audience through regional print editions (Pacific Northwest, Northern California, Southern California, Southwest and Mountain) and digital publications.