Sometimes seemingly fancy words can hide serious fun. That's often an issue with wine and French -- if you don't speak the language, it can quickly feel like they're not snobbing with you, but snobbing at you. So let's demystify this word as it's the time of year you hear it the most -- la paulée. Heck, it's even got an accent. In its simplest form, it's a harvest dinner where winemakers and guests all bring a special bottle of wine as a way to delight in the season's bounty.
"It is a wonderful opportunity to share wine that you love with others and to meet new people in a more casual environment than at a traditional wine dinner," said Morgen McLaughlin, Executive Director of Santa Barbara Vintners. "The dinner is served family-style and guests are encouraged to try other guests' wines."
The dinner will take place at historic Mattei's Tavern in Los Olivos. Chef Robbie Wilson is extremely honored to host. "I appreciate the work the winemakers do and how critical their efforts inspire what we do each day," he said. "Nourishing them with our finest is the best form of expression from a cook."
That finest will include rotisserie chicken, suckling pig, foie-miso glazed eggplant, and a rosemary glazed local apple tart. When asked how he chose the menu, Wilson said, "I simply executed a menu with food that I want to eat, to honor the time and place of the season, and to let the wine be the celebrity. The food is merely the salt on the meat, so to speak."
The wine tables at la paulée can be spectacular when one gazes over the breadth and depth of open bottles -- often large formats, older vintages, or one-offs people might not even remember. But all that good vino is merely a delicious means to grease the social wheels. "Such events are always a great opportunity to see and socialize with one's peers that, although in the same industry and the same county, sometimes are virtual strangers, as the pressures of work and family pull everyone in different directions," winemaker Seth Kunin of Kunin Wines said. "It's great to touch base with other winemakers in the region and hear what's new, issues that they might be facing, industry news, and gossip."
Although Kunin points out how such an event can be a rare opportunity for an industry too busy to meet to sit down, chat, and eat, he also insists, "For the public it presents a unique opportunity to socialize and interact with the winemakers who create the wines that they drink -- to get an inside peek at the community and, of course, to see and taste the wines that the winemakers think are great."
If you really want to know the history, it's a French word for a reason. "It is true that the tradition can be traced back to the Burgundy region, but it is more the idea of getting together to celebrate and toast the harvest that is important -- not the locale," Kunin said. "Similar galas happen in winemaking regions all over the world, it's just that they started calling it la paulée in Burgundy. This evidently came from the French word poêle, for saute pan, as the meal at the event would typically be something simple that could be cooked in one poêle."
Something tells me from looking at the menu, Chef Wilson is going to use more pans than that. Of course, the number of pans won't come close to the number of bottles of wine to sample.