Wine and food festivals are pretty much a dime a dozen, which is not to say they aren’t a great way to discover new wines and food purveyors, run into friends and make a great day of it. But we’ve been there and have done that and there tends to be little variation on that theme.
The Earth Day Food and Wine Festival in Paso Robles takes it a step further. Yes, there is the silent auction, the live band, the great bucolic farm location at Santa Margarita Ranch between Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo. And yes, Paso Robles wines are there; heavy hitters like Saxum and their GSM blends, Tolosa and their pinot noir, Saucelito Canyon and their well known zinfandels, and Halter Ranch and their syrah and viognier. But since this festival celebrates Earth Day; not only are there recycle bins everywhere, but compost bins for the food scraps and utensils are all compostable as well. The goal is a zero waste event and whereas that’s not likely to ever happen in reality, this festival goes a long way in reminding wine consumers that though we can enjoy the fruit of the vine, we don’t need to be irresponsible and contribute to its destruction.
“It’s not about being ‘green’ exactly,” says Kris O’Connor, Executive Director of the Central Coast Vineyard Team who sponsors the event along with local businesses, “it’s about treading more lightly on the earth and making decisions on purpose,” she says. Food is served on, and with, recyclable and compostable plates, bowls, forks and spoons. Recycling containers are located throughout the event site and a team of volunteers manages a constant effort of both recycling and composting, and guests are asked to drink water from commemorative glasses. Event programs and information guides are also produced using only post-consumer recycled materials, and even the entertainment stage is solar-powered. “Once people attend the event they become loyal for life,” says O’Connor.
Held each April, this latest iteration collected just two bags of garbage, a considerably small amount given that 1,100 people attended the event. The majority of wines are from Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo, 70 of them in fact, but there are also the foods, like the specialty butters, which blends cabernet sauvignon into one, and chardonnay into another. And there are dishes made from Hearst Ranch Beef, the Brown Butter Cookie Company from Cayucos, specialty and gourmet foods to compliment and enhance the wines. The idea of sustainability, of treating our environment as well as possible, extends throughout Paso Robles. Halter Ranch wine grower Mitch Wyss for example uses chickens to feed on undesirable insects rather than using pesticides.
“Where did Monsanto warp our brains to think we can’t use chickens?” he asks rhetorically of the chemical giants’ saturation in the market with the dubious Round-Up weed killer. His “SWAT team” of birds as he calls them eats the insects and, additionally, the nitrogen from the chicken droppings enhances the soil. As another benefit, employees at the winery get fresh eggs to take home. Currently Wyss has over 50 chickens working for him and he is experimenting using sheep as well to help with weed control.
The wine region in Paso Robles is hitting its stride, creating itself into a destination region, a place to discover an incredible breadth and diversity of wines and wine styles and at price points that are still consumer friendly. There are even a few tasting rooms where there are no tasting fees, and where the winemaker will be the one pouring his or her wine, something that is becoming more quaint everyday in this age of mega wines and over-the-top personalities. Ultimately, this festival is a reminder that the earth is our greatest natural resource and we need to be kind and thoughtful with it, from farmer to consumer, we all have an impact and each and every one of us can find ways to reduce our impact, literally, on the home we all share. That’s something we can all drink to. Check it out at www.earthdayfoodandwine.com