A Toast: The First 20 Years

In 1991, the first Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta started as a one-day Grand Tasting in the back parking lot of Sanbusco Center. About three hundred people attended, and 20 Santa Fe restaurants served tastes alongside tastes from 20 world-class wineries. Working the Coyote Café table that first day, serving griddled corn cakes with chipotle shrimp, I recall it was a beautiful fall day, the last Saturday in September. Under the bluest sky imaginable with the biggest white clouds on god’s good earth, the smell of piñon fire and roasted green chile mingled with the crisp fall air. It was a unique environment, and everyone seemed to have a really good time.

As the event delivers it’s 20th rendition in 2010, little has changed — the sky is still as blue, the Santa Fe restaurants are still as great and attending guests will have a wonderfully unique time. What has changed are the numbers. The one-day event has matured into a five-day bacchanalian fiesta featuring 8 wine and food pairing seminars, 6 guest-chef lunches, 45 winemaker dinners, a reserve tasting, a trade tasting, a live auction luncheon, and a Gruet Winery golf tournament. Still, the centerpiece remains — the Grand Tasting — always on the last day of September and now featuring 70 great Santa Fe restaurants serving fabulous tastes alongside 100 world-class wineries to 4000 people having a good time under the bluest skies…well, you get the picture.

The location, the participating wineries, the time of year, all conspire to make a memorable event, but the identity and long-lasting character of the SFWC Fiesta is the Santa Fe restaurant community. As was the intention, the SFWC Fiesta has matured into a five-day snap shot of the diverse and unique culinary arts as represented by our Santa Fe restaurants. As our restaurant community continues to evolve, so does the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta.

All wine events have an identity — Aspen Food and Wine’s identity is the magazine’s sponsors and their Food Network chefs; Napa Valley Wine Auction mirrors all the glitz and generosity of their wineries; Pebble Beach Food & Wine is a showcase for international chefs. Other non-commercial, annual wine events that celebrate a grape, such as the International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and Hospice du Rhone in Paso Robles. But, most wine events are produced by a magazine or a national wine distributor to promote their brands and advertisers.

What is unique about SFWC is that it is an independently produced food and wine event put on by the Santa Fe restaurant community to showcase Santa Fe restaurants. Not a high-volume placement but a high profile placement, national and international wineries want to attend the Fiesta and show their wine side by side with Santa Fe’s unique cuisine. Consumers who attend are the winners in this symbiotic relationship. No other wine event comes close to being able to boast the incredible level of food as presented by the 70 participating restaurants at the SFWC Fiesta.

Having coordinated and directed the schedule for 17 years, what is special for me are the relationships formed. Working each year with 100 wineries, 70 restaurants, a dozen guest chefs, my production crew, my sales staff and a 21-person volunteer board of directors in creating and executing a five-day party for 4000 food and wine enthusiasts, I feel I am the luckiest (if not most connected) man in the world.

Let us now raise a glass to the 20th annual Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta and to the reason it exists: the most fabulous restaurant community in the universe!

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