01 January 2019 Written by  By John Viano
Published in January 2019 Articles

A Memorable Feast Among the Vineyards

Nearly 200 discriminating diners gathered on September 29 at Brentwood’s beautiful Tamayo Family Vineyards to celebrate the Sixth Annual Winegrowers Dinner — a fundraiser sponsored by the Contra Costa Winegrowers Association (CCWA). I am one of the growers, the current CCWA chairman, and 16 years ago was one of the original members of the associa-tion, so the Winegrowers Dinner is a major event on my calendar.


The CCWA mission is “to promote grape growing and wine production throughout the county,” and “establishing Contra Costa County as a premium wine producing region.” Both goals are dear to my heart because I am a fourth-generation owner of the Viano Vineyards and Conrad Viano Winery in Martinez.

The Winegrowers Dinner was a memorable feast. Chef Juan Hernandez with Elisa’s Catering prepared the food using ingredients that were picked-this-week fresh from Smith Farm and Dwelley Farm. Nunn Better Farm supplied olive oil. Chef Hernandez and Sarah Tamayo chose the wines to be paired with each course. Brentwood’s Zephyr Grill and Bar supplied eight of the serving crew who did a wonderful job in keeping the food and wine flowing from the first course to the end.

Each of the five courses demonstrated the quality and taste of products from some of our local farms and labels from some of our local vineyards. An important part of the evening’s enjoyment came from the marriage of the entrées and wines. Two vintages were served with each course giving diners an opportunity to see for themselves how the tastes of two different wines paired with that particular entrée. As you might expect, the dining experience was enriched by the pleasant and sometimes animated conversa-tions that arose as diners expressed their opinions concerning the relative quality of the two wines in the pairing.


Course # 1 — Scallop Crudo over Cucumber with Tropical Sauce
The first entrée provided a fresh beginning for the evening’s event. The central scallop was an especially tasty center-point enjoyed by all of us, except for one in our party who said it reminded her of sushi — which was a plus, of course, for most of us.

The first pairing was a Hannah Nicole 2017 Sauvignon Blanc. We learned that it had been made from grapes grown onsite in their 54-acre vineyard. The wine had a crisp nose, good acidity, with a light touch of citrus. It was easy drinking and paired well with the entrée.

The second pairing, a 2017 Ancient Vines Mourvèdre Rosé, provided a nice contrast to the Sauvignon Blanc. It had nice fruit, a beautiful color, and a great bouquet with aromas of red currant, strawberry, and plum, and a nice finish. The “ancient vines” is an interesting note with Cline Vineyards. A rumor from a good source has it that the oldest living vines in America are still growing in some undisclosed Cline vineyard.

Course # 2 — Heirloom Tomatoes, Kale Greens, Green Beans, Shaved Fennel, Goat Cheese with Peach Nectar Dressing

I sometimes wonder why anybody uses kale as an ingredient to any meal, but in this case found the kale to support the pleasant mixture of flavors and textures in this tasty salad. The Peach Nectar Dressing was superb!

Both wines paired particularly well with the entrée. The Bloomfield Vineyards 2017 Chardonnay had a nice fruity flavor  with a taste of pineapple. I was pleasantly surprised by its nice creamy character since it had been aged in stainless steel, which gave it a distinct un-oaked quality.

The Campos Family Vineyards 2016 Lily Rosé had a nice nose with an off dry, light, and fruity taste. It is a good supper wine.

Course # 3 — Korean Spice Smoked Brisket over a Sweet Potato, Brussels Sprouts, and Bacon Hash

Korean spice is a personal favorite of mine and this dish was very well made. It had a smoky quality that mixed very well with both paired wines.

The Wedl Wine Cellars 2014 Zinfandel1 had a light style. It had formerly been used as a blender but was now a varietal. It was full bodied with an agreeable amount of toasty oak, a very nice nose, and nice dark fruit. (By the way, we learned that a Wedl wine won its first medal in 2004, six years before Wedl itself was incorporated.)

The Favalora Vineyards Winery’s 2016 Carignane was from the October harvest and was high in alcohol with a full-mouthed feel. The wine would pair well with either meat or fish, or could be a nice solo beverage. As a first wine, the residual zin added an agreeable fruity taste that paired well with the Korean spice.

Course # 4 — Fig Stuffed Pork Loin Porchetta over Roasted Corn Polenta Cake with Roasted Yellow Beans and a sauce of Figs and Port Wine

This hearty entrée was favored by a number of diners.

The Newberry Estate Vineyards 2015 Mourvèdre had a big bold taste that matched well with the figs and the pork. The Tamayo Family Vineyards 2010 Petite Sirah had a nice taste that suited the figs and balanced well with the pork.

Both wines would also have paired wonderfully with the previous Korean Spice Smoked Brisket entrée.

Course # 5 — Dessert Wine Infused Dark Chocolate Coating, provided by Brian & Michelle Lucay, served with Chocolate and Pear Cake with Caramel Sauce Topped with Powdered Sugar

Dessert is a favorite course of many meals, and the two parts of this delicious dessert provided a fitting conclusion to the truly memorable feast.

The dessert was paired with our Viano Vineyards 2014 Contra Costa County Vintage Zinfandel Port. We took advantage of the fact that zinfandel is a versatile grape capable of creating wines varying from white to very deep fruit colors with anything in between. The port has a full flavored distinct taste — ripe, soft, with a notable berry character, some pepper, and an oak finish to mellow it out.

By the way, “Vintage” in the title refers to the 70+-year-old gnarled, dry-farmed, hillside vines that it was made from. The wine won several competitions including Double Gold at the San Francisco Chronicle, Double Gold Medal and Best Port awards at the California Zinfandel Championships, and Gold Medal at the Central Coast Wine Competition.

The dinner was truly a memorable event. We’re already planning for the 2019 dinner. Check the website for date and place, and plan to make some wonderful culinary memories of your own.


The Viano family has been raising crops on our Martinez property since 1920. My great grandfather Clemente Viano purchased the property when it was a nut and fruit tree farm with 20 acres of vineyards. The region was famous for growing grapes and had become known as “Vine Hill.” At one time it was home to 15 wineries.

Sadly, Clemente passed when he was on a trip to Italy and our grandfather Conran, who was 18 years old, took over the operations. In 1946 Grandpa built the winery. Forty years later it is the lone survivor in the area, though some new vineyards are under develop-ment. Our father Clement studied Enology at Davis and took over the operations in the ’70s. My brother David and I followed in his footsteps. I studied Viticulture at Davis, David studied Enology, and we took over in 2004, when Dad passed.

Te next generation Viano winemakers are preparing to take over the operations when David and I retire. My children, John (27) and Samantha (23), who are the beginning of the fifth generation, are working every day at the winery. John has a Viticulture degree from Fresno; Sam has a Wine Business Degree from Cal Poly. David’s son Michael (21) is studying Enology at Fresno State. His son Robert (19) is studying Chemical Engineering and Enology at Davis. David and I feel blessed to be part of something that’s been so good for so long.

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