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1 October, 2015

7th Annual Sustainable Contra Costa Gala

Comments : 4 Posted in : Chardonnay Rose, Dining in Concord - CA, Events, Food, Port, Primitivo / Zinfandel, Red Wine, Rose Wine, Wine on by : The Gourmez

How often do you get to chat with winemakers fresh from harvest with the purple hands to prove it and chefs young and old describing their locally sourced dishes all while helping advance the cause of sustainability with a ticket purchase and silent auction bid on more amazing foodstuffs?


Okay, for me, it’s fairly often. But for people who don’t food blog for a living, the annual Sustainable Contra Costa (SCOCO) gala is a great way to do all of the above for a reasonable price ($50 this year) that, of course, goes to support the nonprofit’s work. SCOCO is devoted to promoting sustainability practices among residents, businesses, students, and community leaders throughout Contra Costa County. Every year, they hold this gala to fundraise and to award their Leadership in Sustainability and Green Building awards to deserving individuals and businesses who have shown “an outstanding commitment to implementing sustainable practices and [who] serve to educate the public and inspire change.”

Winegrower Susan Captain of Captain Vineyards, one of those business owners dedicated to sustainability.

Winegrower Susan Captain of Captain Vineyards, one of those business owners dedicated to sustainability.

I was tapped by a good friend on the board to come in and bring some extra attention to the food and drink vendors donating their time and energy at the gala.

Cheese and fruit platters donated by Whole Foods of Walnut Creek.

Cheese and fruit platters donated by Whole Foods of Walnut Creek.

Each one of the local vendors I talked with are also committed to using sustainable practices, and I’ve long been a friend to restaurants and wineries that recognize how important the environment is to all of us and how much of a difference we can make even on the small scale. TerraVITA, a North Carolinian festival that celebrates sustainability, immediately comes to mind as an event I had extensive media involvement with when I lived in Durham (Psst! This year’s TerraVITA starts 10/8/2015!). Throw in the fact that I’ve had little-to-no experience with the food scene in Contra Costa County so far, and the SCOCO gala was a perfect match for me.

In light of that, I’m going to share with you what would have been perfect matches among the food and drink options at the reception, which was my primary focus and took place right before the awards ceremony. The Concord Hilton’s patio was lovely and deftly set up with lines never getting too crowded. It’s also worth noting that the hotel was one of the evening’s award winners!


The reception is intended to be nibbles and samples, but we got plates overflowing with food from the vendors! Tucked in the back was also the wine raffle display.

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That’s a lot of great wine to take home from Californian winemakers! I’m a bit jealous of the winners. But honestly, I had a great time just perusing the vendors’ wares. My culinary circuit began at Plate & Vine’s table, the hotel’s restaurant led by executive chef Dwayne Griffiths.


Griffiths and a fellow employee seared Calabrese sausage and sweet potato gnocchi then dressed up plates like the pros they are.

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The final product was amazing!


The gnocchi was lathered in a sweet red pepper cream sauce, sprinkled with goat’s milk gouda, and finished with basil oil. Excellent crunch on the gnocchi’s edges, and the soft flavors made the red pepper essence vibrant.

For this virtual pairing, I choose the Starmont 2012 Merlot from the Merryvale family of wines to go with that gnocchi. Merryvale Vineyards is Napa Green Land and Napa Green Winery certified.

Jessica Colburn representing Merryvale.

Jessica Colburn representing Merryvale.

Strawberry and spice notes sounds like a wine cliché, but here, it’s a revelation. The sharp spice elevates the wine, giving me the feel of a Jamaican jerk rub with cinnamon, annatto, star anise, and charred habanero with subdued heat. Well-blended tobacco rounds it out.


My next plate came from Yalla Mediterranean, located in Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek.

The Yalla Mediterranean crew.

The Yalla Mediterranean crew.

This restaurant group is committed to using meat from responsibly raised animals, ingredients as local as the lemon tree inside the store, compostable packaging, and an interior of salvaged wood.

A glimpse of some of that wood.

A glimpse of some of that wood.

My plate consisted of chicken shawarma, hummus and pita, Moroccan carrot salad, Turkish cabbage slaw, and falafel.


The chicken’s seasonings were delicious, full of citrus liveliness, but the carrot salad stole the show with its enticing cumin, dill, and sweet vinegar dressing.

For Yalla Mediterranean’s plate, I would reach for Captain Vineyard’s 2014 chardonnay rosé.


It’s a playful wine with funky watermelon notes—and I mean that in a groovy way, not a scary one. The wine is all the more fun when winemaker Sal Captain is the one serving it!


Sal, and his wife, wine grower Susan, regaled us with tales of their varied adventures across Europe and the Middle East. Here in Moraga they dry farm grapes, an admirable choice in these drought years, and they were the first Green Winery in Contra Costa County. You can taste that dry farming in their 2010 petite sirah.


I’m not yet a petite sirah fan, but I marveled over the woody notes in this one. It captures a rugged quality in the nose and the glass.

My final plate of food came courtesy of Mt. Diablo High’s International Hospitality and Tourism Academy (IHTA).


I’m still wrapping my head around the idea that there’s a sustainable tourism program in a high school! Contra Costa County, you’re ahead of the curve there. The whole academy follows the Sustainable Hospitality Pathway toward careers in the industry.


The students at the service line were excited to share their three dishes with me. The first was a vegetable scramble with kale, mashed potato, green beans, and other veggies with a substantive amount of parmesan cheese baked in it. I’m not going to lie—the cheese made it soar.


I’d pair it with the draft White Witch IPA on hand from Black Diamond Brewery. What, I didn’t tell you there was beer, too?

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The White Witch is a lighter IPA, but for IPAs, that’s more my style. The hops engaged my interest and its medium body would be great with that scramble. The brewery also brought along their signature Rampage, up at 85 IBU, which had intriguing citrus elements and a honey sweetness.


I wouldn’t say it’s a perfect match for the IHTA’s Spanish rice, but I commit to my conceits when I establish them.


The rice was cooked with beans and a root vegetable sauce. For me, it needed its flavor profile kicked up a notch, but I may be biased as I’m not a fan of beans. The ratatouille, on the other hand, was impressive.


The students have learned the skill needed to concentrate flavors in that dish! The leeks, tomatoes, and peppers were especially welcome in my mouth, and they had enough kick to leave some guests complaining—that’s a good sign in my book.

What else to pair a ratatouille that good with than an equally spicy zinfandel?


Viano Vineyards brought two exceptional zinfandels with them: the 2011 Sand Rock Hill and the 2008 Vintage Port.

Winemaker John Viano offers a glass.

Winemaker John Viano offers a glass.

The oldest vines at Viano date to 1888, and Sand Rock Hill has them! Lighter berries, like gooseberry, floated through the exquisite brambles of this wine, only getting more character with each thrash of a spicy thorn. The port’s grapes were dry farmed and from vines aged 70+ years, yielding a tawny impression with little to no alcohol heat and excellent walnut, butterscotch, and grapeseed character.

After an evening spent tasting great food and drink, I was thoroughly content with my SCOCO gala experience, and I’ll be enjoying the Handsome Carver nut butter sampler basket that I won in the silent auction for months to come.

Thanks for the invite, SCOCO, and thanks for the great offerings, Viano, IHTA, Plate & Vine, Yalla, Merryvale, Black Diamond, & Captain!

The 2015 gala took place 23 September 2015.




4 thoughts on : 7th Annual Sustainable Contra Costa Gala

  • October 3, 2015 at 8:32 am

    How fun! I love events that look at how wine and food can be made in a sustainable way.

  • October 10, 2015 at 7:51 am

    If everyone does the maximum they can to preserve and enhance the environment, engage the community with social responsibility, and ensure economic viability, that’s sustainability. SCOCO is a leader in all the above and deserve our support.
    Thank you Gourmez for a very nice blog.
    Sal Captain

    • The Gourmez
      October 10, 2015 at 10:58 am

      Thank you for the great conversation the night of the event, Sal, and for making wines that are conversation starters on their own! We’ll definitely visit your winery in the months to come.

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