Two local restaurants are teaming up with a popular Oregon winery for a virtual wine dinner in May. The event is both a display of cooperation in the midst of crisis and a test of technological innovation for the future. The Hamilton’s Jimmy Mays reached out to Patrono after his head chef was forced to self-quarantine.
“A friend suggested that we could move forward with the dinner because there are tons of chefs not working right now, so I thought we’d do a ‘pop-up,’ and Chef Krell is always one of the first chefs I think of for events like this,” Mays said.
Patrono’s executive chef Jonathan Krell and general manager Robert Painter are working with The Hamilton to provide a four-course dinner with tiered wine pairings from Raptor Ridge Winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Owners Scott and Annie Shull will do a Facebook Live chat with participants at 8:30 p.m. May 6 to talk about the wines and the winery, and to answer any questions diners have. The guests can pick up their meals and wine beginning at 4 p.m., or delivery is available for those who live within The Hamilton’s delivery area. The logistics have been a moving target, and Mays said they’re still tweaking details.
“No one has done this before, so we’ve discussed every step with Scott and Annie and Patrono,” Mays said. “We’re excited about offering guests a new way to experience a wine dinner, using a framework that could work after the crisis is over.”
The ability to access a winemaker remotely – especially right now – allows for a multi-layered experience where patrons may interact with winemakers and winery owners from their vineyard rows, tasting rooms “or wherever they happen to be in the world,” Mays said. It is one way to redefine what wine dinners and guest experiences can be.
To that point, Robert Painter talked about the possibilities of a wine dinner at home. Even with the plan to slowly reopen the state, many Oklahomans are not going to feel comfortable getting out for an elegant dinner right now, and probably for some, not in the immediate future.
“It’s a chance to get out of the pajamas and bathrobes we’ve all been wearing for a month,” Painter said, “but it’s also an opportunity for us to provide a great meal for our guests. We miss them; we miss offering them wonderful hospitality and food. We’re suggesting they break out the wedding china, get dressed up and make a romantic evening of it.”
As part of the evening’s events, Allie Day, sales manager for Thirst Wines, the company that represents Raptor Ridge, suggested a plating challenge. Guests can plate the food in whatever way they like, post the pictures to Instagram, and winners will be chosen to receive gift cards to both Patrono and The Hamilton.
“It’s just another way of figuring out what a wine dinner could be,” Mays said. “We want it to be fun and we want to push the boundaries of people’s expectations.”
One of the benefits of the virtual wine dinner will be the wine format itself. Typically, a wine dinner features three to five small pours of different wines, and not full glasses. Because this is virtual, guests will be able to choose two bottles per tier from two different price points, assuring a couple a wine dinner for two with two full bottles of wine in the (don’t have to drive anywhere) safety of their own home.
One of the wines that night is Raptor Ridge Barrel Select Pinot Noir. We talked to Raptor Ridge’s winemaker-owner Scott Shull about the wines, and he called the Barrel Select “Willamette Valley in a glass.”
“We have 14 vineyard sites around the valley we lease and farm doing Pinot Noir,” he said. “The wines are all harvested, fermented and barreled separately. We taste each barrel every year, and then build an assemblage that we believe represents The Willamette Valley in a glass.”
Scott and Annie Shull will talk with guests about the wines, winery and pairings, and they’ll take questions as well. It’s not unusual for winemakers and firms like Thirst to taste new wines virtually – via Skype or Zoom – but this interaction with diners is relatively new, and holds promise that wine dinners and access to winemakers in the future may be a value-add that restaurants can utilize as they try to navigate our new normal.