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Photos from SLH Sun, Wind & Wine Festival at Mer Soleil Winery

Were you one of the lucky few to join us last weekend? Move over elephant seals because the Santa Lucia Highlands Sun, Wind & Wine Festival at Mer Soleil Winery was the highlight of our trip to California.
To be honest, I almost hate to share this one. There were no crowds and no lines, which is rare for a festival of this caliber. I want to keep it a secret all to myself. I'll let you in on it, but don't tell anyone else, okay?
SN and I attend food and wine events around the world. Although not as well known as others, such as the Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta and Cherry Creek Al Fresco, the Sun, Wind & Wine Festival is one of the best we've had the pleasure of joining.

Sun, Wind & Wine Festival: The Setting

The Santa Lucia Highlands is located inland from Monterey, CA in an area rich in farmland. The cool, windy climate is ideal for producing wine, especially pinot noir and chardonnay. 

Here, multi-generational winemakers from different families focus on sustainability and work together to protect more than 5,700 acres of vines, ensuring that this unique location can continue to grow the grapes used to produce some of the top wines in the country.
On the morning of the event, we were too excited. We plugged the destination into Google Maps and headed out in our rental car toward unlimited wine tasting and gourmet dining, marveling at the crops and wineries along the way. 

We could have slept in and enjoyed a more leisurely breakfast, as the map showed we were projected to arrive a whopping 40 minutes prior to the Sun, Wind & Wine Festival.

"You have arrived," announced the GPS. We were on a dirt road seemingly in the middle of nowhere. There were no festival guests, no cars, and no wine.
Silly us. We had indeed arrived at our destination. SN had asked me where the wine festival was and I told him Santa Lucia Highlands, CA, which he entered onto the map. 

It hadn't occurred to either of us that we needed to be more specific.

We hadn't even started drinking yet.
Once we had actually arrived, backtracking to Mer Soleil Vineyards, which we had driven right past, SN and I couldn't believe our luck. The festival was held in the perfect location, the rarely open-to-the-public Mer Soleil barrel cellar. 

Barrels of wine were stacked to the ceiling along every wall. Talk about unbeatable ambiance! It didn't matter if it was too hot, too cold, windy, or rainy outside because the weather was perfect inside the controlled space.

Sun, Wind & Wine Festival: The Wine

Participating wineries included Belle Glos, Bernardus Winery, Bruliam Wines, Caraccioli Cellars, Cattleya Wines, Clarice Wine Company, CRU Winery, Folktale Winery & Vineyards, Hahn Family Wines, Integrity Wines, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, Joyce Wine Company, Kori Wines, Landmark Vineyards, Luli Wines, Mansfield-Dunne Wines, and McIntyre Vineyards.
Also participating were Mer Soleil, Miner Family Winery, Mooney Family Vineyards, Morgan Winery, Odonata, Pessagno, Pisoni Vineyards, Puma Road Winery, Rexford Winery, ROAR Wines, Rombauer Vineyards, Sarah's Vineyard, Scheid Family Wines, Siduri, Testarossa, Three Furies Wines, Tolosa, Tondre Wines, Windy Oaks, and Wrath.
We were poured exquisite wines, many with vintages more than a decade old. Remember how excited I was to finally taste a Roar Pinot Noir? Mission accomplished - and it lived up to the hype!

I should be a bit miffed with Roar Wines. When I arrived, they had an enormous bottle of pinot noir. (A salmanazar? The link takes you to an article that says "You know what's better than a bottle of wine? A bigger bottle of wine." You know that's worth a click.) 

I wanted a photo with it for this article, but I didn't want to be 'that person' who holds everyone up for my own interests. I asked if I could come by for a photo with the bottle at the end of the festival and was told that would be fine. 

When I returned?
Gone! The massive Roar bottle had disappeared. Both of the men who had been pouring the wine seemed puzzled by this, with one saying it might be in a box under the table but not bothering to look under the table.

How can I be mad at someone who served me wine though? Impossible.
A quick visit to the Bubbles Bar made me forget all about the photo op that got away. Sparkling is my favorite and I appreciated that there was a dedicated place to find quality pours.

My favorite sip during the Sun, Wind & Wine Festival was the 2015 Blanc de Noir from Puma Road. They told me when they poured my first glass that it would be one of the best I've ever tasted and they were spot on.

Sun, Wind & Wine Festival: The Food

Participating chefs, restaurants, catering companies, and food vendors included Ardent Culinaire, Carmel's Hidden Gem, Carmel Valley Ranch, Cheesecake Dreamations, Chef's Palate Spice Rubs, Chef Jacques Zagouri, Dollycakes, and H Jackson Events.

Lula's Chocolates, Luigi's, Rancho Cielo Drummond Culinary Academy, Real Good Fish, Schoch Family Farmstead Cheeses, Star Market, Woody's at the Airport, Yafa Carmel, and Zio Brand Meats were also serving up fantastic food.
Although wine is certainly a top reason to attend a wine festival, the food has always been my favorite part of these events. The Sun, Wind & Wine Festival had the best food of any, hands down. 
We indulged in perfectly seared steak served with whole cloves of roasted garlic, shrimp bruschetta, street tacos with fresh wedges of lime, and more. There was even fresh, crunchy schnitzel. The portions were generous, nothing ran out, and there were no lines!
Caviar is supposed to be good, right? I'd never tried it and had no idea what to expect, so took a nibble nervously. Would it be slimy and taste of the ocean? 

If I could handle an ice cream cone of raw fish (which was surprisingly delicious) at the Palm Desert Food and Wine Festival, there's really no reason not to try caviar.
The verdict? Team Caviar!

Next up, it was time to taste a bowl of pan-seared gnocchi. This dish featured beautiful maitake mushrooms.

I can honestly say this gnocchi was one of the best things I've eaten in my life.

Next it was time for dessert.

I helped myself to a chocolate Dolly Cakes cupcake, as well as a vanilla one "for my husband."
SN was too full for his cupcake and insisted I eat it instead. Oh darn.

Mr. Too-Full-For-A-Cupcake somehow managed to eat a brisket slider with kimchi slaw. Weird.

So many festivals ignore dessert altogether, but not the Sun, Wind & Wine Festival. There were so many sweet treats to choose from that I was *almost* unable to try them all!

There were even assorted truffles from local favorite Lula's Chocolates. I could have eaten a million of their sea salt caramels.

I probably came a bit closer to that amount than I should. The Lula's man was a good sport about it. SN only tried one chocolate, so if you split my million between the two of us, it wasn't really that outrageous.

It was a different sample SN had his eyes on.

Look out, Cheesecake Dreamations!

That is one happy guy.

Sun, Wind & Wine Festival Photos: The Food and Wine Vendors

Fun fact: People constantly struck up conversations with SN over his Colorado Rockies hat. Though not as much fun as my wine shopping method, it's another excellent way to make friends as an adult.

Alas, the Tudor Wines fellow was unable to resist the pull of the hat. 

Sun, Wind & Wine Festival: The Entertainment

In addition to an auction stocked with rare wines and vintner experiences, a raffle, wine pull, and a selfie station, guests of the SLH Sun, Wind & Wine Festival at Mer Soleil Winery were serenaded by the Latin music of IndiviDĂșo. Tiffany Joy and Maqui Reyes had everyone swaying to the beat. The duo is currently touring in the Bay Area.

Sun, Wind & Wine Festival: The Guests

If you attended the SLH Sun, Wind & Wine Festival at Mer Soleil Winery, there's probably a photo of you enjoying yourself below!

Santa Lucia Highlands throws the best events. Luckily, they seem to enjoy a party - there are more events throughout the year! Check out the Santa Lucia Highlands website for details on Mighty Cool Pinot, which travels to different cities in the USA, and their Somm Tour.

See you at the 2024 SLH Sun, Wind & Wine Festival!

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