This Weekend: Winemaker Matt Shares His Homestate Eats

Tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., I will be part of the “Meet the Winemakers” series at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center in Santa Rosa. The idea behind the event is to allow people who enjoy our wines to meet the hardworking folks behind them. It’s a great opportunity for you to ask us all of the burning questions you may have about your favorite vintage.

I enjoy this kind of interaction quite a lot. Having started my winemaking career in my 30s, I am still relatively new to the industry. It wasn’t too long ago when I was the one going to wineries and hoping to meet the winemaker in person. I always found interacting with winemakers to be very rewarding — our conversations resulted in a deeper connection to the wines.

While you’re with us on Saturday, you’ll get a peek at my past with a special bite. For the “Meet the Winemakers” series, I worked with the Kendall-Jackson chefs — who put the Wine Center on the map with their phenomenal food and wine pairing that anyone can enjoy, even without an appointment — to pair wine with a food that is a favorite from my childhood.

Those of you who read my blog contributions know I’m originally from Michigan. My childhood favorites stem from local food traditions I came to know while growing up in various parts of the state.

The first thing I thought of was the Italian Porketta sandwich. The golden standard on this culinary delight hails from my grandfather’s favorite hangout: Bimbo’s L’Torchio di Vino in Iron Mountain, Michigan. (That’s where my brother Aaron and I are dining in the photo above.) Porketta is slow-roasted pork, done with lots of black pepper, crushed red pepper and whole dried red peppers. Once cooked, the meat is pulled apart, chopped and served cold on a “hard” roll, which has a somewhat hard crust, but a soft interior. The classic version was served with pork cracklins made fresh from the skin of the pig and a couple of the whole hot peppers that had cooked in the roast.

A fundamental piece of this tradition was that my grandfather never frequented Bimbo’s except on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the two days of the week they had fresh rolls from Shinderle’s bakery. If he happened to be there on a Tuesday or a Friday, when the buns were a day old, he would ask for what we now call the “Santini Special”: Tomato sauce (gravy) from the normal Italian sausage plate ladeled onto the day-old bun and then topped with a slice of raw onion and hot peppers. We still order it like that, even on Wednesdays and Saturdays! I am looking forward to seeing how our chefs interpret a “bite of Porketta sandwich” tomorrow.

Other childhood favorites include Cornish pasties (my great-grandmother lived next door to a family from Cornwall, England, so pasties are still a tradition in our house), my Nonna’s cheese ravioli stuffed with ricotta and parmesan cheeses, Fondue Bourguignonne (a family tradition for New Year’s Eve), polenta (in my house we did polenta spread out on my Nonna’s 4’ x 4’ pasta-making board) and Coney Island hot dogs from Jackson, Michigan. My father’s family hails from Jackson, and the Coney Island dogs there are different from what you find in the Detroit area. In Jackson, the “chili” is simply browned ground beef with spices (rather than wet chili with beans), served hot on the dog with chopped onion and mustard. Gotta have one every time I get back there.

In addition to the inspired bite of Porketta sandwich, I have chosen several of my favorite wines from the Kendall-Jackson portfolio. I will also be on hand to answer questions, chit-chat, and generally have a great time sharing food and wine. What a terrific way to spend a Saturday!

Tasting menu and paired bite $10. Must be 21 years old.