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San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival
This year's 17th annual San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival delivered on its promise to "arrive at awesome." Photo courtesy of San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival
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San Diego Bay wine festival delivers promise to arrive at awesome

The San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival is not just any wine and food festival.

In 2019, USA Today named the four-day event the winner for the Best General Food Festival in the U.S.  This year, Michelle Metters, who founded the festival 17 years ago, advertised “Arrive at Awesome” for the festival and delivered on her promise during last month’s festival.

With VIP media passes in hand, Senior Editor Frank Mangio and I had a great time attending the event. The Great Decant took place on Friday with over 120 wineries from around the world, including San Diego,  Temecula, Paso Robles, Napa Valley and surrounding areas, Oregon, Washington and France’s Louis Latour that dates back to 1797.

I knew we were in for a great evening after our first tasting with Sonoma’s third-generation Sangiacomo Family Vineyards where we enjoyed their pinot noirs, including the “Roberts Road Single Vineyard” pinot noir. Next to them was Benchmark Wine Group, which specializes in hard-to-find vintage luxury wines. BWG was pouring a heavenly “Cain Concept” ’04 Bordeaux from Napa Valley.

San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival
Photo courtesy of San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival

After BWG, it was up and away to the VIP section that included some heavy hitters, such as Chateau Montelena pouring an estate cabernet sauvignon (2001) and chardonnay (2011). Also in the VIP section was another great pinot —Willamette Valley Vineyards Bernau Block Estate 2018 Pinot Noir.

The Bernau Block was a classical Oregon dry, muscle pinot with cherry on the nose and palate, along with a splash of cola and smooth finish. I love how Willamette Valley Vineyards started over 30 years ago with vines in Christmas tree planters hand-watered with garden hoses. Next to Willamette Valley Vineyards was the ReCork Recycling booth.

As wine lovers, many of us don’t think twice about pulling corks out of bottles and later tossing them in the trash. ReCork’s program provides a way to produce a variety of everyday products such as shoe soles as an integral part of the continued retention of CO2.

They provided attendees with envelopes to send corks back with free postage. On the way out of the VIP section, I enjoyed Stringer Vineyards from Napa Valley under owner and winemaker Casey Stringer’s leadership.

San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival
Photo courtesy of San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival

The sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, Syrah, Napa cabernet sauvignon, and especially the Howell Mountain cabernet sauvignon, earned them a well-deserved location in the VIP Section.

We made our way back to the main floor to the Paso Robles winery section. Justin was spoiling guests with “Isosceles” red blend, Niner’s “Fog Catcher” cabernet sauvignon, Austin Hope with their cabernet sauvignon and red blends, and Daou Family Estates with their reserve chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. Great showing, Paso!

The Wine and Food Festival kicked off on Saturday. Brandt Beef highlighted the food tastings by featuring five San Diego restaurants (Flamingo Deck, Ranch 45, Rancho Valencia, Starlite and Thorn Brewery).  Flamingo Deck edged out the others by a nose with their braised short ribs served with Milanese saffron risotto and a refreshing iced hot chocolate with mint and bourbon.

San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival
Photo courtesy of San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival

I expanded my list of favorites from “The Great Decant,” adding Howell Mountain’s “Beatty Ranch” (’17) reserve zinfandel, cabernet franc (’17), and cabernet sauvignon (’17) to my list. Russian River’s “Hallberg Vineyard Dijon Clones” (’17) pinot noir was another for my tally along with Jordan Vineyards’ latest releases of the cabernet sauvignon (’17), chardonnay (’19), and non-vintage “Jordan Cuvée.”

As we were finishing up the day, we had a chance to visit with local Temecula Valley vineyards, including Wilson Creek, South Coast, and Falkner, as well as San Diego wineries Burtech, San Pasqual Valley, Koi Zen, Mermaid Valley and Fallbrook vineyards.

The festival concluded with Sunday’s Taco TKO competition. History was made when SeaCo Catch rocked the taco competition receiving both the Judges’ and People’s Choice awards, a festival first. Their plant-based, organic, gluten-free fÿsh taco received 371 votes, earning SeaCo first place, the title of San Diego’s most awesome taco and a $500 prize.

Great work to Metters and her team for a truly awesome event. Looking forward to next year’s 18th Annual event! Details at

Story by Tech Director/Writer Rico Cassoni        

Wine Bytes

— Dining in the vineyards for Christmas is planned for guests in The Vineyard Rose Restaurant at South Coast Winery & Resort and Spa Dec. 24 and 25 from 11:30 to 8:30 pm. Each entrée is specially prepared by Executive Chef Jose Esparza and his culinary team, served in a formal dining room decorated with celebratory Christmas style. Entrees include grilled filet mignon, roasted jidori chicken breast, Skuna Bay salmon and much more. Reservations are requested at Open Table or by calling 951-719-8356.

— The Julian Wine & Cheese Soiree is Sat. Dec. 18 from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm at the Julian Town Hall, 2129 Main St. Join in for 6 winery tastings and Nickel Beer company’s Town Hall Brew! Each guest has a delicious charcuterie spread. The cost is $50 each. For more, visit

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. Reach him at [email protected]