Wine (and pastrami) flowed at L’Chaim Napa Food and Wine Festival – J.
The pastrami was plentiful and the wine was flowing on August 7 at the CIA at Copia in Napa, where Congregation Beth Shalom Napa Valley — aka the Vintners’ Synagogue — hosted a new iteration of its L’Chaim fundraiser, featuring the first-ever Jewish food and wine festival.
The event drew around 500 people to enjoy food and drink as well as live music, demonstrations and more. Previous iterations of L’Chaim featured wine tasting and a sit-down dinner.
“It’s really special and unique,” said Efi Lubliner, who was from Lafayette. “I haven’t seen anything like it since Israel in the Gardens,” the name of the festival celebrating Israel’s independence that once took place in Yerba Buena Gardens.
Lubliner, a film buff who founded Orinda’s International Film Showcase and helps program the East Bay International Jewish Film Festival, later returned to report that he was blown away by a sauerkraut workshop run by Samantha Paone, chef and owner of Golden State Pickle Works. While Lubliner says he’s a regular at making his own, he never would have thought to include some of the ingredients used by Paone. “She put fennel in sauerkraut. Fennel!”
The fact that the festival took place on the day of Tisha B’Av, a day of fasting as well as a day of mourning, has been commented on by others who might have been interested in the event but were not. attended because of it.
“The scheduling conflict with Tisha B’Av was unintentional and unfortunate,” said Rabbi Niles Goldstein, Rabbi of Beth Shalom. “But by the time we discovered the planning error, most of the vendors had been arranged and a lot of money had already been committed. Yet after studying the Book of Lamentations in the morning and experiencing the heartbreak of Tisha B’ Av, there was something powerful about celebrating Jewish life and culture towards the end of the same day. Jewish life has always had its ups and downs, and it was interesting to observe them so closely this year. There is something to be thankful for.”
Many participants and vendors have expressed their gratitude in different forms, above all the ability to be able to meet again after the past two years.
“It’s so great to see so many people eating and drinking together again,” said Schecky Miluso, who runs the family business, Napa Nuts, with her sister Bonnie Miluso. They had a table in the Copia atrium with 16 wineries with Jewish connections. A few breweries were parked outside.
“It’s nice to see so many fressiers in one place,” agreed Michael Dellar of Mark ‘n Mike’s, a Jewish deli concept from One Market Restaurant in San Francisco, which Dellar owns. (“Squeeze” is the Yiddish word for “big eater.”) Even with the temperature in the 80s, the crowd had a big appetite for the latkes, topped with pastrami; applesauce and sour cream; or beef brisket with barbecue sauce.
Mark ‘n Mike’s was far from the only vendor to close early before the event ended; food sold everywhere.
Other offerings included falafel from Napa’s Blossom Catering (co-owned by Israeli chef Itamar Abramovich); cheese borekas and chocolate babka by Napa pastry chef Dana Koschitzky of The Tish; Sephardic cookies from home baker Nina Safdie and more.
Two recent cookbook authors gave demonstrations that were well attended. Beth Lee, author of “The Essential Jewish Baking Book,” said she was happy to see so many parents and children at her challah braiding demonstration, while recipe columnist J. Faith Kramer, author of “52 Shabbat,” said many readers of J. stopped by to meet her at her table. Kramer led a workshop on spice blends and offered flavors of za’atar, bebere (an Ethiopian spice blend that Kramer loves), and hawaij (a Yemeni spice blend), with hummus. New J. recipe contributor and herbal chef Micah Siva was also there, selling a new Jewish counting book she and her husband wrote, “1,2,3, Nosh with Me.” The three authors were happy to announce that they were selling books. (J. was a media sponsor of the event).
Food and wine were certainly the main draws, but Jewish music played by local favorites Veretski Pass and others, and folk dancing led by Bruce Bierman, also added to the festive mood.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better event,” said President Ellyn Elson, delighted that the synagogue’s move to Copia seemed to attract more people, and the weather helped to cooperate. “Having 500 people at something like that is pretty amazing for a Sunday in August,” she said. “We don’t even have a date for next year yet, but all the vendors want to come back.”