By Wicker Van Orsdel
After a month of feeling like I was living in a car wash, the sun chose to shine June 17 for the Prima Dinner kickoff for this year’s Winefest! Prima dinners take place at various locations throughout the city, and the cost is $250 (yikes!). These winemaker dinners are my favorite among the Winefest events. Bill and I hosted one of the five Prima dinners at the Wicker Park-Sugar Shack (a lodge on a pond in my eponymous park). Typically, the dinners are limited to 45 attendees each, but we bent the rules a bit and Stags Leaped the number to 70! We had a lot of people who had come to be wowed. They were.
It was a warm, beautiful, evening. The pond was shimmering, frogs were croaking, birds were singing—and did I mention it wasn’t raining? The guests arrived and were greeted with some fabulous wine samples from the cellars of oenophiles Bob Margeas, Mark Keairnes and Bill Van Orsdel, who pretended to be sommeliers. As the convivial crowd sipped their wine teasers on the outside deck overlooking the pond, they visited and remarked how wonderful it is to be alive, at Winefest, on a perfect sunny day in Iowa (I’m pretty sure that’s what they said). Anyway, if you had a rough week, this was the place to be—nothing a few hundred samples of wine couldn’t cure!
Inside in the dining area, our host chef, George Formaro (think: Centro, Django, and Gateway) and his voluminous staff were hard at work creating our dinner extraordinaire. The gorgeous room was filled with tables that were brimming with oodles of wine glasses. (This is always a good sign.) At the crepuscular hour, the diners came in and took their seats in the star-lit ceiling of the Sugar Shack Lodge. We were fortunate to have our dining experience paired with Calcareous Winery. Every beautiful course was served with different wine pairings that tantalized our palates. Dana Brown, the owner of Calcareous vineyards, explained her wine selections with each course and told the story of how she sold her Iowa distributorship to live her dream of having her own winery. She passionately ventured into the wonderful world of wine and now produces one of the highest-quality wines in California. Dana is very knowledgeable about the varietals, the soil and climate, and what it takes to make standout wine. She did a great job in her selections of what the ancient Greeks called “the gift of the gods.” (Plus, she was stunning to behold in her hot pink pumps.) We tried them all…and in abundance (just ask the glass washers) and the verdict is: LOVE! We definitely agree with the ancient Greeks.
While all this sybaritic indulging was going on, I introduced piano player Jamie Poulsen, who accompanied me while I serenaded the diners with a few songs. (It is a given, that if you have a captive audience, you MUST entertain.) Several true believers in fun (there were many, but names will be left out to protect the fabulous) made sure we left no bottle for Dana to take home. When people do not want to leave, it is always the sign of a great party. Trust me.
It was a spectacular dining experience that could not have happened without the concerted efforts of executive director of Des Moines Winefest executive director Kit Curran, board member Chris Diebel, many hardworking volunteers, (especially Tony Rose), and the perfect mixture of George Formaro’s fine cuisine and Dana Brown’s Calcareous Wine, which reigned on this cloudless evening.
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