Sustainable Wine Review: The Underground Dinner Near You

What would wine be without food? And the issue of where susty-minded chefs source their wine often looms large. Few chefs assert to be as locally focused as underground chefs and they have some interesting things to say about how they keep wine local.

Forage SF is on a mission. According to their website, they want to rediscover a forgotten food system, reduce carbon miles, and help build a local food economy based on a true respect for the skills of their rural neighbors. Through a network of individual foragers, all harvesting what they know best (and getting 50% of the profit), they bring an amazing array of selections to the table. An integral part of their mission is their Wild Kitchen, penned as a “roving underground supper club.” From a roof-deck in the mission one week, to a houseboat in Sausalito the next, the Wild Kitchen promises sixty diners an eight course meal around a communal table  that highlights local, sustainably foraged ingredients. And when it comes to wine, when the Wild Kitchen wanted to throw a special wine-included dinner they looked no further than their urban Oakland CA neighbors, Two Mile Wines.

Mateo Granados owns a mobile restaurant called Tendejon de La Calle that moves to different locations throughout Sonoma County. He started it in an old white barn in the vineyards and is now appearing at farms and wineries pairing all their menus using ingredients sourced from within 50 miles. Raised in a family of butchers and ranchers in the Yucatan, Granados believes in sourcing locally and has established relationships with many local farmers’ and producers through his presence in several Sonoma County Farmers’ Markets.

I like to know where the animals come from, how they are raised, what they are fed and how they are finished.  I use the whole animal and make my own blood sausage, chorizo, embutitdo and many other products using recipes from the family butcher shop.  Similarily, with our produce, I want to know how it is grown GMO free, biodynamically or sustainably.  I work with over 40 farmers in Sonoma County, many of whom produced specialized produce for me including Quivira, White Crane Ranch and Tierra Vegetables. I shoot for nothing beyond 60 miles away, because freshness translates to the quality of my food.

Granados sources local wines by moving from winery to winery and create menus to pair with the wines at each location: “Guests are exposed to new wineries and wines, share tables together and enjoy food that comes from very close by.  The relationship between the wineries and Tendejon de la Calle is symbiotic, we both support each other.”

But the most far-reaching of the underground dining phenom is Outstanding in the Field, a “roving culinary adventure – literally a restaurant without walls.” Since 1999 OitF has “set long tables at farms or gardens, on mountain tops or in sea caves, on islands or at ranches” across the country (and even in Europe of late). Wherever the location, the mission of each dinner is to:

…re-connect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it… Ingredients for the meal are almost all local (sometimes sourced within inches of your seat at the table!)

After a tour of the site, diners partake in meals created in a “nomadic al fresco kitchen.” Meals are typically cooked by reknowned chefs such as Tom McNaughton, Marcus Samuelsson, Traci DesJardins and Alain Passard, and eaten along side the cheesemakers, fishermen, beekeepers, farmers, ranchers and often winemakers responsible for growing and making the stuff at the table.

It started in the summer of 1998 when founder Jim Denevan held a series of “farmer dinners” at Gabriella Cafe in Santa Cruz, California:

The night’s menu would feature dishes where the ingredients came straight from the farm and the girl or guy that grew the food or raised the animals or caught the fish would join everyone for the meal. When the first farmer stood and addressed the hungry diners with “this came from my farm” it was clear, people wanted to hear from and appreciate farmers.

This tour, which spans from May 1 to December 4, 2011 will travel across the country seven times and feed around 10,000 diners. Moreover OitF will hit 41 states and serve local wine from virtually all of them (Alaska proved to be a problem one year).  In case you’re curious, there are several events being held in vineyards this year:

Photo: Jeremy Fenske

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