Benefit uncorks a feast of wine, food at Chateau Ste. Michelle

  • By Jon Bauer Herald Writer
  • Friday, August 8, 2014 10:22am
  • Life

It’s easy to enjoy a picnic on a summer day.

Even easier when the picnic grounds are at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, the spread is prepared by top chefs at the restaurants at Tulalip Resort Casino and you have your choice of wines from more than 100 Washington wineries.

The Auction of Washington Wines Picnic and Barrel Auction returns for its 27th year at 5 p.m. Thursday at Ste. Michelle. The picnic and barrel auction is a fundraiser for the Seattle Children’s Hospital fund for uncompensated care and for Washington State University’s Viticulture and Enology program. Last year, the picnic and related events raised $2 million for both.

Tents are set up around the concert grounds at the winery, offering small plates of gourmet dishes and pours of wine, but if you wait a few moments, winemakers bearing bottles will approach and offer samples of their wine. It’s a moveable feast that only requires moving from one tent to the next.

The picnic part of the day is presented by a huge team of chefs and assistants from the restaurants and caterers at Tulalip Resort Casino, including Tulalip Bay, Black Fish, Cedars Cafe, Journeys East and Draft Sports Bar and Grill, said Allan Aquila, culinary director for the auction and a public relations specialist for Tulalip.

If “picnic” brings thoughts of hot dogs, chips and potato salad to mind, think a little more upscale, such as:

Pastrami salmon, served over watermelon with citrus peel;

Muscovy duck confit sliders, with orange and maple duck confit, watercress and crispy fried leeks on a rosemary brioche bun;

Braised beef wonton cups with Hoisin braised Wagyu beef short rib, pickled ginger aioli and shiitake mushroom slaw; and

Lobster rolls with lobster tempura, spring mix, mango, avocado, strawberry and wasabi mayonnaise.

New this year, Aquila said, will be a whole pig, roasted on the picnic grounds in view of people passing by the food tents. The pork will be used in three dishes: Johnny cake flatbread topped with pulled pork, micro green salad with pulled pork and pulled pork nachos.

“The pig will be on a spit. We’ll start early in the morning,” he said.

This will be the fifth year that Tulalip has provided the entire spread for the auction, Aquila said. Setup begins Monday for Thursday’s event, with tents erected, kitchens set up and supplied, and work continuing as the gates open and through the event. Along with eight chefs, Tulalip’s temporary camp includes another 30 restaurant staffers and 20 volunteering culinary students and more, Aquila said.

“Every year we do something a little different. The chefs are always surprising us with amazing things. Typically they find a fun way to do dessert; this year it’s Christmas in August,” he said, with an assortment of Christmas cookies, pistachio and raspberry Yule logs and mini sticky toffee pudding cakes.

The small plates that are prepared for the picnic are different from the entrees typically offered in the restaurants, but are prepared with many of the same ingredients and with the same inspirations of the chefs, Aquila said.

Following the August picnic, the casino’s restaurant staffs will begin preparation for Tulalip’s own event, The Taste of Tulalip, involving its chefs and more than 120 wineries from Washington, California, Oregon, Italy and France. This year’s Taste of Tulalip is Nov. 14 and 15 at the resort.

The variety of food and cuisines offered is a necessity, particularly when so many different varieties of wine are being sampled.

“You get your wine and you find your (food) match,” Aquila said. “What we’re doing this year, in addition to the wine walkers, we’ve expanded to four wines tents from two that will support the winemakers as they go around. It makes it a little more fun, a little easier and more aligned to the food tents.”

Along with live music, there’s also some entertainment in the form of the barrel auctions. Even if the auctions are out of your price range, it’s fun to watch the competition. And you can sample wine taken straight from the barrels.

Wineries donate cases of wines they will release in the coming year. Bids are accepted for five cases at a time, with the bids recorded on wooden plaques set up on a big board. As each new higher bid comes in, the fifth-lowest bid drops off with a clunk into a metal washtub, with the process repeating until the auction concludes. As the end of the auction approaches, the activity hastens as people attempt to keep a bid on the board.

Cases of wine can go for hundreds and thousands of dollars. This is a fundraiser, after all, and a fundraiser offering some of the state’s best wine.

For wine enthusiasts, the barrel auction offers early access to what could be some highly prized and sought-after wines. Among the Washington wineries participating in the barrel auction are Andrew Will Winery, Avennia, Boudreaux Cellars, Buty, Cadence, Dunham Cellars, Efeste, Fidelitas, Hedges Family Estate, L’Ecole No. 41, Result Of A Crush, Sleight Of Hand Cellars, Sparkman Cellars, Walla Walla Vintners and Woodward Canyon.

Marty Clubb, the managing winemaker and co-owner with his wife, Megan, of L’Ecole No. 41 winery in Lowden, near Walla Walla, said he will be auctioning the winery’s 2012 Ferguson Vineyard Bordeaux blend. The 2012 was recently bottled but isn’t scheduled for release until May.

L’Ecole’s 2011 Ferguson won best Bordeaux at London’s Decanter World Wine Awards in June, the only American wine to win at the prestigious competition.

So the 2012 should be good?

“It should be pretty good. It is good,” Clubb said.

The auction and picnic offer Clubb a chance to meet with other winemakers and with the people who enjoy his wine.

“A lot of people have gone for years. It’s very festive; the whole wine industry is there, and it’s fun. And it’s a great way to support Children’s,” Clubb said.

Uncork a picnic

The Auction of Washington Wines Picnic and Barrel Auction is at 5 p.m. Thursday on the grounds of Chateau Ste. Michelle, 14111 NE 145th St., Woodinville.

Tickets are $125 — $150 for early admission at 4 p.m. — and include a commemorative glass. Tickets are available at

Tickets also are available for the Winemakers Dinner on Friday night and Saturday night’s Gala and Wine Auction at Chateau Ste. Michelle.

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