By Kim Schneider
Photography by Tony Demin
Recipes by Chef Paul Barbas
Towering Gewürztraminer vines create a lush outdoor room around a vineyard table in the midst of Leelanau Peninsula’s wine region, where four couples carry on a spirited conversation near a classic red barn. Here, vintner Tony Ciccone is holding court in an unexpected way. Normally there to tend or harvest the wine grapes, he’s now sitting among them, readying for the evening’s first toast.
“Salute cent’anni,” he says, standing to raise a glass against a vibrant, over-vines backdrop of Lake Michigan. “May you live 100 years.”
The Italian blessing pairs well with the wine he’s sharing with three other couples at this summer feast prepared by Opa Uptown’s Chef Paul Barbas — a Dolcetto he likes for the way it connects with his Italian heritage and planned experimentation with other Italian varietals.
Fellow vintner Dan Matthies of Chateau Fontaine, who has come with his wife Lucie, pours his White Riesling, two-time winner of the prestigious John Rose award, while Sam Simpson and wife Megan share the crisp Pinot Gris from their family’s Good Harbor Vineyards, then place it back atop the wine barrel adjacent to a table brightened by simple jars of pink zinnias.
The Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail, 24 wineries strong and to which all these couples belong, is arguably the most cohesive group of winemakers in the state. Their regular event list for wine tasters — now 10 and counting — is ambitious enough that wine trails from around the country seek their advice. But just as significant is the way they get together, Matthies says, generally on slow winter days, for blind tastings of each other’s newest vintage and to help each other, however needed.
As they pass plates overflowing with Greek salads, warm Italian breadsticks and stuffed wantons topped with a Balsamic reduction, they pour more wine, offer more toasts and note how this type of purely social time is too rare. They make plans for a regular potluck or pig roast that rotates among each other’s vineyards, ask about each other’s families and compare notes on winery ownership joys and challenges. When Tony’s wife Joan shares a wedding disaster story, all laugh knowingly at her tale of a bride who refused to stop her afternoon-long post-wedding photo shoot, even as guests started leaving and a massive ice sculpture melted into a puddle.
The group gradually drifts to a nearby cupola for dessert. Tony and Joan playfully feed each other a bite of carrot cake, to applause, in honor of their upcoming 50th wedding anniversary. And Tony reflects, as guests exchange hugs, how good it’s been to share family and lifestyle, the Italian tradition of “food, wine, drink, conversation and friendship.”
Recipes by Chef Paul Barbas
Greek Salad – (Chef Paul’s home traditional Greek salad with Opa dressing)
Yields: 1 large salad
Carrot Cake and Frosting with Raspberry Melba
Yields: Original recipe makes one 9- or 10-inch tube cake
2 cups white sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
3 cups grated carrots
3 cups coconut
1 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease one 9- or 10-inch tube pan. Combine sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, soda and oil. With an electric mixer, beat in the eggs one at a time. Stir in carrots and walnuts. Pour batter into a prepared baking pan. Bake for 1 hour 20 minutes.
Note: To make this cake in two 9-inch layer cake pans, bake for 40 minutes.
2 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
One 3-ounce package cream cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup raspberry preserves
With an electric mixer, blend cream cheese, heavy cream and raspberry preserves. Add the vanilla and confectioners’ sugar and stir until blended. Frosting can be spread on still-warm cake.
2 cups raspberries
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup apple juice
Purée all the ingredients, then pass through a strainer to remove the seeds. Drizzle over
carrot cake and frosting.
Yields: 32 pieces
Cherry Mint Compote for Puff Pastry Wrapped Around Brie
Yields: 8 servings
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 pound dried cherries
1/8 cup chopped fresh mint
Pesto Bruschetta with Triangle Pita Chips
Yields: 4-8 servings
Yields: 8 servings
2 cups diced Roma tomatoes (seeds removed)
2 cups chopped artichokes
3 cloves chopped roasted garlic
2 tablespoons capers
¼ cup balsamic
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 fresh basil leaves, chopped
Combine ingredients above and spoon over pita triangles. To make, cut pita bread into ¼ or 1/8 triangles. Add a little oil to sauce pan and heat to 350 degrees. Drop pita bread into oil. Let cook on one side quickly, then flip to cook and remove. Sprinkle with garlic salt.
Freelance writer Kim Schneider resides in Suttons Bay. Photographer Tony Demin is based in Traverse City (tonydemin.com).