They say that practice makes perfect and after 23 years of “practice,” Thornton Winery proved the adage with a near
perfect season opener of their Champagne Jazz Series on Sunday, April 29.
I was fortunate to attend last year’s impressive season opener featuring jazz flamenco guitarist Jesse Cook (read more here), so I had high expectations and was still totally blown away by the caliber of musical talent, food and wine that form Thornton Winery’s impeccable trinity.
The newly re-shaded Fountain Courtyard was buzzing with excitement as guests settled in. Near perfect weather was on order and slight breezes carried laughter and chatter to all corners of the beautiful French country venue. The chateau towered behind the stage, standing guard as Mindi Abair lit up the stage with her energetic contemporary jazz style.
Abair’s unique brand of pop-meets-jazz saxophone and magnetic personality captured the crowd with “Any Way You Wanna” and did not let go until she rocked her way through the audience with the cover “Pinball Wizard” as an encore. With a recent appearance on American Idol and 10 #1 radio singles to her credit, Abair commented that she considers herself lucky to open a series that features such a high level of
jazz talent from around the world. “I look forward to this all year!” she beamed more than once.
Joining Abair were contemporary jazz guitarist Jeff Golub and former Ambrosia front man David Pack. Golub, who lent his blues guitar and gravely voice to several numbers, quipped, “Every blues man has a hat and a story,” and went on to share that his suddenly lost his sight about a year ago. With guide dog, Luke, and friends like Abair and Pack, Golub has not let this unexpected turn slow him down one bit.
Pack brought back good memories with his reprise of several familiar hits, “You’re the Only Woman,” “How Much I Feel,” and “Biggest Part of Me.” The eclectic style of each artist lent a rock concert feel to the evening which had the crowd on its feet more than once.
Cafe Champagne Chef Steve Pickell has mastered the art of Contemporary Fusion Cuisine, so the Gourmet Supper Package is a necessity for those looking to indulge in the true Thornton experience. The meal on opening night was a spring stunner.
The evening began with a Marinated Artichoke and Asparagus Salad with tomato confit and micro greens paired with Thornton 2010 Viognier. The richness of the artichoke, brightness of the confit and bite of the peppery arugula worked so well together. Pickell believes in simple, fresh, seasonal ingredients and clean flavors – the salad was a perfect snapshot of his philosophy of cooking. With a lightly peach and floral nose and a bit of melon on the palate, the Viognier sang in perfect harmony with the salad as Golub played “Sidetracked” from his upcoming album “Three Kings.”
The entree was an Oven Roasted All Natural Chicken Breast with toasted creamy polenta and rosemary au jus. The earthiness of the organic Crow’s Pass Farm mushrooms was balanced by the bright pops of spring sunshine from the fresh peas. The dish was perfectly paired with the 2010 Mouvedre, the earthiness and herbal notes in the wine and food danced in perfect cadence while Abair serenaded us with “Be Beautiful.”
The night wound down with a Crow’s Pass Organic Strawberry Tart with Muscat Canelli Mouselline and Crisp Almond Brittle paired with 2010 Huis Vineyard Zinfandel. The clean, juicy Zin complimented the tart beautifully, each bite more delicious than the one before.
If you have not visited Thornton Winery recently, you must return soon if only for the wine. With the 2010 vintage, winemaker David Vergari has officially thrown down the gauntlet, proving to be a serious force on the Temecula Wine Country scene. With Vergari in the vineyards, Pickell in the kitchen and the Thornton family securing some of the best names in contemporary jazz, Thornton winery is proving to be Southern California’s premier jazz venue and is not to be missed.
The 2012 season runs from Sunday, April 29 through Sunday, October 2 and both General Admission and Gourmet Supper packages are offered. With talent like Euge Groove and Down to the Bone, Dave Koz and BeBe Winans, and Spyro Gyra on the books, the Thornton Winery 24th Champagne Jazz Series will no doubt continue to deliver perfection for the remainder of the season.
After working in all aspects of the food and beverage industry for 20 years, Corie has developed an adventuresome spirit and palate. As an avid home cook and a member of the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association, she keeps an eye out for new trends in food, wine and travel so she can share her discoveries with her readers. In addition to her own Blog, www.LifeHalfFull.co (Balanced Living in a Slightly Off-Kilter World), she is a freelance writer, contributing food, wine and news articles to several on line and print publications.