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The second annual Santa Barbara Food & Wine Weekend returns to Santa Barbara’s Bacara Resort & Spa from April 16-19. The four-day culinary wonderland is headlined by actor and vintner Kurt Russell and culminates with a Saturday night Grand Dinner featuring Russell’s GoGi wines and Hudson-Bellamy wines, from his stepdaughter, actress Kate Hudson.
From food and wine tastings, panel discussions, lunch with L.A. chef Suzanne Goin (Hungry Cat, Lucques and Tavern) to talks by beekeepers and cookbook authors, what excels at this ingenue event is that it appeals to virtually everyone. Since Russell and his GoGi wines are the star attraction, The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Russell on the set of his latest film, The Hateful Eight, helmed by Quentin Tarantino. “As far as I’m concerned, of all the wine-growing regions around the world, the terrior and weather of the Santa Rita Hills [in Santa Barbara County] is the second-best in the world,” Russell says, and given that his wines are made from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Viognier grown here, it’s no surprise. But it seems to surprise the French. “I’ve had my wines in Burgundy, and they’ve been shocked at what I was doing. They expected some super-ripe California wine, but I wanted a more elegant, full-bodied wine with a lot of taste. As long as everything is in balance, I have a shot at making a world-class Pinot Noir,” Russell says.
World-class or not, it seems Hollywood turns to wine in ever increasing numbers. Dan Aykroyd, Brad Pitt, Drew Barrymore, Francis Ford Coppola, Taken screenwriter Robert Kamen and a host of others have tried their hand at being vintners. “Yeah, celebrity is a double-edged sword. I understand that, and that’s why I don’t have my name on the label,” Russell tells THR. His label, GoGi, is his childhood nickname, and Russell is intimately involved in the wine-making process, being “apprenticed” by Peter Work of Ampelos Cellars, with whom Russell is working.
It’s been close to seven years since he embarked on this journey, one that he has relentlessly promoted, though his wines are still under the radar. “My Pinot is what Pinot is supposed to be, not a light-heavyweight,” as he calls the hefty Pinot Noirs currently on the market. “What I make is for Pinot drinkers.” And right there you leave out the Cabernet cult seekers, the Bordeaux buyers, and Merlot mongers — all those for whom wine is merely a commodity. Russell is serious about the juice, and that’s one of the reasons he agreed to take part in the Bacara event.
“I think it’s great that the Julia Child Foundation is benefiting from this,” he says, though he did not attend last year’s inaugural event (THR covered it). The foundation was started by Julia Child in 1995 and seeks to provide scholarships and research for those in the culinary field. For Russell, making wine for the benefit of guests coming to the Bacara Resort and Spa, or those who elect to visit GoGi’s modest tasting room in Los Alamos 40 minutes north of Santa Barbara, it’s still a ponderous journey, and like filmmaking it’s not all fun and games. “I look at the vineyard as the studio, the wine itself as a genre, the kind of wine you make. Picking the best grapes is like getting the best takes, and putting them in the can and blending is the final cut.” Hyperbole? Yes and no. Russell seems truly dedicated to making the wine he wants. “You end up sharing this thing with people you never meet, and you hope it’s the best. There’s a big part of me in that bottle to share with others.”
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