Sold-out kickoff vintner dinner a lively prelude to 2010 Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest

Signature vintner Juelle Fisher discusses her wines with guests Raul and Beverly Blake at the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest kick-off dinner on Wednesday. Photo courtesy Michael Shapiro

Signature vintner Juelle Fisher discusses her wines with guests Raul and Beverly Blake at the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest kick-off dinner on Wednesday. Photo courtesy Michael Shapiro

Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest Trustees Elaine Hawkins, left, and Fred Hawkins enjoy the Fisher Vineyards Chardonnay during the reception of the SWFL Wine & Food Fest Kick-Off Dinner
SWFL Wine & Food Fest Trustees Elaine Hawkins (left) and Fred Hawkins enjoy the Fisher Vineyards Chardonnay during the reception of the kickoff dinner

Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest Trustees Elaine Hawkins, left, and Fred Hawkins enjoy the Fisher Vineyards Chardonnay during the reception of the SWFL Wine & Food Fest Kick-Off Dinner SWFL Wine & Food Fest Trustees Elaine Hawkins (left) and Fred Hawkins enjoy the Fisher Vineyards Chardonnay during the reception of the kickoff dinner

Executive Chef Nick Costanza, of Angelina's Ristorante, prepares the first course of the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest kickoff dinner.

Executive Chef Nick Costanza, of Angelina's Ristorante, prepares the first course of the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest kickoff dinner.

Wine Fest Trustee Joe Yerkes gets some wine wisdome from signature Vintner Juelle Fisher. Michael Shapiro

Wine Fest Trustee Joe Yerkes gets some wine wisdome from signature Vintner Juelle Fisher. Michael Shapiro

With capacity limited to only 120 at Angelina’s Ristorante in Bonita Springs, wannabe dinner guests, including trustees, fest fans and even restaurant regulars, snapped up reservations in just two days for the kickoff dinner to the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest.

The event prefigures the annual Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, an auction and dining extravaganza scheduled for Feb. 26 and 27 at the Miromar Lakes Beach & Golf Club. The fest features the creative cuisine of the best chefs in Lee and Collier County, according to Marshall Hanno, a founding trustee.

“Last year we raised $700,000 and hope to reach $1 million in 2010,” said Wine and Food Fest trustee and Chairman Steve Machiz. Income, he said, is administered by the Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, which serves a five-county area. “Many of the young patients who benefit are indigent children.”

The Wednesday gala resembled a love-in with diners crowding into the lounge, enthusiastically embracing one another while enjoying aperitifs of select white wines and the background sounds of pianist Kary. A Ponzi pinot blanc from Oregon’s Willamette Valley was the favorite of many during the reception.

Angelina’s, owned by entrepreneurs Don and Angela Smith, provided the ideal ambience in its several dining venues, which encircle a central wine tower with its spiral stairway that extends up into a cupola visible from outside. The tower is obviously the bailiwick of Angela Robertson, restaurant sommelier and guardian of its more than 3,000 bottles.

Diners were seated variously in a seraglio-like room; in another incorporating several intimate, heavily curtained booths and in the brightly lighted garden room where signature vintner Juelle Fisher held forth. Table decor was little more than crisp linens and soldier-like rows of sparkling crystal wine glasses at each setting.

Executive chef Nick Constanza briefly described the four courses that featured Maine lobster pate and foie gras mousse, breast of quail, pulled lamb and porcini ravioli, and New York strip noisettes with twice-baked fingerling potatoes. No sooner had diners remarked on no dessert course than signature vintner Juelle Fisher was presented with a shareable, multi-chocolate cupcake fantasy in tribute to her birthday.

Fisher, a repeat visitor to Southwest Florida, circulated throughout the evening. She proudly described the noted varietals from the two family-operated estates, one in the Mayacamas Mountains and the other in Napa Valley, that were poured in succession during the dinner — “Mountain Estate” Chardonnay Sonoma, followed by “Unity,” “Cameron” and “Coach Insignia,” all of Napa Valley.

“It’s like old home week,” she exclaimed. “I love the way it’s so well-organized and the people real and passionate about the wines and the event. And of course, the wines speak for themselves.”

Jerry Greenfield, in his second year as fest wine director, predicted some very special selections to be auctioned in February.

Information about the wine and food fest is available at its Web site: www.swflwinefest.org

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