It is time once again for CJ’s on the Bay to host the Glory of the Grape, a fundraiser for the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce. CJ’s has been home to this event since 2010.

It is an unparalleled evening of wine and food pairings. It is one of my favorite events of the year, allowing me to step out of the box. If you are fortunate to attend (tickets available at CJ’s or the Chamber), you will find approximately 15 unique wines paired with some incredible edibles.

So, how does one select all of 15 wines? It is quite the process. About eight weeks out, we begin conceptualizing the event. Where do the wines come from? Should we choose by region, old world v new world, California and other West Coast? Once we have settled on our concept, we begin the conversation with our wine purveyors. Between three and four of our expert wine purveyors begin searching their “books”. Each one brings a dozen (or so) wines they think will fit the bill.

Then the real work begins – tasting all of these wines to find just the right ones. Sounds like fun? The reality is the process can turn into drudgery. We tasted some amazing wines and some real dogs too. By the time we were through sampling over 40 wines, we selected our fifteen finalists.

Now I sit down to consider the food pairings. This year I am going to highlight ingredients from as close by as possible. For example, there will be a station that represents the Bounty of the Gulf. Look for Gulf shrimp, clams and a very special canapé made with Anastasia Gold Caviar.

This caviar is from Evans Fish Farm in Pierson Florida. This is the first fish farm in the United States to raise Russian sturgeon. They have mastered the technique that removes the eggs from the fish without having to kill the fish. Very cool process with the resulting caviar being incredibly delicious.

Another station where you will find some excellent Florida products will be the cheese table. Paired with a scrumptious Nebbiolo from Italy will be an array of fruits and cheeses. Here you will find Gouda and Havarti cheese that comes from Cypress Point Creamery. The creamery is located in Hawthorne, just east of Gainesville. The farm has been in the family since 1959 and today is host to about 200 Jersey cows. They have been making cheese for just over five years and I think they have it right.

As for the wines, we will be featuring some excellent bottles. Hoping to cover the gamut, we will have sparkling wine and chardonnay from California, a surprising rosé of malbec from Argentina, some French pinot noir and the aforementioned Nebbiolo from Italy. There will be sauvignon blanc, riesling and cabernet sauvignon as well.

Now it is up to CJ’s top notch culinary staff to pull off the food portion of the event. It is always a great inspiration and challenge to host this event. Hope to see you there – cheers.

Laura Owen is executive chef with CJ’s on the Bay at the Esplanade. Along with Adamo Serravalle of Marco Prime and DaVinci’s, and Marco Porto of chop239, she is a regular contributor to this column.

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