With less than a week before one of the most well-attended food and wine events, Pebble Beach Food & Wine, Lara Sailer Long, the event’s Executive Wine Director, talks about the pursuit of great wines. She’s the supernova behind the wine side of Pebble Beach Food and Wine. The philanthropic event features celebrity chefs, acclaimed James Beard & Michelin star Honorees, and FOOD & WINE best new chefs. It also headlines some of the most riveting brands in the wine space. This annual wine & culinary experience draws 7,000 national and international attendees.
You’ll read about Lara’s journey orchestrating winemakers and vineyards each year to result in a symphony of well thought out seminars, food pairings, dinners and more. She has the incredibly challenging task of selecting from a cornucopia of delectable wine to suss out the 250+ that make it into the event. You’ll find out how she how she got her job, the challenges that come with the territory and the difficulties narrowing down the list. The goal? Finding a well balanced offering for discriminating palates around the globe.
WS: You’ve been producing the wine side of the Food & Wine events for several years. How did you initially get involved? What fuels your passion in this arena?
LSL (Pebble Beach Wine & Food Festival’s Lara Sailer Long): I have been at the event since day one but initially managing activations for Champagne Krug and then Champagne Louis Roederer. Five years ago David Bernahl gave me the opportunity to join the team managing all wine programming and sommelier aspects of the event, it sounded like a fun challenge plus I got to move my kids to Carmel Valley… Who could pass that up? I love that I get to work directly with amazing producers all over the world, some of the seminars I work on 2-3 years in advance…now if I can just get some free time to take them up on the invitations to visit!
WS: For people from the outside looking in, what do you think are some of the most important things you did in your career to prepare for today’s job?
LSL: Relationships, Relationships, Relationships. I believe that goes for any business. I remember in my early years’ handwriting thank you notes to every account, sommelier, and winery I met. Also sometimes there is a financial sacrifice in taking the right job at the right time, but I think it always pays off in the end.
WS: What is the single most important thing you hope attendees will take away from the event?
LSL: Hopefully not a massive hangover. Seriously this is an enormous undertaking, I hope that people take a moment to realize what amazing pool of culinary and winemaking talent from all over the world and that they are all in one place at one time not to mention at one of the most beautiful locations in the world. Many people never meet one celebrity chef or winemaker, and here you have 100+ high caliber chefs and over 200 world class wineries…. Where else does that happen?
WS: The Pebble Beach Food & Wine is one of the most well attended and widely anticipated events on the West Coast. What are some of the most challenging aspects of choosing the wines to be featured at the event?
LSL: This event is international. We have chefs & winemakers, product, and consumers from all over the world. We have grown the event to appeal to all of them. It would be easy for me to fill the Lexus Grand Tasting tent with all the great wines made here locally in Monterey and the Central Coast but I want to keep growing the diversity and range.
WS: Which new wines or wineries are those you are most excited about for this year’s event?
LSL: I pick nearly every single winery that participates there are so many great ones I am only limited to capacity, not great wines.
WS: Sommeliers are an essential aspect of the event. How do attendees benefit from the Somms being involved?
LSL: We LOVE and depend on our sommelier team, and we bring in over 100 of the best sommeliers around the country. They add in so many ways. They are the panelists in the seminars, and providing stellar service at all events. They are on hand to answer wine questions for consumers and if you’re lucky you can grab one of them to give you a tour of their favorites at the Lexus Grand Tasting tent. They work grueling hours to prepare all the wines and glassware long before the doors open. Amazing they can do this after all night tasting that they do behind the scenes.
WS: There is so much wine out there these days with practically every state having vineyards. How do you choose the wine to present out of a field of so many?
LSL: It has been very fun working with Dan Dunn the last two years on his book “American Wino” which we will debut at this year’s event. While I strive to bring balance to the great wine growing regions in the US and abroad, Dan has brought my attention to wines being made across the country from Arizona to Virginia.
WS: What trends do you see in the wine space influencing some of your wine selections?
LSL: Just when I thought rosé could not get any bigger it does. I love rosé (only second to Champagne), so that is fun to see it being produced and appreciated with excellent quality worldwide.
WS: Please share three key points you use as a guideline when choosing the wine line up.
LSL: Diversity so we keep the appeal to the serious collectors but also are educating tomorrow’s consumers. The balance between the evergreen and up & comers. And paying attention to what people are wanting to taste now and presenting it in a fun way.
WS: Which wine apps do you rely on to act as a guide or memory for you & why?
LSL: My go to is instant text messaging, I can’t replace my contacts directly to almost any sommelier and winemaker to get an answer straight from the source… I am excited however without giving away too much information about an app we are working on that will change the event experience.
WS: Out of the rare varietals offered at Food & Wine, which is the most appealing to you and why?
LSL: I am doing a fun tasting called “Beyond Chardonnay” where people will have a chance to taste everything from sommelier favorites like Gruener Veltliner to Albarino to dry Tokaji. Also in the Women and World Wine Treasures seminar we are doing a world tour of iconic producers. That will be a once in a lifetime tasting of the best of many regions from Burgundy to California and who would think there would be wine from Lebanon in this mix.
For a list of the wineries who will be participating click here.
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