Off the vine: Learn, dine at Forks & Corks

January 8, 2014 

While watching the BCS National Championship Game, with Florida State and Auburn Universities battling it out, I couldn't help but think of another upcoming university setting -- Forks & Corks University. An event where a number of the top wineries in the world will showcase their exceptional wines along with a four-course gourmet luncheon at one of Sarasota's finest dining establishments -- Michael's On East Ballroom and Wine Cellar.

The Forks & Corks Food and Wine Festival is Jan. 24-27 and is hosted by the Sarasota-Manatee Originals, an organization that was founded by 24 independently owned restaurant owners in 2003 and now claims more than 50 members/restaurants from the Sarasota-Manatee County region. The organization boasts that more Florida Trend Award and Zagat top-scoring restaurants are located within 20 miles of downtown Sarasota than there are in any other region of Florida.

A major feature of this festival is the Forks and Corks University -- an educational event that allows for an interesting opportunity to participate in one of two interactive seminars on Jan. 25 at Michael's On East Ballroom and Wine Cellar.

If you desire to be immersed in South American wines in the morning and California Rhone-styled wines in the afternoon, then "Salud! South America and Rhone Stylin' " should not be missed.

Anthony Bell, the winemaker and co-founder of Bell Wine Cellars, is on the panel for the "Rhone Stylin"

portion of the seminar. Bell Wine Cellars was established in 1991 and is in the quaint Nappa Valley town of Yountville, Calif. Prior to establishing his own winery, Bell spent 15 years working at Beaulieu Vineyard, where he was influenced by André Tchelistcheff -- one of the most innovative and influential winemakers in California history.

The other seminar is "Beauty and the Vine" and consists of a panel of "five leading ladies who are crushing it in the ever-changing wine industry." Four of the wineries represented are from the California regions of Dry Creek, Russian River and Spring Mountain; while the other winery is from Alsace, France.

One of the panelists is Diana Schweiger Isdahl of Schweiger Vineyards -- which is perched on top of Spring Mountain on 60 acres that have been in the Schweiger family since 1960. The winery, owned by Fred and Sally Schweiger, is one of the few family owned and operated facilities in Napa Valley. The Schweiger's two children, Andrew and Diana, play major roles in the daily operation of the winery.

The events tend to sell out quickly, so get your tickets now. You can purchase tickets and find a complete schedule of events at www.dineoriginal.com/forksandcorks.

Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines. He can be reached at jimrawe@gmail.com.

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