California winemaker partners with Caribbean foodies

The tropical evenings of the Cayman Islands may not have much in common with the cool, dry nights of California’s Monterey Bay, but as Slow Food South Sound members were recently reminded, Cayman’s warm nights and ocean views pair well with a chilled glass of Californian Sauvignon Blanc.

Hailing from the Salinas Valley, veteran West Coast winemaker Jason Dodge shared his minimalist style with Cayman’s foodies this week at Le Vele restaurant on George Town’s scenic waterfront.

As director of winemaking for Robert Mondavi Private Selection, Dodge works from the ground up, beginning his blends with careful grape selection.

“I spend a lot more time on grape testing and in the vineyards because that’s really where wines are made. So if you get that right and you grow the grapes right and you pick them at the optimal ripeness, there is really not much you have to do by means of winemaking in the winery. Hopefully, the wines speak for themselves,” he says.

His focus on high-quality ingredients made Dodge an ideal complement for Cayman’s Slow Food movement, a branch of a global organization that promotes fresh, local foods, explains Nancy Harrison, senior sales and marketing manager at Tortuga Rum Company.

“You always know you are in for a great dinner or great event when you team with Slow Food. We thought it was a perfect fit for Robert Mondavi Private Selection wines, so we’re really excited because we’ve brought a team down that represents the wine brand but more specifically, we brought down the winemaker himself, Jason Dodge,” Harrison says.

Tortuga’s Nancy Harrison describes Slow Food and Robert Mondavi wines as an ideal fit for a pairing at La Vele. – Photos: Alvaro Serey

“We decided to team with Le Vele restaurant tonight because it’s one of the newer restaurants on island and it’s kind of a hidden secret. We wanted to expose Slow Food members to this venue because we knew that if we were to team with them, it would be an excellent night with some excellent food.”

Tortuga has partnered with Robert Mondavi to promote the wines on island. The selection of central California whites and reds is expected to become more available at Cayman’s restaurants and stores in coming months.

During Dodge’s week touring the island with the Tortuga team, he says he discovered a sophisticated wine scene.

“It is a laid back but very upscale, incredible wine selection. There were some stores that had an even better selection than what I can get in California,” Dodge says.

Wine lovers at Le Vele began the evening on an aromatic note with one of Robert Mondavi’s signature white wines, crafted by Dodge, the Sauvignon Blanc. A blend of northern and southern Monterey vines, with a touch of Malvasia grapes, the wine captures the flare of coastal California with its minerality, citrus and herbaceous overtones.

“Monterey has one of the longest growing seasons within California, so the vines come to life early in spring and we pick the fruit very late in the fall. We are blessed that we have a very long hang time, so flavors develop, color develops in the red. But since the weather is cool, we still maintain that natural acidity in the wine,” Dodge says.

Robert Mondavi Private Selection’s Jason Dodge has crafted wines for 20 years on the U.S. West Coast.

The evening continued with a generous lineup of Robert Mondavi whites and reds, including its Chardonnay paired with a house-cured salmon and goat cheese salad, its Pinot Noir with spinach tortello and its Cabernet Sauvignon paired with herb-crusted lamb scottadito.

For those who missed the evening, the next Slow Food event will take place Feb. 13 at West Bay’s Vivo Cafe & Restaurant with a vegan and lionfish menu. In the meantime, Robert Mondavi’s wines will be available at Tortuga stores.