Persephone Chef Cori Gouge-Ayer
Dining Reviews

Persephone’s Recipe for Pairing Local Food and Wine

Aptos restaurant’s Aug. 22 winemaker dinner will feature Windy Oaks Estate

Persephone Chef and Santa Cruz native Cori Gouge-Ayer runs the Aptos restaurant with her sommelier brother Alex Potter.

In the gorgeous Aptos dining room of Persephone, Chef Cori Gouge-Ayer will prepare a multi-course meal to pair with five distinctive bottlings from Windy Oaks Estates at an Aug. 22 winemaker dinner.

Those new to the concept owe themselves a chance to sample a series of wines from the steady hand of winemaker Jim Schultze, which will be coupled with foods especially created to harmonize with selected varietals. The sequence of flavors and often-spectacular tuning of sensory ideas that join the recipes and the wines make for a delicious learning experience. Those who are veterans—and fans—of the winemaker dinner format won’t want to miss this one. Here’s why. 

Dinner begins with Watermelon Gazpacho paired with a Windy Oaks Bastide La Combe 2017 Rosé, before continuing on with a linguine created of tender abalone, pancetta and smoked paprika. With this course, Jim Schultze will pour the 2016 Estate Chardonnay. Then comes a duck confit with candy cap mushrooms joined by Windy Oaks’ “Diane’s Block” Estate Pinot Noir 2017. (I can practically taste that duck/Pinot combination right now.)

The second entrée is a pork loin roulade stuffed with rosemary-roasted figs and served with caramelized onion-fennel farro and balsamic glaze. This tour de force will be paired with a special release barrel-fermented Estate Pinot Noir 2016. Dessert of a floating island with saffron meringue and pomegranate creme Anglaise comes with a festive Windy Oaks Sparkling Albariño 2015. That’s an adventurous tasting journey starting at 6 p.m., priced at $150 per person, all inclusive.

The chef is a Santa Cruz native who, along with her sommelier brother Alex Potter, orchestrates the restaurant’s winemaker dinner series. Windy Oaks wines are well known locally and nationally, and proprietors Jim and Judy Schultze are savvy participants in these customized events. “Jim and I both feel that winemaker dinners provide the opportunity for the general public to meet the winemaker in an intimate setting,” says Judy Schultze. They can also “show how the right wine paired with the right food enhances both.” 

In putting this event together, Gouge-Ayer and Potter bring team members for a trip to the vineyard to taste the wines, tour the operation and get to know the winemakers. “This is our second dinner with Windy Oaks,” says Potter, “and we have a great working relationship, as well as an excellent understanding of their wine and winemaking philosophy.” 

Potter explains that in putting together these labor-intensive events, “We like to taste through most of a winery’s offerings and then narrow it down to five choices. We keep in mind that we want to put together a comprehensive meal with a certain flow and progression for our guests to follow. Once we have decided which wines to use, we will often re-taste the wines the next day and discuss more ideas for dishes we think will accentuate the qualities of the wine we have decided to highlight. From there, it usually takes another week or so of ironing out details and checking to make sure we can locally source the ingredients we need.” 

Potter says that what’s available locally, and seasonally, “has a huge influence on each menu. Often during our process, someone will have an idea for a dish we all think would be a great pairing, but a key ingredient is not in season or is unavailable locally.” The farmers market also supplies plenty of food for inspiration for the chef and sommelier. An ambitious multi-course menu paired with wines from one of our very top winemaking estates—plus the presence of the winemaker—make this dinner one not to be missed. 

Persephone Restaurant, 7945 Soquel Drive, Aptos. 612-6511, persephonerestaurant.com/specialevents.

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Look for her recent memoir “Inside the Flame” at bookstores everywhere.

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