From the patio of the Silver Fork Winery’s tasting room, visitors can survey all five acres of vineyards. The night of my visit, a hot sun hung over the summer-green mountain peaks, but the wine in our glasses was nice and cold. About 20 strangers mingled, introducing themselves and clinking glasses.
It was Silver Fork’s first Paella Night, one of many events hosted by owners Jennifer and Ed Foulides at the Morganton-based winery.
Our chef for the night was Austin Clark, a recent graduate of Johnson & Wales University’s culinary school. He tossed onions in a massive paella pan that was perched atop a portable gas stove. As he tossed in more vegetables and seasonings, guests peppered him with questions about the big pan, the history of the dish and its particular process.
Paella, as best as we can tell, originated in Spain in the 1800s. Arguably the national dish of Spain, it’s prepared in a paella — a disc-shaped pan with sloping sides and a large, flat cooking surface. Preparation is straightforward: The chef adds vegetables (in our case, peas, peppers, celery and onions), meat (for us it was chicken and ground beef), and sofrito (the tomato-based Spanish version of mirepoix). Clark sautéed everything before adding a short-grain Spanish rice called bomba (Italian aborio is a common substitute). He toasted the rice in the pan, then drowned it in stock.
The concoction simmered, seasoned generously with garlic, spicy paprika, rosemary and saffron. With a proper paella, the rice on the bottom of the pan browns to provide a little crunch. And done right, paella demands communal dining. It’s commonly consumed straight from dish, spooned out in big servings shared with lots of friends and family.
As we watched and waited, we whetted our appetites with cheeses, breads, fruits and nuts. Our choice of wines came from grapes grown at Silver Forks. A crisp, dry chardonnay or a delightful rosé of cabernet franc are my ideal selections for such a hot day.
For fans of red wines, Silver Fork offers chambourcin, cab franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and a few red blends, all a high mark above the average regional wine.
The Fouilides also offer a new blend they’ve dubbed Nonsense. “It is three vintages [made] in three different barrels — French, Hungarian and American oak — with three different varietals —cabernet franc, petit verdot and merlot. It was kind of named after Ed and I,” says Jennifer Foulides.
“I have a lot of people that taste this cab, and they say, ‘Oh, it doesn’t taste like a Napa Cabernet,'” she says. “And I always have to explain that, ‘Well, we are not in Napa.
“That’s what makes [the wine]. It’s terroir, the sun, the minerality, the rain, everything. We could manipulate it in the winery to make it taste like a Napa [cabernet], but you’re not really tasting what a North Carolina cab would taste like. We get crazy hot days, but we don’t get those cold nights like they do to get that tannin development. Ours is definitely a more Bordeaux-style, food-pairing wine than it is a tannin bomb.”
When dinner was served, we sat at large, beautifully crafted wooden community tables on the patio.
The servings were big, complimented by a small garden salad. With a squeeze of lemon over the heaping mountain of rice, veggies and meat, we dug right in, enjoying a perfect view of the setting sun. With each sip of wine, the stresses of work or home seemed to fade into the rhythm of the crickets in the distance.
By the time our flan dessert arrived, the tea lights were glowing yellow. As the plates were cleared and glasses drained, folks slipped away into the night and made their way home, all of us full and a little happier.
Silver Fork Winery’s next Paella Night, on Thursday, July 23, is sold out. Tickets will be available starting Friday, July 24, for the next dinner, which is scheduled for 7-9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 27. Tickets are $20 each and include dinner and a glass of wine. A full bottle and glass list are also available. For more details and contact information, visit http://silverforkwinery.com.