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Judy Foreman: Actor Kurt Russell Masters New Craft as Winemaker, and Keeps His Audience Spellbound

Santa Barbara Food & Wine Weekend dinner includes barrels of fun with GoGi Wines founder and an increasing presence in Santa Barbara County

Gathering before the Grand Wine Dinner during the recent Santa Barbara Food & Wine Weekend at Bacara Resort & Spa were, from left, Todd Schulkin, executive director of The Julia Child Foundation; actor and GoGi Wines founder Kurt Russell; and Cynthia and Eric Spivey, who is chairman of The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts.
Gathering before the Grand Wine Dinner during the recent Santa Barbara Food & Wine Weekend at Bacara Resort & Spa were, from left, Todd Schulkin, executive director of The Julia Child Foundation; actor and GoGi Wines founder Kurt Russell; and Cynthia and Eric Spivey, who is chairman of The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts. (Bacara Resort & Spa photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

The notion that Hollywood stars are aloof was quickly dispelled on a recent Saturday night.

The occasion was the Santa Barbara Food & Wine Weekend benefiting The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts at Bacara Resort & Spa. Foundation chairman Eric Spivey rose to introduce actor Kurt Russell, the guest of honor at the Grand Wine Dinner.

Russell — who took center stage in the ballroom with his GoGi Wines label in lights on the wall behind him — was personable and enthusiastic from the get-go.

He was accompanied by his — as he called her — “girlfriend of 32 years,” Goldie Hawn, and other family members involved in his wine company. And that was just the start.

It was hard not to get caught up in laughter at the anecdotal Russell family stories. Each wine is named after a family member, including Russell’s own: GoGi.

Filled with more than 200 guests, Bacara’s ballroom may never have looked better, thanks to SWANK Santa Barbara owner Maryanne Contreras. The decor made generous use of beautiful flowers with a touch of the wine country ambience.

The four-course dinner  was designed and prepared by executive chef Vincent Lesage, chef du cuisine Johan Denizot and banquet chef Martin Fonseca, with a “ranch-to-table” theme.

The glasses were lined up at our seats as the first course of charred County Line Harvest Baby Leeks was paired with a 2013 GoGi Viognier called Lulu, named after Russell’s mom. The wine had a tropical-flavored burst.

The second course was Seared Striped Bass Filet paired with a 2012 GoGi Chardonnay, called Goldie. The wine was made from carefully selected fruit from the Santa Rita Hills and, according to Russell, showcased the traditional Burgundian-made Chardonnay.

The third course of Espresso-Rubbed Tenderloin of Beef was paired with a 2011 GoGi Pinot Noir, Angelbaby, named after Russell’s youngest sister, Jami. The wine is sourced from Ampelos Vineyard and blended by Russell himself.

A cheese, chocolate and strawberry dessert paired with a 2010 Syrah, Gamma, from GoGi’s growing partners, Ampelos Cellars. The wine’s exotic, spicy flavor pairs with balanced minerals and tannins, is 100 percent estate fruit and is barreled-aged for almost two years.

Between each course, Russell would take the assembled guests on his personal journey, recounting family bicycle trips through the great wine regions of California, France and Italy, and noting how the excursions provided the opportunity for him to sample terrific wines.

But it was the Burgundies that “stole his heart,” he said, and sparked the idea of making his own wines.

In between the dinner’s courses, Russell walked to every table, chatting about wine, posing for photos and being a great host. His baby face and twinkling eyes were rather hidden behind his glasses and a long beard and handlebar mustache he’s sporting for a movie role he is currently shooting.

Russell acknowledged the people with whom he collaborated, which include his stepdaughter, actress Kate Hudson; his sister, Jami; and Rebecca and Peter Work, who own Ampelos Cellars in the Santa Rita Hills.

“Peter is an old-school purist when it comes to making wine,” Russell said of Work. “No short cuts, no tricks, no fakin' it!”

Once he got involved, Russell was hands-on right from the start, including slicing his thumb with a pair of clippers while cutting the first cluster of grapes he ever harvested, he shared.

There was no doubt among the attendees that he loves what he’s doing and, he noted, “like it says on the back of each and every bottle, it’s meant to be ... for your pleasure.”

Circling to back to Julia Child, a longtime Montecito resident who died in 2004, he exclaimed, “Bon appétit, and a toast to the good life.”

GoGi can be tasted locally at the 1880 Union Hotel & Saloon, 362 Bell St. in Los Alamos, and in Los Olivos at Los Olivos Café & Wine Merchant, 2879 Grand Ave., and Petros, 2860 Grand Ave.

Click here for more information about GoGi Wines, or contact [email protected].

— Noozhawk columnist Judy Foreman is a longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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