Terri and Pete Kight; Photography by Jesse and Whitney Chamberlin
by Stephanie Davis Smith | The Atlantan
magazine | April 28, 2011
It’s unclear how many bottles of wine we might drink tonight. Terri and Pete Kight, proprietors of several vineyards, are hosting a wine dinner in their Brookhaven home, and row upon beautiful row of Pinots, Chards and Grenaches cover the expanse of their large mahogany dining room table. Riedel stemware is lined up on every available surface like little glass soldiers ready to march into battle. In the kitchen, acclaimed chef Steven Satterfield of Miller Union is wedged behind the island with his band of hurried sous chefs. The rest of us, a group of mostly strangers who have never met, finish Satterfield’s radish and feta “toasts”—crunchy, salty perfection—and sip on the Kights’ Quivira 2009 Sauvignon Blanc while chatting and getting to know each other in their art-filled foyer.
This exquisite supper is one of 14 taking place across Atlanta tonight to raise money for the High Museum of Art. As part of the High’s Wine Auction every year, proceeds from these intimate dinners with winemakers and noted chefs (think Anne Quatrano paired with Jones Family Vineyards, Linton Hopkins with Arnot-Roberts, Jonathan Jerusalmy with Stag’s Leap) go towards new exhibits and pieces for the museum. These major players on the Atlanta food and wine scene donate their time, talent and fare to the cause.
The Kights, who own La Follette and Quivira vineyards in Sonoma County and Torbreck in the Barossa Valley of Southern Australia, are generously letting us roam about their house. A gaggle of guests end up on the back porch tasting passed plates of Buckwheat blinis with country ham, goat cheese and mushrooms and downing fried oysters with hot pepper mignonette. It’s while we’re enjoying the late March sunset that we first meet Greg La Follette, the evening’s quirky guest winemaker. A father of six, he and his wife live on a farm in California wine country with no television and little influence from the outside world. A mad scientist of sorts, he is often named one of the industry’s best at what he does. “This wine is from the gnarliest soil on earth,” he says about the La Follette Chardonnay we all are practically licking out of the bottom of our glasses. “It’s grown in 350 million-year-old dirt.”
Known for producing bold, cool-climate Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, La Follette is often called an “extreme” winemaker, taking risks and planting grapes in unusual spots. “This wine was made above the fog. You have to wait on it,” he explains. “It’s like telling your kids they have to wait until February to open their Christmas presents!” His joyful laugh at his own joke matches the vibrancy of his colorful shirt, which is decorated in wine labels, and his large brushed-nickel belt buckle covered in vines. Like the wine he slaves over, nothing about him is subtle. La Follette is a viticulturist who employs age-old Burgundian practices not commonly used in this country. It’s his eccentricity and expertise that makes us culinary types and wine lovers swoon.
As the sun fades and the dinner bell rings, we all settle at our tables and the bewitching storyteller Satterfield brings out his first course. “It’s that perfect moment of change between the seasons,” he begins, “when winter and spring are melding and you get superb radishes at the same time as robust English peas. This is one of my favorite times of year to be a chef.” Satterfield is known for his relationship with local farmers, and his romance with food fits the mood of a room filled with people who appreciate that kind of thing to the hilt. When he sets down his Georgia trout with chives and crispy, petite onion rings at each setting, the fragrant flavors fill the air. Noses collectively dive forward to soak it in. This idyllic meal goes on for a while as we bond over talk of wine and Southern cooking. Elated and satiated, Satterfield brings us Georgia shrimp and sunchoke salad on buttermilk crackers, followed by a journey cake (“the slaves would take these on long journeys north,” he says) topped with suckling pig to pair with the La Follette spicy Manchester Ridge Pinot Noir that’s being poured.
Candlelight is now aglow as the idiosyncratic La Follette gets up to make a final toast. The vintner is famous for mingling grapes for new flavors and textures, much as our covey of once strangers has been intermixed this evening. “Complexity is not an accident,” says La Follette... And I wonder if he’s talking about the wine.