Wine Wednesday

When Wine and Knives Collide

Winemakers become chefs at the annual Iron Vintner Challenge.

By Julie H. Case June 13, 2012

Tom Douglas sticks it to Jerry Riener in round one.

What do you get when you hand a winemaker a knife, some mystery meat, and a challenge?

Smack talk, salmon crepes, and a battle on a barbecue grill.

So it goes at the annual Iron Vintner Challenge. The contest—which runs over three weeks and culminates in a winemaker dinner at Barking Frog —pits winemakers against each other in a 60-minute cookoff at Willows Lodge, in which they must prepare an appetizer and a main course (using a mystery protein). Their efforts are umpired by “celebrity judges" that have included chefs Thierry Rautureau and Tom Douglas, and Modernist Cuisine author Maxime Bilet.

All this thanks to some old-fashioned ribbing. After hearing enough about what the vintners who occupied his barstools thought should be added to the Barking Frog menu, Chef Bobby Moore told them to put their money where their mouths were. Several bit, so to speak. Auction items for each night were secured, and Iron Vintner was born in 2010. Proceeds go to Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center.

Last week, Guardian Cellar’s Jerry Riener took round one from Kevin Correll, of Barrage Cellars with an appetizer that featured a King salmon crepe with a buerre blanc sauce made from (two bottles of) his Angel sauvignon blanc and an entree of cedar-plank grilled Copper River salmon with spicy tomato jam and spaetzle.

Tonight’s challenge features Morgan Lee, Covington Cellars, versus Ross Andrew Mickel, Ross Andrew Winery. The winning vintner will face Riener next Wednesday under the scrutiny of KING5 morning Anchor, Mark Wright. That champ will join a growing list of other winemakers (Darby English, 2010 and Chris Gorman, 2011) to be crowned Iron Vintner.

So, how does a winemaker prep for this kind of flying-blade action? Practice.

“It was a lot of trial-and-error cooking,” says Riener. “Error mostly. I gained about four pounds.”

Said practice included spending about a month in the kitchen with sous chef Jeremy Young, a Microsoftie who has helped out at the winery, playing with proteins and figuring out which ingredients they could handle well, which they couldn’t, and how to boil two bottles of Angel down to one cup to concentrate the wine’s flavors.

Not every iron vintner cooks with his or her own wine, but Riener packed both reds and his white in preparation for whatever protein he faced. Plus, he brought his own crepe maker, so there’s that.

Now that tonight’s contestants have seen Riener’s mad skills in action, he’ll have to change things up when he squares off against one of them next week. That said, he has a warning for his competitor: “Do be careful. I’d hate it if a few side ingredients slipped into your dishes as I was walking by.”

We know, you’d like to see this kind of action like this in person. This requires fast action: Tickets ($50 a round gets you happy hour prices and discounted wine pours) for tonight’s event and next week’s final challenge are sold out, though the $135 winemaker’s dinner is still available.

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