• Otter Views: Fall Festival Report

    by Tom Stevens

    Two food and wine festivals on the same Saturday sounded like a schedule clash, but the navigator assured me the festivals would not tread on each other’s grapes.

    “One’s out by Hollister; the other’s in Salinas,” she explained. “They’re in different valleys. Also, one is a country setting; the other’s in the city. They’ll attract different clienteles.”

    Hollister is a brand name I’ve seen on a million t-shirts and sweats, but I had never thought of it as an actual place before. “You mean Hollister where all the sportswear comes from?” I asked. “Will there be outlet stores?”

    She smiled patiently. “No, that Hollister doesn’t exist. It’s just a California-sounding name someone dreamed up to sell clothes.”

    “Well, it worked,” I said. “So, what’s the real Hollister like?”

    “Keep driving and you’ll find out.”

    It was a fine day for a drive to Hollister. The sky was blue and clear; the hills golden; the temperature in the mid-80s. Only a few turning maples and the occasional roadside pumpkin patch signaled we were in mid-October. By the time the Highway 25 junction appeared, the climate had turned surprisingly hot and dry.

    I clicked on the air conditioning. But when an elderly truck resides near the ocean in Pacific Grove, AC can be a mixed blessing. As the cab gradually filled with eye-watering, mildew-smelling gaseous vapor, I could imagine what landing on Ganymede might be like.

    “Would you rather perspire or expire?” I coughed.

    “Roll down the windows,” she urged. “We’ll perspire once we’re there anyway. I think we’re getting close. There’s Tres Pinos.”

    EAC047XThe roadside hamlet of that name passed in a blink, but the blink revealed a promising pancake restaurant. I made a mental note to return. A few miles later, signs directed us off the highway onto a dirt road that snaked through the broad bottomlands of the picturesque Paicines Ranch. Columns of lemon-colored dust marked the tracks of earlier arrivals to the First Annual San Benito Olive Festival.

    It felt very old-timey, as if we might be arriving at the Paicines spread aboard Connestoga wagons. The historic ranch obliged this whimsy with antique farm machinery, weathered plank barns, dusty livestock pens, and dark sheds hung with pulleys, chains, saddle tack, cobwebs and hand tools. If life imitates art, this was “Bonanza.”

    Belying its rustic setting, the Olive Festival itself proved quite tony and modern. Truck-mounted solar panels powered an elaborate sound stage from which “celebrity chef” cooking demonstrations were telecast. Ringing the central stage were a live music pavilion, a score of savory food booths, and the identical white tents of three dozen cheerful vendors. Their wares ranged from local apricots, chocolates, nuts, wines, grains and olive oils to soaps, jewelry, kitchenware, knit goods, aprons and art works. A plant booth sold miniature olive trees.

    Some “first annual” events are train wrecks of poor planning, bad timing, under-staffing, or lax logistics. I’m happy to report that the Olive Festival people did themselves and San Benito County proud. From the Boy Scout parking attendants to the vendors, security staff and logo-clad volunteers, everyone we encountered was helpful and knowledgeable. As inaugural events go, this one was extremely well planned, skillfully managed and generously presented. Go next year before it gets too big.

    The third annual Salinas Valley “Feast of Eden” festival, by contrast, was very urban. As in years past, the Salinas city center was cordoned off as a several-block pedestrian mall. There a United Nations convoy of food trucks served hot, smoky, spicy specialties of the region’s many cultures.

    Bands and solo performers entertained throughout the afternoon from curbside venues, alleys and pocket parks. Some bands were set up so close together that festival goers experienced a sort of Doppler effect or Celtic-into-Santana segue as they strolled the boulevard. Amid the musicians and hot food trucks was a colorful bazaar of arts and crafts booths, fresh produce tents, clothing stalls and handmade goods purveyors.  It was as if the Tuesday Monterey farmer’s market had added a car show, a boat show, and many more bands.

    Also, more wines. This year, these could be sampled along the main street as well as within designated “host pour” businesses along the festival corridor. This innovation sent a lively, laughing stream of patrons in and out of downtown boutiques and furniture stores all afternoon, hopefully spurring business therein.

    EAC047WMy wine years having passed, I admired four classic “Chris-Craft” speed boats lined up along a side street. Hand-finished in the 1950s and 1960s, they showed the painstaking joinery and clean lines of American wooden boat building at its zenith. Across the intersection, as colorful as peanut M&Ms, stood beautifully restored “street rods” of similar vintage to the boats.

    The olive festival didn’t have those.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on October 24, 2013

    Topics: Otter Views

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