I love living in Gilroy. We’ve got the natural beauty of open space (for now, anyway), mountains all around us, an extremely friendly community, the Premium Outlets and best of all, a dozen or so awesome wineries right in our very own backyard.
Whenever I travel out of the area and tell others I’m from Gilroy, the first thing they say is, “Oh—that’s where the garlic festival is!” It’s about that time of year, again, when the fragrant bulbs of garlic begin wafting through the air—building excitement up to the last weekend of July when the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival takes place.
For those of us who live in Gilroy, it’s hardly a secret that the best way to experience the garlic festival is to be a volunteer—just ask one of the 4,000 people expected to help out this year.
Volunteers work under a shaded tents, away from the hot July sun. They also get free admission and a coupon for a free meal and a drink from Gourmet Alley, the most popular food area of the festival.
Most would agree that the morning shift is best—it’s cooler and the crowds are a little less crazy. Over the years I have volunteered at different booths run by various organizations. But, by far, my favorites to volunteer for are the calamari and wine booths. The perks are obvious. You can sample the calamari (on your assigned breaks, of course) and the festival’s calamari recipe is legendary.
The wine booth—or Wine Pavilion, as it’s really called—is a big wine party held under an enormous tent. Run by the Gilroy Rotary Club, all the proceeds are donated to the club’s Charitable Giving and Scholarship programs. Again, the perks of volunteering are obvious—not just for the wine samples but mostly because of the camaraderie of the winery workers and the merriment of the visitors. The tented area is cooled with water misters, increasing the booth’s popularity. With 15 different local wineries, each pouring three different wines, you are guaranteed to find wines that you love.
People often ask which wines pair the best with garlic? To complement the pungent taste of raw garlic found in the deep fried calamari, mentioned above, or the garlic festival’s wildly popular shrimp scampi, a wine with good acidity works well. Try a citrusy, crisp wine like a Pinot Grigio from Guglielmo Winery or an unoaked Chardonnay from Clos LaChance. Red wine usually tastes best if the garlic has been braised first, to mellow the intense garlic flavor. Two of the best-selling food items at Gourmet Alley with braised garlic are the pepper steak and Italian sausage sandwiches. For the pepper steak, I would go with Fortino’s signature red blend, Maribella, a smooth little gem named after the winemaker’s mother, Marie. If you love the big red fruit bombs like I do, then try a Zinfandel from Satori Cellars to pair with your sausage sandwich—the fruitiness of the wine is a good match for the spiciness of the sausage.
Fifteen outstanding wineries are ready to help you find something to suit your palate. They are: Clos LaChance Winery, Creekview Vineyards, Fortino Winery, Guglielmo Winery, Hecker Pass Winery, Kirigin Cellars, Martin Ranch Winery, Medeiros Family Wines, Morgan Hill Cellars, Rapazzini Winery, Sarah’s Vineyard, Satori Cellars, Solis Winery, Stefania Wine and Wild Eye Winery.