Society of local wine lovers endures

Members of the Vache Society cheers as they enjoy local wines and friends at a recent get together at The Inn at Tres Pinos. Photo by Nick Lovejoy

The Vache Society had its yearly celebration Jan. 12 at The Inn Tres Pinos, but this one had a bit more significance—it was the 20-year anniversary of the group.Known for having casual and relaxing meetings—a big draw to the members and any potential new members—the 20th-year anniversary celebration featured something somewhat different: speeches. Twenty years is a pretty significant milestone, after all.
The Vache Society is a nonprofit group of gentlemen who appreciate the tasting, pairing and sharing of wine, especially wines made in San Benito County. Mike Howard, who owns The Inn Tres Pinos restaurant along with his wife, Mary, is the co-founder of the Vache Society along with Joe Postigo, Doug Kuerschner and Joe Gimelli, who is the original owner of Pietra Santa Winery. Mike Howard said the founding members wanted to find a way to celebrate the unique yet underrated wine region of San Benito County.
“We recognized what was in our backyard, but no one (outside of the region) paid attention to it,” said Howard, who is also the executive chef for a restaurant that is considered among the best fine-dining experiences in the region. “Everyone paid attention to Napa and Sonoma, and we looked at ourselves and said, ‘We’ve got some great stuff going on here, some great history. How do we celebrate this?’”
Enter the Vache Society
“Joe had opened up Pietra Santa and he said for us to get an informal gathering of men and celebrate wine in this area, and it grew from there,” Howard said.
Renowned winemaker Josh Jensen was at the first-ever Vache Society celebration—“There was only 10 of us at that time,” he said—and comes to the group gatherings at least once a year.
“I like it for the social aspect,” he said. “It’s fun to catch up with people and it’s always a relaxing environment. It’s good company, good food and good wines. The great thing about the Vache Society is you don’t have to be a wine expert—the more the merrier.”
For the 20th-year anniversary event, members were feted to a culinary feast that included a strolling dinner menu of chilled pinnacle penne pasta, Asiago “Dutch oven” scalloped potatoes, chicken picatta and cast iron calamari steak. Appetizers included a sun-dried tomato and basil chevre spread and The Tres Pinos signature antipasta display, featuring an arrangement of imported and domestic meats, garnished with roasted red and yellow bell peppers, pepperoncini and cherry peppers served atop a chilled Brazilian marble.
There was also a chef carving station featuring slow-roasted garlic and sea salt-encrusted prime rib, and a vanilla bean crème brule for dessert. Five days before the event, Jensen said somewhat seriously that he wasn’t planning to eat for the two days prior to the celebration gathering.
Of course, any time the Vache Society gathers, it’s all about the wine. Every member brings one or more bottles of wine, a mass tasting follows, and at the end there is a vote to determine the favorite. The Vache Society started with fewer than 15 members, but now has grown to over 100, Howard said.
Members usually meet every three months and they’re required to bring at least one bottle of wine to their gatherings, preferably of “decent quality.”
The 20th-year celebration featured a who’s who of guests, including Jensen; Ken Gimelli, who is the owner of San Juan Oaks; and Harry Wardwell, who is a regional president for Rabobank.
Howard said they all come out to celebrate the wonderful wine that comes out of their home in San Benito County.

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