Two Families’ Efforts Shine at Vail Wine Dinner

Vail’s family-run Sonnenalp Resort hosted dinner featuring the Melville family’s wines –and kangaroo

These days, there is no lack of five-star luxury lodging and dining to match in Vail and neighboring Beaver Creek, but the Sonnenalp with its lofty European standards of luxury, service and dining was there before any of the American chains arrived in the Vail Valley. Johannes Faessler, who owns and runs the resort, is the great-grandson of Eleonore and Adlof Fäβler, who turned a rustic farmhouse into the original Sonnenalp in Bavaria’s Allgäuer Alps in 1919. Johannes’s brother, Michael, now owns the German hotel. The brothers are the fourth generation in the Fäβler family (Faessler in English) to do so.

Ludwig’s Restaurant, the fine-dining option at Vail’s Sonnenalp, puts on a monthly winemaker dinner during the winter season. I was fortunate to be invited to join the February dinner, which executive chef Steve Topple created to pair with wines from the Melville Vineyards & Winery of Santa Rita, California. Like the Sonnenalp, Melville is famly-owned and -run. Father Ron Melville and brothers Brent and Chad, along with winemaker Greg Brewer, operate the vineyards and winery. The Melvilles left the financial and stock-trading arena to grow grapes and make wine; Brewer’s myriad accomplishments include partnering in the highly regarded Brewer-Clifton Winery. Melville Vineyards are in cool, foggy, low-nutrient acreage north of Santa Barbara that stresses wines. The Melvilles’ responsible farming techniques creating healthy soil in conditions that force the vines to become strong and healthy and the fruit intense and robustly flavored. The family likes to say that their wines are “made” in the vineyard, not altered in the winery. They prefer to age in new oak and stainless steel to let the grapes’ purity shine.The location is Lompoc in the western Santa Ynez within the Sta. Rita Hills appellation.

Chad brought five small-batch wines to Vail, where Steve Topple, Ludwig’s new executive chef, created a dinner to pair with the wines. Topple is new to the Sonnenalp but not to Vail. He previous was top toque at the Lodge at Vail’s Wildflower Restaurant (now replaced by Elway’s) and at Beano’s high on Beaver Creek. After a lovely little amuse, the announced dishes started with a bright salad and pale ceviche and ended with a colorful dessert, but in between were two hearty, meaty, winter-hued courses. One was loin of kangaroo — a first for me.

Sommelier Jarrett Quint who coordinated the winemaker dinner, executive chef Steve Topple and Chad Melville.
Trays of various house-baked breads --baguettes, flatbreads and focaccia -- ready to be placed on the two long tables set up for this special dinner.

Chef sent out a tiny amuse of Nantucket Bay scaloops with microgreens.
Brilliant, crisp mache salad with grapefruit and goat cheese. Wine: Melville Estate Chardonnay, 2009, Sta. Rita Hills.
An exquisite little ceviche of a Hawaiian fish listed on the menu as 'orange niargi' to which I can't find a reference but which was served with a bit of lime chutney and became the subtle jewel of the dinner. Wine: Melville Chardonnay, Clone, Inox, 2009.
Lamb belly cured for 10 hours with salt, rosemarry and mint, roasted and served with pickled cucumber relish. Wine: Melville Pinot Noir Estate, Sta. Rita Hills, 2009.
Thick, meaty, Pancetta-wrapped roasted loin of kangaroo -- a first for me and my dining companions -- accompanied by French green lentil "stew" and black trumpet mushroom sauce. Wine: Samsare Syrah, Sta. Rita Hills, 2008. Chad Melville and his wife, Mary, separately cultiavate vines and produce wine under this boutique label.
Exquisitely presented dessert of layered mille-feuille cake and nougat mousse with dobs of vanilla brandy foam and fruit bites, including a strawberry in a sweet pastry hoop. Wine: Melville Pinot Noir Estate, Verna's, Sta. Rita Hills, 2010.


Price check: These 5-course wine-pairing dinners have been $95 this season.

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