Saratoga Wine & Food Festival: Eat, Drink And Be Merry…For A Good Cause

The 13th annual festival raises over $200,000 for SPAC and the Auto Museum.

Saratoga Wine and Food Festival wines
Delicious wines were in high supply at the 13th annual Saratoga Wine and Food Festival.

A sold-out crowd filled the Saratoga Performing Arts Center grounds on Sept. 7 for the 13th annual Saratoga Wine & Food Festival and Concours d’Elegance, day two of a three-day celebration of fine wines, fast cars, and fabulous food that drew about 5,000 people. The bacchanalian grand finale to the summer season is SPAC’s biggest fundraiser, raising about $200,000 for educational programs at SPAC and the Saratoga Automobile Museum. Museum chairman Anthony Ianniello and restaurateur Angelo Mazzone were honorary co-chairs.

Mo Rocca, the wry correspondent for CBS Sunday Morning and star of My Grandmother’s Ravioli on the Cooking Channel, did a culinary comedy routine with Saratoga’s own “Mamma Theresa” Viva of DZ Restaurants, who shared pointers on how to make an Italian fruit tart. Rocca later provided an off-beat commentary to master wine connoisseur Kevin Zraly as he solicited bids during the live auction. Was Rudolf Nureyev’s foot really ensconced in the hollow center of the five-foot ballet shoe sculpture, which was signed by the entire corps of the New York City Ballet? Michele Riggi, president of the Museum of Dance and creator of the En Pointe project, was high bidder at $20,000. Her yellow Lamborghini was among the high-end cars on display on the SPAC lawn. Lynda and Craig Kinns of Clifton Park, who were high bidders in past years for clubhouse boxes at the track, raised their paddle for a Lake Placid condo and Vero Beach, Florida, vacation, but were outbid. A seven-day stay at a private villa in Rocco d’Evandro, Italy, donated by Ianniello, went for $13,000.

Chef Zak Pelaccio, former executive chef of 5 Ninth and the Fatty Crab in Manhattan, co-founded Fish & Game in Hudson with Jori Emde: “She’s the reason I’m here.” Pelacio did a pig butchering demonstration sponsored by Flying Pigs Farm in Shushan. Saratoga is “beautiful,” Emde said of her first visit here. “It’s a very well-curated event…very nice people. We had a great time.”

With a 35-car road rally to the Lake George Club and nearly 400 at the gala on Friday, a sold-out grand tasting and sold-out burger bash with bands on Saturday—with Comfort Kitchen winning the judges’ best burger award, and Druthers winning people’s choice—and a Southern brunch at Saratoga National on Sunday, the weekend had something for everyone.

Pellaccio and Tom Thibeault of Adirondack Appliances were judges for the inaugural Big Green Egg barbecue cook-off, hosted by Times Union foodie Steve Barnes. “We expect you to come back and defend your title,” Barnes told Rob Johnson of Castleton, who took first place and won a Big Green Egg cooker with his “Cheap Chicken.” Craig Couture of Clifton Park was runner-up with his blackened swordfish, and Jill Kavanagh of Troy came in third with her stuffed pork tenderloin. “I love pork,” she said, and she likes Barnes’ food blog, too.

Eric Clapton performed at SPAC three times. Fans at the festival got to admire the 2003 Aston Martin DB7 Zagato that he originally owned, and the 2014 Maserati Ghibli that debuted at the Shanghai Motor Show in April. Several Shelby Cobras were exhibited, and a 1957 Porsche that participated in the 2013 Peking-to-Paris rally—a 7,500-mile commute. The 2010 Morgan Aero Super Sport, which can reach 60 mph in four seconds, was one of only 200 produced by the historic British car maker. Dr. Stephen Knoll, a Saratoga dentist and MG enthusiast, was pleased to see British cars at the former Ferrari fest, where Italian cars predominated.

Jim Taylor of Mayfield and Colorado brought four cars from his hefty collection near Sacandaga Lake. Joe Kollmann of Johnstown got to drive Taylor’s 2003 Aston Martin Zagato to Saratoga, and Herb Bozer of Gloversville drove his 1965 Cobra. John Miller of Saratoga drove Taylor’s 1958 AC Bristol, a Cobra forerunner made by Carroll Shelby.

Bruce and Lucette Levinsky and Leon Knesel of Saratoga Springs, and Lorrie and Saverio Minucci of Loudonville were among those listening to jazz and sampling rare wines, artisan cheeses and charcuterie at the new Connoisseur’s Tent. It was his fourth festival, said Saverio, whose black Ferrari Spider convertible was parked on the concourse. “People watching” is what Lorrie liked most.

Juliet Teimoori and Chris Stamatakos of Colonie and Michael and Susanna Lia of Guilderland were attending for the first time. “We always wanted to go,” said Susanna.

“A great way to keep the party rolling,” added Chris.

“Good cars, good food, good drink,” said Michael.

“Good company,” added Chris.

The new Infiniti Q50 from Lia Infiniti was parked at the SPAC entrance. “We’re buying Saratoga Nissan,” Michael mentioned, which will be their 18th dealership, and the first in Saratoga.

Sam Ramic and Mike Rupcic of Wine World Wide, Inc. in New Paltz sampled wines with Ian Thomas, a chef at the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia, and Ian’s former boss, Sandy Foster of Village Pizzeria in Galway.

Melissa Zieker and Melanie Manuel of the SPAC Action Council were there with husbands Chris and Keith. “We’ve been coming here for eight years,” said Chris Zieker. “If I had to pick one event of the entire year, it would be this.”

Chris Harmon and JoAnn Grande were newcomers; Jenn Merriman came last year, too. “I think it is intriguing, tasteful,” said Merriman. “It’s a people-watching event. You can be seen here.”

“It’s a good day in Saratoga,” added Harmon, “after the races are over.”

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