Chill, French country party? Sign. me. up.

Stephen Janes, general manager of Pence Vineyards & Winery, sat down with me a few months ago to talk about the 5th annual Pence Vineyards Gamay Dinner, which I had the pleasure of photographing in November.

This celebration was first conceived of when they decided to plant 4 acres of the grape, best known in the Beaujolais region of France. “There is no global celebration of wine, so Beaujolais Nouveau day is the closest we get to it,” Stephen shared, “We thought, ‘let’s get together around that date and have a chill French country party.’”

As with everything Pence Vineyards does, the event was anything but understated (see here & here).

Guests were greeted in the courtyard of the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum with a glass of Pence Vineyards newly released sparkling rosé along with Opera singers from the LA Master Chorale (dressed as 19th-century French singers, of course) who continued to entertain throughout the evening.

The dinner itself featured a grand table seating 105 guests nestled amongst the carriages and other western paraphernalia the museum is known for.  

The innate “Frenchness” of the Renaissance-inspired candelabra-lined table was not at odds with the California history but rather enhanced by it.

It reflects the general idea of California wine country as a whole: French elitism twisted to fit comfortably into our California nonchalance.

I’ve said it before, but this is one of the things I love most about Pence, their insistence that wine doesn’t have to be this rich, unattainable thing, while also allowing a hint of elegance to shine through.

Each chair in the room was draped with either a beret or scarf so that guests could feel “on-theme.” And because I'm always game for a sweet chapeau, I requested a beret to more easily blend in with the crowd I was capturing!

Dinner was crafted by my favorite caterer to work with, Valley Piggery, who worked their magic on an abundance of seasonal ingredients, from autumn squash to brussels sprouts . “Our wines are very autumnal driven,” said Stephen, “they work best at this time of year with the food of the season.”

I truly had a blast photographing yet another amazing event for Pence and can't wait for the next one!

Though it's wonderful to pair Pence wines with the traditional foods of autumn, they also pair amazingly with foods of spring. Their newly released rosé of pinot noir pairs well with the asparagus that is popping up right now, sauteed simply in Pence's very own olive oil. And of course, there is nothing better than balsamic-glazed ham, parsley gremolata, and carrots with their pinot noir.

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Heather Daenitz is the founder and photographer of Craft & Cluster, a wine & beer photography and social media marketing company based in Santa Barbara County, California.

When she isn't photographing in a beret, Heather can be found hanging out with her husband, two dogs, and three chickens in their backyard garden.