After a while, food and drink events can start to feel like they all run together. While I have nowhere near as much event experience as Jennifer, I’ve been in it long enough to know that sometimes these events can feel a little…repetitive. But when I heard about Project Zin in Healdsburg – near where I grew up – I knew I wanted to attend. Not necessarily because of the location of the event, but because of the profound purpose behind Project Zin.
Driven by the diagnosis of Down syndrome in his son, Brady, winemaker (and University of Oregon graduate) Clay Mauritson of Mauritson Wines, with the help of renowned chef Charlie Palmer, developed the first Project Zin event last year to benefit the Down Syndrome Association North Bay to not only increase support but also in recognition of DSANB – critical to Brady’s development early on – as well as countless other families in the same position. The well-coordinated evening – certainly not the only culinary event to benefit an important cause – was held at the beautiful Hotel Healdsburg and provided information on the struggles of the diagnosis, highlighting a number of local children involved with the association.
“It’s great to see how far the event has come,” said Thomas Schmidt, executive chef at John Ash & Co, who cooked for the second year in a row. “Clay wanted to have twenty-one wineries to honor the 21st chromosome that most people with Down syndrome have a duplicate of, and this year he got to achieve that.”
The dishes served were hearty plates of familiar comfort food often highlighting local Painted Hills Beef, all with a Sonoma County touch. A “beef” LT was slathered with a violet-colored zinfandel aioli, while a creamy oyster topped with a zin and bubbles was the ultimate oyster shooter. The wine poured was remarkable, highlighting the jam and spice that make zinfandels from the area so special. While I missed the silent auction part of the evening, I did see the gigantic list of options to bid on from wine packages to get-away weekends, so I know even more proceeds were raised outside of those already earned from the event tickets.
Events like Project Zin remind me why food is attractive to write about in the first place—almost everyone can relate on some level, and when done right, it just makes you feel good. When I think about a friend’s brother who was born with Down syndrome, I remember it being impossible not to smile around him, either—his excitement about art, music and life were infectious. An event like this, with an important cause and stellar food and wine, certainly gave me plenty to smile about, too.
*Photo credit: Meredith Gilardoni