Don’t Miss This Sonoma Dining Series Elevating Underrepresented Voices in Food & Wine

Tickets for the third part of the series in late September and early October are available now.

Courtesy of J Vineyards
Courtesy of J Vineyards

Head to Healdsburg, the heart of Sonoma County wine country, and you’ll find a borderline-overwhelming abundance of memorable—if not life-changing—food and wine experiences. It’s why you travel across the country to visit the charming small town—to eat and drink in as much of it as you possibly can before you have to leave. And now, there’s a dining experience you simply cannot miss next time you’re there: a chef residency series dedicated to highlighting and uplifting underrepresented voices in the culinary industry.

The series, hosted by J Vineyards, is aptly titled “Shifting the Lens.” The winery, which you may know for its world-class sparkling wines and stunning Russian River Valley property, first launched the events in its exquisite Bubble Room tasting venue back in July, with the first of three resident chefs, Jenny Dorsey. “Shifting the Lens” VIP dinners feature five-course tasting menus that beautifully weave together the chefs’ unique backgrounds and creative cooking, conversation about their stories, and of course, J Vineyards’ sparkling wines. It’s not your typical food and wine pairing dinner experience, and that’s the point.

"It has become increasingly important for businesses to support and elevate diverse communities, especially in historically homogenous industries like culinary and wine," said Chef Preeti Mistry, a James Beard Award-nominated chef and former owner of Oakland's Juhu Beach Club and Navi Kitchen, in a statement about the series. "I'm grateful to collaborate with E. & J. Gallo and J Vineyards & Winery on this important program alongside my colleagues to spotlight issues that impact our industries and beyond."

Photo by Tony Merevick for Thrillist

Mistry, a queer, first-generation immigrant, is currently serving as the program’s second resident chef, with Bubble Room tastings taking place August 18-21 and August 25-28. Mistry’s menu honors their Indian heritage with fresh, seasonal ingredients that are perfectly paired with selections from J Vineyard’s terroir-driven portfolio of sparkling—and still—wines by Winemaker Nicole Hitchcock. For instance, crispy fried masala quail with fermented hot tamarind sauce and pickled melon relish that’s paired with the winery’s Annapolis Pinot Noir 2019. Ticket info is available on the dinner series’ website.

But don’t worry if you can’t get tickets or you’re not in this patch of gorgeous wine country on these dates, because the series continues with its third and final culinary residency of the year in late September and early October. This time, the Bubble Room will be dedicated to showcasing the food and story of Chef Shenarri "Greens" Freeman, a plant-based chef, wellness advocate, and executive chef at Cadence New York. J Vineyards describes her cooking as “soulful southern cuisine with a plant-based twist.” Freeman’s “Shifting the Lens” tastings will take place September 29-October 2 and October 6-9, with the special VIP dinner on the night of October 1. Tickets—for the Bubble Room tastings and the VIP dinner—are available now via Tock.

Courtesy of J Vineyards

In addition to hosting the food and wine pairings and intimate dinners, J Vineyards has also released Shifted Lens, a limited-edition Brut Rosé wine that was developed in collaboration with the “Shifting the Lens” chefs. Each bottle comes in a gift box designed to showcase each chef’s personal story. You can shop the bottles on J Vineyards’ online store.

Thrillist got a first look (courtesy of J Vineyards) at “Shifting the Lens” when it debuted with Chef Dorsey’s menu in July, and it was an evening filled with delicious course after delicious course (and well beyond the promised five, like the black garlic caramel chews, wow!), dazzling wines that were each introduced by Hitchcock, and an intimate conversation between Dorsey and Mistry, with questions from diners around the room.

Photo by Tony Merevick for Thrillist

While a highlight from the menu was the Beef Zongzi with okra and radicchio, served with J’s 2018 Edition No. 3 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, perhaps the best part of the evening was hearing from Dorsey and Mistry—front and center in the Bubble Room—about their personal journeys in food and their passions for making change in the industry through advocacy and activism.

They say it best in a recent Instagram post promoting the series:

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Tony Merevick is the Managing Editor at Thrillist. Follow him on Twitter @tonymerevick and Instagram @tonymerevick.