Entering the Bubble Room at J Vineyards & Winery in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, diners attending the Shifting the Lens dinner encountered a sensory experience different from a traditional wine pairing meal. The table linens were a brightly coloured orange and pink print, colourful flowers floated in water as centrepieces at each table and the wafting aromas of Indian cuisine filled the room. This was a far cry from the usual understated tasting environment expected in the wine industry.
Chef Preeti Mistry is partnering with J for Shifting the Lens, which spotlights diversity through a series of wine-pairing dinners. Mistry paired Indian-inspired dishes with classic Russian River Valley still and sparkling wines from the extensive J portfolio for the event.
Scroll down to see tasting notes and scores for two J Vineyards wines from Brianne Cohen
A new approach to pairings
J, founded by Judy Jordan in 1986, was one of the first California producers to make still and sparkling wines. The depth of the J portfolio – which includes over 30 wines – lends itself to experimentation and pairing potential for Shifting the Lens, which launched in 2022 with three chefs.
London-born Mistry grew up in the US. Mistry is Indian and identifies as queer. They are a James Beard Foundation nominee and Top Chef contestant. Mistry trained at Le Cordon Bleu in London and had two acclaimed Bay Area restaurants: Juhu Beach Club and Navi Kitchen. In 2020 Mistry and their wife moved to a cabin in the woods in Guerneville rural Sonoma, where they eventually met the team at J.
Mistry and the J team created the dinner series as a mutual idea and vision. Mistry’s role was to focus on recruiting chefs cooking non-European cuisine who also had a sensibility for social justice and change. Mistry says: ‘We want people who are about something. Who have a distinct point of view and have something to share and bring to the table in these conversations.’
Mistry created a five-course culinary experience that included Indian-inspired dishes and farm-to-table ingredients – two things that are not mutually exclusive. At Mistry’s two Bay Area restaurants, they went to farmers’ markets twice a week, had relationships with multiple farmers, and made most menu items from scratch – all things that epitomise farm-to-table.
Mistry shares that in an unaired scene for Parts Unknown, filmed at Juhu Beach Club, Anthony Bourdain exclaimed: ‘THIS is the real farm to table’, after meeting one of the service staffers who was also a grower/producer that Preeti sourced from. Mistry continues: ‘There’s this deep assumption that if you’re cooking European cuisine in a nice enough environment, they must use the best (farm-to-table) ingredients. But someone like myself has to shout it from the rooftops to get people to believe the same thing.’
At the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in late January, it was reported that by 2040, 55% of 30-year-olds in the US will identify as multicultural (Census Bureau US). The importance of diversifying who drinks and learns about wine is not lost on Mistry, as the food world is in the same predicament. According to Mistry: ‘The larger dining world hasn’t made itself welcoming or inclusive. You’ll get left behind if you don’t meet the basic expectation of having a more “poly-cultural” outlook with your wine, brand, or experiences.’
In crafting their Shifting the Lens menu, Mistry aimed to create pairings to make you think and to question assumptions. Trial and error reigned in the tasting trials. Mistry and the J team wrote up pairing ideas, and not one made the final menu. ‘My goal is to create an experience where you taste two things together and get to another place. A third place,’ Mistry says.
‘People assume you don’t drink red wine with Indian food,’ comments Mistry. ‘I want to dispel this myth that there are these prescribed rules about what you’re supposed to have with certain cuisines.’
One of the highlights of the dinner was a single-vineyard Pinot Noir paired with an eggplant biryani dish. Mistry felt a structured Pinot Noir could hold up to the myriad of Indian spices in the dish: ‘For me, it’s about adding another dimension to the dish and creating another experience.’
Shifting the Lens – seeing themselves
Mistry reinforces the idea that people want to see themselves. ‘When I grew up in the eighties, I didn’t have high expectations because we literally didn’t exist in the media.’ Millenials and Generation Z expect to see a representation of themselves. ‘I now expect to see the companies I want to champion doing good things. I want to see my values represented and mirrored in some way.’
Next up for Shifting the Lens is a second series of culinary experiences with Mistry and two other chefs. First up in May, chef Tu David Phu, an Oakland-born first-generation Vietnamese-American whose family hails from the island of Phu Quoc, the birthplace of fish sauce in Asia. His family has produced small-batch artisanal Phu Quoc Fish Sauce, considered the Champagne of fish sauces, since 1895.
Chef Ana Castro will join the Shifting the Lens family in September. Ana was raised in Mexico City but resides in New Orleans, where she runs the restaurant Lengua Madre, showcasing Mexican cuisine but with a southern American sensibility.