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Appellation St. Helena’s bASH is a prime opportunity to celebrate the great wines of today, the great chefs of tomorrow, and the community partnerships that bind together our local economy.

Set for Saturday, March 30, at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, bASH is a food and wine pairing competition involving St. Helena wineries, CIA students, and local restaurants/businesses.

Each of the more than 30 participating wineries from Appellation St. Helena (ASH) teams up with two CIA students – or in a few cases local restaurants/businesses.

The students come up with a food to pair with one of the wines from their winery partner. Then the students make 300 servings to hand out during bASH. Members of the public vote for their favorite pairings.

In addition to the usual “People’s Choice” awards, this year bASH is adding a panel of five industry professionals who will judge the “Critic’s Choice” awards: food writer Susie Heller, TV wine personality Leslie Sbrocco, author Virginie Boone of Wine Enthusiast, Master Sommelier Christopher Sawyer, and San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Soleil Ho.

Tickets aren’t cheap at $175, but the price is commensurate with the uniqueness of the format – there’s nothing like this open to the public in the Napa Valley – and the quality of the food and wine.

Lesley Keffer Russell, general manager at Saint Helena Winery on Pratt Avenue and president of ASH, explained to us how bASH works. We were most impressed by how the event incorporates community partnerships.

Sunshine Foods partially subsidizes the cost of the food, and owner Jay Smith has been a huge supporter of the event. Sunshine even competes in one of the pairings.

CIA instructor Lars Kronmark organizes things on the CIA’s end. Kronmark is a St. Helena institution and an influential ambassador on behalf of St. Helena wine and food.

The CIA itself is a priceless asset to the community, and events like bASH are a great opportunity for locals to discover why we’re so fortunate to have the CIA – and its rising-star students – in St. Helena.

At the center of the whole web are the St. Helena wineries. When we asked Russell what sets St. Helena wines apart from the rest of the Napa Valley’s appellations, she said it’s all about our climate.

We get more sunshine and less Bay Area fog than neighboring appellations like Calistoga and Rutherford, which lends our wines a distinctive ripeness. With nearly all of its vineyards on the valley floor, St. Helena produces wines that are lush, fruit-forward, less rigidly structured than mountain wines from hillside vineyards, and equally drinkable now or in 10 years.

The St. Helena appellation extends beyond the city limits and encompasses 12,000 acres. About 6,800 of those acres are in vineyard. Most of us live or work just down the street from one of those vineyards, if not right next to one.

That means bASH is the one great wine event that’s all about St. Helena. It’s about the wine produced from our soil, sculpted by the vineyard workers and winemakers we see around town every day. It’s about Sunshine Foods and the CIA and each of the wineries and grapegrowers who are members of ASH.

It’s about the intricately interlocking gears of the economic machine that sustains our quality of life. It’s about the CIA students who will be winning James Beard Awards and running our favorite restaurants in 20 years.

It’s about our friends and neighbors. It’s about us.

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The Star editorial board consists of editors David Stoneberg and Sean Scully and community volunteers Norma Ferriz, Christopher Hill, Shannon Kuleto, Bonnie Long, Peter McCrea, Gail Showley and Dave Yewell.

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