By Mira Brody EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – Gathering around a table laden with food and wine with your loved ones is as much a part of being human as eating itself. When the pandemic stripped such comfort away and dining tables lost their social splendor, the Big Sky Community Organization’s Richard Sandza brought forth the Big Sky Virtual Kitchen as a way to connect the community and advocate for local restaurateurs. Now Sandza, his business partner Andrew Robin and the Hungry Moose Market & Deli’s Certified Specialist of Wine, Ben MacKall, have partnered to launch the first-ever BSVK Wine Series, starting in April.
The virtual food and wine pairing class will kick off April 14 and members will meet the second Wednesday of each month. The first class will focus on South African wines, and feature three different bottles and a deep-dive into the unique elements of each. It’s a fun way to gather with household members, enjoy good wine and food and learn something new along the way.
“The reason I’m so happy to be involved in wine is that it is something that sparks conversation,” MacKall said. “My passion is for teaching and introducing people to new things and the wine world is such an exciting way to do that.”
Sandza, camp manager for the Big Sky Community Organization, is no stranger to organizing social events—in fact, summer camps are why he moved to Big Sky in the first place, and he is now entering his third season with BSCO. When lockdown began, he started BSVK as a way to keep people busy and mentally healthy by offering free cooking and baking classes virtually over Facebook Live.
“We realized that when the weather isn’t great there isn’t a whole lot else to do,” Sandza said. “It’s really the mid-20s population—they only have so many resources available: you either go skiing or your go drink. So we wanted to create anther place, and an outlet for that demographic.”
Today the BSVK Facebook group has nearly 1,000 members. Sandza and Robin have registered BSVK as an LLC and hope to keep growing and offering this creative outlet to the community as well as a venue for local business owners and restaurateurs to connect. The Wine Series will mark the first wine-specific class.
“The Wine Wednesdays is kind of the perfect thing to get us to pre-launch the virtual kitchen [again],” Sandza said. “We wanted to keep this going because we were really passionate about how it connects the community as well as partnerships with local business owners.”
Though cooking classes have been on pause since around December, local Ashley Dodd has been hosting weekly baking classes through the year.
“I’ve worked in kitchens before and at the Hungry Moose,” Sandza added. “Food has always been a gathering point for me and that’s a good way to show you care—cooking a meal for someone else.”
MacKall says some of his favorite wines right now are out of South Africa, and he also appreciates smaller, domestic wineries that are practicing natural winemaking, which involves responsible, organic farming methods. He believes Big Sky, alongside its growth, is experiencing a new appreciation for wine.
“Because we’re a tourist-driven town, we have all these people coming in from the cities [that] are driving this progress in this interest in new and different things,” MacKall said.
Wine Series members will receive a list of ingredients and recipe for the night’s meal pairing so attendees can shop beforehand. The series will utilize EventBrite as a way for members to sign up for each session. Night-of, viewers can ask questions live engage with other participants from Big Sky and beyond—Sandza and Robin say they’ve had attendees as far as Salt Lake City.
“What I really love about this idea is how many aspects of the community it hit on,” Robin said. “You’re working with local restaurants and chefs, you’re working with community members … and then on top of that working with the Hungry Moose—pretty much everyone involved has been someone local.”
Check out the Wine Series on April 14 at the rate of $70 per household, or $60 for Hungry Moose Wine Club members, and join in as BSVK and Mackall present the exciting wine scene in South Africa, covering a couple of the country’s most important varietals. Visit Big Sky Virtual Kitchen’s Facebook page for more information and EventBrite for tickets.