Sunday, September 12, 2010

Taste of Sonoma - SWCW 2010

This past weekend Katie and I had the pleasure of being invited to cover Sonoma Wine Country Weekend. Our adventures took us to three separate events, Taste of Sonoma, a winemaker dinner at Quivira Vineyards, and finally the 18th annual Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction. We begin our story on Saturday afternoon at Taste of Sonoma, hosted by MacMurray Ranch in Healdsburg, CA.
A collection of over 150 wineries and 60 local chefs, Taste of Sonoma was a bit overwhelming and intimidating to start. Not because we don’t think we belong there, because we can schmooze with the best of them. It was intimidating because as we approached Taste of Sonoma and entered the boundaries of the ranch, there were at least 10 distinct stations or areas that were calling our names. Like a previous event I covered, Wine and Song Around the Plaza, the Taste of Sonoma provided the opportunity to experience some of the best wines in Sonoma County all in one location. Organized by different appellations, there were 4 tented areas on the primary grounds. Sonoma Valley, Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Alexander Valley were all represented with both wine and seasonal food pairings.

Prior to the event I had connected with Robert Larsen from Rodney Strong Vineyards who recommended we check out Davis Bynum in the Russian River Valley. Having no other preference as to where we began our adventure, we made our way over and started the day with a crisp 2007 Chardonnay. While the Russian River Valley tends to be cooler, this Chardonnay came from the eastern part of the valley thus giving it a bit more of a tropical crispness. Expertly paired with a chilled corn soup from Syrah Bistro, this was a perfect way to start the day. Knowing there was a long day of sipping and socializing ahead, we moved along and made our next stop at J Vineyards. A maker of both still and sparkling wines, J was pouring one of each and paired it with a specialty BLT. Look for more information to come on J Vineyards, as I just received some sample bottles that will be reviewed soon. It should also be noted that the food offerings were quite substantial, especially given that the event occurred over the lunch hour and there was no doubt that mass quantities of wine were being consumed.

As the day progressed we made our way through each of the other appellation specific tents, stopping at some of our favorites, such as B.R. Cohn, Clos du Bois, and Chateau St. Jean (they were pouring Cinq Cepages), but really focusing on trying some new and unfamiliar wineries. Some of our new found favorites included Haywood Estates, Kokomo Winery, and Spann Vineyards, who we got to spend the entire day with at Harvest Auction. If you attend this event, I really recommend stopping by places you don’t know much about. I made it a point to stop at the wineries that didn’t have anyone around them. It is enticing to stay in your comfort zone and only go to those you know, but I found that some of the wines and conversation I enjoyed most came from places I’d never heard of. Overall we found the table hosts to be friendly and willing to converse, even with the sea of people trying to make their way to the front. Perhaps the most pleasing experience was that there was no expectations/opportunity to purchase wine at this event. You were expected to visit many wineries and try several wines so there was no awkward feeling as you left one winery and moved to the table just next to them.

While we spent most of our time sipping and socializing at the winery tables, there was much more to this event that we didn’t fully experience. We happened upon the chef demonstration going on in the middle of the grounds but did not stay long enough to see the Sonoma Steel Chef competition. Other opportunities not fully realized included a variety of educational wine talks, guided tastings with nationally acclaimed sommeliers, and a demonstration of an old fashioned wine crush. There was so much going on all at once that there is no way to experience it all in one day...I guess we will just have to go back next year.

Shortly before we left we stopped by Gloria Ferrer Bubble Lounge, where we found some of the youngest patrons to the event. However, given that it was nearing the end of the day the offerings were slim so we made our way to the Visa Signature Lounge to explore the several cheese stations from local, um...what do you call a cheesemaker? Their offerings were delicious although it would have been a nice compliment to have wines to pair with the cheese. But ending with sparkling wine and cheese was a nice way to finish the day, much like in those fancy-schmancy restaurants.
A mix of both young and old oenophiles and a mix of large and small wineries made for one incredible day at MacMurray Ranch. The beauty of any Sonoma event is the casual, laid back approach to wine making and wine drinking. The winemakers love what they do and even more, they love sharing it with you.

Check back later this week for my next post about our exquisite winemaker dinner at Quivira Vineyards. Cheers!


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