From down-home Hopmonk Tavern, to uptown Cyrus Restaurant. From funky legendary Joseph Swan, to high-end classic Jordan. With more than 150 wineries pouring thousands of wines, and over 60 local chefs whipping up divine pairings, you never know who you might see under the culinary tents on the sprawling grassy meadows at Healdsburg’s MacMurray Ranch for this year’s Taste of Sonoma.
But one thing is certain: the marathon food-and-drink festival being held Sept. 4 will surprise even the most jaded taste buds. Just consider one highly memorable dish from two years ago. Chef Janine Falvo of Carneros Bistro in Sonoma created a bizarre but insanely good BLT, crafted from root beer braised pork belly with Oak Hill Farms tomatoes and brown butter hollandaise aioli.
Last year, the standout may have been A la Heart Catering of Santa Rosa’s Shanghai duck sushi. The chefs cooked the bird in light and dark soy with brown sugar, star anise, ginger and scallions, then married the meat with cranberries, cashews and cranberry-orange juice reduction all tucked into little rice rolls wrapped in nori.
As a centerpiece of the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, the 31st annual Taste of Sonoma is billed as Sonoma’s largest wine and food event. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the marathon gala features tastings, demonstrations, tours and seminars showcasing hundreds of artisan wineries, growers, chefs and food purveyors.
New this year is increased AVA focus throughout the soiree, with AVA-specific food and wine pairing in each of the four AVA tents as well as AVA-specific seminars in the White Barn. There’s also a new sustainable foods showcase, showing how delicious it can be to eat earth-friendly.
You’ll want to snap up tickets soon. Last year, a record crowd of 2,500 guests converged, starting their edible tour at the Bubble Lounge, a sparkling wine bar set up right inside the gates, courtesy of Gloria Ferrer. Fair warning: Traffic was insane, clogging the roads and spilling out past acres of parking amid the vineyards (though once inside the gated grounds, the well-heeled crowd behaved very well, with little jostling).
Do plan to show up with an empty belly – you won’t get tiny toothpick tastings, but full-size hors d’oeuvres, and winery staff doesn’t stint on the splashes.
It ends up being an enormous amount of great food and wine for a good price -- five hours of eating – at a General Admission ticket of $150 per person.
Grand Reserve tickets are $195 per person, for special behind-the-scenes tours and tastings, like Club Reserve: an exclusive opportunity to hob-nob with Sonoma County’s most acclaimed winery owners and winemakers, who will personally pour and discuss their limited production, reserve and award-winning wines from large format bottles paired with food by The Farmhouse Inn.
While Taste attracts the most bodies, it’s hardly the only thing to celebrate through the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend. The three-day series of events includes the rollicking, beach themed Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction at Cline Cellars on Sunday, and the Winemaker Lunch and Dinner Series at venues throughout the county starting Friday.
About that traffic – it’s no joke that it can be crazy crowded, and Sonoma roads are notoriously narrow and winding (not a good combination with sleepy souls who have spent all day eating and drinking). Shuttle service is highly recommended, with safe and convenient round trip transportation around Santa Rosa and Sonoma provided by Pure Luxury Transportation.
For just $15 or $20 per person round-trip, you’ll avoid parking delays, enjoy front-gate delivery to the Taste event, and won’t need to worry about finding a designated driver.
For all the other Wine County Weekend activities, you can charter a Pure Luxury Town Car or a limo, or make it a group party with a small luxury bus.
For details and to reserve seating, contact SWCWshuttle@pureluxury.com.