- Don’t walk around a vineyard with soup in your purse.
- Basil and lavender make extraordinary gelato.
- If Francis Ford Coppola invites you to visit his private resorts in Italy and Belize, it may be an offer you can’t refuse.
These are just a few things discovered at Wine Country Weekend, the three-day extravaganza of all things edible and drinkable that took over Sonoma Sept. 3-5.
In its 31st year, the culinary festival outdid itself as destination for pleasure seekers, all the while raising significant funds for Sonoma County Vintners’ and Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers’ choice charities. And non-stop, a terrific time was had by all.
Soup’s On: The folks at La Follette Wines are hospitable. At Friday night’s winemaker dinner, hosted in a delightful barn and garden setting in a Santa Rosa Willowside neighborhood vineyard, a few guests arrived after the hors d’oeuvres reception, and just as the property tour was beginning. We plucked up glasses of wine, but before we had made more than a few steps into the rows of grapes, a Follette staffer caught us, offering tiny cups of Zazu host chef Duskie Estes’ corn soup that had been served to more timely party-goers.
We sipped – chilled Manchester Ridge Chardonnay from one hand, savory-sweet hot broth from the other – as Greg La Follette described his grape cultivation process, the particular stresses of this year’s weather, and the unique clay, loamy soils of this growing site.
As more Follette staffers followed with continuous pours of wine, I balanced my and my guests’ near-empty cups in my purse, where they spilled, and of course, proved that there weren’t as near-empty as I’d thought.
Which led to lesson two – when soup is this delicious, it can, in a pinch, be savored very nicely from the pocket lining of a purse.
Estes, fresh from the announcement that she is competing on season two of the Food Network’s Next Top Chef, sent out a feast of cauliflower sformato, goose leg confit Shepherd’s pie, and Liberty Duck.
Did you know, by the way, that La Follette plays a remarkable bagpipe?
Basil and Lavender Gelato: The crowds were out in full at the 31st Annual Taste of Sonoma, which took over MacMurray Ranch on Saturday. Yet thanks to shuttle service provided again this year from Pure Luxury Transportation, getting to the front gate was a breeze, even as a sold-out capacity of 2,500 guests converged to sample food and drink from more than 200 wineries and chefs.
“This is just another day in Sonoma,” quipped Carneros Bistro sommelier Christopher Sawyer, as he led a group past the steel drum band at the entranceway, along booths serving grilled-to-order meats and fresh-blended Hello Cello raspberry-limoncello lemonade, then into a virtual city of tents packed with chef cook stations and tables brimming with thousands of wine bottles.
In a nice new touch this year, each of the four appellation tents partnered select chefs and vintners, to show how wine and food can best be paired. For K&L Bistro of Sebastopol, that meant a steamed dough bun stuffed with a slab of pork belly and drizzled in hoisin sauce, enjoyed alongside Mueller Winery's Russian River Valley Zinfandel.
At The Sonoma Steel Chef Competition, with chefs warring recipes in multiple rounds of mystery ingredient cook-offs, Janine Falvo of Sonoma’s Carneros Bistro and Jack Mitchell of Jack & Tony's in Santa Rosa tied for first place in a highly challenging all-vegetarian basket of beets, potatoes and rutabagas supplemented with local eggs.
After nearly five hours of eating and drinking, the most exquisite finishing touch came in small scoops of beautiful basil and lavender infused gelato, served by some unlikely chefs – the good people of Standards of Excellence Appliances in Rohnert Park.
Francis Ford Coppola Presents: The theme of Endless Sonoma, the 18th Annual Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction, was beach. So guests arrived at Cline Cellars decked in surfer shorts, brilliantly colored sundresses, and in one case, a glittering green mermaid outfit complete with shell bustier.
Yet even as the luncheon stretched over a decadent eight courses and nearly six hours, most of the excitement focused on the auction lots.
For the Coppola coup, that meant a package including a 5-day, 4-night stay with spa services at a villa in Southern Italy, plus a 5-day, 4-night stay with spa services at Turtle Inn resort of Belize. Extra goodies included 3-Liter bottles of Francis Ford Coppola Director’s Cut and Archimedes signed by winemaker Corey Beck, a two-year membership to the FFCW wine club, a private tour, tasting and lunch for eight at FFCW’s winery in Alexander Valley, dinner for eight at Café Zoetrope in San Francisco, and a full library of Francis Ford Coppola films on dVd.
As guests waddled from the luncheon tent – bellies full, winning-bid wallets quite a bit lighter – the party continued on. Pisco sours were poured, cigars were smoked, chocolates, cheeses and confections were consumed.
Just another day in Sonoma, indeed.