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Wine Country Weekend Rolls to Sold Out Crowds

Crowds line up for Taste of Sonoma

“Wow,” said the man. “Wow, wow, wow.” And then, for good measure, he threw in a couple more “wows.”

His companion smiled. “I keep forgetting you’ve never been to this before,” she said.

MacMurray estateThey were talking about Taste of Sonoma, the highlight of the 2011 Sonoma Wine Country Weekend. But sitting aboard the Pure Luxury Transportation shuttle bus that would take them from the parking area on the edge of the MacMurray Ranch vineyards to the estate party, he drew a deep breath.

“New bus smell,” he said, peering first at the flatscreen TV above the driver’s head that showed details about catching a shuttle back to area hotels, then over the driver’s shoulder at the odometer. “Just 3,500 miles, it is new. They do stuff in style here.”

No kidding. While SWCW retains the casual, country charm that is so wonderfully Sonoma, this year, there was a little extra glitz to the event. Limousines were everywhere, and every last ticket to the weekend was sold out, from the $150 Taste of Sonoma held Saturday on the sprawling green lawns of MacMurray Ranch in Healdsburg’s Russian River Valley, to the $500 Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction at Cline Cellars in Sonoma. Not a single seat remained for the Friday and Saturday Winemaker lunches and dinner sold nor the Winery BBQs, hosted at wineries throughout Sonoma County.

The draw was obvious: more than 60 of Sonoma’s top chefs preparing sumptuous food, more than 170 wineries pouring thousands of wines, casual seminars hosted by respected sommeliers and food experts, live music performances, cooking demonstrations by celebrity kitchen talent, and behind-the-scenes vineyard tours.

For some guests, there was an extra incentive to attend. Rather than battle the traffic that naturally comes with thousands of people navigating the narrow roads leading to the Ranch, and finding parking in the makeshift lots fashioned amid the vineyards and redwoods, they took a Pure Luxury shuttle.

Local media applauded the idea, promoting the shuttle option as a convenient, green, and importantly, safe, option for getting to and from one of Sonoma’s most significant events of the year.

There was plenty to eat, and even more to drink, starting with the “Bubble Lounge,” where sparkling wines flowed freely beneath a playful rainbow of bubbles from a bubble machine. The welcoming nibble was fresh-shucked oysters from The Oyster Girls traveling seafood bar, paired with Gloria Ferrer Anniversary Cuvee.

Then it was on to the tents, where guests politely but firmly elbowed their way through the tightly packed crowds to get to their favorite winery table. Next, armed with a splash of Pinot, Chardonnay or whatever their preferred quaff, they ventured back to the open, spacious lawns to relax in the shade of towering trees. Soon, though, they would head back to the tents for a plate of food.

Vol-au-vent

Kenwood Inn & Spa drew raves for its inventive Laura Chenel chevre spinach frittata, rolled in bite size rounds and moistened in pesto, plus its fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs in Pinot Noir barbecue sauce. Barndiva was creative, and refreshing on a perfect 88 degree day, with its juicy cubes of compressed watermelon infused with lemon verbana from the Healdsburg restaurant’s garden, while Sante at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn took a delicious twist with English cucumber “vol-au-vent” stuffed with eggplant and piquillo pepper mousse.

Another favorite was the hearty beef sliders dolloped in bleu cheese, caramelized onions and balsamic ketchup from Santa Rosa’s Park Avenue Catering. Girl & the Fig, meanwhile, presented charcuterie and vinegared veggies on cute skewers displayed in pots of raw beans.

Yet the longest lines went to Hana Japanese Restaurant, where chef-owner Ken Tominaga fashioned one spicy tuna handroll after another, going through 1,100 in just the first two hours alone.

Beer was also popular, perhaps as a palate cleanser for imbibers reaching their fill on full-bodied Zinfandel. A mini-city of microbrew booths settled near the winery seminar barn, prompting one guest to joke, “Beer in wine country, is that allowed?”

Another guest, overhearing the banter, stopped and leaned in, toasting a frosty glass of beer in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. “It’s all allowed,” he grinned. “As much as you can fit in, all day long.”

Details: sonomawinecountryweekend.com.

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