Vine & dine

  • St. Francis Winery's events captain Kelley Mingram, center, pours wine for a food and wine paring at the winery Thursday, January 3, 2013.

    (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

Tasting wine in the North Bay will become even more delicious this year, thanks to a growing cadre of wineries adding substantial food programs.

Wineries from Sonoma to Napa are building or renovating kitchens, planting edible gardens and expanding food-and-wine pairings in an effort to keep guests happy.

"It's a natural way to experience Wine Country," said Estate Manager Stephen Pirak of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates in Santa Rosa. "It's how most folks enjoy wine, with a bit of food, sitting down at a table. It's more immersive."

An ever-expanding array of food-and-wine programs allows winery chefs not only to showcase their wines but also to tide guests over until their next meal.

"It enhances the whole experience of being outdoors and experiencing Sonoma County," said Aniseya Fritz, owner of Lynmar Winery in Sebastopol. "In our neighborhood, there aren't a lot of eating establishments."

Not quite restaurants and not quite tasting rooms, the pairing programs often cater to guests who may not sit down every night with a bottle of wine and are looking for education.

"People at Kendall-Jackson sit down and do the wine and food pairing, and they realize, 'Wow, it's really fun when you have the two together,'" said executive chef Justin Wangler. "We want people to join in and to join food and wine together."

Starting last May, the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center in Santa Rosa started an extensive renovation and construction project, adding a new, state-of-the art kitchen and expanding its dining areas indoors and out. The kitchen, which is expected to open in March, boasts a large, swinging window so that people in the banquet room can watch the action.

"It's probably one of the nicest kitchens in Sonoma County," Wangler said. "It's not huge, but the amount of sheer cooking equipment is unbelievable."

Once the kitchen is open, Wangler and his culinary team will expand the tasting menu, adding a vegetable pairing to the regular food-and-wine pairing.

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