Sonoma Wine Country Weekend launches its weekend of events this Friday with a trio of honorees in the spotlight: Phil Coturri, owner of Sonoma's Enterprise Vineyards, is the honorary winegrower chair; the Gallo family with its E & J Gallo Winery arm in Healdsburg is the honorary vintner chair; and Sondra Bernstein, owner of Sonoma's Girl & the Fig, is the honorary culinary chair.
The honorees are chosen because of their commitment to their craft and their community leadership.
<strong>SONDRA BERNSTEIN, The Girl & The Fig</strong>
Get ready to fly down to Rio, as the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend breaks out the samba drums and feathers for a vibrant, Brazil-themed benefit auction dinner this Sunday.
Heading up the team of chefs at this year's event is Sonoma Valley restaurateur Sondra Bernstein, a visionary chosen as the weekend's Honorary Culinary Chair due to her innovation and long-time commitment to the region.
"Sondra has been a leader when it comes to using local ingredients and partnering with local wineries to use produce from the garden," said Maureen Cottingham, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance, which hosts the benefit event in partnership with the Sonoma County Vintners.
Over the past two decades or so, Bernstein has nurtured a thriving food business anchored by her flagship Sonoma restaurant, The Girl & The Fig, known for its French-inspired country cuisine and wine list of mostly Rhone varietals.
With help from her executive chef John Toulze, Bernstein's expanding "Fig" empire now includes two restaurants and a catering company plus a sharecropped farm at Imagery Estate Winery that produces vegetables for all three.
Along the way, the entrepreneur launched a line of gourmet condiments and wrote two cookbooks: "The Girl & The Fig Cookbook" in 2004 and, in 2011, "Plats du Jour," which honors the region's food purveyors.
Plus, Toulze and Bernstein have put in many years with the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, touted as "the region's largest and most fun charity event."
In other words, she has done it all.
"She's one of the icons of our food industry, and she's well connected and well respected by the rest of our culinary community," said Honore Comfort, executive director of the Sonoma County Vintners. "When she stepped up, all of the other chefs wanted to be part of it."
Bernstein is in charge of planning the elaborate menu for Sunday's gala auction dinner at Chateau St. Jean Winery. For the event, she has recruited a veritable who's who of Sonoma County chefs.
"I think it's a really nice group," she said. "It's a little different from years past."
Among the new chefs this year are John Franchetti of Rosso, Mateo Granados of Mateo's Cocina Latina, Armando Garcia Navarro of El Dorado Kitchen, Ryan Fancher of Barndiva, Dustin Valette of the Dry Creek Kitchen, Jeffrey Lloyd of Cafe La Haye and Ari Weiswasser of the Glen Ellen Star.
The auction dinner will bounce around the "beautiful game" of Brazil's multicultural cuisine, with main courses ranging from Annatto Crusted Alaska Halibut to Beef Gaucho Steak.
Bernstein is especially excited about the Brazilian street food reception on the lawn, where chefs will serve small bites like Olive Oil Guacamole Tacones and Spicy Dungeness Crab Salad with Hearts of Palm.