The three-day Sonoma County Harvest Fair opens its gates today with lots of fall attractions, from draft horse rides and grape stomping to pumpkin carving and scarecrow contests.

But organizers have also revamped some of the fair's main events in an effort to make a stronger connection to the region's agricultural roots and the farmers who grow its wide array of foods.

"The Sonoma County Harvest is really a tribute to our agricultural heritage," said Marie Gewirtz, president of the Sonoma County Harvest Fair board of directors. "We have a community that not only preserves the land and grows heirloom varieties, but we have chefs who come for the foods and turn them into international delicacies."

Tonight, for example, fair-goers can get a taste of the fair's award-winning wines together with the award-winning foods at a new Grand Tasting event from 5:30 to 8 p.m. in Grace Pavilion. In the past, this tasting was held a week before the fair, during the awards gala.

"This is the first time there's a real connection between the professional food judging and the fair," said Sheila Quince, exhibit coordinator for the harvest fair. "And we made it in the afternoon after work, so you don't have to get dressed up."

Fair organizers have also revamped the Retail Room, renaming it The Marketplace and adding food purveyors from three family-run markets — G&G in Santa Rosa, Oliver's in Santa Rosa and Cotati, and Big John's in Healdsburg — providing tastes of artisan foods.

This morning, the fair will welcome school tours, providing a taste of agriculture to kids across the county with tastes of fresh apples, local honey and milk.

For locals who want a sneak peek at the fair today, admission from noon to 7 p.m. is just $5. Tickets to the Grand Tasting this evening are still available; $60 in advance, $70 at the door, but only $50 when purchased in blocks of 10.

Other special events include a microbrew tasting from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday for $15. Wine-tasting will be offered from noon to 5 p.m. General admission on Saturday and Sunday is $12; $3 for children age 7-12.

The giant pumpkins will weigh in at noon Sunday; the World Championship Grape Stomp will squish to an exciting climax at 5 p.m. Sunday. Finally, the apples on display will be sold at 6 p.m. Sunday to locals who want to preserve their fresh flavor.

"I love walking into the room with apples, and seeing so many different colors and varieties," Gewirtz said. "Fall is the culmination of everything that we live for, all year long."<NO1>

You can reach Staff Writer<QA0>Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@<QA0>