The Taste of Sonoma, the most artistic and significant food-and-wine event in Sonoma County, will move from the bucolic MacMurray Ranch along the Russian River to Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center this Saturday as part of a radically revamped Sonoma Wine Country Weekend.
Veteran attendees will find all of the same attractions as before — the chefs and the vintners, the Marketplace and the grilling stations, the Bubble Lounge and Club Reserve — but it may take a bit more time to discover them. The pieces have been pulled apart like a puzzle, then put back together again to work in tandem with the sprawling, 300-acre venue, which features various lawn and courtyard spaces as well as air-conditioned indoor spaces.
“Our hope is that we’re creating a Sonoma County village that you can walk through in a day, and get the best of Sonoma County,” said Jean Arnold Sessions, executive director for the Sonoma County Vintners trade group, which is producing the charity event. “As you walk in, you’ll see the Bubble Lounge, and then you’ll walk down the path and discover something new around every corner … you can walk along the terraced area to taste wine, then get some food, and then go back and taste more wine.”
With the Taste of Sonoma kicking off of a three-day weekend, organizers hope that it will help guests decide what wineries they want to visit on Sunday and Monday.
“Come to Sonoma as a small village, and then expand out,” Sessions said. “It’s a big county — people can go out and discover it on their own.”
Although there will be smaller tents, the chefs and the vintners will no longer be integrated together under four, big-appellation tents. The wineries will be grouped together, in alphabetical order, on the terraced portion of the lawn behind Weill Hall, while the chefs will be located on the adjacent Garden Terrace, in front of Schroeder Hall.
“It’s a different setup completely at the GMC,” Sessions said. “You can’t replace MacMurray Ranch, and the beauty of being at the winery and in the vineyards. That’s hard … but this is so beautiful. It will be a new setting, and we’re very excited about it.”
While the venue will be fresh, there will be plenty of familiar faces running the show. In the Trione Courtyard dotted with ancient olive trees, Kendall-Jackson will once again offer its sensory garden and high-end food and wine pairings, with dishes such as Chilled Lobster with Green Goddess and Estate Baby Vegetables, Smoked Duck with Blackberry and Beets and Roast Filet of Beef with K-J Heirloom Tomatoes and Charred Eggplant paired with the winery’s estate wines.
Need to get out of the heat? Visitors can make a beeline for the Hospitality Center off Weill Hall to catch a wine talk and a blind tasting, or head to the Prelude restaurant for Club Reserve, where vintners are pouring limited-production wines that rotate every 90 minutes.
With temperatures known to soar at this time of year, organizers hope the venue will provide plenty of spaces where folks can just kick back, sit in the grass and cool off.
“There will be umbrellas everywhere, providing shade,” Sessions said. “Prelude is air-conditioned, as are the wine seminars.”
Local food and wine aficionados Marcy Smothers and Ziggy “the Wine Gal” Eschliman will emcee the Gallo Main Stage, set up in front of the hall’s removable rear door, where a few of the county’s renowned chefs — Carl Shelton of J Vineyards & Winery in Healdsburg, Steve Rose of Rose Ranch in Kenwood, and Tom Schmidt of John Ash & Co. in Santa Rosa — will be giving cooking demonstrations throughout the afternoon.
Taste of Sonoma
When: Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2 (Gates open at 11 a.m. for Club Reserve ticket holders)
Where: Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park
Cost: $180 for general admission; $255 for Club Reserve (with Visa Signature: $150 general, $225 Club Reserve.) Additional passes must be purchased for Sommelier Talks, Sommelier Tours, the Blind Tasting Challenge, and K-J wine and food pairing.
Transportation: Shuttle buses will run from five locations around the county, including Sonoma, Healdsburg, Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park. Tickets range from $20 to $40.
Other activities: As part of the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, there are winemaker lunches and dinners on Friday, Sept. 1, and winemaker barbecues on Sunday, Sept. 3.
To reserve: sonomawinecountryweekend.com.