Tasting Room wine blog: What to pair with paella

Back in 1986 when José and Gloria Ferrer opened a winery in the windswept hills south of Sonoma, Spain’s paella dish and flamenco dance were as uncommon in the area as pinot noir.

Maybe 50 people showed up for the first Catalan Festival the Ferrer family held that year to feature the culture of their home region on the Iberian Peninsula and celebrate the winery’s opening on Arnold Drive.

“At the beginning, no one knew Catalan,” said Eva Bertran, who was an intern back then and is now vice president of marketing. “Now, people arrive wearing red shirts and Spanish soccer jerseys.”

More than 1,200 people gathered Saturday and Sunday at the sprawling 250-acre winery in the Carneros wine region for the 22nd annual Catalan Festival.

Catalonia is a region in northeastern Spain where people speak Catalan, a language that evolved from Latin with influences from Spanish, French and Arabic.

The Gloria Ferrer Winery event is a fundraiser for the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation. Last year, the winery donated $15,000 to the foundation, and this year Bertran said they hope to top that with proceeds brought in from $75 admission tickets and an auction of paintings, sports memorabilia and vacation packages.

On Sunday, the event drew fans of Ferrer’s signature sparkling wines including a group of labor and delivery nurses from Stanford Children’s Health hospital, a tight-knit group who can rarely share a day off together.

Carleigh Burdine, 30, of San Mateo had helped deliver a 7-pound, 11-ounce girl hours before she was stomping grapes at the Catalan Festival Grape Stomp.

Burdine pointed to scrapes on her legs as proof of their determination to stomp the most juice out of the grapes, but they came up short.

“We lost, even with all the preparation. I’ve been doing the bar method, running and hiking, I’m in good shape,” Burdine said.

“It was a total blast,” said Cecilia Fernandez, 39, of Sunnyvale.

A man in shades and carrying a bubbling flute walked up to the group and shook their hands.

“Good job up there,” said Johnny Velasquez, 31, a firefighter with the Schell-Vista Fire Protection District.

Velasquez, whose grandfather immigrated from Spain to Mexico, said he comes for paella like his mother makes, the familiar music and wine.

Santa Rosa’s Sol Flamenco Dance Troupe brought the drama of Spain’s signature dance and guitar to a rapt crowd in chairs near the auction tables. Dancer and singer Pamela Martínez and guitarist Geoff Hawkins, a Santa Rosa couple, said they have been performing at the festival many of the past 15 years.

“It’s different every year, bigger,” said Martínez, who is originally from Chile and just returned from about six months studying flamenco in Barcelona.

Jose Ferrer named the winery after his wife, Gloria, which was also a nod to the legacy of women in the sparkling wine and champagne business, Bertran said.

Ferrer’s family comes from generations of Spanish wine makers. His grandparents released their first cava — Spanish sparkling wine — in Catalonia in 1914. His grandmother, Dolores, took over the family business after his grandfather was killed in the Spanish Civil War.

The small cava house grew into Freixenet, one of the largest wine companies in the world. Its only U.S. winery, Gloria Ferrer, produces more than 100,000 cases of sparkling wine a year and another 30,000-40,000 cases of still wines.

Tasting Room wine blog: What to pair with paella

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjreport.