Taste of Sonoma returns after 2 years at new time, venue — but same local deliciousness

It was a year of firsts for Taste of Sonoma as it returned Saturday after a two-year pandemic-related hiatus.|

It was a year of firsts for Taste of Sonoma as it returned Saturday after a two-year pandemic-related hiatus.

This year marked the event’s relocation to Santa Rosa’s Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens. It also was held earlier in the season than in previous years, and saw the debut of food trucks that served small bites.

Taste of Sonoma is a showcase of local vintners and food that features immersive experiences, including wine tastings, guided wine seminars, garden tours and themed lounges.

Among the local fare available was sea bass ceviche, mushroom tacos, lamb gyros and a skewer of ribeye with potatoes smothered in chimichurri sauce.

In a VIP lounge, which offered separate sessions of wine and food, Pete Seghesio, owner and head salumist of Journeyman Meats in Healdsburg, was busy slicing two different salumi to serve.

“I think it’s beautiful,” Seghesio said of the new venue. “(Kendall-Jackson) has a great team. Who else is going to give me some caviar on a little homemade blini and creme fraiche?”

Gerard Nebesky of Gerard’s Paella expected to provide about 1,500 servings of his chicken and Mexican-style chorizo paella with arugula and chickpeas. There was always a line of people waiting to sample the savory dish.

One of the marketing hits of the event was the Rodney Strong Rosé Lounge, where guests could enjoy frose (frozen rose) and wear pink aviator sunglasses while being surrounded by pink flower arrangements and pink velvet couches.

“I love the decor here, it gets an A+, and I love the Slurpee,” said Ingrid Wibben, of Danville. “The weather is perfect — they lucked out — and the beauty is that there’s lots of shade.”

At the Kendall-Jackson Garden tent, the culinary team headed by Executive Chef Justin Wangler served up crudite cones of hummus topped with an oyster-flavored oyster leaf, baby carrot, baby radish and baby turnip grown by Tucker Taylor in the estate’s production garden.

“I am enjoying the fact that we’re out and about again, and we’re showcasing the hard work of our team,” said Taylor, who gave tours of the 5-acre garden throughout the afternoon.

Sonoma County Vintners Director of Marketing and Communications Barbara Cox said she expected about 1,000 people to attend the event, including staff and volunteers, and tickets were still available at the door.

The event has historically attracted guests from across the country, but this year locals eager to get back to a semblance of normal life showed up in greater numbers.

“It’s great to see the wineries hustling and bustling,” said Lisa Sheppard, of Sebastopol, a first-time attendee. “We go for the VIP tickets because it supports all of the local wineries.”

There were about 100 participating wineries pouring various vintages and varietals.

“It’s really well attended by the wineries, and there are some really good wineries here,” said Kristin Coughtry, trade marketing manager for St. Francis Winery & Vineyards in Santa Rosa. “This is such a nice snapshot of Sonoma County.”

The annual tasting event was last held in person on Labor Day Weekend 2019 at the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, where it had been held since 2017. For a decade before, it took place amid the rustic redwoods and vineyards of MacMurray Ranch along the Russian River south of Healdsburg.

The Kendall-Jackson venue seemed to offer the best of both worlds.

“I love the layout. It’s very open and not overcrowded,” said first-time attendee Ryan McNeil, of Santa Rosa. “There’s a lot of variety in the wine and the food as well. I just had the banh mi from The Black Piglet, and I really liked the mint.”

The event was held this year in June rather than over Labor Day weekend, which had helped attract out-of-town guests but proved problematic for the local wine community.

“Our vintner members asked that we move it due to harvest demands,” Cox said. “Harvest is an extremely busy time for them, and we wanted to give as many of our members as possible an opportunity to be able to participate.”

As for the grape-growing season, more than one winemaker expressed relief there is a bit more water in the ground than this time last year, thanks to late rains. They were also grateful the crop survived the late spring trifecta of wind, frost and hail.

“We skated by this spring,” said Erik Miller, vintner and winemaker at Kokomo Wines in Healdsburg. “Because of the late rain, we saw some shatter in the zin as the fruit was setting, but for the most part, we’re looking good.”

“What was good with the cool weather was that the vines stopped growing vegetation and grew more fruit for pollination and bloom,” said Randy Ullom, wine master for Kendall-Jackson. “Then it warmed up, and now all the vineyards are reaching for the sky.”

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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