The compliments came as steady as the breeze Saturday when Marianna Gardenhire scooped up bite-sized cones of strawberry sorbet.
“This is the best thing I’ve had all day,” said Cerrissa Kim of Santa Rosa, pausing with cone in hand on SOMO Village’s great patio at the North Coast Wine and Food Festival. The sorbet, by Forestville’s Backyard restaurant and the related Bee Run Hollow farm, “taste like the freshest, sweetest strawberry,” she said
Tasty bites and top-flight wines were the order of the day Saturday in Rohnert Park at the sixth annual festival, sponsored by The Press Democrat.
The event brought together 1,400 food lovers, 22 chefs and restaurant staffs, 76 wineries and 140 gold medal wines. Tickets for the sold-out event ranged in price from $50 for a designated driver pass to $135 for entrance to both the festival and a VIP section.
Kathy Valasek of Rohnert Park said Saturday was her third year at the festival. She returns, she said, for “the opportunity to try wines that I haven’t tried before.”
Valasek also enjoyed selecting ingredients and helping make her own Asian spring rolls, which for her included daikon, cabbage, carrots, Thai basil and trumpet mushrooms. She deemed them excellent and took both kinds of sauces in which to dip them.
The spring roll station was a partnership of chef and author John Ash and the Sebastopol-based nonprofit Ceres Project, which trains young people in culinary skills and provides healthy food to people battling serious illnesses. About 15 Ceres young people stood in formation at the station and helped patrons fashion their spring rolls.
Ash said the young people and he sought to provide food lovers “something to do so people can learn.”
This spring the festival’s wines received their awards at the North Coast Wine Challenge, which also is sponsored by the newspaper.
“The whole focus here is to promote our wine industry,” said Steve Falk, CEO of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat. The festival, he said, provides an opportunity to share gold medal wines with the public so wine lovers can “taste the best of the best.”
Along with the wines, foodies had plenty of bites to sample, including dungeness crab rolls from Healdsburg’s Chalkboard, Monte Cristo lumpia from Santa Rosa’s John Ash & Co. at Vintners Inn, duck confit croquette from Sonoma’s Ramekins and chilled corn soup with chives from Sonoma’s El Dorado Kitchen.
Several guests praised the raw oysters from Marshall’s Hog Island Oyster Co.
Gardenhire, who with chef Daniel Kedan owns Backyard and runs the farm, said she decided to serve the sorbet because the farm’s strawberries are ripe and ready.
“It’s the peak of the season,” she said, offering a sample. “If you taste it, it’s like biting into a strawberry.”
A few minutes later, Theresa Blankenship of American Canyon, brought a friend over for a sample.
“This strawberry sorbet is the best I’ve ever had,” Blankenship told Gardenhire. She deemed the flavor “absolutely amazing” and said the texture was somehow “creamy but with no cream.”
Another patron praised Backyard’s fried chicken, which was served at last year’s festival.
Among wineries, the day featured a first: a wine that was judged a perfect 100, the highest score given in the contest’s six years. The “Best of the Best” award went to Kokomo Wines in Healdsburg’s Dry Creek Valley for its 2016 Pinot Noir Gopher Hill Block Peters Vineyard Sonoma Coast.