Taste of Sonoma will move to Green Music Center

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The Taste of Sonoma, signature food and wine event of the annual multiday Wine Country Weekend, will move to the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University after calling MacMurray Ranch outside Healdsburg home for the past 12 years.

It also will run for two days rather than just one.

The changes are among many being made as the Sonoma County Vintners trade group moves to revamp the county’s largest wine gathering, which in past years has drawn some 6,000 people annually over Labor Day weekend to sample local wines and foods, bid on wine lots at auction, dance under the stars and meet winemakers at intimate lunches and dinners.

Jean Arnold Sessions, executive director for the vintners group, said they made the moves after hearing feedback from visitors that the four-hour event was getting cramped at the Healdsburg winery, especially the parking arrangements.

“We were maxing out the space at MacMurray,” Sessions said, noting the event has attracted a crowd of about 3,000. She noted that some visitors had to wait for shuttle buses to ferry them from the parking area to the venue entry, while others walked along a dirt driveway to get there.

The Taste of Sonoma event will now run over two days — Sept. 2 and Sept. 3 — to give visitors more time to interact with vintners and sample wines from the 17 varied wine regions of the county, Sessions said.

“They can come back on Sunday and try by varietal or maybe focus on reds,” she said.

The Green Center includes a vast amount of parking space within the 269-acre Rohnert Park campus as it holds many cultural and civic events during the academic year. And many students will likely leave the area over the Labor Day weekend, which will make access and parking even less of an issue, said William Silver, dean of the School of Business and Economics, who also is on the board of the vintners group.

No specific decisions have yet been made on how the vendors and activities of Taste will be arranged at the center, though Silver noted that the locale offers opportunities both indoors and outside, including at Prelude restaurant and lawn areas beyond the massive green space that looks into Weill Hall.

“There are a lot of areas to showcase events,” he said. Silver said that the event could also perhaps include more art and music elements, especially given the incredible acoustics of the music hall.

The Harvest Wine Auction, traditionally held the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, will be moved to Sept. 16 at a new location, the La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard in Windsor. Last year, the auction was held at Kenwood’s Chateau St. Jean Winery and raised a record $4.6 million for local charities. It has also been held in past years at Cline Cellars in Sonoma.

About moving the auction, Sessions noted that some vintners had felt pressured by all the activities and events coming right in the middle of harvest.

The weekend has for the past several years kicked off with the Starlight Dinner at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, but that will not be held this year. Sessions said her group is working to come up with a more intimate start to the weekend activities, involving a greater number of wineries hosting smaller events.

The vintners group announced last month it had assumed more control over the weekend of festivities from the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance, which will formally ease out of the planning entirely when its contract ends in 2019. The two groups had been partners in planning and hosting the weekend since 2008.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com.

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