Near-perfect weather and temperatures in the low 80s greeted wine and food lovers from across the country to the Taste of Sonoma Saturday at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park, where they noshed and sipped through a cross-section of fresh, Sonoma County bounty.
“The food and the wine are equally delicious, and it’s a great way to try everything,” said Christine Lotz of Chicago. “Of all the food festivals we’ve been to, this is the best.”
Attendance this year was 1,500, down from 2,000 last year, when searing temperatures peaked at 114 degrees and kept everyone as toasty as a barrel-aged chardonnay. Last year was also the first year the event was located at the Sonoma State campus, after being held for 10 years amid the rustic redwoods and vineyards of MacMurray Ranch in Healdsburg.
While some guests said they missed the setting of the Russian River ranch once owned by actor Fred MacMurray, most agreed the Sonoma State University venue — with its easy access, ample parking and sprawling layout — was logistically superior.
“It was beautiful to be in the vineyards, but this is more practical, and it’s closer to my house,” said Eva Bertran, vice president of marketing for Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, which got the party started by pouring three sparklers paired with three bites in the Bubble Lounge.
Most of the furniture at the tasting remained the same as in past years but was moved around slightly. New features included more music, both live and recorded, and an ice cream area. The chef’s cook-off was eliminated, but no one seemed to notice.
“Being here is a big change,” said Thomas Schmidt, executive chef of John Ash & Co., who has won the cook-off in the past. “I like it here, it’s a beautiful venue … after 10 years, it’s good to go somewhere else.”
One big improvement this year was the flotilla of big white tents that kept the 125 winery booths out of the sun while letting the afternoon breeze keep everyone cool. Last year, overhead shade cloths made the heat and humidity worse.
Nick Frey of Balleto Vineyards in Santa Rosa said a colleague pouring wine last year had to stand in a bucket of ice water to stay cool.
While the more temperate weather allows the flavors of the grapes to develop, it will delay harvest a couple of weeks compared to past years, Frey said. The worry is that a later harvest could bump into the first rain.
Grape grower Pete Seghesio, who was serving salami from his Journeymen Meat Co. of Healdsburg, said the start date of harvest was simply back to normal. At his mother’s ranch, it always fell on the third week of September. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t getting anxious.
“You work all year, and it’s all out there,” he said. “When you’re growing zinfandel, one rainstorm can ruin it.”
Rosé, the darling of consumers right now, was everywhere at this year’s event. The Rodney Strong Lounge featured “rosé all day,” and the Kendall-Jackson Sensory Experience poured frozen rosé known as “frosé” all afternoon.
Mari Jones, “president of fun” at Emeritus Winery in Sebastopol, said last year the winery poured almost all rosé and only went through a half bottle of red. This year, their rosé and pinot noir were neck and neck.
As part of a major revamp last year by the Sonoma County Vintners Foundation, the Sonoma County Wine Auction has been moved to a different weekend than the Taste of Sonoma. This year’s auction, the region’s leading fundraising event, will be held Sept. 22 at La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard in Windsor. The 2018 honorary chair for the auction is vintner George Hamel, Jr., of Hamel Family Wines in Sonoma.
Auction lots will include a Christopher Creek Winery lot that includes a stay at a private Italian castle and dinner on Lake Como along with a four-day Sonoma County excursion; a Gallo Family lot that includes a trip to Disneyland, vintner dinners, VIP tours and a culinary tour of Disneyland with Marcy Carriker Smothers. The fund-in-need paddle raise that will help the rebuild effort in Sonoma County through a partnership with the Community Foundation Sonoma County.
The auction weekend will kick off Sept. 20 for the first time with an outdoor party at Paradise Ridge Winery hosted by the Byck family, who lost their winery and cellar during last fall’s wildfires. However, their vineyards survived and continue to thrive as a symbol of resilience.
Last year, the organizers of the Sonoma County Wine Auction raised a record-breaking $5.2 million for local, non-profit organizations focusing on education, arts, culture, health and human services.. The amount of money raised this year will be announced after the auction is over