Festivities at the 24th annual Sonoma County Showcase of Wine & Food last weekend couldn't have gone more smoothly: Heated bidding animated Friday's live charity auction, and the weather throughout the weekend was pleasantly temperate as more than 1,600 guests sampled offerings from 50 restaurants and 129 local wineries.
Although final tallies for ticket sales and the live, silent and barrel auctions have not yet been calculated, the three-day event raised about $385,000 for local charities that include Redwood Empire Food Bank and Santa Rosa Junior College.
Friday's dinner and auction, held at St. Francis Winery in Santa Rosa and sponsored by Wine Spectator, brought in $325,000 for 43 live lots and $25,000 for barrel lots, an increase of $30,000 over last year's figures. Jon Moramarco, president and CEO of Franciscan Estates, made the evening's high bid: $30,000 for a dinner, wine and entertainment package offered by Ted Simpkins, owner of Lancaster Estate in Alexander Valley and executive vice president and general manager in California for distributor Southern Wine and Spirits. "They are great wines," Moramarco said. "Ted's a friend, and it's for charity in Sonoma."
Auctioneers Ursula Hermacinski and Fritz Hatton ensured a spirited evening for 1,200 guests, who enjoyed a four-course meal prepared by local chefs including Michael Quigley of Café Lolo and Jack Mitchell of Sassafras Restaurant, both located in Santa Rosa. Hermacinski, sporting the flashing blue necklace given to guests at the Wine Spectator Bring Your Own Magnum party held in June in Sonoma, displayed her usual wit and Hatton his customary energy, bouncing across the stage while coaxing bids from guests.
Their levity matched the prevailing tone. The event's theme this year was "Varietal Cinema," a nod to the region's role as the setting for more than 50 Hollywood movies. Actress Tippi Hedren, star of the 1963 Hitchcock classic The Birds, joined Ravenswood winemaker Joel Peterson on stage to present an auction lot featuring lunch and a screening of the movie at the schoolhouse in Bodega, located along the Sonoma Coast, where The Birds famous attack scene was filmed. "Along with all the lions and tigers and leopards, I live with at the Shambala Preserve [northeast of Los Angeles near the Mojave Desert], we also have a lot of 'ravens,'" Hedren quipped. The lot sold for $6,500.
Festivities began on Thursday at the Appellation Experience, an introduction to Sonoma's 13 wine appellations held at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center in Santa Rosa. Later that day, guests participated in a golf tournament and had their pick of dinner at 11 wineries.
The Taste of Sonoma, held Saturday at Clos du Bois Winery in Geyserville, is one of the Showcase's most popular events. A total of 129 producers and 50 chefs gathered under one tent, where exhibitors were divided into four primary subregions -- Alexander Valley, Russian River, Dry Creek and Sonoma Valley -- and local food was matched with the wines. From the Alexander Valley, for example, Jordan Winery poured their 2000 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon with a Sonoma duck confit served over white beans; the winery also poured its 2003 estate olive oil.
The wine and food pairings hit the spot for attendees and the participating wineries. "I think the producers feel that this is the signature Sonoma County event," said Christine Hanna, president of Hanna Winery in Russian River and chairwoman of the 2004 Showcase.
Parke Ulrich, chef at Farallon Resaurant in San Francisco, served a summer melon soup with verbena ice. "The events in the past have been so warm, and we did hot items that weren't as satisfying," he said. "You can come back several times for this and it doesn't fill you up."
Jesse Mallgren, chef at Madrona Manor in Healdsburg, said he tries to cook something different every year. This year he offered "trotter cakes" -- braised pigs feet that were breaded, sautéed and served with fig chutney, lentil salad and vin cotto. "When you make veal stock, you sometimes add pig's feet for richness, and I just decided to see what I could do with it," he explained.
Patti Brown and Bill Colligan, residents of St. Helena, were attending their first Showcase and went to events on all three days. Their biggest problem seemed to be deciding what to try. "You need to take notes," said Patti, who confessed that she didn't.
The weekend wrapped up Saturday evening at Sonoma-Cutrer in Windsor with a performance by the San Francisco Symphony.
Top Five Lots
1. Lancaster Estate -- $30,000
Dinner for 10 at the estate, hosted by owners Ted and Nicole Simpkins, prepared by chef Charlie Palmer and matched with top Bordeaux from the 2000 vintage; five magnums of Lancaster Estate, a Bordeaux-style blend.
2. Dinner with the "Prima Famigliare" -- $20,000
Dinner for 10 with the Foppiano, Gallo, Pedroncelli, Sebastiani and Seghesio families paired with wines from their private cellars.
3. Gallo of Sonoma and Geyser Peak Winery -- $19,000
Dinner for 10 hosted by Gina Gallo and Darryl Groom and prepared by chef Charlie Palmer; 25 cases of 2003 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon blended by Gina Gallo and Darryl Groom.
4. Wattle Creek Winery -- $19,000
Five cases of 2003 Wattle Creek Winery Estate Shiraz Alexander Valley.
5. Geyser Peak Winery and Wattle Creek Winery -- $14,000
Barbecue dinner for 16 hosted by Wattle Creek owners Kristine and Chris Williams and winemakers Michael Scholz, Darryl Groom, Mick Schroter and Nick Goldschmidt; four cases of wines from Wattle Creek, Geyser Peak and Allied Domecq.