This year was all about the wine. The annual Sonoma Showcase of Food and Wine unveiled a new live auction format this past weekend, concentrating exclusively on barrel lots of the region's prestigious wines rather than the travel and entertainment packages offered previously. The result was somewhat mixed: Attendance was up at the charity fund-raiser, but the bottom line was down.
"We really wanted to focus on the wine and promoting the story of the wineries and the winemakers," said Sonoma County Vintners executive director Honore Comfort, explaining why the group's board of directors wanted the change. "There are so many very large, successful wine auctions out there, and more power to them. But we want to bring new people here and show off what it is that makes Sonoma County so special."
About 650 vintners, consumers and industry executives gathered on July 14 at Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyard in the Russian River Valley to taste and bid on 19 barrel lots. The live auction, which was sponsored by Wine Spectator, raised $150,000, about one-third of the 2005 event's tally of $444,000.
The proceeds from the auction and the other weekend events benefit local charities, including the Redwood Empire Food Bank, Santa Rosa Junior College Foundation and Boys & Girls Clubs of Cloverdale, Healdsburg, Petaluma and Windsor.
|Nancy and Ken Silveira won the Martinelli lot.|
Silveira's wine buyer, Kristi Mohar, jumped at the chance to get the Pinot, which was made by Helen Turley. "They're an elite producer," she said. "It's a wine that usually goes to restaurants, and I want my customers to be able to enjoy wines like that without paying double or triple the retail price."
Pinot Noir accounted for six of the 19 lots. Annie Balshi, a retailer in Port St. Lucie, Fla., paid $5,000 for five cases of Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Hallberg Vineyard Block M 2005. "I love Gary. It's a unique vineyard that's not as well known as some of the other vineyards in the county," she explained. "I've got some customers that would kill for that wine, and it's hard to get. I also love charity.
During the bidding, the crowd enjoyed Sonoma wines and a four-course dinner prepared by local chefs. Mark Stark, of Monti's Rotisserie in Santa Rosa, made a Dungeness crab salad with piquillo peppers and chilled gazpacho coulis. Jack Mitchell, of Sassafras Restaurant in Santa Rosa, prepared the main course, roast lamb loin with ratatouille and basil pesto.
The weekend festivities began on Thursday, July 13, with the Appellation Experience, an introduction to Sonoma's 13 wine appellations. Vintners hosted dinners that evening and lunch on Friday.
On Saturday afternoon, more than 1,500 people attended the Taste of Sonoma at MacMurray Ranch in Healdsburg. The event offers a crash course in local wine and food, with 90 vintners serving more than 350 bottlings, accompanied by dishes prepared by 50 Sonoma County-based food purveyors.
The weather was warm but breezy and comfortable, and many of the dishes were made with the July heat in mind. Seviche, gazpacho and chilled soups were abundant. Iron Horse executive chef Christopher Greenwald served black cod rolls, inspired by the traditional New England lobster roll. The fish, caught near Bodega Bay, was apple wood-smoked, then served with chopped celery, onions, mayonnaise and lemon juice.
Some chefs were anything but traditional. Jesse Wiley Mallgren, of Madrona Manor in Healdsburg, made chicken thighs sous vide with corn foam, truffle salt and basil. "This is like no chicken I've ever had in terms of the flavor and texture," he said, noting that cooking the chicken on the bone with the skin maximizes the intensity.
The vintners were grouped by appellation in four tents--Alexander Valley, Dry Creek, Sonoma Valley and Russian River/Sonoma Coast--and their wines represented all the variety expected of a region covering more than 1 million square acres. Pinot Noir, Cabernet and Zinfandel comprised the majority, though more refreshing options, such as Sauvignon Blanc and sparkling wines, were popular.
|Chateau St. Jean winemaker Margo Van Staaveren.|
Ann Marie Fini and Janice Willey, of Charlestown, S.C., came to Taste of Sonoma for the first time while in town to run the Carneros Wine Country Half Marathon, held Sunday. They had both visited area vineyards on previous trips, but had never before experienced such a range of Sonoma food and wine at a single venue.
"We were just calling people to tell them how much they missed," said Willey, a contractor for the U.S. Department of Defense. "It's a great way to discover new wineries. I'm collecting business cards of the ones I like so that when we get back to Charlestown we can look for them."
Fini, an executive at a software company, observed, "What we've done today would take a week of driving."
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