"This year was the start of a new direction for Sonoma County wineries and food purveyors," said Tom Hobart, showcase chairman and general manager of Clos du Bois Winery. In past years, the event had featured an auction format similar to that of Napa Valley's annual June event, with live bidding and auctioneers. This time the bidding was silent, as computer terminals replaced paddles.
Featured most prominently were local wines and the culinary talents of both local and nationally known chefs. A series of intimate winery luncheons and dinners culminated in the grand-scale "Glorious Grazing" at Richard's Grove & Saralee's Vineyard on Saturday afternoon.
Attended by about 1,000 wine lovers, the afternoon extravaganza matched 60 wineries with numerous chefs, offering wine-and-food combinations that also highlighted Sonoma's poultry, fish, meat, cheese and vegetable producers. "Just as in any of the world's great wine regions, we've got the food, lifestyle and chefs right here," Hobart said. "We're demonstrating our diversity with players from the area as well as from throughout the nation."
In addition to local chefs such as Michael Quigley of Cafe Lolo, Daniel Berman of Mixx and Toni Robertson from The Grille at Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, several nationally prominent chefs participated, including Susan Goss from Zinfandel in Chicago, Dominique Macquet of Dominique's in New Orleans and Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit in New York.
On Friday night, two barrel tastings occurred simultaneously at the Clos du Bois and Buena Vista wineries, where 26 wineries offered special barrel lots for sampling prior to a silent auction. The wine quality was high, just as it is at the Napa Valley Wine Auction, but prices were far lower at the Sonoma event -- a reflection of the region's more casual atmosphere. In some instances, winning single-case bids were less than or comparable to retail value. Nonetheless, the barrel auction raised $210,000, topping last year's bids by $50,000.
"We're not Napa," said Lambert Bridge winemaker Julia Iantosca. "We have our own character." The difference was a welcome one, particularly for those bidders who feel priced out of the Napa Valley Wine Auction by astronomically high bids.
Despite their low-key approach, Sonoma's vintners still know how to throw a party. Saturday night's closing event, which took place at Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards, featured an outdoor concert by the San Francisco Symphony and pianist Jeffrey Kahane, followed by a glittering fireworks display.
Proceeds from the Sonoma County Showcase of Wine and Food will be donated to Share Our Strength, a national organization that provides food and nutritional services to the poor and homeless.
For past reports on this event: