Ah, Sonoma. I guess these days with all the hype around Pinot Noir, it's not quite accurate to describe Sonoma as underrated, but it certainly remains under-visited and under-explored by your typical wine country tourist. This is partially due to the fact that Sonoma is more spread out and less of a single destination than Napa, but let's face it, it's also due to the fact that Sonoma is just not as big of a name as Napa. Sonoma can't compete with Napa's brand equity.
For the die-hard wine lover, this is most certainly a blessing in disguise. Sonoma has smaller crowds, less traffic (though don't try to drive through downtown Healdsburg or Sonoma on a sunny Saturday afternoon in July), and a more laid back atmosphere.
Sonoma County also plays host to different sorts of wines than Napa. Most notable is its aforementioned heavy emphasis on Pinot Noir, but it also has some of the state's best Zinfandels, Chardonnays, and some excellent Cabernet and Syrah of its own. These wines are spread over a dazzling array of topography, from the foggy hillsides of the Mendocino and Sonoma Coast regions, to the nooks and crannies of the Russian River Valley, to the bright golden heat of Dry Creek Valley and Anderson Valley.
Trying to take all these different areas over even a relatively modest period of time can certainly pose a challenge for the curious wine lover, which is why when the Sonoma County Showcase happens, and it is happening two weeks from now, wine (and food) lovers should take special note.
The Showcase is a weekend long celebration of food and wine across Sonoma county that includes special winemaker dinners; catered winery lunches and dinners; an opportunity to get hands-on in a vineyard with soil workshops, canopy management, and pruning techniques; and perhaps best of all, the Taste of Sonoma festival that offers the chance to sample wines from nearly 100 different Sonoma County wineries along with food from nearly 60 of the regions best chefs and restaurateurs.
This year the Taste of Sonoma event has been extended to two days, which will mean smaller crowds at the tasting, and a better chance to experience the cooking demonstrations and wine seminars that are also on offer.
One of the cool thing about this event is that they set up a wine shop on the grounds of the event that allows visitors to purchase most of the wines available at the tasting on the spot, or for those visiting, to have wines shipped to them when they return home.
Sonoma County Showcase is pretty much the Main Event for Sonoma County, and as long as the temperature is not 100 degrees outside (which it looks not to be), it is pretty much the best possible way to spend a July weekend in Northern California.
Sonoma County Showcase
July 12 - July 15, 2007
Various Locations in Sonoma County
Tickets for the entire weekend and individual events range from $75 for a winery lunch, to $2500 for the whole weekend with lodging included, and are available to purchase online (though some are sold out).
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