Most people, when they come visit me in San Francisco and ask to be taken to wine country, assume that they're going to Napa. But at least half the time, that's definitely not where we end up.
My well meaning friends aren't the only ones who seem to forget that Northern California has many different "wine countries." Napa casts a long shadow, as it were.
I've got a bit of love for every piece of wine country we've got here in California, but there's a special place in my heart for Sonoma County, both because it is the place of my birth, but also because I think sometimes it gets short shrift compared to its more famous neighbor.
Sonoma County is several different wine regions rolled up into one -- from the chilly fog of the Sonoma Coast and Carneros, to the cool Green Valley and Russian River Valley, to the warmer climes of Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Mountain, Alexander Valley, and the Sonoma Valley -- many different micro-climates and many different wines, from sparkling to Pinot Noir to Zinfandel to Cabernet.
The main problem, however, is that all these regions lay spread out over a wide area, much wider than the relatively (in comparison) compact Napa Valley. So experiencing the breadth of Sonoma can be time consuming, no matter how fulfilling it usually ends up being.
So while it's a good idea for wine lovers to pay more attention to Sonoma in general, there is one weekend this year when any self respecting wine lover shouldn't be thinking of anything else: The Sonoma Wine Country Weekend.
Now in it's fourth year, this weekend celebration of Sonoma County wine is a combination of two previously separate annual events: The annual Sonoma County Showcase of Wine and Food and the Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction. These events are now combined into a single event that represents the best opportunity in existence for anyone (who isn't planning on being on the Playa) to learn a lot about Sonoma wine in the space of a couple of days.
The weekend starts on Friday September 2nd, with winemaker lunches at various wineries around the valley, followed by dinners that evening.
On Saturday the 3rd, the grand tasting will take place from 11 AM to 4 PM, where more than 200 Sonoma County wineries will offer their wines for tasting along with food from more than 100 of the regions top chefs and artisan food purveyors. Saturday evening will feature winemaker dinners at some of Sonoma's most spectacular wineries.
And if that weren't enough, on Sunday the live Harvest Wine Auction, whose proceeds go to local charities, offers chances at bragging rights and some amazing prizes (and wines) for those who can afford to be generous, as well as a blockbuster meal cooked by some serious Sonoma culinary heavyweights. Rumor has it that there will be a little wine poured at this event as well.
While attendance at the auction and dinner on Sunday is a somewhat pricey proposition at $500 a head, the rest of the weekend's events are a relative steal at between $85 and $195 bucks.
This is a huge opportunity to soak in the breadth and depth of Sonoma County wine without spending 4 days and 8 hours in the car zipping all over the place. It comes highly recommended by yours truly.
Find out everything you need to know on the event web site.
Sonoma Wine Country Weekend
September 2-4, 2011
MacMurray Ranch Winery
9015 Westside Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Tickets for the grand tasting, which can be purchased online, are $150 ($90 of which is tax deductible!). Those who are into something more exclusive can purchase "Grand Reserve" tickets for $195, and get the chance to taste higher-end wines, all paired with higher-end food.
Purchase your tickets now. Shuttle service from Santa Rosa (recommended) is provided.
The weather will likely be gorgeous, but given our chilly summer thus far, it could also be cool and windy, so wear sunscreen and have a sweater or jacket in the car, if not around your shoulders. Wear comfortable shoes that you can walk on a lawn and on gravel with. My usual tips for public tastings apply: get lots of sleep the night before; wear dark clothes to avoid red wine disasters; drink lots of water; make sure your belly is full -- plenty to eat there; ladies (and gents) leave the cologne and perfume at home; and spit if you actually want to learn something.
A wine book like no other. Photographs, essays, and wine recommendations. Learn more.
The Superb Grace of Old Vines: Drinking Janasse The Zinfandel Experience: January 31, San Francisco Vinography Unboxed: Week of January 4, 2015 Vinography Images: The Colors of a New Season Vinography Unboxed: Week of December 27th, 2014 Vinography Images: Rich Skies Losing a Legend in Serge Hochar Flirting with the Ecstatic: The Wines of Nikolaihof, Austria Vinography Unboxed: Week of December 20, 2014 A Grape By Any Other Name
Wine Will Never Smell the Same Again: Luca Turin and the Science of Scent Forlorn Hope: The Remarkable Wines of Matthew Rorick Debating Robert Parker At His Invitation Passopisciaro Winery, Etna, Sicily: Current Releases Should We Care What Winemakers Say? The Sweet Taste of Freedom: Austria's Ruster Ausbruch Wines 2009 Burgundy Vintage According to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Charles Banks: The New Man Behind Mayacamas Wine from the Caldera: The Incredible Viticulture of Santorini Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Chateau Rayas and the 2012 Vintage of Chateauneuf-du-Pape A Life Indomitable: The Wines of Casal Santa Maria, Portugal Bay Area Bordeaux: Tasting Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernets Forgotten Jewels: Reviving Chile's Old Vine Carignane The First-Timer's Guide to Les Trois Glorieuses of Hospices de Beaune