Carneros Heritage Festival: May 30, Sonoma

Carneros is one of California’s most distinctive and special winegrowing regions. While wine lovers can argue for hours about the concept of terroir, few California wine aficionados can dispute that Carneros possesses a unique and dynamic climate that is forged from geography and weather. As summer heat spikes into the 100’s just a few miles away, Carneros remains cool, even chilled by ocean breezes and fog banks, making for perfect cool-climate grape growing conditions that favor the Burgundy varietals of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Additionally, it represents a bit of an oddity when it comes to California appellations, as it overlaps both the Napa and Sonoma wine growing regions, resulting in Carneros wines from Sonoma, and Carneros wines from Napa.

Carneros has been growing grapes since the early part of the 19th century, and has a rich history of agriculture. This history, as well as the bounty of food and wine that the region produces today, are the occasion for the Fourth Annual Carneros Heritage Festival.

Resembling many such regional festivals, the Carneros Heritage Festival is a showcase of food and wine — a big lamb barbecue, stalls of artisan food purveyors, and local wineries pouring their wines. Unlike most such festivals and tastings, however, the Carneros festival is specifically geared towards families with kids. While mom and dad get to taste wine, the kids can fly kites, wander through a hay maze, and check out ecology exhibits with creepy crawlies and more.

Now, I should say that I don’t know which wineries are pouring their wines, and I’ve never attended this festival, which means that for any serious wine lover, this event represents a crapshoot. While there is some fantastic wine made in Carneros, there is also a lot of bad wine made there too, and it is theoretically possible that the wines on offer (billed as premium and ultra-premium) may just suck. So take that into consideration before you spring for the ticket.

The whole event takes place on the grounds of the Donum estate, and also includes a Napa vs. Sonoma young chef cook-off, sheep herding and falconry demonstrations, wine growing exhibits and more.

4th Annual Carneros Heritage Festival
Saturday May 30th, 2009
12:00 Noon to 4:00 PM
Donum Estate Vineyards
24520 Ramal Road
Sonoma, CA 95476 (map)

Tickets are $75 per adult, and kids under 12 get in free. They can be purchased online in advance. Proceeds go to the Carneros Land Stewardship Foundation.

Make sure to wear sunscreen and a sun hat, drink lots of water, and spit if you’re going to taste a lot of wine!