Sonoma Wine Country Weekend: Notes from a Not-So-Sommelier
By: Jill Dombroskie, SomethingAboutSonoma.com Staff
When presented with the opportunity to attend this year’s Sonoma Wine Country Weekend I first thought to myself: “I am going to be completely out of my element.” If you would’ve asked me a week ago to do a blind tasting, all I would’ve been able to say is “tastes like a red” or “tastes like a white.” Don’t get me wrong, I love wine, but I don’t drink it often enough to be able to tell you how it was aged or what all of those beautiful hints of deliciousness consist of (Buttery? Jammy? Okay? Beats me). So I of course volunteered to be a willing participant of this event that would so tortuously involve me eating lots of amazing food, drinking lots of amazing wine and enhancing my swirl, sniff and sip techniques. Below are a few “cellar notes” from my experience:
The swirl. Much to my co-worker’s chagrin, I have been attempting to perfect my swirl during my time here in Sonoma (his is top-notch). I think it’s improving, although apparently not enough to swirl and walk at the same time. At one point, I felt something wet on my foot and looked down in astonishment (that couldn’t have been ME!). I looked around, half-hoping to find someone nearby that had spilled and half-hoping no one had witnessed my over-enthusiastic attempt to fit in.
Friday evening’s Sonoma Starlight Supper Club at Francis Ford Coppola was the “swirl” of the weekend (spillage-free). It ignited the 2012 festival with flavor and introduced us to the world in which we would be spending our next two days. The beautiful vineyard set a picture-perfect backdrop for dinner, dancing and of course, tasting. Over 20 local wineries provided their wines for pairing with the exquisite cuisine, which included a whole roasted pig complete with a red bell pepper in its mouth. Here’s to hoping there were no vegetarians present, because the sight of this poor little guy was a bit sad…yet utterly mouth-watering.
After indulging in the spectacular food and wine, guests made their way to the dance floor where they continued to elevate the atmosphere that would set the stage for the remainder of the weekend. Friday night’s “swirl” at Coppola prompted us to embark in the remainder of our Sonoma Wine Country Weekend adventure…
The sniff. Saturday morning met us a bit cold and drearily. The clouds were low in the valley when we arrived at MacMurray Ranch and the crisp air nipped at everyone’s faces. But not thirty minutes later, the sun made a much-welcomed appearance and the temperature rose to a perfect blanket of warmth that would grace us for the remainder of the day. As we explored the venue, I was amazed at the countless number of wineries and chefs that represented each region of the County. At this point, boldly wearing my badge of naivety, I realized that there really are vast differences between the particular tastes that grapes from different regions may invoke. I admittedly still cannot taste them (and probably never will be able to) but seeing that this was a deciding factor in the way all of the wineries were grouped, exemplified to me how different they really are. Taste of Sonoma gave me the first little hint as to what this place is all about—“the sniff,” if you will.
This is the first time I’ve ever had the opportunity to try so many wines, not only side by side, but all of them also with numerous awards and accolades that scream “we are some of the best in the WORLD.” It was a truly eye-opening experience for a simple girl from Baltimore. I cannot begin to explain how impressionable it is to be able to taste diverse varietals next to each other. I’m still no pro, but I’m amazed at the fact that I’ve now started to be able to tell the difference between certain flavors (hints and notes, if we’re being proper?)…And more notably the fact that I’m using words like “diverse varietals.”
Taste of Sonoma was a fantastic, semi-overwhelming (in a good way) experience. They did a great job of impressing this out-of-towner and making me want to come crawling back for more; I’m pretty sure many would agree. As for the residents? Well, I can’t exactly speak for them, but if it were me I would feel pride in my belonging, and confidence in my County’s ever-evolving future. Well done, Sonoma, I would certainly check the box for making outsiders fall in love with your home, and keeping insiders proud and refreshed every year. Chalk it up to the “hints” of growth and prosperity exemplified at this fantastic event.
The sip. This is where it all comes together; all of the swirling and smelling have worked their magic and are about to fuse with the final piece of the puzzle. This is what Sunday’s Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction was all about.
I’m from a suburb that, growing up, I always considered to be a “small town”. Of course this thought always goes hand in hand with the classic declaration of “I can’t wait to get out of here!” But what I didn’t realize then, was that my town is no “small town.” Yes, people know names and someone knows someone who knows someone’s grandmother, but you don’t go to the farmer’s market every week and know a major percentage of the people there on a first-name basis. Sonoma is full of humble people. They share a passion that should induce fierce competition amongst them—but it doesn’t. It’s just something that puts them on the same level; something they can all relate to and thrive in. I witnessed this first-hand as they gathered on Sunday at the peak event of the weekend. Of course there was gourmet food, and of course there were stunning wines, but there were also things that are immeasurable—like generosity and compassion. Guests attended the auction with support and open-hearts for the primary beneficiary, The Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley. It was the charitable culmination of the entire weekend.
The Boys & Girls Clubs were ever-present in guests’ minds at the auction, but the kids’ appearance on stage during the lot designated to their direct contributions was particularly heartwarming. One of the high-school students told her emotional, tear-filled speech about how the Clubs have changed her life, prompting one donor to raise her paddle to the mind-blowing amount of $50,000; my jaw literally dropped. I was videoing at the time, so my apologies to SomethingAboutSonoma.com for any shaky footage during this moment #crybaby.
Wine Country Weekend 2012 raised over $1.6 million for Sonoma County charitable organizations. The palette of the weekend was most certainly bold and full-bodied. I’d call it a big red with a smooth finish—one for the books…or at least for my book. Thanks, Sonoma, for introducing me to the flavor, the character and the heart of California Wine Country. I leave with inspiration, and hope to return soon with my newly warmed heart and my undeniable lust for your Trione Reserve Cab—sigh.
The final step: The spit. I love that this step is optional, because it’s just not for me. Nope, never. You better believe I’ll be the girl drinking every last drop of Sonoma culture I can get.