There were no losers at the first-ever last night, held in the Grace Pavilion at Sonoma County Fairgrounds. The cavernous hall was transformed by light trees and white tablecloths into a sophisticated venue for a party, an awards ceremony for who hostess called the “agricultural heroes” of Sonoma County.
“We’ve made changes to the Fair this year,” said Gewirtz, board president of the Harvest Fair, “to reflect the position we have as global innovators in wine and food.”
John Ash, the unofficial celebrity chef emeritus of Sonoma County who shared the hosting duties with Gewirtz, cited the “New York Times writer who called Sonoma ‘America’s Provence’” as a key moment in the arrival of Sonoma on the world stage.
If the main thrust of the awards dinner was to celebrate the men and women who make Sonoma County an agricultural paradise, handing out awards in the process for lifetime achievement and outstanding contributors to agriculture, it was the announcement of best-of-class and the sweepstakes winners in the annual Harvest Fair wine competition that drew the most attention.
The sweepstakes winners, three this year, ran the gamut from family-owned to corporate, Dry Creek Valley to Carneros. In what might be termed a surprise, the coveted sweepstakes award for white wine went to Sonoma Valley's Kenwood Vineyards for its 2010 Russian River Valley Pinot Gris, priced at an affordable $16 (and sure to be available at much less in supermarkets where Kenwood is easily found.)
Red wine winner went to of Healdsburg for their 2009 Sawyer Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($36). Wilson’s recent success in Dry Creek zins continues with this, their third sweepstakes winner in six years (and second for the Sawyer Vineyards selection).
Sweepstakes in the specialty wines category – which includes sparkling, dessert wines and the like – was awarded to Gloria Ferrer for its 2007 Carneros Brut Rose ($42).
The event was less a public bash than an industry celebration, but the $100 tickets were sold out –- and a bargain at that. A reception featuring gold medal wines and hors d’oeurvres by Jeff Mall of Healdsburg’s and Arturo Guzman of Sebastopol's French Garden, gave the well-dressed crowd a chance to sample the gustatory and social pleasures to come.
The dinner course included a seafood cocktail by Sondra Bernstein of The Girl and the Fig, and a juicy main course of Liberty Farms duck, heirloom tomatoes and other sides from Bruce Riezenman of Park Avenue Catering, Cotati, supervising chef of the entire event.
Meanwhile award-winning wines were served throughout; our table lucked out with a gold-medal merlot from Hart’s Desire, another family-owned Healdsburg winery, that paired wonderfully with the duck, and a Peña Ridge petite syrah from , also of Healdsburg.
The lengthy, casual dinner gave everyone a chance to peruse the program of gold-medal winning wines from the full range of Sonoma County regions. Among the significant scorers were (also owned by Ken Wilson of Wilson Winery), which won 10 golds for their line of Dry Creek Valley zinfandels; and Mayo Family Winery of Glen Ellen, which scored eight golds for a range of varietals from alicante bouchet to old vine zinfandels.
The “best of class” winners, another coveted award among winemakers and consumers, were also unveiled during the dinner. A full list of winners is available on the Harvest Fair website, and attached to this article as a PDF.