Discerning palates found their way to the crème de la crème of wine events — the North Coast Wine & Food Festival — Saturday at Santa Rosa’s Luther Burbank Center for the Arts.
Drawn by the 103 award-winning wines on the premises, more than 1,000 wine lovers gathered with a glass in hand. David Ballati of Rohnert Park was one of them.
Coined General Patton by his friends because of his strategic planning, Ballati came equipped with a color-coded map of wines he was determined to taste.
“It took me two hours to plot my course,” said Ballati, grinning as he adjusted his baseball cap. “By the end of the day I want to have tried a dozen wines.”
With temperatures in the low 70s, people sipped and grazed through the sun-kissed day, while listening to Batacha, a seven-piece band reeling out Latin jazz and salsa tunes. Pairing their pours with delectable bites, attendees tasted the wares of 19 local, wine-savvy chefs.
“It looks like an enthusiastic crowd,” said Eric Johnston, CEO and publisher of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns the Press Democrat. Wine is the magic, he said, that brings our community together.
Sponsored by the Press Democrat, the festival featured gold and double gold-winning wines from the 2023 North Coast Wine Challenge in April. The annual competition celebrates wines from the North Coast American Viticulture Area (AVA). Vetted by some of the top wine judges in the country, the winning wines showcased were from Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Marin and Lake counties and parts of Solano County. This year’s competition, the 11th, drew a record 1,190 wine entries, from 240 wineries.
Pinot fanatics lined up to taste the Vaughn Duffy Wines, whose 2021 Pinot Noir, Bacigalupi Vineyards, Russian River Valley won Best of the Best, the competition’s top prize, as well as Best of Show Red and Best of Sonoma County. The judges gave it 99 points.
“This is an amazing day,” said Matt Duffy, the co-owner and winemaker who crafted the pinot noir that snagged the top prize of the competition. “It has been an incredible two months since the award came out. It’s a game-changer for our winery and probably for the rest of our lives.”
The wine industry, Duffy said, is competitive and it’s hard for boutique wineries to grow and stand out.
“The award has put the wind in our sales,” said Duffy, who expects to expand production of his winery that produces roughly 1,500 cases a year. “We’ve been making wine for 13 years under the radar and now to be pouring wine for 800 people today was not something I ever expected. It has changed our idea of what’s possible.”
Tasting a pour of the Vaughn Duffy pinot noir, Geoffrey Dalwin of Cloverdale said the foodies at the festival told him to elbow his way in line for a taste.
“They were right,” Dalwin said. “It’s wonderful. I’m a fan of pinot noir. It’s not as heavy as cabernet and it’s an easy entry point for red wine.”
During the spring competition, the judges summed up the pinot with these comments: “Exotic and layered, elegant and balanced with bittersweet cocoa and earthiness, a beautiful expression of varietal character.”
Other top winning wines drawing a crowd included Husch Vineyards, pouring its 2022 Dry Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley, which also snagged 99 points; the Rodney Strong Vineyards, offering its 2022 Rose of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, scoring 98 points; and the Scharffenberger Cellars, with its Brut Excellence, earning 99 points.
As for the culinary team who crafted wine pairings, the lineup included Armando Navarro of El Dorado Kitchen, Ronald Andrade of Timber Cove’s Coast Kitchen, Phil Nguyen of Farmhouse Inn, Kris Austin of Austin’s Southern Smoke Style BBQ and Nathan Holden of Songbird Parlour.
Bites included watermelon and tomato gazpacho from the Farmhouse Inn, mushroom Arancini from the El Dorado Kitchen, and pork belly and honey jalapeno cornbread from Austin’s Southern Smoke Style BBQ.
Equipped to serve 1,000 bites, chef Kris Austin said the best part of the day is the interaction with people.
“In the South, we’re very family-oriented and sharing is one of the biggest things we love to do. When we can share our food with the public, we love to do it.”
The annual festival benefits Sonoma Family Meal, a nonprofit that provides prepared meals to those in need. (Heather Irwin, founder of Sonoma Family Meal, is the dining editor of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.)
Whitney Reuling, executive director of Sonoma Family Meal, said the proceeds will be directly funneled to support its expansion of a program to combat food insecurity.
“This is our third year of participating in the event and we’re grateful,” said Rueling, referring to the $15,000 donated over that period. “Our job is to nourish the community by responding to disaster and food insecurity and this is a great way to get exposure.”
You can reach wine writer Peg Melnik at 707-521-5310 or email@example.com. On Twitter @pegmelnik.
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