“Taste of Sonoma County” — heaven (with a devil in the bushes)

  The Fearless Taster“Elysium” means Sonoma County, but only the world class views are free 

A jet thunders briefly overhead. Hikers ascend and descend a 600-foot regional peak with a 280 degree view of vineyards and the high ridges separating us from the Pacific Coast 40 minutes west. 


A 39-ish couple follow a ball through the croquet wickets they’ve set up on the Shiloh Regional Park lawn facing the Charles M. Schulz airport, an upscale housing development, and U.S. Highway 101, all mostly hidden among dense trees. 


Completing the broad arc of their vernal view are a newish gray Victorian mansion belonging to a vineyard owner. His marshy pond gives welcome relief to grape roots here in one of the nation’s priciest semi-arid plains. And then, of course, there are more vineyards. 


On the trails, hikers have encountered equestrian couples who had saddled up near the trailhead hours earlier. Long before noon they will come back past the car where I am writing on my Sony Vaio notebook running off the car’s battery. — Oh! The couple walking a pinto and a burgundy-brown quarter horse turn out, in this case, to be a “me and mommy” duo, the girl, still animated, about eight, Mom walking slowly. 


This next Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday – July 13-16 – “The Sonoma County Showcase of Wine and Food” will draw a thousand or more visitors from across the world to wine tastings and food events. Among those, a new one pits top Sonoma County chefs against one another. 100 wineries will pour and a long list of fine restaurants will star in “A Taste of Sonoma County” on Saturday afternoon at MacMurray Ranch.


The Wall Street Journal this past Friday had a quarter-page ad for the event. The format was simple and understated, just as Sonoma County, for all the richness of its produce, presents a laid-back lifestyle totally different from the gloss and glitter of Napa County’s social offerings.


 The ad didn’t mention admission costs, but the total, for the oenophiles and gourmands attending the whole schmear, runs to at least $1,570 per couple. The settings may be rustic, but these visitors will be given red-carpet treatment at wineries whose ambrosia they have ordered in the showplaces of the world’s classiest chefs de cuisine. 


The cost is only fair. The weekend helps to support the Redwood Empire Bood Bank and scholarships to the 30,000-student Santa Rosa Junior College among other beneficiaries. This is great because thousands of people here are hospital and teaching aides, clerks in offices, social workers and retired people cannot afford anything other than bare living costs, if that; many commute in from surrounding counties. 


Judy right now is at home listening to the Good Food Hour on KSRO Radio, hoping to win tickets to A Taste of Sonoma County, a centerpiece of the weekene ($310 per couple). She has won it for us once or twice in the past.

As a former wine and food writer, I revel in the tastes and atmosphere, as she does. But, as many here, we face the fact that in retirement we may not be able to remain in the county. The brutal truth beneath the opulence of premium wine country is that wine and food are fickle industries – firecrackers one day and burnt paper casings the next, even for some of the premium vintners. 


Still, this is an Elysian field where I’m writing and where I live. Why not come and see? First, visit sonomawineandfood.com . –Bob Cramer, Windsor, California, July 8, 2006.