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Grape Expectations

Spirited affairs in California wine country, from the inland vinegard to the coastal vines.

a vineyard in Mendocino, image
Photo caption
A vineyard in Mendocino soaks up the sun.

Going to wine country in California is synonymous with much more than tasting wine. From spring through late fall, it means a series of spirited affairs that mingle every pleasure from dancing and fine dining to art appreciation, nature-loving, and whale-watching. Events range from the uppercrust charity auction of Napa Valley to homespun fun along Mendocinos coast. Here is a sampling of 1996 wine auctions and festivals in California's various grape-growing regions.

Napa Valley Wine Auction
Napa Valley, California's most densely planted wine region, runs a 35-mile swath between ranges of the Coast Mountains. Some of the coolest fog and the hottest names in California wine place the annual Napa Valley Wine Auction head and shoulders above all other wine affairs. This years auction Symphony for the Senses is set for June 6 through 8. Chi-chi though it be, this annual charity event has raised close to $9 million for local health care since it began in 1981. The three-day extravaganza kicks off with small vintner-hosted events that allow wine connoisseurs to meet and chat with winemakers.

Friday nights splashy dinner gets underway at the auctions traditional locale, Meadowood Resort in St. Helena. White canvas tents rise from plush lawn to shelter 1,700 formally attired guests. Its a class act with 100 vintners hosting dinner, pouring premium magnum-format wines. Master Chefs from the French Laundry in Yountville, The Ritz Carlton, San Francisco, and Terra Restaurant in St. Helena will prepare the Friday feast. On Saturday the Meadowood lawn is abuzz with tastings from Napa food purveyors, live entertainment, and of course the live auction.

Ticket registration is $1,250 per couple (individual is $640). Price includes: a bidders paddle, catalogue, admission to the barrel tasting, vintner hospitality events, Maestros Crescendo (Fri. night dinner), Pride of Napa Valley Feast (Sat.), live and silent auction, final feast (Sun.). To request an invitation contact the Auction at (707) 942-9783, ext. 901. Write: PO Box 141, St. Helena. Lodging assistance: Meadowood: (707) 963-3646; Accommodations Referral, (800) 240-8466; Napa Valley Tourist Bureau, (707) 944-1558.

Sonoma Wine Auction
If you cant afford Napas auction, consider Sonomas. Sonomas grape-growing area is larger than that of Napa Valley with more sub-regions, including Russian River, Dry Creek, and Alexander valleys. The 16th annual Sonoma County Showcase & Wine Auction takes place July 25-28. Last years auction brought in $309,000, much of which benefitted the Boys and Girls Club and other Sonoma County nonprofit organizations. This years theme is the Fifties. Like Napas auction, Sonomas features live, barrel, and silent auctions; music and dancing throughout the weekend; feasting on locally grown delicacies. As in Napa, too, guests can get intimate with winemakers at picnics and other vintner-hosted gatherings throughout the vineyards. There'll be vineyard tours and luncheons at four appellations. Over 100 Sonoma County wineries go under the auctioneers hammer at Chateau De Baun in Fulton.

Tickets are $385 per bidder, $745/bidder & guest. Registration/lodging information: Sonoma County Wine and Visitors Center, 5000 Roberts Lake Rd, Rohnert Park, (707) 586-3797.

Mendocino's Winesong! and Whales
The 14th annual Mendocino Whale Festival spawns its fun in the town of Mendocino on March 2 and 3. Along with whale-watching and seafood-chowder-tasting the festival is noted for its wine tasting. Twenty eight vintners pour three varietals for tasting in galleries and shops. Festival goers purchase a wine glass for $15 and may sample wine both days. The festival includes horse-drawn carriage rides and barbecue and benefits the Fort-Bragg-Mendocino Coast Chamber of Commerce. For information call (800) 762-2780.

Winesong! is September 7, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. This annual charity auction and wine tasting is sponsored by the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation. Proceeds benefit the hospital. Over 80 wineries showcase their best vintages, complemented by samplings of cuisine from Mendocino Countys food purveyors. There's live classical, jazz, and folk music. Silent and live auctions take place in a tent on the headlands from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Ticket prices for 96 have not been set yet (1995 general admission was $60). For more information call (707) 961-4688.

Monterey's two festivals
In its twentieth year, Monterey's Wine Festival, March 28-31, is one of the most venerable. Over 70 wineries will pour new and recent releases and Monterey Peninsula restaurants will complement the wine with fine food. The New Release Party is at Monterey Bay Aquarium. Attendees can view the new Outer Bay wing. Guests can attend workshops, such as Que Syrah Syrah; Wine & Food Pairing. Ticket prices vary, depending on events attended. Registration: Monterey Wine Festival, (800) 656-4282.

Also celebrating Monterey's wine-growing: Third Annual Winemakers Celebration, August 26; Custom House Plaza, 11 to 5 pm. Taste wines from 25 Monterey County wineries; meet the winemakers; sample foods from ten of the finest local restaurants.

Santa Cruz Mountains
The Santa Cruz Mountains ninth annual Vintners Festival is June 1-2 and June 8-9 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at various restaurants and wineries throughout Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, and San Mateo Counties. Up to 40 small, family-owned wineries participate. For a $15 fee you receive a commemorative wine glass that serves as your ticket to both weekends of hors d'oeuvres and entertainment, crafts, bargains on wine and tastings. Chat with winemakers. Call for a self-guiding brochure at Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers, (408) 479-9463.

Evening of Wine and Roses, a festival with auction of double magnum bottles, food, and tastings benefits the Watsonville Community Hospital. Its November 1, 5 to 9 p.m at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville. For information contact Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association.

Making weekend plans for any of the festivals? To get maps, TourBook guides, and other travel information, stop by your local AAA office.

Yosemite—Wine not?
If you let the whole year slip by without making it to wine country, let wine country come to you in one of Californias most majestic settings - Yosemite National Park. The 15th Annual Vintners Holidays take place at various intervals from November 17 through December 17 at Yosemites Ahwahnee. Master sommeliers and top winemakers from throughout California are on hand to discuss winemaking. Guests attend seminars on wine and food, wine tasting receptions, and Vintners Banquets with gastronomically impressive menus. For more information contact Yosemite Vintners Holidays, 5410 East Home Ave., Fresno, (209) 252-4848.

Also note Many crafts, arts, food, and music fairs in wine growing regions feature wine tasting. For example: The 25th Annual Russian River Wine Festival takes place May 18; call (800) 648-9922 for more information. Napa Wine & Crafts Faire, September 14; call (707) 257-0322 for more information. Lake County Wine & Food Renaissance, June 22; call (707) 263-6658 for more information. Call other local chambers of commerce to find out about other such festivities.

Photography courtesy of Coolcaesar at en.wikipedia

This article was first published in March 1996. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.