Save Room for Sonoma

Lauren Epstein | January 31, 2019 | Story Travel

The Irish and Scottish countrysides have nothing on Sonoma Valley, where rolling hills and verdant fields come standard. Cue the bagpipes. While many veer east toward Napa, Sonoma is giving even the most renowned winemaking regions a run for their money.

Refreshingly down-to-earth, what Sonoma Valley lacks in grandiosity and flashiness, it replaces with community and camaraderie among local wine growers, makers and business owners. They all share an authentic passion for the area—one that’s evident in the smiling faces in artisanal shops in quaint Sonoma Plaza, via the enthusiastic educators in tasting rooms scattered throughout the county and in the bountiful land that is held so dear. Following devastating fires that swept through the region in 2017, that soil is cherished now more than ever, and Sonoma Valley is eager to raise a glass to new beginnings while celebrating the traditions of its past.

One of these exciting new beginnings is Signature Sonoma Valley, a premier event and weekend for oenophiles near and far. Celebrating its third iteration May 16 to 19, this annual celebration provides an exclusive, immersive look into the history and future of Sonoma Valley vino through four days of education, discussion, incredible food and many, many, many clinking glasses.

Each day of SSV comes with a full itinerary. Tickets to individual events are available, but reserving the whole weekend is your best chance for the most well-rounded experience, as well as unprecedented access to vineyards, impeccable wines and the people behind them. Take, for instance, SSV’s Wine & Design Lunch, which, last year, invited a small group of attendees into the private home of Michael Muscardini (of Muscardini Cellars) and Kate Eilertsen (a museum consultant and former executive director of Sonoma Valley Museum of Art). In the heart of the home, guests enjoyed a multicourse farm-to-table lunch paired with handselected Muscardini wines and personal stories about the couple’s remarkable art collection, including a signed Picasso.

Other standout events include Immersion, held outdoors last April at the stunning Sangiacomo Family Vineyards, Bedrock Vineyard and Silver Cloud Vineyard. Brothers and winemakers Steve and Mike Sangiacomo were joined by Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance President Kenneth Juhasz of Auteur Wines, Greg Stach of Landmark Vineyards, Luke Stanko of Ram’s Gate Winery and moderator David Yoshida, master sommelier, for a conversation about growing world-class chardonnay in Sonoma, while guests tasted the wines in discussion. A ridiculously gorgeous tented lunch reception followed, featuring artfully composed seared scallops and tender lamb by Ramekins Culinary School, complemented, of course, by plenty of local wine.

Not only is the vino imbibed throughout the weekend of the highest quality, but some varieties are also incredibly rare. At SSV’s 2018 Retrospective event, ticket holders savored a 1977 chardonnay and a 1977 pinot noir on the picturesque grounds of Hanzell Vineyards in a tasting experience that encompassed 40 years of estate-produced vintages. Other precious wines are poured around tables at the weekend-culminating Legends dinner, a grand five-course meal where the who’s who of the Sonoma Valley wine scene bring their most treasured, impossible-to-find bottles from their personal collections to enjoy with guests at each table. It’s the perfect representation of what makes the region extraordinary: gorgeous surroundings, world-class wine, a warm atmosphere and a willingness to share. That, and they’re just as friendly as those Irish and Scots. First-timers will find that stories and smiles flow as freely as the wine at this special event. Weekend package $1,500, individual event tickets from $125

Originally published in the February issue of San Francisco

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