Actor Fred MacMurray retired to his Russian River Valley ranch as often as he could, eager to remove his growing family from the artificial hustle of Los Angeles and to get his own hands dirty working the earth. Set low in a tree-lined bowl that emphasizes the pure blue of the coast-cleared sky above, MacMurray Ranch is the kind of jewel that reminds North Bay residents how lucky we are to live every day where other people come to vacation.
Fred's daughter Kate is the custodian of the ranch's legacy, and she graciously opens the home, which is a time-capsule of rustic 1940s-style "ranch" living, to the public a few times a year. The Sonoma County Wine Weekend and the Showcase: Taste of Sonoma events have become signature times to enjoy the rural elegance that the MacMurray family has cherished for some 60 years. The weekend itself is a dizzying trot of winemaker and specialty dinners that culminate on Sept. 6 with the 17th annual Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction, this year held at Cline Cellars and hosted by the longtime growers the Sangiacomo family, who are in their 80th year of making wine in Sonoma. The auction raises thousands for charity each year.
Mere mortals may prefer the still-pricey-but-man-do-you-get-a-lot Showcase event, slated for Sept. 5 at MacMurray Ranch. A celebration of our natural wonderland, Showcase has literally hundreds of vintners pouring and some 100 restaurateurs offering artful tastes of their wares, includes a celebrity chef cooking competition, a "bubble lounge" hosted by Gloria Ferrer Sparkling Wines, and has a true educational bent, with a crushpad area matching local winemakers with the public and their questions as well as sommelier Christopher Sawyer's individual tours of the pouring tables.
MacMurray Ranch gets hot in the summer, so hats and fans are advised, as is the consumption of plenty of water. But this semi-dressy event is as much fun for the locals as it is for the out-of-towners who will be eating and drinking for three days straight, enjoying the kind of down-home real food experience that sticks to more than just the ribs.
Sonoma County Wine Weekend runs Friday&–Sunday, Sept. 4&–6. Winemaker lunches Friday, $75. Showcase Saturday, $150. Winemaker dinners, Friday&–Saturday, $160; signature dinners, $175. Auction Sunday, $450. MacMurray Ranch, 9015 Westside Road, Healdsburg. www.sonomawinecountryweekend.com.
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