Sweet Retreat The tasting lounge at the Gravensten Appe Fair is a reverie of good food and drink.
To prepare for this story, I felt I had to take a trip by bicycle to a place I already knew did not exist.
I'm not talking about Ragle Ranch, which is a real-deal Regional Park in Sebastopol and the site of the 46th annual Gravenstein Apple Fair this weekend. Back to those apples in a moment. The place I was thinking about is this residential street, near where I grew up, that can barely be glimpsed from the road. While on an evening bike ride in a dream I had, the street was revealed to be a charming little one-block stretch of tree-lined business district—you know, with cozy cafés and shops, the kind of street you find in the nicer sorts of cities.
The Gravenstein Apple Fair, being one of the nicer sorts of fairs, has a street like that, speckled with sunlight and shadow from leaves of live oak trees, an enclave called the Artisan Tasting Lounge. Maybe it's a stretch—the Tasting Lounge, to be sure, is situated amidst a country fair jammed with activities, food and drink; not a break in some suburban monotony—but the feeling of delight in discovery hit the same note.
"It kind of has a VIP quality to it," says Sonoma County Farm Trails board member and tasting lounge organizer Lauren Bowne. "We try to make it really nice, and kind of like a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the fair."
Initially launched as a cheese-and-adult-beverage pairing, and a one-on-one conversation-with-the-cheesemaker ("It was really great," says Bowne, "but it's kind of hard logistically to schedule tastings at a fair"), the lounge has expanded in the last five years to include all kinds of local makers of food, wine, cider, beer and this year, nonalcoholic fermented kvass. Each maker offers a small glass or bite and the opportunity to talk, in a more relaxed setting than the packed cider and brew tents.
I swear I saw you there, Ellen Cavalli of Tilted Shed Ciderworks, pouring Gravenstein-based craft cider. And you, Ashby Marshall of Spirit Works, this year mixing up a ginger-apple whiskey fizz with their rye whiskey. And you, too, local food writer Michelle Anna Jordan, who's returning to offer a savory blueberry risotto, chat with visitors and maybe sell them a cookbook or two.
That's enough Wizard of Oz dream theme—but it does jive with this year's theme, "Farmers Forever." This year's poster artwork evokes Rosie the Riveter more than Dorothy—a woman sporting a tattoo and holding a ripe, golden-striped Grav. The artwork appears on bottles of Tilted Shed's special cider release for the fair, which benefits Farm Trails and is available outside of the fair exclusively at Oliver's Market, sponsor of the Craft Cider Tent. Mild, mellow, but with a thirst-quenching, craft-cider tang like a wild sour beer, this hits the spot after a long day in the sun cutting hay—or bike riding to the fair, where you'll get a $3 discount on the gate admission fee. Bike parking is hosted by Sports Basement.
When I reached the street of my dreams, I found it wasn't even a street at all, it was a cul-de-sac, with no exit. There's no way back through the Artisan Tasting Lounge, either—go around as much as you like, but it's a one-way ticket with no ins and outs. They want folks to lounge, but not lounge around.