When at the track, it's popular to stand by the show ring and study the horses in the next race. Why this is popular remains unclear. Most people find that they can't tell anything about the winner simply by looking at the horses. It could be the frisky horse or the one with taller shoulders. Some people just like a gray and white spotted horse.
Similarly, over 500 wines were lined up at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds for last weekend's Harvest Fair Gala, and who could pick the winner from among them? Notwithstanding the occasional aroma of "sweaty saddle," winemaking isn't a horse race—is it? Under the darkened dome of Grace Pavilion, a well-dressed crowd bathed in twinkly, flattering, gold-hued lights meandered among winery tables. It's a locals night, albeit a bow-tie and high-heels locals night. Some were in social high gear, others grazed down the line of local food purveyors. Unlimited winetasting at Sonoma County's largest tasting room was almost an afterthought. Fregene's exotic mushroom and Gorgonzola pizza, a must.
All eyes were glued to giant screens as they announced the gold medal winners, and cheers went up from particularly spirited groups. Among the golds were some of my favorite picks from the past year, like the Eric Ross and Sapphire Hill Syrahs, and the Woodenhead Zinfandel. For this schmooze fest, many of the owners and barrel jockeys were on hand, as were dozens of small wineries I'd never heard of; others were notable in their absence. The winning wines were announced live on the center stage after much ado. Later, I stumbled upon the red winner, De La Montanya's 2005 Christine's Vineyard Pinot Noir. Drum roll . . . It was rather pleasant. The funny thing is that their table was not mobbed at this event; a different story will likely unfold at the Harvest Fair this weekend. Everybody likes a winner. Hope it's a big vineyard.
Unlike the free-for-all that is the gala, tastes are metered by pour spout at the Harvest Fair tasting, and available in exchange for tickets (find the sparkling wine folks in a good mood, and you might get half a glass). But general admission is only $6 and—this is a big plus—the Harvest Fair features a daily llama parade. And gambling types, now that the results are in, can at least place a private wager on the winning team at the Grape Stomp.
The Sonoma County Harvest Fair runs Friday–Sunday, Oct. 5–7, at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa. Friday, 10am to 8pm; Saturday–Sunday, 10am to 7pm. Winetasting hours: Friday, 3pm to 7pm; Saturday–Sunday, 12:30pm to 5pm. Admission, $6; souvenir glass and two tasting tickets, $7. Additional taste tickets are $6 for four. www.harvestfair.org.