Food + Drink, What's New in Wine Country

Celebrity Chefs and Winemakers Team Up for New Sonoma Event

The inaugural Sonoma Epicurean, a series of signature events, debuts March 31.

For more than 20 years, research charity V Foundation has hosted an annual weekend wine celebration in Napa Valley to increase cancer awareness and raise funds for cancer research. Next month, Sonoma County will be stepping into the spotlight as it brings together award-winning chefs and vintners for a local edition of the charitable event.

The inaugural Sonoma Epicurean, a series of “signature events,” debuts March 31 and will run through April 3. The events will take place at a variety of locations, primarily in and around Healdsburg. The weekend will kick off with a handful of “epicurean winery dinners” at Aperture Cellars, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Pride Mountain Vineyards, Silver Oak Cellars and Williams Selyem Winery. (Guests will be able to choose one of these dinners to attend.)

“Collaborating with my fellow community members here in Sonoma County and in the food and wine industry is always inspiring and (it’s) rewarding to know how our efforts can help benefit others,” said Aperture Cellars founder and winemaker Jesse Katz.

For the event, Katz has teamed up with Chef Dustin Valette of Valette restaurant and The Matheson to create a food and wine experience with locally grown and foraged produce and wines from Aperture Cellars. Valette is just one of several top Sonoma chefs that will be pairing antioxidant-rich seasonal ingredients with local wines throughout the four-day event; Chef Charlie Palmer of Dry Creek Kitchen and Hotel Healdsburg will be preparing a menu at Williams Selyem Winery in Healdsburg, and Montage Healdsburg’s Executive Chef, Jaron Dubinsky, will be cooking at Pride Mountain Vineyards in Santa Rosa.

Aperture Cellars in Healdsburg. (Courtesy of Aperture Cellars)
Dustin Valette, co-owner and chef at Valette and The Matheson in Healdsburg. (Courtesy of Michael Woolsey)

In addition to wine and food experiences, Sonoma Epicurean will also feature workshops, including a wine tasting experience and photography class with Jesse Katz and his father, renowned photographer Andy Katz. Tara Jasper, distiller and founder of Sipsong Spirits in Windsor, will host a workshop together with cookbook author Janet Fletcher on pairing cocktails with local cheese.

“Cancer research is near and dear to my heart,” said Jasper. “I am a recent survivor of breast cancer and it also took my mom’s life. I found out I was a BRCA carrier after I found out I had cancer. Now my life’s work is focusing around sharing this story. All women need to know if they have the gene.” (Mutations in BRCA genes significantly increase the risk of breast cancer and other cancers, such as ovarian cancer.)

Tara Jasper, founder of Sipsong Spirits in Windsor.
A cocktail made with Indira Gin from Sipsong Spirits in Healdsburg.

On Friday, April 1, event participants will be able to attend a party at the Mayacama Golf Club in Santa Rosa together with local chefs such as Duskie Estes of Black Pig Meat Company and Mark Stark, Executive Chef at Stark Reality Restaurants, which includes Willie’s Wine Bar in Santa Rosa and Bravas Bar de Tapas in Healdsburg. There will be wine and cocktails from local artisans and music from Grammy- and Tony Award-winner Christian Hoff and The Jonny Tarr Quintet from San Diego.

Partygoers can then cure their hangover with a “wellness breakfast” on Saturday, April 2, and then attend a symposium with expert panel discussions surrounding developments in cancer research, cancer disparities among different ethnic groups, and breast cancer awareness. The weekend of events will conclude with an “epic feast and auction” at Montage Healdsburg, with food from the hotel’s Executive Chef, Jaron Dubinsky, and wines from Sonoma County wineries. The auction will be hosted by ESPN “SportsCenter” anchor Sage Steele; Liam Mayclem, an Emmy award-winning radio and TV host, will be the auctioneer.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund and will be used to fund cancer research and related programs to improve cancer outcomes for Black Americans and other “underserved communities disproportionately affected by the disease.” Stuart Scott, an ESPN sportscaster, helped raise funds for the V Foundation for more than two decades before he was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away in 2015.

“We are looking forward to hosting this important cancer research benefit. Sonoma County is celebrated as a wine and artisan destination, and farm-to-table paradise,” said Jane Baer, Vice President and Managing Director of Sonoma Epicurean. “We can’t think of a more picturesque setting to bring together the V Foundation’s scientists, doctors and champions with Sonoma’s vintner and culinary stars.”

The V Foundation Wine Celebration was founded in 1993 by ESPN and legendary basketball coach and commentator Jim Valvano. The foundation has raised more than $130 million for cancer research and funded more than $290 million in cancer research grants nationwide.

Tickets to the four-day Sonoma Epicurean are $2,500 per person. Day passes are also available, ranging from $750 to $1,500.  You don’t have to attend the event to support a great cause — the V Foundation welcomes donations.

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