Taste of Sonoma 2015: An inside guide

How to survive the food, wine, heat and crowds at Wine Country Weekend's Taste of Sonoma 2015 at MacMurray Ranch.

Wine Country Weekend
(Sept. 4-6, 2015) is Sonoma County’s biggest harvest party of the year, and everyone’s invited. The three-day extravaganza includes dozens of winery parties, Sunday’s big dollar wine auction, a starlight dinner at Coppola Winery, and best of all, the MacMurray Ranch smorgasbord of food and wine, Taste of Sonoma 2015. With some 200 wineries and restaurants pouring and serving their finest, even longtime attendees tend to look like Golden Ticket winners walking into a Willy Wonka factory of bubbly, wine, foie gras and pork belly.

Here’s what you gotta know before you go, because we don’t want you ending making drunken snow angels on the lawn of actor Fred MacMurray’s family ranch. Trust us, it happens.

Go Early:
This is one event you don’t want to show up late to. Parking and traffic get hairy, it gets really hot, and you’ll be sweating it out in longer lines for that little one-ounce pour and nibble. Best bet: Hit as many restaurant stations as possible (fuel and a solid base for all that wine) and the handful of wineries you want to spend time chatting with early on. Enjoy the afternoon at a slower pace, making sure to hydrate like crazy.

The Restaurants: Get up close and personal with more than 60 Wine Country chefs as they serve nibbles and participate in cooking demos. This isn’t a Happy Hour buffet, so be mindful of how much you take (we see you stuffing food into your purse) and skip over food that doesn’t interest you. Newcomers this year: Applewood Inn, Patisserie Angelica, Ramen Gaijin, SubZero Ice Cream, Pullman Kitchen, Mark and Terri Stark’s Stark Reality Restaurants,Vignette Pizzeria and Woodfour Brewing.

Get Schooled:
Cooking demos from top toques happen from noon to 3:30 p.m., including the baking gurus of Moustache Baked Goods, Boon Eat + Drink’s Crista Luedtke, mac ’n cheese lollipops with Feast Catering’s Jesse McQuarrie, Paella with Jose Castaneda and Chef Mark Stark, chef/owner of Bravas, Willie’s Wine Bar and Stark’s Steakhouse (to name a few).

The Wine: There are three main tents, divided up by appellations. Again, this isn’t happy hour, so sip, don’t guzzle (unless its water). Aside from that, make sure to keep your glass handy and don’t be afraid to spit.

Bubble It Up: The Gloria Ferrer Bubble Lounge always has great food and lots of sparkling. It also gets filled up fast, so don’t dawdle in making your way.

Don’t Forget the Marketplace:
I like to hit the various vendors from the Sonoma County Marketplace later in the afternoon, as folks swarm the wine tents. Plus, its the only place to get beer (Bear Republic, Moonlight, Lagunitas, St. Florian’s, Third St. Aleworks, Woodfour), coffee, cheese and other tasty treats that many folks miss altogether.

Pace Yourself: If you hit it hard the first day, the rest of the weekend is a giant hangover. Do what the pros do, and pace yourself — there’s plenty to eat and drink. If you’re feeling buzzed, take a break. If you’re stuffed, sit in the shade for a bit.

Be comfy: Biggest rookie mistake at Saturday’s Taste of Sonoma? Heels. Chances are you’ll be doing plenty of walking on uneven surfaces (grass, rocks, bricks, etc) and twisting your ankle is a bummer. Wear platforms or, even better, flats. Also, wear something comfy and cool with a sweater or jacket for the evening. And a hat. You’ve got to have a hat for the late-summer Sonoma sun.

061_WCW.Coppola.mm_Bring a pen and business cards: You never know who you’ll meet. From ranchers and chefs to high-end winemakers and Sonoma celebrities, its good to have a way to reconnect.

More details online at sonomawinecountryweekend.com.