North Coast Wine and Food Fest a treat for all

Maybe it was the palate-cleanser of fresh strawberries, bright lemon, seltzer and a dash of rhubarb bitters.

Or maybe it was the 90 gold-medal wines or the bites from 30 local chefs.

Or maybe it was the fact that after a two year pandemic hiatus the North Coast Wine & Food Festival had returned on a perfect day with bright blue skies with puffy white clouds.

“Everyone really wants to treat themselves right now,” said Daniel Riveros, who was manning the Tsar Nicoulai Caviar booth, where guests gravitated toward the buckwheat blini topped with caviar, crème fraiche and fresh flower petals.

“Our sales have been through the roof because people want to celebrate — whether that’s with caviar, Champagne or fancy cuts of beef. People are just happy to be out.”

And indeed they were.

More than 1,000 people attended the three-hour event at Luther Burbank Center for the Arts Saturday, and judging from their comments, no one went away hungry — or thirsty.

“This was the best wine event I’ve ever been to,” said Daniel Jasinski, an Air Force veteran who came from Rosemond for the event. “All the wines are gold or double gold, so there is not a wine here that you won’t like.”

For Jasinski, though, the highlight wasn’t the wine.

“I loved all the food, but the caviar was the absolute best,” he said. “It was very fresh and sweet.”

Another big hit was the palate cleansers, offered by Oliver’s Market.

“The response from guests has been great,” said Sara Cummings, corporate public and community relations coordinator for Oliver’s Market. “People have said they are a refreshing, unexpected treat.”

At the Harvey’s Donuts booth, guests waited patiently for soft-as-a-pillow miniature donuts, which arrived nestled in a red and white striped paper cone. Cinnamon sugar or chocolate zinfandel sauce were popular accompaniments to the warm little bundles, which were being made-to-order on Harvey’s vintage donut machine.

“There has been such a big pent-up demand for social events,” said Steve Falk, CEO and publisher for Sonoma Media Investments, the parent company of The Press Democrat, who helped launch the North Coast Wine Challenge a decade ago. “It’s great to see everyone here having a good time.”

As attendees meandered through the event, they were especially eager to sample the Best of the Best wines from the North Coast Wine Challenge, most of which were offered in the Sonoma Clean Power Winner’s Pavilion.

Armida winemaker Brandon Lapides, who one Best in Class for his 2019 Armida Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Stuhlmuller Vineyard, was thrilled to share his wine with guests.

“This is my first time pouring at this event,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to interact with the public and get their instant response. Winemakers don’t often have the opportunity to pour at events, so hearing their feedback is instant gratification.”

Roth Wines, whose 2019 Heritage Red Wine, Sonoma County, won the top award at the North Coast Wine Challenge, had a booth right inside the entrance to the event — which Winemaker Michael Beaulac said was “a pleasant surprise.”

“We’re just so excited to hear what people think about our wine. I have a feeling we’re going to for a lot of it today,” he said.

“Where would you rather be in the entire United States than right here, right now?” said winemaker Patrick Sullivan of Sonoma County’s Gray Stack Cellars.

“This is absolute paradise.”

You can reach Staff Writer Sarah Doyle at 707-521-5478 or

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