"Napa tends to get credit for being the tourist destination, and Sonoma is second sister," says Steve Dveris who, as founder and CEO of the upcoming Healdsburg Wine & Food Experience, has set out to change the narrative by highlighting what makes Sonoma County special, and maybe even more remarkable than its more famous neighbor (yeah, we said it).
With 18 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs)—from Los Carneros, known for its pinot noir and chardonnay, to Alexander Valley and its top-quality cabernet and zinfandel—Sonoma County certainly holds its own in Wine Country. But it’s also an agricultural mecca—with 1,768 square miles of fertile land producing some of the best produce, dairy, and poultry in the country—and home to countless world-class, destination restaurants.
Behind all the wineries, restaurants, and sustainable heirloom produce is a diverse group of growers, winemakers, farmers, and chefs—the real stars of the show. The first-of-its-kind Healdsburg Wine & Food Experience (May 20-22, 2022) will celebrate them all.
Produced in collaboration with Sonoma County Winegrowers and its president, Karissa Kruse, the weekend experience presents an array of offerings and packages.
The general admission ticket ($200) will get you access to two main events. The big one is the Vintners Plaza Grand Tasting, which will probably look familiar to regulars on the food festival circuit. To be held in the West Plaza Lot behind Hotel Healdsburg (which also hosts the local farmers market), the event will feature multiple tables with tastings of wines from Sonoma—think Merry Edwards, Aperture Cellars, and Dry Creek Vineyards—as well as Napa and beyond, food from local and international restaurants, and appearances by celeb chefs including Duskie Estes, Christopher Kostow, Crista Luedtke, and more.
Beloved local chef Douglas Keane will be slinging slider-sized versions of his popular burgers at Healdsburg Bar & Grill.
Lower key is the Sips-n-Sliders event at locals' favorite Healdsburg Bar & Grill where Michelin-starred chef Douglas Keane (whose acclaimed restaurant Cyrus is expected to reopen in Sonoma County this fall) will serve up slider-sized versions of his casual eatery's popular burger, which made Food & Wine's list of the best burgers in the country.
"The Bar & Grill is a center point on the square. It's a gathering place for locals...just a simple burger joint with really good food and ingredients," Keane says. "Steve zeroed in on that, and wanted to offer something as a break from all the fancy food and wine." Wine will be provided by Rombauer, and there will also be Golden State Cider.
A la carte event tickets are also available and offer a little of everything, including seminars on topics such as wine, cheese, and sustainability; an outdoor concert at Rodney Strong Vineyards; and, the one Dveris is most excited for, a live fire barbecue ($65) with Oakland's acclaimed pitmaster Matt Horn. A portion of the proceeds will fund students from Healdsburg High School's Future Farmers of America.
Of course, this wouldn't be a Wine Country happening without some chichi VIP options. If you're willing to shell out some dough ($2,500-$3,700), you can have access to some pretty cool things, like a personal vineyard tour; an exclusive lunch at three-Michelin-starred SingleThread with chef Kyle Connaughton himself; access to The Matheson's Rooftop Reserve Wine Lounge; celeb chef demos; on-demand transportation, and more.
"I fell in love with Sonoma County and finally felt like I'd found home," say Keane, recalling his move from New York to the Bay Area way back when. "It's just ripe—it's more magical, there's more product, more land [than in Napa)," he says.
Go see for yourself.
// Healdsburg Wine & Food Experience is May 20-22; for info and tickets, go to healdsburgwineandfood.com.
An outdoor concert at Rodney Strong Vineyards is part of the Ultra VIP package.