By 707 correspondent, Deirdre Bourdet.
With Thanksgiving behind us, wine country is kicking into winter holiday mode in a serious way. The first weekend of December brings with it a flurry of celebrations in Napa and Sonoma to get you in the holiday spirit.
Friday December 2nd is the deadline to turn in your registration form and $25 entry fee for the FIRST ANNUAL GINGERBREAD HOUSE CONTEST, hosted by Michelin-starred La Toque and the Westin Verasa Napa. The competition has two categories—professional and amateur—and entries will be judged on overall appearance, originality, choice and use of materials, difficulty, precision, and consistency of theme. All gingerbread houses must be 100% edible (e.g. no popsicle stick reinforcing), and delivered to the Westin Napa on Sunday December 11th between 10:30am and noon. They will remain on display in the Westin lobby until the morning of Monday December 19th, so keep this in mind as you’re plotting your edible materials. All proceeds generated through entry fees, raffle ticket sales, and donations will benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of Napa Valley.
The public can vote for the Viewer’s Choice Award in both the professional and amateur categories on Sunday December 11th from 12:30pm-2pm. The professional judging panel of local chefs, bakers, and pastry chefs from the Napa Valley will announce all of the results (a totally sweet Grand Prize, First through Third Places, plus a Viewer’s Choice in each category) at a formal awards ceremony at 2:30pm that day as well. Registration forms and complete contest rules and details are available online here. 1314 McKinstry St. at Soscol, Napa.
Bringing a food donation for the Napa Valley Food Bank on Saturday December 3rd earns you free admission to Robert Mondavi Winery’s HOLIDAY PARTY AND TREE LIGHTING CEREMONY from 3pm-5pm. Besides the tree lighting at 4:45pm, there will be horse and buggy rides through the To Kalon vineyard, hot apple cider, plenty of Mondavi wines, carolers, Italian cookies, cheese, charcuterie, and a visit from Santa Claus. And, of course, the incomparable Margrit Mondavi will be available for all your holiday photo op needs. 7801 St. Helena Hwy. just north of Oakville Cross Rd., Oakville 707-226-1395.
On the Sonoma side—where wintertime means olive harvest—the ELEVENTH ANNUAL BLESSING OF THE OLIVES also happens Saturday the 3rd at the Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma (corner of E. Spain St. and 1st St. E., on the Sonoma Square). Several movers and shakers in the olive world will be speaking after Reverend Michael Kelly delivers the 11am blessing, including journalist Tom Mueller, whose new book Extra Virginity covers the artisan producers, olive growers, and chefs behind Italy’s premium oil industry. Following the speakers, the event (d)evolves into celebratory refreshments and live music. Mueller will also be signing copies of his book at 3pm at The Olive Press, which is offering free tastings and open house all day as part of the Sonoma Valley Olive Festival. If you can’t make the Blessing, check the full calendar of Olive Festival events online here for other olive-y goodness. The Olive Press, 24724 Arnold Dr., Sonoma, 800-965-4839.
Guerneville’s BIG BOTTOM MARKET brought NYC chef Tricia Brown on board in September, and she has been expanding the market’s food programs ever since. In addition to daily breakfast and deli menus, catering, and the Wednesday night prix-fixe Market Dinners (a steal at $20 for three courses), the Big Bottom team is now offering holiday gift specials ranging from artisanal cookies, truffles, and barks to savory snacks like truffled popcorn, lentil-walnut pâté, and boxes of their beloved buttermilk biscuits with assorted condiments and butters. These moist, tender little beauties come in a variety of flavors too—look for the brand new bacon-chocolate version with maple glaze.
The Market’s holiday winemaker dinner with Paul Mathew next Sunday (December 4th) is another awesome opportunity to check out Big Bottom’s west county cuisine. The menu that night will feature cauliflower bisque with Dungeness crab, truffled bread pudding with wild mushrooms foraged by the chef herself, duck confit “bourgignon,” farro risotto studded with confit, drunken cherries and hazelnuts, and a hyper-local cheese plate, all paired with—and in some cases cooked in—wines from Paul Mathew Vineyards. Reserve your spots online. 16228 Main St. between Armstrong Woods Rd. & Church St., Guerneville, 707-604-7295.