It’s a star-studded—or maybe fork-studded—weekend of wine and top chefs during the annual Sonoma Wine Country Weekend. Festivities start Friday with the sold-out Sonoma Starlight Dinner, hosted by girl & the fig’s Sondra Bernstein and John Toulze. Saturday is the main (eating) event at TASTE OF SONOMA AT MACMURRAY RANCH. More than 100 wineries and restaurants gather under circus-size tents with haute bites and top-flight sips. The roster is a who’s who of Sonoma dining: Kendall-Jackson’s Justin Wangler with cabernet-spiced lamb sliders, Chalkboard chef Shane McAnelly serving hamachi tartare, Taverna Sofia’s rotisserie lamb and beef, crispy duck tacos from the Green Grocer (a BiteClub fave), Viola Pastry Boutique’s corn panna cotta with crispy pork belly, Viva Cocolat’s chocolate mousse, and the griddled pimento cheese and heirloom tomato sandwich from Rocker Oysterfeller’s to name just a few standouts. The annual Steel Chef competition pits four local chefs in a grudge match royale, while the Bubble Lounge serves up, well, bubbles. Sunday’s wine auction has a Brazilian theme, with top local chefs serving dishes including olive oil-guacamole tacones (Mateo’s Cocina Latina), fried potato cakes (coxinha) from KJ’s Justin Wangler, and a three-course dinner prepared by Barndiva’s Ryan Fancher, Dry Creek Kitchen’s Dustin Valette, and John Toulze of girl & the fig. Details and tickets for the weekend’s events online.
The quirky Santa Rosa roadhouse recently vacated by ZAZU’S Duskie Estes and John Stewart is already under serious rehab by nearby Walter Hansel Winery, which has plans for a full-service bistro. Slated to open in October, the Walter Hansel Wine Bistro will be a casual eatery that mixes “fine dining and fun,” according to winery owner Stephen Hansel. Hansel is in the midst of interviewing kitchen staff, so no word on a chef yet, but food won’t play second fiddle to the wines. “The French have it right. They understand that food and wine really need to go together,” said Hansel. “Food is the main course, and wine the accessory,” he said. The restaurant will feature Hansel’s Russian River wines along with those of nearby wineries, in addition to more California bottles and even a few French Bordeaux. So why would a car dealer-turned-winery owner want to open a restaurant? The lack of a tasting room at the winery, his desire to work directly with customers, and, well, the restaurant is practically within throwing distance. “It’s a mile away from us,” he said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been nearly so interested.”
More West County news: seems there are Guerrillas in the midst. Zinfandel enthusiast and winemaker Bruce Patch has opened the WINE GUERRILLA tasting room in Forestville, showcasing estate-grown wines from around the region. The winery (6671 Front St., Forestville) will feature box lunches from nearby Twist (6536 Front St., Forestville), a popular weekday lunch counter and weekend dinner café.
There is also a new owner at the former Henweigh Cafe (4550 Gravenstein Hwy N, Sebastopol) in the heart of the Russian River Valley. Butcher Berry Salinas is taking over the location with plans for a “classic roadhouse” beer and wine bar. Salinas, with partner Sheldon Rosenberg III, had planned a Santa Rosa chicken shack, but plans fell through after several months of work. Don’t worry, though. We’ll bet the farm that her famous fried chicken will show up on the menu. Look for a November opening for RED’S APPLE ROADHOUSE.
Nearby, Corks (5700 Gravenstein Hwy N, Forestville) has had another chef shuffle with the departure of Dominique Rooney. She’s moved into an exec chef position at Bodega Bay’s SANDPIPER (1400 Highway 1 N, Bodega Bay). Rooney is also appearing on September 8 on the Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen, putting her in good company with the other local chefs who’ve gained national TV attention for their kitchen skills.
Napa’s bustin’ out all over: with the departure of exec chef Stephen Rogers, PRESS (587 St. Helena Hwy) in St. Helena has turned over the stoves to former sous chef Jason Toji. Rogers and his wife (who was the GM at Press) are returning to Dallas to open a new restaurant called Gemma.
Opening in late September is 2nd & Brown, the “boozy sister restaurant/bar” to CARPE DIEM WINE BAR in downtown Napa. The cocktail spot will feature an abbreviated Carpe Diem menu with dishes like the ostrich burger and “Quack and Cheese,” macaroni and cheese with duck confit. The location, surprise, surprise, will be at Second and Brown St. in Napa.