One of the events that has pinned Healdsburg at the epicenter of California’s Wine Country, and which year after year increases its visibility, is the Wine & Food Affair.
It takes place this weekend for the 24th season, one of three signature events from the Wine Road association of nearly 200 wineries.
From Balletto Vineyards on Occidental Road between Santa Rosa and Sebastopol to the south; Roth Estate on Chalk Hill Road to the east; J. Rickards in Cloverdale; and a slew of tasting rooms throughout the Dry Creek, Alexander and Russian River Valleys, the local map is chockablock full of wineries participating in this feast of oenological wonders.
Attendance at this weekend’s event is expected to be high, like other post-pandemic activities that have seen soaring participation. For locals, it might be seen as a time to nest or rest at home with your own favorite dish and a bottle; but taking part in what has almost become an international event has its own value and reward: People are always impressed by locals.
Yet the arrival of literally thousands of wine lovers to Healdsburg this coming weekend is sure to have an impact on the immediate region, and residents are not all or always enthusiastic. In fact, the Wine & Food Affair has in the past been one of the notable excesses that has caused the county to review and propose limits on winery events.
Special Winery Event regulations have been developed over the past several years and were recently proposed to the Board of Supervisors; two local areas—Sonoma Valley and Dry Creek Valley—have worked through their own local regulations as part of the process.
But when the Supervisors met this week, on Nov. 1, to hear a staff presentation on winery events ordinance, they questioned why the new regulations applied only to new and pending permits, and all standing permits were exempt. They voted for another rewrite of the Winery Event regulations, which is not expected to be complete until next year. (Follow the process at permitsonoma.org/regulationsandinitiatives/wineryevents.)
Healdsburg’s standing in the wine world is assured by the geographical perfection of its location: It sits at the crossroads of three key appellations, Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley and Alexander Valley, and within hailing distance of a subset of sub-appellations as Chalk Hill, Rockpile, Knights Valley, Green Valley and a few others. (Appellation is the Old World term for officially designated wine-growing regions; those in the U.S. are called American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs.)
While wine is the de facto center of the table for this weekend’s event, the food is not to be overlooked—and a good thing too, as tasting at even a small handful of wineries can have consequences for the undernourished.
Each participating winery offers a taste of gourmet cuisine paired with the wine of their choice. You may for instance choose to pair bacon fudge brownies with a syrah port; or enjoy a New England clam chowder with a roomy chardonnay; have your mac & cheese with pulled ham paired with pinot noir; or dig into braised meatball sliders with a robust zinfandel.
The event officially takes place Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 5-6, at 50 of the area’s wineries, but a handful will kick things off with their own special event on Friday night, Nov. 4. These include live music at Baldassari Wines in Windsor with the husband-wife duo Rain; a blend-you-own-bottle class at Colagrossi Wines, also in Windsor; a barbecue at Viszlay Vineyards on Limerick Lane; and a sunset cabernet library tasting at West Wines in Dry Creek Valley.
Unlike in previous years, there was no Saturday Only ticket option, just a two-day pass for $125 and a Sunday Only ticket for $95; designated drivers can sample the food for just $25. If all this sounds like too much to choose from, don’t worry: Tickets are fully sold out.
Ticket holders are asked to choose which of the 50 participating wineries to pick up their tickets, where they will get a wristband, a wine glass and an event map. It’s no longer necessary to choose the wineries you intend to visit, though be forewarned some might be so popular that they occasionally cannot take any more visitors.
In fact, attendance is limited at many tasting rooms, and tour buses of wine lovers roaming the byways of Sonoma County are forbidden for the weekend. Even so, drivers and pedestrians throughout the area are encouraged to focus on safety and caution, because you never know from where the other guy is coming.
The Wine Road was founded in 1976, so its 50th anniversary is coming up soon. Other signature Wine Road events in addition to the Food & Wine Affair include Winter Wineland on Jan. 14-15, 2023; the popular Barrel Tasting on March 3-5; and a few special events throughout the year, such as a Winemaking 101 with Carol Shelton on Jan. 7, 2023. For additional information, visit wineroad.com.