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July 12-18, 2006

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Iron & Wine

By Stett Holbrook

Entering its 26th year, the Sonoma County Showcase of Wine and Food is a pricey epicurean weekend offering viticultural seminars and winemaker repasts. With a name reminiscent of a Gap perfume, one of the affairs, titled GATHER, is billed as "the ultimate winemaker dinner and barrel auction." At $175 a head, the GATHERing (on Friday, July 14, at Sonoma Cutrer Vineyards, 4401 Slusser Road, Windsor; 6pm to 10pm) ain't cheap, but it's the deal of the century when compared to the Napa Valley Wine Auction, for which couples fork over $3,500 to attend (bidding paddle included.) Plus, Showcase's proceeds benefit worthy, local causes: the Redwood Empire Food Bank, several local Boys and Girls clubs and the Santa Rosa Junior College Foundation. Last year, the Showcase raised about $400,000 for its charities.

A new facet of the Showcase this year is a culinary competition modeled after Iron Chef. Sonoma chefs throw down their cooking mitts during the Taste of Sonoma County event on Saturday, July 15, at MacMurray Ranch (9015 Westside Road, Healdsburg; noon to 4pm; $155), where actor Fred MacMurray's endlessly gracious daughter Kate will be on hand to take visitors on historical tours of the homestead.

The Appellation Experience (Thursday, July 13; Hoot Owl Creek/Alexander Valley Vineyards, 4800 Hwy. 128, Healdsburg; 10:30am to 2pm; $85) is geared for would-be Robert Parkers and Jim Laubes, featuring a blind tasting of Chardonnays and Syrahs from all 14 of Sonoma's American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), including the three most recently certified: Rockpile, Bennett Valley and Sonoma Coast. Honoré Comfort, the new executive director of the event's host organization, Sonoma County Vintners, calls this a "great, hands-on experience," but we think "palate-on" might be a more apt descriptor. A series of winemaker lunches and dinners will also be held at wineries including Buena Vista, Gloria Ferrer and Huntington.

In all, over 60 chefs and 100 wineries will participate in the Showcase. Comfort, who also owns a Sonoma micro-vineyard, says, "We are reaching out to celebrate the legends and leaders of Sonoma County, because we believe that what really makes it a distinctive winemaking region are all the people involved."

The Sonoma County Showcase of Wine and Food makes its way to our hearts through our stomachs from Thursday, July 13, through Saturday, July 15, at various locations throughout Sonoma Valley. For full schedule, call 800.939.7666, or visit

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