Food, wine and fun at Gay Wine Weekend
I stood there with the golden orange glow of the fading summer afternoon softening the spectacular surroundings and felt the fabulous energy of a hundred happy gay men. It was the second day of Out in the Vineyard’s 2011 Gay Wine Weekend and I was on the deck of Julie Atwood’s stunning vineyard home, during the VIP cocktail reception precluding the weekend’s most anticipated event, the Twilight T-Dance. Out in the Vineyard is the brainchild of Sonoman Gary Saperstein – who for years managed the girl and the fig – and his business partner Mark Vogler.
The company is a LGBT – that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender for all of you straight folks out there – event and travel company based here in Sonoma. The duo has been known to produce some of the year’s most legendary events, like the “Big Gay Wine Train,” not to mention arranging luxury inbound, behind the scenes Wine Country travel itineraries. The Gay Wine Weekend, which runs this year from June 15 through17 and now in it’s third incarnation, is a simply outrageous three-day gay extravaganza of food, wine, and tons of fun. Did I mention wine? Oh…and cute boys.
Last year, a very civilized cocktail reception in the gorgeous gardens at MacArthur Place kicked off the weekend’s festivities. As you can imagine, there was plenty of sparkling wine and pretty little nibbles. This year, in exciting news, the Eldorado Hotel will act as the weekend’s “host hotel,” extending very special rates for visitors traveling to Sonoma. The weekend’s fun gets underway with several “Winemaker Dinners,” which are on tap for Friday evening, right after sipping on some vino at the VIP reception held in the hotel’s very chic lobby. These intimate gatherings pair an interesting, talented winemaker with a local restaurant, offering an unforgettable opportunity to imbibe on stellar wines and scrumptious Wine Country fare. Australia’s iconic winery, Penfolds, brings their exclusive wines to Sonoma County and are paired with the Eldorado Kitchen’s California cuisine, while La Crema’s winemaker, Elizabeth Grant-Douglas, pairs her Sonoma wines with the-always-delicious-food from the girl and the fig. Massimo Monticello, the winemaker from B. Wise Vineyards, will host an Italian dinner at ESTATE. The festivities do not end with dinner, you know better than that! Beginning at 9:30 p.m. join the gang at Sebastiani Vineyards for “Cabaret Night!” Hosted by Russian Opera Diva and Drag Queen, Katya Smirnoff-Skyy, the evening should be a total hoot.
I cannot say that there is a more colorful sight than several hundred gay men dancing in a vineyard. The setting for Saturday’s “Twilight T-Dance” is completely over the top; an old weathered barn, which last year was festooned with piles of glittered throw pillows, shimmering fabrics and – I think – a disco ball! The thumping boom-chick-boom-chick sounds from the big city dee-jay and the spontaneous eruption of high pitched laughter from the crowd float amongst the vines. This party, in my opinion, is easily the most relaxed, beautiful, enjoyable event held during Sonoma’s hectic summer events season. Area food trucks provide perfect offerings for staying nourished during the long afternoon of wine and dancing. Just in case you’re not partied out by the end, the Eldorado Hotel hosts an “Apres-T After Party” with little bites and a no host bar.
The weekend is not just an excuse to sip wine and mingle with cute winemakers. One hundred percent of the monies raised over the course of the three-days benefit Face to Face, the Sonoma County AIDS Network. A perfect way to help raise these much-needed funds and to possibly feed your hangover, is to attend “The Big Gay Wine Auction and Brunch.” Held this year at Ramekins, the menu will surely be a spectacular parade of fresh-baked pastries, egg dishes and much-needed mimosas. Auction items include winery visits, tours, wine and other items all generously donated. Gay or not, this is a weekend filled with amazing, delicious events that no one should miss!
Out in the Vineyard’s “Gay Wine Weekend” is quickly approaching. During the weekend of June 15-17 there will be many festive events that include a welcome reception, wine dinners, a cabaret night at Sebastiani Winery, a brunch at the Eldorado Kitchen, and the weekend’s showpiece event, the always fabulous Twilight Tea Dance. Tickets for these events can be purchased as a package or separately. Find a full schedule of events and information on how to purchase your tickets at gaywineweekend.com.
On The Menu
This Friday, April 28, is another great sounding winemaker dinner at the Community Cafe. Buena Vista will provide the wines and discussion, paired with a menu that includes shrimp with sherry, duck confit with poached cherries and Mexican chocolate ice cream. The dinner is only $49.95 plus tax and gratuity, with wine! Call to make your necessary reservations at 938.7779.
• Join Chef Alex from Cafe 522 on April 28, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Hall Winery in Napa for their “Third Annual Cabernet Cook-Off.” The event benefits Food for Thought, the Sonoma County AIDS food bank. Find tickets online at hallwines.com/cabernetcookoff.
• Speaking of Hall Winery, they are rebranding their Sonoma winery which us locals will all know as Roessler. The winery is now known as Walt Winery and is named after owner, Kathryn Walt Hall. Visit their lovely tasting room behind the girl and the fig the first weekend in May for a series of events celebrating the inaugural release of these wines. The open house on Sunday, May 5, sounds especially nice with live music and small bites, which will be provided each day by Cafe 522. For more information and a complete schedule, call 933.4440.
• A series of cooking classes hosted by notable area chefs and bakers are now being held at the Community Center’s Rotary Community Kitchen. Sonoma’s own Mike Zakowski, a.k.a the [bejkr], hosts his first in a series of four bread-baking classes on Saturday, June 9. During “Introduction to Bread Baking” he will demonstrate break-baking techniques, including simple fermentation, the production of sour cultures, and more. For more information or to register for this or any other of these classes, call 938.4626, ext. 1 or visit sonomacommunitycenter.org.
Warm weather makes me crave things like this seafood-laden paella!
Makes 4 servings
1 large onion, finely chopped
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed to a paste or finely chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
A good pinch of saffron threads
4 cleaned small squid, bodies sliced into 1/4-inch-wide rings, tentacles left whole
2 cups medium-grain Spanish paella rice or risotto rice, such as Arborio or Carnaroli
3 cups fish or chicken stock, plus more if needed
1 cup dry white wine
12 jumbo shrimp in their shells
16 mussels, scrubbed and debearded
Fry the onion in the oil in a 16-inch paella pan until soft, stirring often. Stir in the garlic, and before it begins to color, add the tomatoes. Add salt to taste, the paprika, and saffron, stir well, and cook until the tomatoes are reduced to a jammy sauce and the oil is sizzling. Add the squid and cook, stirring, for a minute or so. Add the rice and stir well until all the grains are coated. Bring the stock and wine to a boil in a saucepan. Pour over the rice, and bring to a boil. Stir well and spread the rice out evenly in the pan (do not stir again). Cook the rice over low heat for 18 to 20 minutes, moving the pan around and rotating it so that the rice cooks evenly. Lay the shrimp on top after 10 minutes and turn them when they have become pink on the first side. Add a little more hot stock toward the end if the rice seems too dry and you hear crackly frying noises before it is done. When the rice is done, turn off the heat and cover the pan with a large piece of foil.
Steam the mussels with a finger of water in a pan with a tight-fitting lid. As soon as they open, they are cooked. Throw away any that have not opened. Arrange the mussels on top of the paella and serve immediately.
Kristin Jorgensen is one of Sonoma’s most passionate, food obsessed residents. In this weekly column, she covers all the delicious happenings, foodie events and restaurants in Sonoma, the rest of Wine Country and beyond. Find her blogging daily as the Cook at thecardiganandcook.com or via email at email@example.com.