The Tasting Panel magazine

November 2015

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Page 129 of 136

november 2015  /  the tasting panel  /  129 auction raised a record-breaking $4.5 million toward community grants for local charities, as well as an initiative called Fund the Future, which seeks to increase literacy rates among Sonoma County children from 46 to 90 percent by 2018. Sean Carroll, Director of Marketing and Communications for Sonoma County Winegrowers, says Sonoma's deep roots are a result of its history and culture. "If you compare Sonoma County to other districts, one of the big differentiators is that most of the vine- yards here are independently owned by growers and farmers. They're not con- nected to wineries." In fact, he shared, a staggering 86 percent of vineyards in Sonoma County are grower-owned, and of those, 40 percent comprise 20 acres or less. "That means you see a lot of hands-on, family-owned producers who put their passion and personal investment into their farming," he said, and, by extension, their community. Plenty of those producers were on display at the Taste of Sonoma, a centerpiece of the weekend along with the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction and another tasting event called Starlight at Francis Ford Coppola Winery. Taste of Sonoma is hosted by MacMurray Estate Vineyards, whose vines were planted after the Gallo family pur- chased the ranch in 1996. Settled in the 1940s in a secluded corner of the Russian River Valley and occupied for decades by Hollywood actor Fred MacMurray and his family, the ranch's homestead is maintained in pristine original condition and Fred's daughter, Kate MacMurray, is now part of the team that promotes the brand and its wines, made by Winemaker Boyd Morrison. Taste of Sonoma includes a wide array of wine varieties and styles from across the region, as well as farm-to- table bites, pairing seminars like the Kendall-Jackson Sensory Experience led by Executive Chef Justin Wangler and Winemaster Randy Ullom, and small-group tours through the event with guest sommeliers like Matt Dulle of the St. Louis Club of Missouri, who won this year's Sommelier Stars Challenge, sponsored by Rodney Strong Vineyards. Of course, given that Sonoma Wine Country Weekend happened concur- rently with the 2015 vintage's extremely early harvest, many winemakers and growers were in the throes of picking throughout the festivities. Across Sonoma County, producers saw "hens and chicks," uneven-sized berries on clusters due to poor fruit set last spring, as well as drastically reduced yields; as for quality, however, the forecast looks beautiful for the 2015 vintage. "Most of our vintners and growers are 50 to 60 percent through harvest, which is incredible," said Maureen Cottingham, Executive Director of the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance. "Usually they're at nine or ten percent by this time. Everyone is scurrying around because they know that Sonoma Wine Country Weekend is the most important weekend of the year." Winemaker Boyd Morrison of MacMurray Estate Vineyards. PHOTO COURTESY OF MACMURRAY ESTATE VINEYARDS PHOTO: GEORGE ROSE PHOTO: MELANIE MALONEY Kate MacMurray at her family's ranch in the Russian River Valley. Chateau St. Jean Winemaker Margo Van Staaveren.

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