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Olive Me

Because Grapes are not the Only Things Growing Around Here

There’s no disputing the supremacy of wine in a region that is in fact named for it. But for those who are yet unaware, it’s always a nice surprise to find that wine country is also known for producing and bottling another delectable liquid: olive oil. Both Napa and Sonoma produce some of the best olive oils you’ll ever taste, and so expansive and well-regarded have the area’s oils become, they are celebrated via officially sanctioned ceremony.
One of the best such fetes is the three-month-long Sonoma Valley Olive Festival (www.olivefestival.com) is an appreciation of all things olive, calling attention to the regions abundant olive production and honoring those who bring it forth. During the festival, numerous activities, events, dinners, and theme-parties take place throughout the valley, culminating in a “Passport Weekend” at the end of this month, Feb. 24-25.

February is the final month of the festival, a perfect time to plan your visit and take advantage of your special round pitted friend. Without much effort, you’re bound to stumble across something related to the festival, whether it’s an olive-themed dinner at a local restaurant or a massage at a local spa using limited-time only treatments that involve—yes—olive oil. Of course, you can always participate simply by ordering two, as opposed to the customary one, olive in your martini (a personal recommendation: order three, and get them with blue cheese stuffing instead of pimento).

You get the idea. But in case you don’t, here are a few of the planned events for the final month of the festival: Presented by the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance, VinOlivo is a signature event of the Olive Festival. Held Feb. 17, the event is a feast for the senses, featuring food and wine from local producers and prepared by Sonoma’s top chefs. Of course, olives are presented front and center, with tastings of artisan oils from local producers, recipes prepared especially for the occasion and an olive bar, offering all manner of the fabulous fruit. For tickets (if still available, call (707) 935-0803. On the same day is Olivepalooza at the Sonoma Barracks on Sonoma Plaza, where local producers offer the results of their olive-pressing labor for your tasting approval. Numerous local oil artisans are on hand to describe the subtleties of their oils and suggest food pairings and recipes. The event is complemented by an art show and sale and by live music—hence the name. If you go for only reason to Olivepalooza, make it for the Spit the Pit contest at 1pm. The event drew ambitious participants and incredulous onlookers last year and returns for a second installment this year with a new crop of contestants puckering up and letting them fly for fun and prizes.

Of course the big event culminates with the Olive Festival Passport Weekend, Feb. 24– 25, at two-dozen venues throughout the valley. This is when the true olive lover finds Valhalla, able to enjoy olives of all kinds in all styles and at seemingly every corner of Sonoma. Local chefs get into the act by customizing their menu for the occasion to feature the fruit, wineries and growers are highlighted throughout the weekend and many venues offer special entertainment, seminars, and other reasons to visit. Plan to spend the whole weekend; your passport ticket gets you in-and-out privileges to all participating locations—so many that you’ll find yourself “pressed” for time to do it all. (Okay, sorry. I couldn’t resist…) Call (707) 996-1090 for tickets or more information.