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The Art of the Festival

Get to Know Sonoma While Saluting the Arts

For my money, one of the best ways to experience Wine Country is at a festival. Whether a celebrating summer, venerating local filmmakers, extolling the joys of harvest, or of course, honoring with equal parts reverence and irreverence, the wine grape, there is no shortage of festivals to choose from throughout the calendar year. Some last a day; some take place for a solid month. But no matter how long they last, wine country festivals present ideal opportunities to get into the local scene at a 45-degree angle.

As it happens, one of my personal favorites takes place this weekend—Aug 3-5, in Sonoma. The annual Sonoma Salute to the Arts, now in its 22nd year, is one of the best arts-themed festivals in the west (and there are many such events in competition). It’s also one of the best festivals of the year anywhere in Wine Country. If you’re into the arts even a little bit, this weekend is not to be missed. Of course it doesn’t hurt that the wine and food for which the Sonoma Valley is known and beloved is on full-tilt offer virtually non-stop for three days. There are many official programs that mark the occasion during Salute, but one needn’t feel compelled to partake in an official capacity. To be sure, though, it’s the only way to enjoy certain of Salute celebrations. Still, just being in Sonoma—especially the Sonoma Plaza area—can have a contagious effect on a visitor. It’s what I call the Festival Effect, that impalpable atmosphere of Wine Country at its best.

The Sonoma Salute to the Arts includes several components, which can be enjoyed a la carte or as a single decadent whole. In addition to an opening night gala on Friday night, the weekend is punctuated with a Saturday night party called the Big Night, a nod to the movie of the same name about the opening of an Italian restaurant run by Stanly Tucci. The Big Night in this case is an Italian Feast and live auction held at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, one of Wine Country’s most talked about new wineries. The elegant 18,000-square-foot stone building was inspired by the family’s home in Udine, Italy. And judging from the winery, that’s gotta be some kind of family home. The winery was under construction for quite a while and many, like me, will want to attend just to check out the facility in all its sociable glory. The Big Night features lots of great food, Italian music, and an assortment of wines from the region. The live auction, hosted by local TV news personalities Don Sanchez and Cheryl Jennings, includes dozens of enticing items, such as library wines, winemaker dinners, great European travel opportunities, and artist-painted, large-format wines from some of Sonoma’s best wineries.

Meanwhile, the Food, Wine, and Art Extravaganza takes place in the historic Sonoma Plaza on Saturday and Sunday, August 4 and 5, and features food and wine from 11am to 5pm. This, for me, is what the event is all about. Without traveling more than a single city block, you can explore and enjoy food and wine from throughout the Valley in a mind-boggling variety. Here’s a tip: pace yourself, or you risk reaching your intake capacity (on food and wine) by noon. Don’t worry, there’s plenty to around, so take your time.

This year’s Salute Celebration—the special theme of the weekend—is called Sonoma’s Secret Spaces, wherein little “courtyards” are carved into the setting in the Plaza and each one features a sort-of “mini gala,” offering unique food, music, and wines inspired by film, literature and the visual arts. This augments the usual honoring of Sonoma County’s heritage of agriculture and culture for which Salute has become known. Throughout the weekend, local chefs are on hand preparing their specialty dishes, winemakers are pouring their favorite varietals, and craft beer makers are cooling off palates. And while you ingest, you can browse dozens of fine-art exhibits from Wine Country artists. It’s a sensory sensation that provides a whirlwind tour of Sonoma—all for a good cause; proceeds benefit the Sonoma Valley Arts Alliance to fund scholarships for high school seniors in the arts.

Tickets for the Salute Celebration are $95 per person in advance, $125 at the door; Tasting Packages for the Plaza events are $30 in advance, $35 at the event; and a Patron’s Pass, combining both The Salute Celebration and a Tasting Package for Plaza events, is $125 in advance. Tickets for The Salute to the Arts Live Auction and Feast are $150 in advance. For details and information, visit

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