"Bread and Board in Sonoma" — by Georgia I. Hesse

“Bread and Board in Sonoma”
by Georgia I. Hesse
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Ramekins Culinary School Courtyard
Ramekins Culinary School Courtyard

BATW’s board of directors is nothing if not diligent. When it retreated on March 3-4 to the Best Western Inn in Sonoma, its devotion was to duty: the revisions of bylaws as nettlesome as fruit flies on wine grapes; the drafting of professional standards as rigid as labels on California bottlings; a website maintenance plan as perfect as a provençale tart.
Fortunately, la vita in Sonoma is determinedly dolce: Every problem of professional conduct could be solved over a soupçon of cider-braised duck salad with walnut vinaigrette; each earnest discussion of membership might be rewarded with a rillette of smoked trout.
As reliable reporters, members of the board resolved to make BATW members aware of the stories of Sonoma that await visiting writers. Herewith.
Ramekins Culinary School & Inn, 450 West Spain St., Sonoma 95476; Tel: (707) 933-0450; www.ramekins.com. On Saturday evening, the board and some spouses attended a short demonstration class taught by chatty and witty Basque chef Pierre Lagourgue. Dinner, created by executive chef Doug MacFarland, followed, from passed hors d’oeuvres (among them shaved beef carpaccio, blue cheese and walnut short bread with horseradish crème) through first and second courses to dessert (orange olive oil cake). Each was accompanied by a treat from the Benziger Family Winery (benziger.com). Worth drinking for its label — as well as for its bright, good-morning taste — is the 2010 Imagery Estate Winery’s Wow Oui Sauvignon Blanc. (Imagery was created by Joe Benziger in the early 1980s: www.imagerywinery.com.)
Following dinner, some intrepid sleuths sought out the Plaza Bistro on Sonoma Plaza (www.theplazabistro.com), the better to close the evening with some moving music in its Backroom by the Dave Rocha Jazz Group, joined by BATW President Ginny Prior, who faultlessly tootled her flute.
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Estate Restaurant, Sonoma
Estate Restaurant, Sonoma

Estate Restaurant, 400 West Spain St., Sonoma 95476; Tel: (707) 933-3663; www.estate-sonoma.com. Sunday morning brought first work (again, brainstorming the bylaws) and then brunch at this smashing triumph from chef-entrepreneur-artiste Sondra Bernstein and her partner John Toulze. On a splendid, sunny afternoon, seated at patio tables in the spacious garden setting, we invited our souls (as Emerson so felicitously phrased it) with the encouragement of Fellinis or prosecco and house-made cannelloni or bruschetta or mushroom onion ragout or a selection of pizzas, their flavors heightened by a bountiful Benziger.
When wine doesn’t seduce you in Sonoma, history does. Estate makes itself at home in a stately, ornamented Victorian born in 1864 on 122 acres given as a wedding gift by General Mariano G. Vallejo to his third daughter Natalia and her new husband Attila Harasthy. (Attila was the son of Colonel Agoston Harasthy, the Hungarian-born “father of Californian viticulture” and founder of the valley’s oldest winery, Buena Vista.) Eventually, the home, Willows Wild, became the popular restaurant known as The General’s Daughter, which in 2008 metamorphosed into Estate.
Brunch is served at Estate on Sundays only and dinners nightly. If your taste buds demand Sondra’s specialties on weekdays, book luncheon at her other retreat right on the plaza: lower-cased (but far from lower class) the girl & the fig. She also maintains the fig café and winebar in Glen Ellen.
VJB Vineyards & Cellars, 60 Shaw Ave., Kenwood 95452; Tel: (707) 833-2300; www.vjbcellars.com. And then we left – but not before inspecting the new tasting room, cucina and piazza that will open shortly. VJB debuted in 1999 under the proprietorship of Henry Belmonte and his father Vittorio, whose wife Maria serves as executive chef. (The name VJB honors Henry’s late brother, Victor J. Belmonte Jr., who died much too young.)
On the piazza, we tasted six vintages new to all of us, from a 2010 Tocai Friulano through a 2010 Gabriella Rancho Chardonnay, a 2009 Mendocino Barbera, a 2009 Sonoma Valley Primitivo, and a 2008 Dante (Cab and Sangiovese) to the triumphant 2008 Estate Aglianico (Cab and Syrah) that demands a rare leg of lamb as accompaniment.
BATW’s board also thanks: Sales Manager Craig Haskel for transportation aboard his open-air wine trolley (check out local tours at www.sonomavalleywinetrolley.com); the three irresistible tenors who serenaded us at VJB (www.winecountryentertainment.com; click on Italian and then Three Tenors), and  – premier in getting our jobs done – the manager and staff of the Best Western Inn; www.sonomavalleyinn.com.
Who made it all possible? The Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau: www.sonomavalley.com. Mille grazie![/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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