Meet the Principals at Wine and Food Fest

Many chefs, vintners, winemakers, and judges on hand for event.

One thing that makes the Press Democrat’s annual North Coast Wine and Food Festival special is how many principals—chefs, vintners, winemakers, judges—attend. Shortly after we arrived for the 2019 edition, held at the SOMO Village Event Center in Rohnert Park, my son, Eric Li, and I dropped by the booth of boon eat + drink, where impresario Crista Luedtke and the Guerneville restaurant’s chef de cuisine, Carlos Mendez, two were prepping what turned out to be one of our favorite dishes of the day: chili-braised pork with creamy polenta and fiesta corn salad. Zippy comfort food, it went sooo well with Gloria Ferrer‘s Best of Show Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine.

Carlos Mendez and Crista Luedtke of boon eat + drink.

As Crista and Carlos toiled away, you’d never have known that earlier in the week she’d cut the ribbon on yet another West County eatery, Brot, for hipped-up German fare. Among other food-fest faves were the spicy Korean chicken drumettes Duskie Estes and John Stewart whipped up in their Black Piglet food truck in the VIP section.

Here Came the Judges

Early on we also ran into North Coast Wine Challenge judges Chris Sawyer and Ziggy Eschliman, whose picks proved solid the whole day. Wineries are only supposed to pour wines the judges awarded gold medals, so one good taste after another.

North Coast Wine Challenge judges Ziggy Eschliman, left, and Chris Sawyer

A celeb who couldn’t make it was Jean-Charles Boisset, though he did appear in the form of his bobblehead Mini-Me self. That 2016 Buena Vista Winery Geza’s Selection Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir towering over him was splendid, but another Buena Vista wine, the Bela’s Selection Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, took best-of-class honors.

Chicken drumettes from the Black Piglet crew.

Old Friends, New Places

I cover boon eat + drink (plus boon hotel + spa and El Barrio bar), Black Piglet, and Buena Vista Winery for Fodor’s Napa and Sonoma. Loved touching base with those folks and sampling the wine and food of new places and places new to me, among the latter Arbor Bench Vineyards, whose four gold medals included one for the Malbec (blue fruit aplenty) rep Jim Kuhner holds.

When the festival comes around next June, keep it in mind, and not only for the fantastic introduction to the region’s wine and food and the people behind both. The event’s beneficiary this year was Sonoma Family Meal, which feeds families still displaced or otherwise disrupted by the 2017 Wine Country wildfires.

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