The annual grape stomp contest

The annual grape stomp contest

With October arriving next week, we are about to be reminded of the two very different harvest scenes that overlap at this time every year.

While dusty and sweaty workers and farmers rush through night and day to bring the 2017 wine grape crop to local wineries, cocktail attire, gold medal celebrations and fancy food pairings will be shared at the 43rd annual Sonoma County Harvest Fair (Oct. 6-8), reminding everyone that making wine is both hard work and a much-desired lifestyle.

The 2017 wine grape harvest has been under way since late July when chardonnay and pinot noir grapes were picked for sparkling wines. Maybe there will be great weather for next weekend’s Harvest Fair, but it’s been anything but since a record heat spell scorched some vineyards and a surprising thunderstorm threatened a mildew outbreak in early September.

All growers’ worries will be put aside for a few days when the county’s agricultural community and wine fans gather for the awards ceremonies and gold medal tasting at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts and the county fairgrounds.

“It seems like whenever Mother Nature went left, we went right,” said Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers. “We got a lot of curve balls and logistic nightmares.”

The county’s wine grape harvest is about 70 percent complete and growers might earn a slight reprieve during Harvest Fair weekend. “It’s always a good celebration even if the timing could be a little better,” said Kruse. “There will be some tired people in the audience, for sure, but I don’t think there will be many empty seats (at the gala). It’s always a high note for the season.”

Professional wine judging was completed last week and over 300 wines from the 1,016 entries scored a gold, silver or bronze medal. The public will get to taste the winners beginning next Friday, Oct. 6 at the fairgrounds Grand Tasting Pavilion.

Best of Class and Sweepstakes winners will be announced this Sunday (Oct. 1) at the Luther Burbank Center. Also being honored is Healdsburg agriculture leader Joe Rochioli, Jr. with the Fair’s “Methuselah Award.” The lifetime achievement award honors Rochioli’s 50 years in the vineyard and winery business at his Westside Road farm and winery. With son Tom, he built a winery in 1985 and the Rochioli pinot noir was named “best pinot noir in America” two years later.

Also being honored the same night will be Joe and Steve Dutton, sons of the late Warren Dutton and Gail Dutton. The Duttons are being honored with the 2017 Sustainable Farmer award. Warren Dutton received the  ‘Outstanding Young Farmer’ award in 1977; Steve then received the same award in 1999 and then Joe in 2000.

It is families like the Duttons and Rochiolis who will change out of their boots and jeans into suitable awards-night duds. With the 2017 harvest still weeks from being finished, conversations and attention are sure to remain partly focused on the extended weather reports and winemakers’ surveys of grape sugars.

Advance Harvest Fair tickets are available on-line ( Grand tasting tickets are $65 and include fairgrounds admission and wine, cider, beer and professional food entry tasting. The world championship grape stomps are part of the Harvest Fair action as well. The fair also offers chef demonstrations, winemaker talks and family activities. (No children are allowed inside the wine pavilion.)

All award-winning wines are available for sale at the fair.

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