Last year, my adult daughter and I checked out the annual Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, scheduled this year for Aug. 30-Sept. 1, a showcase of Sonoma County’s food, wine and culture that also raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for local charities.There were many best parts, not the least of which was the “Sonoma Starlight” event at Francis Ford Coppola Winery, this year on tap for Aug. 30, with wines, music, dancing and seasonal cuisine. Last year, my daughter couldn’t tear me away from the Coppola shrine inside, where I stared endlessly at things like Don Vito Corleone’s desk, Oscars, original scripts from “The Godfather” and more. Oh, and the wine was amazing.
We also visited the MacMurray Ranch, which is featured this year on Aug. 31, and were given a look-around by Kate MacMurray, daughter of Fred, star of many movies but to me and many of my Baby Boomer generation, best known as the befuddled, loving father of “My Three Sons.”
She was a gracious hostess, showing us the redwoods her dad planted on a farm in bought in 1941 that he found while fly-fishing nearby. It is now a winery, but not much else has changed, including the old farmhouse, itself a veritable time capsule.Kate MacMurray warmed to each memory around every corner as she showed us her old bedroom, a handmade leather rifle case her dad made, his coveted “Popcorn Award” given for his movies that at the time sold more popcorn than anyone else’s, and a cozy den where he and his Hollywood buddies would hang out, on the walls of which hung paintings he created. It was a place he loved and couldn’t wait to get back to.
“My father insisted that all his scenes of the TV show for the whole season be shot at one time,” Kate MacMurray said, “so he could get back to his farm and family sooner.”
The last day of the event brings the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction at Chateau St. Jean, a fund-raising event that last year racked up $483,500 for local charities that support students, children, farm workers and others in need. Last year, it was an amazing end to a terrific weekend, as my daughter and I dined on world-class food and listened with wide eyes to really rich people bid tens of thousands of dollars on items without blinking theirs.
We took a break from all that wine to drive around northern California’s glorious environment, getting lost in a redwood forest near Healdsburg, where the monster trees grow so thick the sun hardly reaches the ground.
And it was in Bodega Bay – yes, the Bodega Bay of “The Birds” fame – that we found Ms. Hedren who happened to be there signing autographed pictures to raise money for her cause, The Roar Foundation, which she founded in 1984 to support the Shambala Preserve in Acton, home to more than 50 big cats such as lions, tigers, cougar, leopards and other cast-off creatures.
Making it even more apt was her doing it in The Tides restaurant, which was in the movie, where her character, Melanie Daniels, puttered away in a boat with song birds for Rod Taylor’s Mitch Brenner. She remained close to Taylor after filming, she happily said.
We also checked out a couple of local favorite eateries, including the Spud Bay Crab Co., famous for its fresh-steamed crab; the Terrapin Creek Café, open since 2008 and already earning a Michelin rating, with fare such as marinated Monterey sardines and blackened local king salmon; and The Boathouse, a cramped, low-key place very popular with locals, serving things like chowder in bread bowls and fried oysters, located on a windy part of Route 1 overlooking a church that was used in filming of “The Birds.”
One great central place to stay to take it all in is the Flamingo Conference Resort and Spa, a Santa Rosa historic landmark, with the charm of 1950s resort hotels. We stayed there and found it convenient access to places like Sonoma, Healdsburg, Calistoga and St. Helena, and the Pacific Ocean.
As if all of it weren’t special enough for a traveling father-and-daughter team, we ended our last night at River’s End Restaurant & Inn, on a bluff overlooking the mouth of the Russian River, a staple in the area that started life in 1927 as a restaurant and inn for loggers and fishermen. We thought we had pretty spectacular sunrises back east, but the sunsets here, glowing gold on the Pacific, towering bluffs and legendary river, are nothing short of breathtaking.
Not a bad way to spend Labor Day weekend. Tickets for the wine festival run $85 to $500 per person, and for all information, visit www.sonomawinecountryweekend.com For all things Sonoma, check out www.sonomacounty.com.
And if you run into Tippi or Kate, give them our best. Better yet, toast them with Sonoma wine.
Photos by Paul E. Kandarian
From top: Coppola Winery, Kate MacMurray, Tippi Hedren, Spud Bay Co. and Russian River sunset