Amador Four Fires is a new festival making its debut May 6, about 2.5 hours east of San Francisco.

One of the most fun ways to learn about specific wine regions and enjoy local foods is to attend one of the hundreds of food and wine festivals across the country. In addition to the well-known mega-festivals like the Aspen Food and Wine Festival in June, there are many small events where just about anyone can meet winemakers and other culinary craftworkers.

Disclosure: The author of this blog post has been a media guest at some of the events mentioned.

Here are a few noteworthy festivals coming up in California:

  • Amador Four Fires – Plymouth, CA on May 6, 2017 – This is the third year of this event at the Amador County Fairgrounds (about 2 1/2 hours east of San Francisco.) Featuring open-flame foods from Spain, France, Italy and California, 40 Amador County wineries, other beverages from the region and a packed schedule of demonstrations and educational opportunities.
  • 25th Annual Monterey Winemakers’ Celebration – Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA on May 7, 2017 – Features more than 100 Monterey County wines, education programs, and other activities, including new for this year Monterey Wine Camp for immersive learning and a chance to win a wine merit badge.
  • Sonoma County Wine Country Weekend – Rohnert Park, CA on Sept. 2-3, 2017 – Moving to a new location this year (which should make the event more accessible,) this event includes two days of tastings, a charity auction, and seminars and demonstrations. The personal involvement of many of Sonoma’s great wineries and winemakers makes this one of the best “mass tasting” events.
  • Eat, Drink SF – San Francisco on August 24-27, 2017 – Organized by San Francisco’s restaurant industry, this combines a wide range of tasting opportunities with educational programs geared both for professionals and consumers.

Nearly every region has events aimed at attracting food and wine lovers, so if you are traveling, check with local winery associations or search on LocalWineEvents.com, which has a database of festivals and other events in many locations. Small or new events are a great way to get familiar with specific types of wines or regional specialties — and meet their producers.

(Updated to correct that this is the third year for Amador Four Fires, not first.)

Chefs had fun, too.
Marcus Samuelsson, Scott Conant, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Aaron Sanchez pictured.
Charles' Country Fried Chicken
Charles' Country Fried Chicken served a traditional soul food sampler, with Charles' signature chicken.
Co-Founder and host Marcus Samuelsson
Chef Marcus Samuelsson greeted guests arriving for the Harlem Stroll.
Sylvia's
Chicken and waffle, appetizer style, from Sylvia's.
Spring pea soup
Sweet spring pea soup by the Sylvia Center was one of the most memorable bites.
Co-host Bill Clinton
President Clinton poses with workers on his way out from the Harlem Stroll.
The Stroll
Part of Morningside Park was converted into the Harlem Stroll for two days.
Jerk Chicken, British Virgin Islands Style
Jerk chicken with sweet potato puree, promoting Caribbean travel.
Shaved asparagus salad
The Grange served an asparagus and prosciutto salad.
Texas beer Shiner Bock
Apparently Shiner Bock is popular in Harlem.
Crowds around chefs
The stars were out, and accessible at the Harlem Stroll.
Chefs had fun, too.
Marcus Samuelsson, Scott Conant, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Aaron Sanchez pictured.
Chefs had fun, too.
Marcus Samuelsson, Scott Conant, Al...
Charles' Country Fried Chicken
Charles' Country Fried Chicken served a traditional soul food sampler, with Charles' signature chicken.
Charles' Country Frie
Charles' Country Fried Chicken serv...
Co-Founder and host Marcus Samuelsson
Chef Marcus Samuelsson greeted guests arriving for the Harlem Stroll.
Co-Founder and host M
Chef Marcus Samuelsson greeted gues...
Sylvia's
Chicken and waffle, appetizer style, from Sylvia's.
Sylvia's
Chicken and waffle, appetizer style...
Spring pea soup
Sweet spring pea soup by the Sylvia Center was one of the most memorable bites.
Spring pea soup
Sweet spring pea soup by the Sylvia...
Co-host Bill Clinton
President Clinton poses with workers on his way out from the Harlem Stroll.
Co-host Bill Clinton
President Clinton poses with worker...
The Stroll
Part of Morningside Park was converted into the Harlem Stroll for two days.
The Stroll
Part of Morningside Park was conver...
Jerk Chicken, British Virgin Islands Style
Jerk chicken with sweet potato puree, promoting Caribbean travel.
Jerk Chicken, British
Jerk chicken with sweet potato pure...
Shaved asparagus salad
The Grange served an asparagus and prosciutto salad.
Shaved asparagus sala
The Grange served an asparagus and ...
Texas beer Shiner Bock
Apparently Shiner Bock is popular in Harlem.
Texas beer Shiner Boc
Apparently Shiner Bock is popular i...
Crowds around chefs
The stars were out, and accessible at the Harlem Stroll.
Crowds around chefs
The stars were out, and accessible ...

First attempts to produce major festivals rarely go this well. The inaugural Harlem Eat Up proved what is possible when committed chefs and the community come together and invest professional resources — and lots of their own time to make a big event happen.

Harlem Eat Up is a four-day series of special meals, workshops, chef talks, and tastings celebrating the renaissance of culinary arts in Harlem. In the years since Marcus Samuelsson opened Red Rooster on Malcolm X Boulevard near 125th Street, a long list of restaurants have followed.

The centerpiece, called the Harlem Stroll, consisted of tasting events on both weekend afternoons. Some of Harlem’s top-rated restaurants offered samples, along with dozens of beer and wine samples.

On the demonstration stage, chef Aaron Sanchez joked that he learned about herbs in Morningside Park when he was a teenager in the neighborhood. A lot has changed In those 20 or so years, including that Sanchez is a Food Network star, co-owner with John Besh of Johnny Sanchez in New Orleans and Baltimore, and chef/partner of Paloma, in Stamford, Ct.

Marcus Samuelsson and Aaron Sanchez having fun at Harlem Eat Up.
Marcus Samuelsson and Aaron Sanchez having fun at Harlem Eat Up.

Fans of television food shows had plenty to satisfy their cravings. Throughout the afternoon, some of the most familiar faces from television kitchens were visible and accessible. Daniel Bouloud walked around, while Scott Conant and Alex Guarnaschelli were part of the peanut gallery as Sanchez performed a cooking demonstration emceed by Samuelsson.

“Why does it always have to be white beans,” declared Samuelsson as Sanchez pureed beans with fish to make a version of brandade. The two bantered back and forth with good-natured jokes about each other’s ethnic and culinary background, but they saved their biggest barbs for chefs who weren’t there. Clearly, it was all in good fun.

Next year likely will be even better, but this was a fabulous start.

 

Here’s a fun idea from Times Square Alliance that is also good for the environment and probably your mental health, too, as a way of starting 2015 with a clean slate. Good Riddance Day is a designated time to close the chapter on 2014 so that 2015 starts fresh. Everyone has thoughts or issues they want to leave behind, right?

Times Square is the site of New York's Good Riddance Day, a time to seal the books on 2014.
Times Square is the site of New York’s Good Riddance Day, a time to seal the books on 2014.

The official event is Sunday, December 28 at noon in Times Square in New York City, but you can mark the occasion from anywhere. From the business group’s website:

Have a picture of a significant other who’s proven less significant, a mortgage document that’s now history, or a medical bill that signifies a triumphant defeat?  Shred-it and forget it!

Good Riddance Day is inspired by a Latin American tradition in which New Year’s revelers stuffed dolls with objects representing bad memories before setting them on fire.  There will be no bonfire in Times Square, but we invite you to shed and shred your forgettable memories from 2014 for a fresh start in 2015.

Can’t make it to Times Square?   Submit your unwanted memories here or tweet at @TimesSquareNYC using #GoodRiddanceDay and we’ll help you forget it by shredding it.

Cleverly sponsored by a shredding company, this seems like a tradition worth adopting.