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Olives and Vine

Nibble, savor, sip at Artisan Market

By Patricia Lynn Henley

Around here, winetasting is pretty standard at most festivals, but have you ever wrapped your tongue around the grassy highlights of carefully crafted olive oil, relished the crunch of this hand-cured Mediterranean fruit or gauged the merits of different styles of olive tapénade? You can do all that and taste wine as well this weekend during the Artisan Market, which runs 11am to 4pm, Saturday and Sunday, in the Sonoma Plaza (www.sonomavalley.com/olivefestival). This is the grand finale for the three-month-long Sonoma Valley Olive Festival. Saunter your way through a giant tent in the plaza surrounding Sonoma's city hall, while you enjoy olive-themed food, art and entertainment, and sip local vintages. "It's a marketplace with tasting involved, a one-stop shop, so to speak," says Sarah Tracy, director of operations for the Sonoma Valley Visitor's Bureau, which coordinates the winter festival.

When you weary of wandering among the booths, take a seat in the cooking demonstration tent and watch as renowned local chefs work their magic, creating gourmet goodies with olives or olive oil. Be sure to stick around afterward to taste the dish that's been created and to pick up the recipe. There will also be a chance to get tips on olive curing, tree care and other topics. "We're having a separate seminar tent this year, because there's been so much interest," Tracy explains.

For those feeling a good deal less cultured, there's the festival's first-ever "Spit the Pit" contest at 2pm Saturday, where for a $1 entry fee contestants can see just how far they can make those little things fly. Winners will win prizes by age categories. Just for reference, the world record for a spit cherry pit is 100 feet, four inches; for a watermelon seed it's 61 feet, three inches.

But it isn't necessary to wait for the weekend to get into the festival spirit. Bay Area comedian Johnny Steele headlines an evening of comedy paired with an olive-themed dinner and dessert on Thursday, Feb. 23, at Sonoma's Meritage Martini Oyster Bar & Grill (165 W. Napa St., Sonoma; 707.938.9430; 8pm; $75).

Sonoma Valley Chorale's Chamber Ensemble sings in celebration of the beauty of love at "That's Amore!" a festival-sponsored concert at Gloria Ferrer Champagne Cellars (23555 Hwy. 21, Sonoma; 707.933.1999; $25, reservations required).

You can also get up close and personal with olive trees on a special hike along the Sonoma Overlook Trail led by volunteers from the Sonoma Ecology Center. Meet at the trailhead at 90 Mountain Cemetery Road (707.939.1999 for directions; 10am­noon; free).

The forecast is definitely for lots of olives this weekend, at least in Sonoma.

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From the February 22-28, 2006 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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