Olive season in Sonoma?
To fill what seemed to be a winter “slow time” in tourism in Sonoma, Wendy Peterson, then executive director of the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, had the bright idea of celebrating the olive, Sonoma Valley’s second largest agricultural crop.
The festival became a three-month adventure with all sorts of events, large and small, with the very first Martini Madness at the old Marioni’s, where Mary’s Pizza is now on the Plaza. Then it moved to the barracks. Gary Saperstein was general manager of the Girl & the Fig at the time and he and Wendy Peterson filled Cambros (cooler on wheels) with ice and rolled them in the rain from the restaurant down Spain Street to the Barracks.
Eventually there was an olive market during the day and a dinner in the tent behind City Hall and it always seemed to rain on the event. The festival (which was not referred to as a “festival”) eventually included an always sold-out Feast of the Olive at Ramekins Culinary School with Bay Area radio personalities such as Liam Mayclem and Joel Riddell joining Saperstein as emcees. Sonoma chefs collaborated in the Ramekins kitchen to produce several-course dinners, each utilizing the olive in their creations. That tradition ended along with the olive festival, unfortunately.
But one event that has endured is Martini Madness, which brought together the creative juices of both MacArthur Place general manager Bill Blum and Out In the Vineyard co-founder and current interim Visitors Bureau executive director Saperstein.
This year nine local bartenders competed in the “martini” contest. Since the olive festival no longer exists, olives are no longer required in bartenders’ concoctions. Previously guests enjoyed chocolate dipped olives, olive juice, and other creative olive products. This year “martinis” were topped with everything from marinated carrots to candied bacon, and not olives. The candied bacon topped B&V Whiskey Bar’s bourbon-based Manhattan with sweet vermouth.
Best Martini Overall went to Saddles’ bartender Brian Richards, possibly because his cocktail most resembled a martini. He used cucumber-infused Grey Goose vodka, fresh lime juice, cucumber water, super fine sugar, pink peppercorns, and a cucumber wheel (thin slice) as a floating garnish.
Best Use of a Garnish went to Steiner’s Pink Taco Martini created by Nathaly Duffy made with Grey Goose vodka with Veuve Cliquot champagne, pineapple purée, and cranberry juice, with an actually tasty pink pulled pork taco attached to the glass.
Hopmonk Tavern’s bartending team created the winner in the Most Creative category using Bombay Sapphire Gin with freshly squeezed lemon and lime juices, lemongrass, blueberry simple syrup, and a splash of guava juice and egg whites.
Sonoma Grille composed a Scarborough Fare martini with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme with Grey Goose vodka, ginger beer, and limoncello. Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn’s 38 Degrees North entered with carrot- and ginger-infused Grey Goose topped with bacon and pepper bourbon foam. Kenwood’s Palooza offered Gin & Juice adding agave orange aperitivo, ginger candy, lime and lemon to Bombay Sapphire Gin. Carneros Bistro’s Watusi introduced chamomile to Grey Goose vodka, grapefruit, pepper and coriander topped with Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blanc. The Girl & the Fig’s Winter Bliss started with Bombay Sapphire Gin and added blood orange and Meyer lemon, topped with a cardamom meringue garnish.
More olive doings
Ron Chapman, as leader of the Mission Olive Preservation group that saved and grafted many of Sonoma’s first olive trees, brought the last 25 of those trees to our Sonoma School Gardens a few years ago.