Health authorities have given the green light for a return to large events provided Covid precautions are taken (Sonoma County Health Orders). While some Sonoma County winery associations felt the rise of the Delta variant created too much uncertainty and risk to proceed with their planned fall events, the Russian River Valley Winegrowers (RRVW) decided to proceed with their annual Paulée dinner on September 3.
“Paulée is as much a celebration for our winemakers and growers as it is for our guests,” says RRVW executive director, Jesslyn Jackson. “We listened to feedback from our members and ultimately decided we could create a dinner that felt right for Russian River Valley Winegrowers. Of course, we took extra safety precautions as well, including limiting event size, spacing out the dining tables, requiring vaccinations or negative covid tests for everyone involved and screening attendees upon entry.”
This year’s Paulée event was about 15 percent smaller than previous years. Both the reception and dinner took place outdoors. These precautions plus the vaccination requirement are in excess of what Sonoma County health authorities require for events.
Meanwhile, Access Alexander Valley, also originally scheduled for September 3 at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, was cancelled and tickets refunded. The Petaluma Gap Wind to Wine Festival planned for October has been postponed.
“The convivial spirit of Russian River Valley Winegrowers is something that’s very important to us, and Paulée is a way to honor our community and the kickoff to harvest,” Jackson says, explaining why it was important for the Russian River Winegrowers to proceed with this year’s Paulée.
Mark Hanson, the co-founder & CEO of Bricoleur Vineyards, where Paulée was hosted agrees. “This event has such a wonderful tradition of celebrating the grape harvest given it started in the 15th century in Burgundy,” he says. “Burgundy and the Russian River Valley are two of the best places to grow Pinot Noir, so we love that this Paulée tradition deepens the connection between our two regions.”
Further, the event was particularly special for Bricoleur Vineyards, which first opened to the public in June 2020 under the shadow of the Covid pandemic—an opening much less grand than they had originally envisioned. The 2020 Paulée should have been held at Bricoleur, but was cancelled. So, Hanson was more than happy to host the 2021 edition, welcoming guests with the aptly named “Flying By The Seat of Our Pants” North Coast Brut.
Paulée’s attendees experience the close community first-hand, as guests, growers, and vintners intermingle. Winemakers visit each table sharing their wines, many of which are unique and meaningful and relate to the history, geography, and relationships of the Russian River Valley.
Many Sonoma County industry icons attend the event, such as Rod Berglund of Joseph Swan Winery who this year shared his 1982 Joseph Swan Pinot Noir. Meanwhile, another attendee brought a 1980 Pinot Noir from La Crema Vinera (the previous iteration of what is now La Crema Winery)—a special treat for Berglund, who worked there just prior joining Joseph Swan.
While old wines emphasize the depth of winemaking history in the Russian River Valley, the younger wines show how that story continues to evolve and why it’s worth celebrating.