Maybe it was the cleansing taste of fresh strawberries, bright lemon, seltzer, and a dash of bitter rhubarb.

Or maybe it was 90 golden wines or appetizers from 30 local chefs.

Or maybe it was the fact that after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the North Coast Wine and Food Festival is back on a perfect day with bright blue skies and fluffy white clouds.

“Everyone really wants to indulge right now,” said Daniel Riveros, who ran the Tsar Nicoulai Caviar stall, where guests crave buckwheat pancakes topped with caviar, sour cream and fresh flower petals.

“Our sales have skyrocketed because people want to celebrate, whether it’s caviar, champagne or gourmet cuts of beef. People are just happy to be out.”

And indeed they were.

More than 1,000 people attended the three-hour event at the Luther Burbank Arts Center on Saturday, and judging by their comments, no one left hungry or thirsty.

“It was the best wine event I have ever been to,” said Daniel Jasinski, an Air Force veteran who traveled to the event from Rosemond. “The wines are all gold or double gold, so there’s no wine here that you won’t like.”

For Jasinski, however, the highlight was not the wine.

“I loved all the food, but the caviar was the best,” he said. “It was very fresh and sweet.”

Another big hit was the palate cleansers offered by Oliver’s Market.

“The response from the guests was great!” said Sarah Cummings, corporate communications and public relations coordinator for Oliver’s Market. “People say it’s a refreshing and unexpected treat.”

At the Harvey’s Donuts stand, guests patiently waited for miniature donuts as soft as a pillow, which came in a red-and-white-striped paper cone. Cinnamon sugar or chocolate zinfandel sauce were popular additions to warm little packages made to order on Harvey’s vintage donut machine.

“There was so much pent-up demand for community events,” said Steve Falk, CEO of Sonoma Media Investments, the parent company of The Press Democrat, which helped launch the North Coast Wine Challenge nine years ago. “It’s nice to see everyone here having a good time.”

As attendees wandered around the event, they were particularly eager to taste the best of the best wines from the North Coast Wine Challenge, most of which were offered at the Sonoma Clean Power Winner’s Pavilion.

Armida winemaker Brandon Lapides, who won best in class for his Armida Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, Alexander Valley, Stuhlmuller Vineyard, was delighted to share his wine with guests.

“This is my first time pouring at this event,” he said. “This is a great opportunity to interact with the public and get an instant response from them. Winemakers don’t often get the opportunity to pour wine at events, so hearing their feedback is instant gratification.”

Roth Wines, whose 2019 Sonoma County Heritage Red Wine took top honors in the North Coast Wine Challenge, had a booth right outside the event, which vintner Michael Bolak says was a “pleasant surprise.”

“We’re just really excited to hear what people think of our wine. I have a feeling that today we will pour a lot!” he said.

“Where would you rather be in the entire United States than right here and now?” said winemaker Patrick Sullivan of Gray Stack Cellars, Sonoma County.

“It’s an absolute paradise.”

You can contact Staff Correspondent Sarah Doyle at 707-521-5478 or write to [email protected]

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