At the fourth annual Russian River Valley Paulée on Saturday, April 30th, winemakers from this renowned region will come together with local chefs to offer guests a spectacular evening of wine and food. Modeled after La Paulée de Meursault, which originated in France’s renowned Burgundy region, the Russian River Valley Paulée “builds on the traditions that came before us,” states Rod Berglund, Chair of the RRV Paulée and Winemaker of Joseph Swan Winery. He follows up, “But we still do it in our own way.”
Indeed, the La Paulée tradition in Burgundy originated as a lunch gathering for vignerons, harvest workers and the local community after the busy harvest season came to an end. What has morphed into a large, much-acclaimed, celebratory gathering is now one of France’s most highly anticipated events of the year. The event, which was rooted in camaraderie and sharing, still manifests in this regard today, and the RRV La Paulée holds true to that as well.
The inspiration for the RRV Paulée was in fact directly inspired by Berglund’s own experience at La Pauleée de Meursault in Burgundy. “It was a tremendous experience; the sharing was absolutely amazing and it was not unlike what we do here on a smaller scale—when winemakers get together and bring bottles to share at lunch,” Berglund reminisces. “We thought it would be great to expand that idea...and we thought we should embrace the spirit of it.”
As the RRV Paulée has grown over the past four years, Berglund appreciates that it has always been “about all of us coming together and sharing with people the life we get to live. It’s an opportunity to share the wine and camaraderie. . . .[and] to celebrate where we are growing the grapes and making the wine.”
Truly celebrating the where, RRV Paulée is actually hosted among the vines, bringing guests into the intimate folds of Russian River Valley vineyards. While the dinner is hosted in a different vineyard each year, this year the event will honor its roots by going back to the original location of the first annual RRV Paulée, Arista Winery, nestled in the northern stretches of Russian River Valley on the well-known Westside Road.
“We are excited to host,” states Mark McWilliams, who manages the day to day operations at Arista Winery. “It is a great opportunity and an honor. We have a beautiful property. . . .and when we were asked to host it again this year, it was a no-brainer to say yes.”
Like Berglund, McWilliams too, believes that “the spirit of La Paulée is such an appropriate and fitting theme in Sonoma County.” And to be honest, I completely agree. In all of my wine travels across the state, the sense of cooperation and camaraderie among Sonoma County producers, as well as their openness with wine lovers, has never felt quite matched anywhere else. There is something truly authentic about this wine growing region—a real sense of community in a down-to-earth vibe that makes the region and its producers accessible, like family.
“While it is a Russian River Valley rendition of what La Paulée is,” McWilliams furthers, “it is also a completely original event. We wanted to bring something really authentic and original. The spirit of our La Paulée is both gorgeous and casual—it is the essence of Sonoma County.”
In true gorgeous and casual form, the fourth annual RRV La Paulée will bring together illustrious bottles of wine from around the world—selected from private cellars by both the attending winemakers and guests—and will be shared with all in attendance. As Berglund states, “The rule is: If you have a bottle and you open it, anyone can share.” He furthers this point in stating, “You have to have a lot of fun—no sitting at your table! Everybody needs to run around. . . .it’s all about bringing something special from your cellar and getting to share it.”
Building on that sense of camaraderie and sharing, the food featured at RRV La Paulée also embodies that same spirit. “The food is important, but it’s more about bringing in the chefs who understand who we are, and that are a part of the community themselves,” Berglund states. “The center stage is the people who are coming, the wines they are bringing and the sharing of it all. But it [the chefs and food] is all a part of the whole thing—part of what we do here everyday in Sonoma County.”
This year’s La Paulée will bring local celebrity chefs like Duskie Estes (ZAZU Kitchen and Farm) and Dustin Valette (Valette Healdsburg) into the fold. There is no doubt that these chefs undeniably live the wine country lifestyle and truly understand what it is means to be a part of the Sonoma County community. “We bring these guys in because they are the fabric of the county, just like the producers [wineries] are," McWilliams says.
From the spirit of camaraderie and sharing, to the abundance of wine and food—all in a picturesque vineyard setting—the fourth annual Russian River Valley La Paulée will be “an extraordinary, technicolor way to experience Russian River Valley,” McWilliams pointedly states.