September 14, 2006
As you wander around the Farmers' Market looking for the best vine-ripened tomatoes or a flat of perfectly plump, juicy peaches, you might guess that they probably come from sunnier climes and not from our foggy coast. You'll find produce grown out Highway 36 and some from southern Humboldt, but a lot of the hot weather crops are grown east of here over a couple of ridges.
The area is also home to a number of wineries, among them Winnett Vineyards run by David and Sharon Winnett, a charming pair of retired educators who can be found selling their wine at the Arcata Farmers' Market most Saturdays.
I got to know the Winnetts when I was seated next to them at the College of the Redwoods Autumn Vintage fundraiser last year, so I usually stop by to say hello. For the last month or so they've been talking up an event out their way, something they call A Taste of Willow Creek, coming up next Sunday, Sept. 24. Now in its second year, it's kind of like a rural version of Eureka's Taste of Main Street, an all day affair showing off the art, music, food and wine of the region.
Jacques Neukom of Neukom Family Farms figures about 200 people came by their place during last year's Taste. This year he expects even more. Jacques and his partner Amy Wright hold down the booth a couple of spaces down from the Winnetts on the southwest corner of the Arcata Plaza selling amazingly delicious strawberries and peaches, sweet little cherry toms, big red tomatoes, three or four varieties of melon, red bells and so on as the seasons change.
Jacques will offer tours of his operation next Sunday and he'll have Peter Jones from Folie Douce (who uses Neukom produce) whipping up dishes made from whatever's fresh. Bruce and Janet Nelson from Sentinel Winery will be there to pour tastes of their wines.
Along with the fine wines from Winnett Vineyards, David and Sharon will be hosting their Farmers' Market neighbors, Rita Jacinto and Laurie Levey from Flying Blue Dog Farm and Nursery, showing off plants, jams, salsa kits and more varieties of garlic than I knew existed.
One thing the Winnetts never mentioned was that they were a driving force behind last year's Taste, working with Studio 299, the local arts organization, originally founded in the '80s to support art and art education.
"Studio 299 used to do art fairs and the annual Harvest Moon Celebration, but things slowed down in the '90s," said Gil Saliba, who serves as the organization's treasurer. "Since 2002 it's been kind of resurrected. The major events now are the Willow Creek Farmers' Market and the Taste of Willow Creek." The market has been running Sundays all summer, but will end with the Taste of Willow Creek.
Like many in the Willow Creek area, Gil is a retiree. After a career as a physician in Tarzana, he was eager to "get away from the misery of the city," so he and his wife Mediha moved to Burnt Ranch a few years ago to "create a new life" for themselves and to be closer to their daughter, Michaela Walston, who runs the Buttercup Bakery in Willow Creek with her husband, Abe. Part of that "new life" is helping bring back Studio 299.
The alternate name for the Taste is Passport Sunday in reference to the ticket booklet that serves as a guide leading you from one venue to another. You can pick one up at Studio 299 headquarters at Community Commons, just as you come into town, where Highway 96 intersects 299. That's where you'll find Gil, passing out passports along with commemorative wine glasses (while they last). They'll have music all day by the Joe Jones Trio, an arts and crafts fair, coffee and food from Bayside Roasters and a booth for KHSU, one of the event sponsors.
The Commons is right next to the Big Foot China Flat Museum, so you might want to see what's going on there -- the blacksmiths are having their annual Hammer-in at the museum that weekend.
Dana and Connie Davis run Lost Arrow Trading Company. They'll have a display of local art plus food and wine from Coates Vineyards up in Orleans. Cinnabar Sam's Restaurant will have food and coffee. They'll also be selling everyone's wines by the bottle.
Gallery Barn Harvest Moon Lavender is an art venue in a converted barn, and also a lavender farm. They'll have music by Big Eagle, food by Pacific Rim Noodle House (from down here on the coast) along with lavender lemonade and lavender ice cream.
Michael and Jennifer Peterson of Willow Creek Farms specialize in squashes and pumpkins, but they also grow tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn and other vegetables. They'll be sharing space with Buttercup Bakery from Willow Creek and Carol Fall from UC Davis Extension will be there with a presentation on heritage fruit trees of the area.
Tom O'Gorman grows all sorts of tomatoes on Trinity River Farm. He'll have tomato dishes and more at his place along with wine Oliveira and Vinatura wineries. Vinatura has grapes growing in Clover Flat right next to Trinity River Farm, said Gil.
The wine chairman for the event is Gary Barker, who many will remember from his days selling cars and trucks in Eureka. He's the vintner behind Dogwood Estate Winery in Willow Creek. "They grow their own grapes, but they also bring grapes up from the Napa Valley. They've been bottling for a year or two," said Gil. Of course Gary will be pouring his latest and he's hosting Meredith Family Vineyards from Hyampom in Trinity County.
When you've made the rounds you have a couple of options for dinner. Back at the Community Commons the Kiwanis have a BBQ with German sausage, salads, bread and coffee for $8, $5 for kids 10 and under.
"The big dinner is at Trinity River Farms," said Gil. "We call it Riverview Site, it's a beautiful place right along the Trinity. They'll have appetizers ahead of time and a multi-course meal with wine pairing from a number of wineries. That starts at 5 p.m. Dinner is $25 per person -- and that's for wine and everything. They'll also have a raffle for baskets from the different farms and an auction for various packages from the Willow Creek area -- wines, bed and breakfast stays, river rafting, all sorts of things you can enjoy."
I'm figuring the whole thing will be an eye-opener for those who just think of Willow Creek as the home of Bigfoot or a stop to pick up supplies for a day by the river.
As Jacques Neukom put it, "For me [the event] is a way to show people that agriculture is really thriving in Willow Creek. People see the beautiful vistas from the road and they don't always realize that they're looking at a farm."
Good food, good wine, a day in the sun -- sounds like a great way to spend a Sunday. Perhaps I'll see you up there.
A Taste of Willow Creek takes place Sunday, Sept. 24, from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Advance tickets are $20, $10 for kids 12-18, under 11 free. The price goes up to $25/$12 on Passport Sunday. Proceeds benefit Studio 299, the Willow Creek Chamber of Commerce and Dream Quest: Willow Creek Youth Partnership. For more information or to make a reservation call Gil and Mediha at 530-629-3488, or e-mail them at email@example.com.
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