Aug 19, 2019
By Janet Ciel
Held on a rural ranch, a few miles inland from the spectacular Sonoma Coast, the Bodega Seafood, Art & Wine Festival celebrates year twenty-five this summer. Sophisticated yet down-home, it’s garnered the reputation of being one of the premier art, wine, beer and food festivals in California. This annual benefit attracts thousands of foodies, art aficionados, wine and beer connoisseurs and music lovers to picturesque Watts Ranch in the village where Alfred Hitchcock once filmed his classic thriller, The Birds.
The festival is a food lover’s dream, especially for people who love seafood. From calamari to crab Louie, oysters to ahi, more than thirty seafood dishes will be offered up by a dozen different vendors. Non-fish eaters will have no trouble finding delicious vegetarian options, meat, chicken and sweet treats galore.
The Wine, Microbrewed Beer and Cider Tasting is always a popular part of the event. With 40-plus wineries, microbreweries and cider makers, the tasting tent rocks all weekend long, offering a mix of known brands, plus many small, up and coming companies. The cost is $25 for a commemorative wine or beer glass and 6 tastes. Additional tastes are $3. Wines are available for purchase from some of our companies, so you can taste and then buy.
The quality of the art and fine craft is unrivaled in Sonoma County and beyond. This juried show attracts artisans from throughout California and other parts of the country. The festival appeals to a broad range of attendees, providing a mix of higher end fine art and craft along with more moderately priced craft. The festival producers are artists themselves and know the ins and outs of doing shows from both sides, having traveled around the country doing craft fairs for more than 30 years.
Three stages of entertainment give festivalgoers a full day of musical and non-musical diversion. This year the Main Stage performances include Bay Area favorite David Luning with Americana Rock; the Sun Kings channeling the Beatles; Tom Rigney and Flambeau with Cajun Zydeco; and the quintessential swing band, Steve Lucky and the Rhumba Bums, featuring Carmen Gettit. The Wine Stage highlights folk, gypsy jazz and world music, while the Entertainment Stage has juggling, magic and comedy for all ages.
This is a fun family event with jump, slide, rockwall and face painting as well as the Color-in-Murals - an art project for all our visitors. Our beneficiary, Stewards of the Coast & Redwoods, will have interactive, environmental displays for the whole family.
A portion of the event proceeds supports two vital non-profits — Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, which works in partnership with the California State Parks in the Russian River/Sonoma Coast region, and the Bodega Volunteer Fire Department.
Festival hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, August 24, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, August 25. Admission is $15 in advance for adults, $20 at gate. Discounts offered for seniors, teens, first responders and military; under 12 are free. Special combo tickets for entry and tasting are available via our website, at all Oliver’s Markets and Sebastopol Bike Center.
Watts Ranch is located at 16855 Bodega Highway in the village of Bodega. For more information, go to www.bodegaseafoodfestival.com
The idea of the Bodega Seafood, Art & Wine Festival came from a trip to Florida in the winter of 1994. Janet Ciel and Michael Ecton, craftspeople seeking a way to make money during the lean months, applied for festivals all over the state. Each was accepted into nine different events January through March. They found a place to live on the island of Key Largo and rented out their Sebastopol house.
Prior to leaving for their journey, their belongings, including craft production supplies and computers (no laptops in those days) packed into two vans, one vehicle precariously towing the other, they got a call from a Bodega Bay landowner. He wanted to know if they’d be interested in putting on a festival on his property. He had a large ranch, and knew their names from the Festival of Art & Wine in Duncans Mills, a festival they’d produced for more than ten years. They agreed, but left wondering what they would do and how to do it from Florida.
On the east coast noticed seafood festivals in various states and realized a seafood festival in Sonoma County might be a big hit. The landowner agreed.
The work began when they realized all the applications, winery solicitation and permitting paperwork would need to be done from Florida. There was no email in those days, so mail, fax and phone were the means of communication. At one point much of the mail that had been forwarded from Sebastopol got lost, including many craft applications for the new festival.
Despite the challenges they pulled it off and the first year drew huge crowds to Chanslor Ranch just north of Bodega Bay. The parking lot had only one entrance, and at 11am on opening Saturday an RV broke down at the entrance, causing a traffic jam on Highway 1 and a threat from the Highway Patrol to shut down the festival.
The problem was resolved the festival stayed open that year, and was held nine more years on the ranch. This location, though spectacular when the weather cooperated, was endlessly problematic. Fog and intense wind often made for uncomfortable conditions for visitors and vendors. The ranch rented horses, so had large mountains of horse manure in the parking lot each year; unsanitary conditions which made the health department none too happy.
At year ten Michael and Janet decided they were done unless they could find another locale. Driving down Bodega Highway one day, Michael said a piece of property they were passing would be a perfect new location just as the landowner pulled into his driveway. He was assistant chief for the volunteer fire department and after some negotiations he agreed to allow the festival to move to his ranch if it could benefit the fire department. The current beneficiary, Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, was amenable, so it was a done deal.
Fifteen years later, Watts Ranch on Bodega Highway has proven to be the ideal spot for this wonderful event. It’s right on a major highway, so very visible, but not on the coast, which makes the weather substantially better. The owners are always looking to improve the site, and are easy to deal with. The village of Bodega is charming and historic, but down home and not touristy.
No longer married, Michael and Janet still work together to produce this stellar event, focusing on making it a quality festival from the food, drinks, and art to the excellent entertainment. They draw a crowd of around 10,000 yearly, from the Bay Area and beyond, some finding it for the first time, others who’ve been coming for years. This is a festival to fall in love with.
All photos : bodegaseafoodfestival.com/press-photos/
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