Next month, Sonoma will welcome revelers to partake in the city’s longest-running tradition of 200 years, celebrating the region’s pioneering winemaking and rich cultural heritage.
The 126th Moon Valley Vintage Festival will take place on September 29 and 30, in Sonoma Plaza, where it has been celebrated for more than a century.
The original festivities began in October 1897, at the Rhine Farm in the Buena Vista hills of east Sonoma, where the iconic Gundlach, Bundschu and Dresel wine families were staying. According to a Sept. 19, 1971, article in The Press Democrat, wine pioneers wanted a festival to celebrate a bountiful harvest and win the fight against phylloxera, a root-killing vine pest that nearly wiped out the industry. California’s growing winery.
Local high school principal Benjamin Weed and members of the Bacchus Club (created by Charles Bundschu) were in charge of the festival’s first Greek-themed production. According to festival websiteWeed wrote a play about the Greek god of wine, Bacchus, for the party, and the first event was considered a hit in the local newspaper.
Celebrations dwindled during Prohibition, the Great Depression and World War II. After several years away, the people of Sonoma formed the Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival Association to bring the festival back to 1947.
In the first year, local merchants dressed their storefronts in the theme of the “Gay Nineties” in preparation for the festival celebrating the 90th anniversary of the founding of the modern California wine industry, accredited to Agoston Haraszthywho founded Buena Vista Winery in 1857.
Festivities for the 1947 event included a pilgrimage to Rancho Buena Vista for a plaque dedication ceremony, a Sonoma Plaza party, a costumed gala folk dance, tours of the valley’s historic mansions and vineyards, as well as roller-skating and horseshoe-throwing contests, according to a September 26, 1947, Geyserville Press article.
In later years, historic storefronts would become a tradition, Sonoma City Hall would transform into an educational wine exhibit, and the Plaza would be filled with entertainment booths and folk dance troupes. People from all over the Bay Area came to this two-day event to watch the horse-drawn parade and historical re-enactments while tasting the region’s famous wines.
The festival officially began with a reenactment of the arrival of Padre José Altimira, founder of Mission San Francisco Solano in 1823, followed by the grape blessing ceremony, led by a local priest in front of the mission.
Other live “historical events”, represented by costumed citizens in the square, included the Bear Flag Rebellion of 1846; the escape of Bernardo “Three-Fingered Jack” Garcia; the double marriage of two of General Mariano Vallejo’s daughters to Haraszthy’s two sons; the raising of the American flag by the United States Navy, ending the brief independent republic of California; and the day news of the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma reached Sonoma in 1848.
Check out the gallery above for photos of Sonoma’s vintage festival over the years.