By Tom Bender

“As fire’s presence in our everyday lives has diminished, the social magnetism of the cook fire seems, if anything, to have only grown more powerful.” — Michael Pollan, “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.”

One of my favorite authors, Michael Pollan, sums it up well in his eye-opening book “Cooked” when he talks about the communal power of outdoor cooking.

We often find friends and family at outdoor gatherings hanging by the chef and eyeing what is on the grill. Conversations turn to sharing recent backyard cookery experiences or wanting to talk about the latest barbecue toy or flame-cooking acquisition. Think Green Egg.

On May 5 we get to pay homage to open-flame cooking as we get to participate in the fourth annual Four Fires event at the Amador County Fairgrounds. And not only do we get to see local professionals share their open-flame approach to cooking favorites, we get to celebrate their regional applications with a glass of wonderful Amador wines to match.

The concept brings together the flavors of Southern France, Italy, Iberia, plus “Heritage California” in a flavor-filled day in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Featuring close to 200 Amador County wines, the gathering combines them with regional food pairings, informative seminars, music and, most important, open flame cookery. Sample whole roasted lamb and pork, venison, grilled steak and even gourmet hot dogs.

The daylong event at our neighboring county’s fairgrounds provides patrons with seminars featuring some of the region’s leading experts, including master sommeliers, wine educators, well-known wine and beer judges, local restaurant owners and renowned chefs. Most seminars are 30 minutes with speakers up front and up close. Topics range from discussions on blending techniques and Amador soil influences to wine-food pairings and the craft of brewing.

Entertaining and educational features include the return of Pooch Pucilowski, certified wine educator and his seminar, “Wine Tasting 101: Sip, Swirl and Smell.”

With over 200 wines to investigate, a break in the action could include checking out the beer vs. wine debate in one of the nearby halls. A panel of beer and wine experts will discuss food with beer or wine pairings followed by open discussion and questions from guests.

New this year is the Amador Cigar and Pipe Club’s presentation with a unique take on pairing smoke with wine.

A sensory station will feature barrel woods, soils and other origins of wine scents and flavor.

Sparks might fly with “Man vs. Woman: Which gender makes the better wine judge (and winemaker)” featuring journalist Mike and Martha Dunne, the well-known wine judging couple.

Or hear why Amador County sets itself apart from other regions with “Keeping it in the Family,” a discussion with multi-generation wineries and what the current generation is doing differently at their wineries and in the vineyard.

Participating wineries this year include: 1850 Cellars, Amador Cellars, Andis, Avio, BellaGrace Vineyards, Binz, Bray Vineyards, C.G. Di Arie, Cooper Vineyards, Deaver, Dillian, Distant Cellars, Dobra Zemlja, Driven, Dry Town, Feist, Helwig Winery, Il Gioiello, Iron Hub, Jeff Runquist Wines, Karmere, Kendric, Legendre, Le Mulet Rouge, Los Portales, Matthew Gibson, Morse, Prospect Cellars, Rancho Victoria, Renwood Winery, Scott Harvey, Sera Fina, Shenandoah Vineyards, Sobon Estate, Story, Terra d’Oro, Turley Wine Cellars, Uphill Vineyards, Urban Legend, Vino Noceto, Wilderotter, Winetree Farm, Yorba Wines, and Youngs.

Tickets for this Amador immersion festival can be found at their web site, www.amadorfourfires.com, if they are not sold out. There is also a VIP offering that will get you into some special sessions along with an early sparkling wine reception, exclusive VIP seminars, along with several other perks at the event.

Proceeds go to benefit the Amador County Fair Foundation, a local nonprofit organization that assists the fairgrounds as a self-sustaining, year-round event center and evacuation location. Our local fairgrounds now need more support than ever with all the budget cuts impacting them. Fairground activities create community spirit and provide a reminder of the importance in time of need.

Amador Four Fires gives wine and food enthusiasts a chance to help a local fairground while having a flavorful and informative time. See you there!

Sonora-area resident Tom Bender has taught classes on wine in Columbia College’s Culinary Arts program since 1979. He managed the Columbia City Hotel, and its award-winning wine cellar, for many years and now manages a wine bar at a Modesto specialty market. He is also a winemaker. Contact him at wineguy@goldrush.com .

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