Rodney Strong Vineyards Announces Winning Sonoma Wine Country Weekend Top Sommelier Star

(Sonoma County, CALIF.) — Rodney Strong Vineyards has again put some of the top wine palates in the country to the test in their annual three-part Sommelier Star Challenge to become Sonoma’s 2013 Top Sommelier Star. Winning the title was Maximilian Kast from The Fearrington House Restaurant, located in Pittsboro, North Carolina, who competed against an exclusive group of rising sommelier stars from throughout the United States and Canada.

The Sonoma Wine Country Weekend Sommelier Stars were in Sonoma County serving as special guest, all-star wine guides at several events taking place throughout the 2013 Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, while deepening their understanding of the region and its wines. Visa Signature® is the presenting sponsor of Sonoma Wine Country Weekend.

“Rodney Strong Vineyards has been committed to sommeliers for several years, so we were thrilled to again sponsor the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend Sommelier Stars and the Sommelier Star Challenge,” said Carmen Castaldi, Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing. “We recognize that sommeliers are the ambassadors of Sonoma wines to their restaurant patrons and that they are wine professionals that raise awareness of wine enjoyment, providing tableside wine education year round. Their work is enormously beneficial, and important, for both wineries and consumers.”

The competing sommeliers had to identify 12 Sonoma county varietal wines, based on variety, vintage, appellation and producer. They were then served a very difficult-to-pair entree of chipotle roasted pork tenderloin with a plantain chorizo hash along with a summer corn salsa with heavy cilantro, before being asked to select one of the 12 wines to pair with it, without actually tasting the wine with the dish to challenge their palate memory. Finally, they competed in a four-minute “wine service” competition serving wine-intense judges (the panel was comprised of wine media, a winemaker and a Master Sommelier) at the table, as if they were in their restaurant. The competing sommeliers had to make a positive impression and “sell” why the wine they chose was the perfect pairing. They were scored on service, presentation, and demeanor, as well as the food and wine pairing.

As winner of the Rodney Strong Vineyards Sommelier Star Challenge, Kast not only earned a nice trophy, bragging rights and a treasure chest of prizes, he also supported the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend fundraising effort by being offered at the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction as Lot #1, and that lot alone raised $10,000 for charity. The winning bidder enjoyed Kast as their private sommelier, who was equipped with a large format bottle of Rodney Strong’s Brothers Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as access during the auction to a select list of premier Sonoma County wines from the Sommelier Private Cellar for the high bidder to enjoy during and after the Auction.

“It was an honor to be selected as a Sommelier Star and truly enjoyable to be around so many other talented Sommeliers while participating in such a fantastic event,” said Kast, “I am certainly pleased to have won the title of Sonoma’s 2013 Top Sommelier Star. However, the biggest reward was that I was able to contribute to the mission of Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, which is to raise funds for charity. It was a thrill to help by generating $10,000 of the total $1.4 million that was raised at the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction.”         

Maximilian Kast, the Wine Director at The Fearrington House Restaurant, loves and lives all things food and wine.  A first generation American from a food-oriented German family, Maximilian grew up in the kitchen and at the table, learning that the key to friendship, family, and love rests at sharing a meal, and taking time to appreciate the little things. He is an Advanced Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers who passed the blind tasting and theory portions of the Masters exam in 2011, he also placed third in the Chaine de Rotisseurs Best Young Sommelier in the United States competition in 2013.  He looks forward to sitting for the Master Sommelier exam again in 2014.  

The Fearrington House Inn, Spa, and Restaurant is a Grand Chef Relais & Chateaux property outside of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  Before coming to The Fearrington House, Kast was Food and Wine Director for Triple Creek Ranch, also a Relais & Chateaux property, in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana

The Sonoma Wine Country Weekend Sommelier Stars were sponsored by Rodney Strong Vineyards. While visiting to work the highly-popular Sonoma Wine Country Weekend event, thesommeliers brought their discriminating palates and became immersed in Sonoma to gain a deep understanding of the region and the wines. In addition to the educational experience, the wine professionals had some fun, leading seminars and tours at Taste of Sonoma at MacMurray Ranch in Healdsburg as well as providing custom wine service to all auction guests at the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction at Chateau St. Jean.

The 2013 Sonoma Wine Country Weekend Sommelier Stars were:

  • Christopher Bates – Hotel Fauchere, Milford, PA
  • Andrey Ivanov – Elaia & Olio, St Louis, MO
  • Maximilian Kast – The Fearrington House, Pittsboro, NC
  • David Keck – The Camerata at Paulie's, Houston, TX
  • Brandon Kerne – 33 Wine Shop & Bar, St Louis, MO
  • Jack Mason – Costata, New York, NY
  • Steven McDonald – Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, Houston, TX
  • Jesse Moffitt – Capital City Club, Atlanta, GA
  • Greg Rivera – The Flagler Steakhouse at The Breakers Palm Beach, Palm Beach, FL
  • Brad Royale – Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts, Calgary, Alberta
  • Kevin Weeks – Canlis, Seattle, WA

Produced in partnership by the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance and the Sonoma County Vintners, the 2013 Sonoma Wine Country Weekend event features Taste of Sonoma at MacMurray Ranch®, Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction at Chateau St. Jean, Sonoma Starlight at Francis Ford Coppola Winery, and an assortment of intimate and exclusive winery lunch and dinner parties at multiple locations throughout Sonoma County.  Sonoma Wine Country Weekend has become the region’s largest and most fun charity event, celebrating the vintner, grower, and food communities while raising needed funds to improve children’s lives and literacy for a better future.

About 2013 Sonoma Wine Country Weekend

A partnership between Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Foundation and Sonoma County Vintners, Sonoma Wine Country Weekend is California’s premier wine, food and social event, taking place on Labor Day weekend each year. Sonoma Wine Country Weekend’s wine community supports the Sonoma County economy, regional wine marketing efforts, and invests in the future of the region by supporting worthy charities that improve quality of life at the present and for generations to come. The events comprising Sonoma Wine Country Weekend have raised nearly $13 million in support to local charities that support youth and children to ensure their success, preserve the environment for future generations, and improve the health and welfare of local communities.  The 2013 Sonoma Wine Country Weekend is presented by Visa Signature®. For a complete list of beneficiaries and sponsors, please visit

About Rodney Strong Vineyards

Rodney Strong Vineyards is dedicated to crafting world-class wines that capture the essence of Sonoma County.  Rodney Strong sustainably farms 14 estate vineyards and produces wines from Sonoma County’s finest appellations – Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, Chalk Hill and Sonoma Coast.  The winery was founded in 1959 by Sonoma County wine pioneer Rodney D. Strong as the 13th bonded winery in the county.  It was purchased by the Klein family, a fourth generation California farming family, in 1989.  The company aspires to conserve and protect the environment in all its operations. For more visit

For those who could not attend the Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction, yet would still like to participate in the charitable effort, an online auction of additional  lots, including many of Sonoma County’s finest large format wine bottles and exclusive experiences, is open for bidding through September 6, 2013 at

For more information visit, call (855) 939-7666, like it on Facebook at and follow on Twitter at

Journalists: High-resolution artwork is immediately available. For more information, to speak with an event representative or to inquire about press credentials for the 2014 Sonoma Wine Country Weekend please email or call Lisa Adams Walter at (707) 255-0300 or more information visit, like it on Facebook at and follow on Twitter at

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