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Build a Better Burger

Sutter Home's Gift to Americana

Sylvia Parkinson from ATL EventsLeft: Sylvia Parkinson
ATL Events

I'm happy to report the All-American Hamburger is alive and well done in St. Helena, California.

The radiant Sylvia Parkinson from ATL Events in Santa Rosa invited me to tag along with her to attend Sutter Home's Build a Better Burger contest in Napa Valley on May 18 to witness the judging of this year's better burgers and my stomach said, "yes."

I love tagging along with Sylvia to new places. It's like entering a dark room with a lantern in your hand. Even if she doesn't know anyone when she arrives, she knows everyone by the time she leaves.

At the Better Burger soiree, I knew we would be part of the tasting team if not the judging team (they were flown in from all over the country) so it was a win, win, win situation for all.

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For 20 years, the Better Burger contest had been the extravaganza to attend in Napa Valley but two years ago, they took the show on the road, first to Miami to compete with a hurricane and then on to Chicago.

The Trinchero Family (owners of Sutter Home Winery) returned the posh event to St. Helena this year to the delight of the North Bay.

Their brainchild, the search for the best All-American burgers to pair with Sutter Home's All-American wines has become quite the bash over the past 22 years with a top prize of $100,000 awarded to the maker of the best burger.

better burger contestLeft: Slices of all ten burgers and one guy. The burgers never had a chance.

Regional contests are conducted throughout the country and the ten finalists compete for fame and not-so-small a fortune at an All-American classy event.

Because we arrived a little early, I had a chance to talk to Nora, Wendy and Carissa from Sutter Home's public relations department. Their enthusiasm over the Better Burger contest was almost as great as their delight at working for Sutter Home Winery.

Happy staff makes for happy events so I was primed for a delightful day.

As I sat at a table under the tent, a cool breeze wafted through and swept away the heat from a brilliant sun. Napa Valley's Devi must also have been happy to see Build a Better Burger return. It was one of the most beautiful days I have yet to experience in St. Helena. And there have been many.

Better Burgers EventLeft: The Burger Tent

The atmosphere was much like being at a medieval party (not that I've attended all that many medieval parties). As ten regional winners prepared their masterpieces for the judges in separate cabanas, Sutter Home's chefs were on the other side of the jousting field preparing burgers from the same recipes for all us lucky guests.

When the burgers were done, the happy revelers lined up to fill their plates with slices of burgers and home-made condiments and I slipped off to the Ben & Jerry's ice cream cart for some Cherry Garcia.

I'll admit it. I'm a hedonist.

I also don't care much for lines (although folks in these queues zipped through the burger tent like they were on roller skates because staff was so efficient).

So I savored the ice cream first and dreamt a bit of Vermont until I remembered the 18-below winters. When I had finished my small cup of paradise, I went to the Burger line with Sylvia and experienced the best moment of the day, Sylvia picking a small bug off a stranger's coat and gently blowing it into the breeze.

After collecting our food, we returned to our table where I attacked my slices of hamburgers. I only attacked two, actually, because Ben & Jerry's had stolen the better portion of my appetite. Still, they were delicious.

So I sat next to one of the kindest women I know drinking fine wine, savoring two slices of the country's best burgers and desperately wanting it to be Groundhog Day.

I could go on and on about how lovely the afternoon was, the tables on freshly-mowed grass, the polite but ravenous crowd, the excellence of the judges' comments and the happy children but I think I just did.

All in all it was a grand affair and I am grateful to Sutter Home Winery for allowing me to attend. Thank you, Nora, Wendy and Carissa, for your collective kindness.

Sutter Home Winery
Tel: 707-963-3104
277 Main St
St Helena, CA 94574

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