There are about 200 tickets still available for the Harvest Fair Awards Night Gala on Sept. 26 – a sign of the economic downturn. I remember when these tickets were such a hot commodity that people would camp out at the Sonoma County fairgrounds and, yes, pull an all-nighter, in the hopes of  buying a coveted ticket when the doors opened at 8 a.m.

Organizers say that was “back in the heyday” in the ‘80s and most of the ‘90s when the majority of the tickets were snatched up by wineries, which could afford to treat a block of employees. “Wineries just don’t have the budget they used to have to send everyone to this big celebration,” said Anne Marie Przyblyski. She said there’s been a shift in the last five years, with it most apparent in the last two years.

The Gala, at Grace Pavilion from 7 to 9:30 p.m., is where the winners of the Harvest Fair wine competition are announced and it’s a la-di-da affair. Truly. It’s the only time you’ll find limousines parked at the fairgrounds.

Is the gala a black tie event? Well, this is Sonoma County, so you’ll find everything from Chiffon to blue jeans, wing tips to Birkenstocks.

Organizers will be selling the $65 tickets today – Friday – until 5 p.m. at the administration office at the fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley Rd. in Santa Rosa. Tickets will also be available Saturday at the administration office from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and at the box office in front of Grace Pavilion from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The Gala precedes the Harvest Fair, Oct. 2, 3 and 4, where people can taste the bonafide winners of the wine competition. And just a head up for wine connoisseurs of all stripes: the fair is expanding the tasting portion of the program on Friday, Oct. 2nd

Flight #1 will be from noon to 2:30 p.m. with local sommeliers on hand to answer questions.  Flight #2 will be from 4:30 to 7 p.m., a social setting for friends. Each flight is $35.