Family Winemaker Follow-up

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend one of the largest wine tasting events in Southern California, The Family Winemakers of California event in Del Mar. There were 159 wineries in attendance and only five hours to get to as many as I could. The following is my recap of the event, and some of the wine "gems" I was able to find (and wines you should try).

Prior to the event, I had received a list of all the wineries that would be in attendance. I spent quite a few hours researching each winery on the list, learning about them, their wines, their approach, and their location. As you can imagine, many of these are small wineries, that most of us haven't heard of. Then again, there were the large (well-known) wineries too, like Grgich Hills, Rutherford Grove, Merry Edwards.

I next took a map of the tasting venue, and highlighted all the wineries I wanted to visit. I included some of the larger wineries, only to see if people like Mike Grgich or Merry Edwards were there, in an effort to meet such luck. The bulk of my focus was on Central Coast wineries, plus Sonoma, Napa or Sierra Foothills wineries that were producing wines that had generated some "buzz" in the industry. My Central Coast focus was more personal, as this is an area that I consider myself to be well versed in as far as geography, geology, climate and people.

As the 1:00pm start time approached, we walked to the Del Mar fairgrounds. Our anxiety rose a bit, when we encountered a long line beginning in the parking lot. Luckily for us, this was the line to the neighboring gun show. (Nothing like guns and alcohol at the same venue!) As it turned out, there were only about 20 people in line when we got there, but the line grew quickly, and the event opened on time. We picked up our commemorative wine glass, along with the red Solo spit cup, and headed out to meet a few winemakers.

Our first stop was to catch up with some winemaker friends we haven't seen in a while, so Dragonette Cellars (Brandon Sparks-Gillis) and Ampelos Cellars (Rebecca Work) were the first tastes of the day. I have known these winemakers for a long time, and have always enjoyed their wines. This day was no exception. The new Dragonnette Pinot Noir Fiddlestix vineyard was outstanding, and no one in California can touch their Sauvignon Blanc or Rose. Ampelos Cellars continues to make great biodynamically produced Pinot Noir, and their new cool climate Grenache ('08) was very good. Also said "hi" to friends at Cass Winery, Chateau Margene, and Niner Estates.

Some of the "finds" of the day were:

Barr Estate Albarino - great to see Signe Zoller as the winemaker. I've been a fan of her wines going back to the Kendall Jackson, Meridian, and Zoller Wine Styling days.

JC Cellars - an outstanding 2008 Musci Vineyard Syrah from the Alexander Valley. Deep, dark black fruit and well balanced.

Seavey Vineyard - the best Cabernet Sauvignon of the day - 2009 Caravina. Powerful, rich, with a long finish. While it is drinkable now, I'd hold on to it for another 5 to 7 years.

Sycamore Cellars - Probably the friendliest people at the tasting. I look forward to visiting their winery in the south end of the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey. I did enjoy their 2010 Pinot Noir, and the dark, teeth staining 2010 Petit Sirah.

Pomar Junction - there were a number of wineries serving dessert wines. I only made it to a few of them. Of the ones I tried, the Pomar Junction 2010 Late Harvest Viognier stood out. I had a nice conversation with winemaker, Jim Shumate. This Viognier was affected by noble rot...very unusual for the Paso Robles area.

Burbank Ranch - had a nice talk with all the family members. They make a nice Cabernet Sauvignon, but what you should know is that they sell grapes, so you home winemakers, this might be a good source to check out.

After about three hours, my palate was getting a bit fatigued. A handful of crackers and a glass of water would have done the trick, but I soon found out that the crackers I grabbed were black-pepper crackers, and my mouth was soon on fire. There were plenty of tables with cheese and crackers placed throughout the venue. The Sadie Rose Baking company had a number of different breads for tasting (check out their pretzel bread).

In five hours, I was able to visit 27 wineries. My best guess is that I tasted anywhere from 130 to 150 wines. The spit cups and buckets do come in handy. I probably swallowed only about one glass of wine. Seems like a waste, but when you are tasting, it is critical. There are a lot of fine wineries I have left off this recap, and many I didn't even get a chance to taste....if only, I had the time to stay around for the Sunday tasting too...oh well, there is always next year!

So, check out the wines I mentioned above, and also go the Family Winemakers of California website, to check out all the members. Also watch for their next event, and block out the time to attend. It is well worth the expense!

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