Wednesday, March 21, 2007

10 Things I Learned at the Family Winemakers Tasting

Yesterday afternoon the Family Winemakers of California came to Pasadena to do their Southern California trade tasting, the sister event of the August extravaganza in San Francisco. Here's some of what I learned, both the reverent and the irreverent:

1. "Family winemakers" is not just a marketing concept. Some truly fabulous people were there, pouring their wines and talking about what they were looking for in the vines and the grapes that they watch over.

2. Family winemakers continue to preserve the precious wine history of this country. It was a privilege to talk to Betty and Van Ballentine of Ballentine Vineyards about their experiences in the wine business, and to hear how their families had roots in wine making that extended all the way to 1906 when the San Francisco earthquake drove their ancestors to Napa where they planted Zinfandel, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Charbono, and Gamay. Seeing winemakers there with their children, and in some cases grandchildren, gave me a sense that this was a legacy that was being handed down. It was also great to see all the modern families--like the folks at Twisted Oak and Four Vines--that were forming around making wines for new generations of wine consumers.

3. There is some seriously good wine being made right here in California. And much of it is a seriously good value, too. The trick, as ever, is finding it--but more on that later.

4. A shocking number of people do not spit. I tasted 75 wines in a little over 2 hours. I spit--a lot, as my stained spit cup shows. How do the ones who swallow get home?

5. Comfortable shoes and dark clothes are essential. Not everyone who spits has good aim.

6. No matter how much water you take with you, you will need more to keep your tongue from shriveling up from the tannins and your teeth from aching from the sugar.

7. After your 100th spit, your technique improves dramatically.

8. Folks who have not practiced their in-mouth aeration skills in the privacy of their own home should not attempt to do so in a public setting (especially if they have been swallowing, see above #4). The results are not pretty, and can be messy.

9. You need 4 arms--3 minimum--to successfully juggle notebook, spit cup, and wine glass. Most humans have 2.

10. There are always more wines and never enough time.

Obviously there's a lot left for me to report on my experiences and conversation, and in the upcoming weeks I'll be profiling some California wineries to watch who are making excellent wines that are great values. Many of these are directly available from the winery if you live in such a state, and if not I'll be giving you links to Free the Grapes so that you can do your bit to help repeal the shipping laws standing between you and tasting this great wine.


Sonadora said...

Sounds like a great event! I have yet to attend one of these mass tasting extravaganzas, but hope to someday. As for not spitting, even when tasting in a tasting room, I don't really feel comfortable doing so. It seems awkward and I've even had some tasting room attendants look at me funny when I do so (not to mention the other patrons). So I've taken having one sip and dumping the rest, rather than spiting. If it's going to be more than one or two tasting rooms, I'll spit it all though, since I'm always the DD, given that I can rent a car without paying the premium for being under 25.

Anonymous said...

That Pasadena tasting is one of my favorites! I was trying really hard to get down there but it wasn't meant to be... Hope Pimp Daddy took good care of you! (I grew up near Pasadena so I miss all my old hangouts...:)

Dr. Debs said...

It was great, but crowded. And Sonadora, contrary to what I saw this is definitely an occasion to spit and wear black. El Jefe, maybe next year but PD and Myra took excellent care of me. It was great to see some of the TO bunch, and even better to taste the wine. But more on that later.

Joe said...

1) Definitely great wines, but finding the values in CA is a tricky battle
2) Good question - how do they get home? Unfortunate. Best for you to leave early...
3) For the errant spitters, you need Wine Away!

Dr. Debs said...

I definitely found great values--I'll be profiling them in upcoming weeks under "Wineries to Watch" because what I found was that there were some wineries where pretty much their whole lineup was great value, and others where if you found one great value you counted yourself lucky. Because many of the best values came from wineries that were smaller, and family run, rather than huge corporations with massive marketing $, I think they don't get the attention they deserve. Wine away--will remember to put that in the bag next time!