We recently attended the Family Winemakers of California Tasting at Fort Mason in San Francisco. It was an impressive collection of boutique wineries. In fact, I have to admit that we were a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of wineries in attendance (over 300) and the assortment of wines being poured. However, we persevered and began the trek down the long lines of wineries, stopping at one here and another there. I wish that I could say we had a strategy for the wineries that we tried but the truth is that we tried those that had open spots (it was packed), looked interesting or a few cult wineries that I wanted to try.
Family Winemakers of California is an organization dedicated to the promotion of small and medium-sized wineries. These are wineries that you don’t get to see everyday. And, certainly, other than this event, would never see them together. On a really great wine list, you might see one, two or even more of these wineries if you were lucky. Imagine seeing over 300 of them in one place. It was a little bit like being a kind in a candy store!
We tried wineries from all over California and with an array of stories on how the winery got started. We talked to the winemakers and the owners. We always find it fascinating how folks got started in this business – was it a family business, an undying love of wine, a passion to make the best wine, a love of the land. We heard all of these stories and I am sure that there were so many more that we weren’t able to hear. As I mentioned, it was somewhat happenstance as to the wineries that we visited. We apologize to those wineries that invited us to stop and visit them and we weren’t able to see – too many wineries, too many people and not enough time.
We love talking to the small guys. Like the microbrewers and microdistillers, it is amazing how the small wineries (and those that have since morphed into big wineries) have transformed the beverage landscape in the United States. It is amazing what these folks have to do to get started and get their businesses off the ground and keep them running. We owe them a debt of gratitude and express our utmost respect for their passion and commitment.
We tried all types of wine from all over California. Maybe it’s our love of Italian wine but we tried a number of Italian varietals being grown in California and were largely impressed by the outcomes. We also tried a number of varietals hailing from France (we don’t call California part of the New France movement for nothing), some great Cabernet Sauvignons and some Viogniers, the legendary fickle grape from the Rhone Valley that has continued its persnickety ways in the United States. And, we had some amazing ones from a winery that purchased fields in Sonoma planted with a “field blend.” These were acres planted with different varieties of grapes, such as Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah and a number of other varieties. These grapes would then be picked and vinified together. I totally love it and love the fact that patches of these vineyards still exist (and somehow survived Prohibition, the US’s largely anti-wine culture until recent years and the replanting crazes).
Check out the wineries that are part of the California Family of Winemakers. Check out their websites. Or better, yet, plan a vacation and go visit them. We aren’t going to comment on the specific wines that we tasted (we don’t want to bore you), but we tried the following wineries (these are in no specific order): Bucklin (check out the field blends), Merriam Vineyards, LangeTwins, Petroni, Landmark, Opolo, Oreana, Macauley, Tayson Pierce Estate Wines, Terra Savia, Ramazotti Wines, Ortman, Madrona, Turley Cellars and Pride Mountain Vineyards. I wish we could have done more but that was about as much as my palate could handle.
An honorable mention of the day goes to the Wisconsin Cheese Board. You may or may not know that I grew up in Wisconsin and am incredibly proud of my home state (if only the weather were better). And, I love Wisconsin cheese; I bring home tons of it whenever I visit and my parents send it to me. So, I was happily surprised to see that the Wisconsin Cheese Board sponsoring the event and providing all of the delicious cheese that we snacked on that day. I also took the cheese map provided and plan on doing a cheese tasting tour during my next visit. So, as they say in Wisconsin, “Eat some Wisconsin cheese!”