How To Taste 1200 Wines in 2 Days
I got my invitation in the mail today for August’s Family Winemakers of California Tasting. Based on the preliminary list of wineries that have committed to pouring at the event, it appears there will be upwards of 400 California wineries at Fort Mason in San Francisco on August 20 and 21. Most of them will be relatively small wineries too.
The question for anyone going to this event is how to attack it. After all, we are talking about a tasting that will present at least 1200 different wines…and that’s a conservative estimate.
When you have a tasting of around 100 wineries at a tasting you really don’t need a plan. It’s manageable enough to jump in with your glass and guide and go at it. Four hundred wineries is a different animal all together. If you spent five minutes with each winery you’d have to spend more than 33 hours at the tasting…and that doesn’t count time for a bathroom break, eating, or conversing with others. You have to pick your wineries when you head out to something like this.
So I have an idea for Family Winemakers to make everyone’s lives easier on August 20 and 21.
Provide us with a directory of wineries that identifies certain unique qualities of each winery.
In the past, Family Winemakers has provided a "Varietal Guide" to the wineries. That’s helpful. If you just wanted to taste Viognier you could consult the Guide and head out. But with 400 wineries, offering more alternative with which to organize our pursuit of sips makes a lot of sense.
Varietal sorting, while obvious and useful, is hardly the only viable criteria by which to organize 400 wineries. Rather, I’d like to see Family Winemakers provide a guide to this tasting that provides a number of different categorization schemes that could make the tasting have a great deal more meaning for people. For example, the Guide to the Family Winemakers of California Annual Tasting should categorize wineries by:
-SIZE (cases produced)
-PRODUCERS OF WINE FROM MOUNTAIN FRUIT
-BY AVERAGE ALCOHOL LEVEL
-THOSE MAKING UNOAKED WINES
-PRODUCERS OF "OLD VINE" WINES
-PRODUCERS POURING WINES OLDER THAN FIVE YEARS
I realize that "discovery" is one of the enchanting elements of walking down an aisle of 200 different wineries. But with 400 wineries at your disposal the opportunity to hone in on particular types of wines is great. It might also make the tasting a far more interesting affair.
Excellent idea- kind of similar to the way that the Zagat restaurant guide have contact info and ratings on each restaurant but other sections are done in a list form. These enable you to sort restaurants the same way you suggest sorting wineries.
My only concern would be the additional time and expense involved in assembling the guide and sorting everything out. I would think that this could be used throughout the year as a PR guide by Family Winemakers, so it shouldn’t be too difficult for them to rationalize putting in the extra effort.
That’s truly an insane number of wineries and amount of wine. I seem to remember that the Rhone Rangers tasting pamphlet at least provides a breakdown into grape variety or wine style. That’s some help. The real problem is separating the dedicated and serious tasters from the people just out to have a good time and swig as much juice as possible in the allotted hours, or those who want to stand at the tables and smooze with the winemakers or owners. I always want to say, as I’m elbowing somebody aside, “Hey, move it, pal, I’m trying to work here!”
I just experienced something similar last weekend at our DC Wine & Food Festival. I stressed over how to maximize the two 4-hour windows of the event.
I asked for suggestions, but in the end, I kind of wandered and “discovered.” But unless you’re disciplined, it’s hard to only try light wines before moving to only heavier wines.
For those who are interested, I chronicled my stress and suggestions at my blog: http://www.winesmithblog.com.
At the Hospice du Rhône this year they arranged the wineries in the building by area — Australia here, S. Africa over there, France on this side, NoCal, CentralCal, etc. The book which was distributed listed wineries alphabetically, and then contained another list by grapes used. So you could be somewhat systematic if you wanted to be. It was a pretty good attempt if you ask me…