Family Winemakers of California http://familywinemakers.org (FWC) is an organization dedicated to preserving the diversity of California wine and supporting family owned wineries. Anyone who produces wine commercially or who grows wine grapes can join, although membership is dominated by wineries with an annual production of less than 5,000 cases. These small wineries also get a huge marketing assist from FWC, primarily due to the three big events held annually, one in Del Mar, one in Pasadena, and one in San Francisco.
In the past, the Del Mar tasting was held over a weekend, with part of it being trade only and part open to the public. The Pasadena event was held on a weekday afternoon and was designated as trade only. However, last year the Pasadena event was not held, and so my wife Karen and I schlepped down to Del Mar to attend that tasting.
This year, things were back to normal, with an added bonus. The event was held on a Sunday afternoon and the public was invited. The trade portion of the event started at 1 PM. The public could purchase tickets to attend the event starting at 3:30 PM, with a limited number of VIP tickets available for those who wanted to get started early and taste with the trade. Bear in mind that this is a huge event, with 158 wineries participating! So, getting that early start was well worth the extra cost. It was great to see so many people doing this, especially a large number from the Santa Clarita Valley.
Now, how does one approach such a massive tasting? You can go ahead and plan out the wineries you want to visit, or the varietals you’d prefer to taste. But, with so many wineries, it is impossible to make much of a dent, regardless of how much planning you do. So, just relax and enjoy yourself. But be careful — unless you’re spitting, which I personally don’t do very well. Even judicious tasting of very small samples and dumping out most of the wine poured for you will still have an impact with so many wines being available.
That being said, I approached the tasting as I usually do, planning to visit some old familiar wineries that I wanted to catch up with, as well as possibly finding some new gems. These are the wineries I enjoyed the most – bear in mind that I didn’t taste at most of the tables – if I had, I probably would have had more recommendations.
Cantara Cellars www.cantaracellars.com
This Ventura County producer continues to put out a solid consistent line-up. My favorites were the Petite Sirah and the Franknvine red blend.
Chatom Vineyards www.chatomvineyards.com
Douglas Flat, CA
Whether you call it the Sierra Foothills or Calaveras County, Gold Country wineries have their own special character. Loved the Syrah and the Zinfandel.
Clavo Cellars www.clavocellars.com
I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, Neil Roberts continues to produce some of my favorite white wines on the Central Coast. His Vermentino totally rocked. His reds aren’t too shabby either – really enjoyed the Syrah and the Petite Sirah.
Collier Falls www.collierfalls.com
Not only do they make an outstanding Zinfandel and a great Primitivo, you can really taste the difference when you taste them side-by-side. But it was the Petite Sirah that was my favorite today.
Coruce Vineyards and Winery www.corucevineyardsandwinery.com
I’ve stopped being surprised by the quality of the wines being produced by wineries in our high desert. Look for these guys at the Sierra Pelona Wine Festival on April 26th. Make sure you try the Syrah.
J Dusi Wines www.jdusiwines.com
Paso Robles, CA
I’m not sure if I’ve reach official stalker status with this winery, but I continue to be impressed by the quality of the wines, and Janell is just taking if further with the recent acquisition of vineyards and a tasting room on the Paso Robles’ west side. The Ruby Slippers red Rhone blend was my favorite.
Jeff Cohn Cellars www.jccellars.com
Formerly known as JC Cellars, look for the new label. The wines are still as great as ever, especially the Zinfandel and the Smoke & Mirrors red blend.
Villa Toscano Winery www.villatoscano.com
In my opinion, the best Barberas in California come out of Amador County. This winery was pouring a great one, along with a delicious Zinfandel. And this winery also produces a tasty and unique White Barbera
Vino Noceto www.noceto.com
See my comments above about Amador Barbera. And while I am not typically a fan of California Sangiovese, this producer did a great job.
Westerhold Family Vineyard www.westerholdwines.com
Santa Rosa, CA
Excellent Bennett Valley Syrah – possibly my favorite Syrah of the day.
Typically, when I go to a tasting, there will be one winery that gets my attention more than any other. This time, there were actually two.
ONX Wines www.onxwines.com
This rising star Paso Robles producer is making excellent Rhone-blends-with-a-twist, such as their Reckoning, a blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Tempranillo and Grenache. Looking forward to visiting them soon.
Rock Wall Wine Company www.rockwallwines.com
Winemaker Shauna Rosenblum grew up in the wine business. Her dad, Kent Rosenblum founded Rosenblum Cellars which he sold in 2008. Shauna has carried on the family tradition, making delicious fruit forward wines. Loved the Petite Sirah and Zinfandel, as well as the Obsideana blend of Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. Speaking of fanciful names, Shauna named her outstanding Tannat Palindrome because, well, Tannat is a palindrome, and our conversation gave her the opportunity to teach me a new one: Go Hang a Salami; I’m a Lasagna Hog!
Michael Perlis has been pursuing his passion for wine for more than 25 years. He has had the good fortune of having numerous mentors to show him the way, as well as a wonderful wife who encourages him and shares his interest. After a couple of decades of learning about wine, attending events, visiting wineries and vineyards, and tasting as much wine as he possibly could, he had the amazing luck to meet Eve Bushman. Now, as Contributing Editor for Eve’s Wine 101, he does his best to bring as much information as possible about wine to Eve’s Wine 101 faithful readers. (2013 Update: Eve and Michael announced Eve Wine 101 Consulting. Info is here: http://evewine101.com/press-releases/) Michael can be contacted at email@example.com.