Spring Mountain Harvest Tasting: November 18, San Francisco

When most people think of Napa, they likely think of broad swaths of vineyards sweeping back from the edges of Highway 29 towards beautifully manicured lawns and pretty architecture. Certainly, many of the most famous spots in Napa fit this description. Some of their names -- Rutherford, Oakville, St. Helena -- have begun to be recognized by consumers.

But there is another side (or more accurately, sides) to Napa, less trodden, less visible, but arguably more interesting from the standpoint of wine. Those sides, of course, are the hillsides -- the mountain terroirs of Napa, where altitude and slope, temperature gradients and well draining soils, shady pockets and hillside breezes make for fresh, powerful wines that can really turn your head.

There are a few such hillside and mountaintop areas of Napa, but perhaps the most significant is the Spring Mountain District, home to some of Napa's most distinctive (and some would argue, undervalued) wines. It's a part of Napa that receives far less traffic and attention than elsewhere in the valley, in part because of the winding mountain roads that must be navigated to reach it.

But not on the weekend of November 18th. Because the mountain is coming to Muhammed. Or, rather to San Francisco.

On Sunday November 18th, a whole bunch of producers from Spring Mountain are showing up to pour their wines to anyone who wants to taste. There will be copious and diverse appetizers on offer as well.

This is a great opportunity to taste your way through a set of producers that aren't often accessible to consumers in a single spot. And a number of them are among my favorites in Napa.

Wineries pouring include Barnett Vineyards, Behrens Family Vineyard, Castellucci Napa Valley, Frias Family Vineyards, Keenan Winery, Luscher-Ballard Vineyard, Paloma Vineyard, Pride Mountain Vineyard, Schweiger Vineyards, Sherwin Vineyards, Smith-Madrone, Spring Mountain Vineyard, Stony Hill Vineyard, Terra Valentine, and Vineyard 7 & 8.

If you're not doing anything the Sunday before Thanksgiving and you love great wine, you'd be hard pressed to find a more interesting place to be than at this tasting.

2018 Spring Mountain Harvest Tasting
Sunday, November 18
4:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Presidio Golden Gate Club
135 Fisher Loop
San Francisco, CA 94129 (map)

Tickets for this event may well sell out, so you should purchase yours in advance online. They'll run you $100 per person.

Russian River Single Vineyard Tasting: November 15, San Francisco

Longtime readers will know that I make it a point to promote events that provide an opportunity to really educate your palate. As a wine lover, nothing teaches you more than getting a chance to taste a lot of similar wines side-by-side. Whether that's learning if you really do like Merlot, or understanding the what kinds of wine a particular region does well, there's no substitute for taking a couple of hours to taste forty wines poured by people who can tell you most anything you might want to know about what you're tasting.

Which leads me to the question: how do you feel about the Russian River Valley? Undoubtedly one of California's most distinct wine regions, the fog-influenced Russian River Valley was ground zero for the rise of California Pinot Noir from obscurity to its near-cult status today. Thanks to producers such as Williams Selyem and Rochioli, the Russian River Valley proved that not only were people were willing to pay $80 for a bottle of California Pinot Noir from a very specific vineyard, but that they'd wait years to get onto a mailing list for that privilege.

There's nothing like visiting a wine region to get a feel for it, but a close second is having the chance to taste a lot of its best wines in a single sitting. And that's precisely what you'll have a chance to do if you attend an event called Russian River Valley Single Vineyard Night on November 15th in San Francisco.

Dozens of wineries from the region are bringing their single-vineyard designated wines to the Presidio Officer's Club for a walk-around tasting. So if you're interested in learning more about the Russian River Valley, what grows best there, and what it tastes like, or if you're a super-fan and want to go gargle with some of your favorite juice, you should consider checking it out.

There will be food, music, and a silent auction as well.

Some of the wineries pouring that night will be:

ACORN Winery, Balletto Vineyards, Benovia Winery, Campana Ranch Wines, Char Vale Winery, Christopher Creek Winery, Croix Estate Winery, Davis Bynum, Gary Farrell Winery, Kanzler Family Vineyards, Inman Family Wines, La Crema Winery, Landmark Vineyards, Limerick Lane, MacPhail Wines, MacRostie Winery & Vineyards, Maritana Vineyards, Matrix Winery, Paradise Ridge Winery, Russian River Vineyards, Tara Bella Winery, Ten Acre Winery, Thomas George Estates, Tongue Dancer Wines, and Wren Hop Winery.

So have a late lunch, go taste some good wine, and then have a late dinner.

2018 Russian River Single Vineyard Night
Thursday, November 15th
6:30 PM - 8:00 PM
Presidio Officer's Club - Ortega Ballroom
50 Moraga Ave
San Francisco, CA 94129 (map)

Tickets for the event are $85, but if you pay $100 you can get in early, hobnob with winemakers, and get to taste limited-edition bottlings and other "rare" wines. This event will likely sell out so get your tickets soon.

20th Annual PinotFest Tasting: November 17, San Francisco

One of the longest running wine tasting events in San Francisco is also one of its best. While the city often plays host to really huge public tastings like ZAP, Family Winemakers, and PinotDays, some of the better tastings are more intimate and focused. Both words appropriately describe PinotFest, a low-key event held every year at Farallon Restaurant. Despite practically non-existent marketing or announcement, PinotFest quietly pulls together 60 or so top producers of West Coast Pinot Noir every year for a dedicated crowd of Pinot lovers in San Francisco. This year will be the event's 20th annual incarnation. Attendees get nibbles from Farallon's kitchen, and access for a few hours to many hard to find Pinot Noirs that often don't appear at the larger public tastings. This year's wineries will include: Alma Rosa, Au Bon Climat, Big Table Farm, Bonaccorsi, Byron, Calera, Charles Heintz, Chehalem, Cobb, Costa de Oro, Cristom, Domaine Drouhin, En Route, Ernest, Etude, Failla, Fiddlehead, Flowers, Foxen, Freeman, Gary Farrell, Gloria Ferrer, Handley, Hartford Court, Hitching Post, Joseph Phelps, Keller Estate, Kendric, Kosta Browne, LaRue, Littorai, Lutum, Marimar Estate, Melville, Merry Edwards, Nicolas Jay, Paul Hobbs, Paul Lato, Peay, Radio Coteau, Saintsbury, Siduri, Sinor LaVallee, Soter, Talisman, Talley, Testarossa, Tendril, Thomas Fogarty, Twomey, Wayfarer, Whitcraft, WillaKenzie, Williams Selyem. While, at $125, this tasting may be expensive for some, it is only the price of approximately 1.5 bottles from most of these producers, and by far the least expensive way of getting a chance to taste a lot of them in one setting. This year's event will also feature a pop-up tasting of some of Australia's finest Pinot Noir producers, courtesy of friends at Wine Australia. It's a great event and one that no California Pinot Noir lover should miss. PinotFest 2018 Saturday, November 17th 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM Farallon Restaurant, 4th Floor 450 Post Street San Francisco, CA 94108 Tickets are $125 per person (a price which hasn't gone up in years and years) and can be ordered online or by calling 415-956-6969. This event will almost certainly sell out. I recommend arriving exactly at 3:00 PM, wearing dark clothes to minimize spills, eating a hearty lunch ahead of time, and swallowing only a few wines so you can taste a lot more.

Masters of Wine Champagne Tasting: September 24, San Francisco

In the villages of Champagne, harvest having taken place more than a week ago, the wine is already through its fermentations and resting in tanks or barrels waiting to be bottled with the yeast and sugar that will give it the bubbles we all love so much.

What better time to begin thinking about one of the best wine tasting events each year in San Francisco. The Champagne tasting put on by the Institute for the Masters of Wine.

Very few opportunities exist to taste a lot of Champagnes side-by-side, even if you are a member of the trade. As a consumer, such opportunities are incredibly rare, especially Masters of Wine Champagne Tasting: September 24, San Franciscocompared to the relative frequency of opportunities to taste, say, as many Zinfandels as you want, or a lot of Pinot Noir.

If you are interested in giving yourself a little education when it comes to Champagne, or if you're educated already and simply want to soak yourself in a few bubbles, then you ought to be in line at 6:00 PM on September 28th at the Hyatt Fisherman's Wharf here in San Francisco.

This event serves both as a fundraising opportunity as well as a general outreach event for the institute, but more importantly, it offers an incredible opportunity to taste some of the world's best Champagnes, poured by some of the world's most knowledgeable wine experts.

The last one of these tastings I attended, many of the top cuvées from Dom Perignon, Taittinger, Bollinger, Roederer and more were on offer. The Institute claims that this tasting is "the most prestigious tasting of Champagne in North America," and who is going to argue with...The Institute?

This year's agenda includes seated guided tastings of older prestige wines before each walk-around tasting. Unfortunately the seated tasting AND the first tasting session of the afternoon are sold out, but tickets still remain for the evening tasting. Get them while you can!

Also of note, this year's event lineup includes a smaller, BYOB dinner after the event at the Cantonese banquet restaurant R&G Lounge in Chinatown, which likely will be a lot of fun.

14th Annual Masters of Wine Champagne Tasting
Monday, September 24th, 2018
Seated Seminars: SOLD OUT
Session 1: 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM - SOLD OUT
Session 2: 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
BYOB Dinner: 8:30 PM - 11:00 PM
Hyatt Fisherman's Wharf
555 North Point Street
San Francisco, CA 94133

Tickets for this event are $80 for the only remaining session (6:00 - 8:00), or $100 for the BYOB dinner, and tickets should be purchased in advance online (this event always sell out, as there is limited capacity). If you're interested in the dinner, you can purchase tickets for that separately. Proceeds benefit the Institute for the Masters of Wine, and in particular their scholarships for aspiring students.

Parking can be crazy in Fisherman's Wharf, and if you're going to swallow any of those bubbles, it would serve you well to simply take public transport to the tasting. Also, please leave your perfume at home.

56th Annual Napa Wine Library Tasting: August 26, Napa

Dedicated wine lovers in the San Francisco Bay area get several opportunities each year to indulge their passions for wine. Large, themed tastings like the ZAP Zinfandel Festival are great opportunities to get a sense of a certain varietal and the quality of the recent vintage in California.

It is quite rare, however, despite the nearness of the appellation and the saturation of wine in the Bay Area, for consumers to get the opportunity to get an in-depth or comprehensive look at the wines of Napa Valley. Perhaps it's just because Napa wines don't need much marketing help, or perhaps it's because the Napa Valley Vintners association can only put on a few major events each year, but there just isn't a real good opportunity for members of the public to survey the breadth and depth of wines from the Napa valley.

Unless, that is, you happen to be a member of the Napa Valley Wine Library Association (Hint: you can become a member for just $100).

The Wine Library is just what it sounds like: a library with books about wine. Started in the early Sixties by a group of winery owners that realized the irony of having a public library in the heart of Napa Valley that possessed virtually no literature or resources about wine, the library association was built on donations of money and books from Napa's wine families over four decades. Now occupying a special section of the St. Helena public library and even owning a small 56th Annual Napa Wine Library Tasting: August 26, Napavineyard out behind the building, the Wine Library Association is a membership organization that gives its members access to these materials, some of which are rare and historic, as well as to annual tasting events.

These tasting events have been going on for more than fifty years, offering members the chance to sample wines from producers all over the valley. This year around 70 wineries will pour vineyard designated wines from 17 different AVAs in the grove at the Silverado Country Club. If you've never been to the grove at the Silverado Country Club, it is an idyllic place for a wine tasting, even during a hot Napa day.

"That's all well and good," you may be saying, "but this is a members-only event and I'm not a member of the Napa Valley Wine Library Association." That's true. But a check for $100 sent in advance, or brought with on the day of the tasting will do the trick.

Sound like a steal? It is. Unless you're a member of the trade that attends Premiere Napa Valley, or someone willing to pay in the hundreds or even thousands for a package at the annual Auction Napa Valley, there is generally no other way to get the opportunity to taste so many Napa Valley wineries in a single setting. If you're serious about learning more about Napa wines, especially if you're interested in some of the less famous wines of the valley, this is an event you don't want to miss.

If you're interested in the wines on offer, you can find the list on the Napa Wine Library web site.

2018 Napa Valley Wine Library Association Member Tasting
Sunday August 26th
4:00 PM to 6:00 PM
Silverado Resort and Country Club
1600 Atlas Peak Road
Napa, California 94558

Annual membership dues for the Association are $100. Only checks and cash will be accepted, I believe, so stop at an ATM or bring your checkbook. Additional details on how to get membership in advance can be found on the Association's web site.

Taste of Sonoma: September 1, Rohnert Park

Most people, when they come visit me in the San Francisco Bay Area and ask to be taken to wine country, assume that they're going to Napa. But at least half the time, that's definitely not where we end up.

My well meaning friends aren't the only ones who seem to forget that Northern California has many different "wine countries." Napa casts a long shadow, as it were.

I've got a bit of love for every piece of wine country we've got here in California, but there's a special place in my heart for Sonoma County, both because it is the place of my birth, but also because I think sometimes it gets short shrift compared to its more famous neighbor.

Sonoma County is several different wine regions rolled up into one -- from the chilly fog of the Sonoma Coast and Carneros, to the cool Green Valley and Russian River Valley, to the warmer climes of Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Mountain, Alexander Valley, and the Sonoma Valley -- many different micro-climates and many different wines, from sparkling to Pinot Noir to Zinfandel to Cabernet.

The main problem, however, is that all these regions lay spread out over a wide area, much wider than the relatively (in comparison) compact Napa Valley. So experiencing the breadth of Sonoma can be time consuming, no matter how fulfilling it usually ends up being.

So while it's a good idea for wine lovers to pay more attention to Sonoma in general, there is one event each year when any self-respecting wine lover should be thinking of nothing but Sonoma. It's gone through many incarnations over the last 10 years, but is now named Taste of Sonoma.

It's a single day chance to experience the breadth of Sonoma County's wine AND food offerings in all their glory (and a damn fine way to spend a Labor Day Weekend).

Held at the Green Music Center on the campus of Sonoma State University, the event features seminars and a grand tasting of hundreds of Sonoma County wine producers and dozens of Sonoma County restaurants and food providers.

Find out everything you need to know on the event web site.

Taste of Sonoma 2018
Saturday September 1, 2018
Green Music Center
Sonoma State University
1801 E. Cotati Ave
Rohnert Park, CA 94928 (map)

Tickets for the grand tasting, which can be purchased online, range from $150 to $255 per person, with the higher end ticket including seminars and early admission to the tasting, as well as access to a VIP lounge experience with more exclusive wines and bits of food.

2018 Family Winemakers Tasting: August 26, San Francisco

I continue to post news of large public wine tasting events because they are quite simply the single best way for a curious wine consumer to educate his or her palate in a short period of time. Tasting dozens of examples of the same grape grown in different places and made in different ways is both a way to learn to recognize its specific qualities, but also to form the critical judgments that are the wine lover's first step to enjoying more of what you drink. The better you know what you like and what you don't, the more you'll enjoy your exploration of wine.

Regular readers know that the Family Winemakers tasting, now in its 28th year, is one of my favorites. While the definition of a "family-run" winery is stretched a bit to include behemoths like Jackson Family Estates and Gallo, the organization consists mostly of smaller, family-run wineries, many of whose wines are made in such small quantities that they do not receive wide distribution. The chance to taste the wares of these wineries remains the single best reason to attend this tasting. Because of the scope of the tasting, a trip around the room also becomes a very good way to get a sense of recent vintages from all over the state of California.

This year's San Francisco tasting will be held at The Midway event space San Francisco, down by Pier 80, near the Dogpatch neighborhood.

This year's tasting offers a shot at tasting hundreds of wines from more than 100 different California producers. Some you will have heard of, others you won't recognize. Every year more small wineries pop up on the scene, and these can be where you find your newest under-the-radar wines that become your favorites.

So set aside a few hours on Sunday August 26th, buy a ticket, and enjoy some of the best that California has to offer.

2018 Family Winemakers Public Tasting
Sunday August 26th, 12:00 PM until 5:00 PM
The Midway Event Space
900 Marin Street
San Francisco, CA 94124 (map)

Tickets cost $60 in advance (they've actually come down in price!) and are only available for purchase online. If you want to spend $90, you can get in at Noon and spend an extra two hours tasting with the trade, which is generally less hectic.

Parking can be tricky around there, but there is some street parking. I suggest using a carshare service especially if you're going to be drinking. Because this is usually a large tasting I also recommend planning which wineries you want to visit using the list on the web site.

2018 Calistoga Uncorked Tasting: July 12, San Francisco

For most people, the name "Napa" on a bottle is all they need to know if they're interested in wine. Studies even show that the word literally makes people enjoy the wine more than the same wine without the word. Psychological quirks aside, increasingly, the most sophisticated wine comsumers are starting to become aware of not only Napa, but its sub AVAs -- the smaller regions within Napa that have been designated as distinct growing regions, or American Viticultural Areas. There are now 16 of them (much to the dismay of a winery that named itself Thirteen when there were only that many - it has since changed its name).

One of the hottest, and I'm talking temperature, not trends, is the Calistoga AVA. In fact, the AVA has the most consistent and even climate profile of any Napa AVA. Sitting at the northern end of the Napa Valley, Calistoga is something of a heat sink, boasting temperatures that on average exceed everywhere else in Napa, along with roughly 30% more rainfall anually than any other region of the valley. Lying in the shadow of Mount Saint Helena and hemmed in closely on the west and east by mountains, Calistoga's soils are almost completely volcanic in origin, having eroded from the volcanic peaks that surround it.

Calistoga is home to more than 50 different wineries who, thanks in part to the microclimate of the region, grow a wider variety of grapes than many of the other, Cabernet-dominated sub-regions of Napa. In Calistoga you'll find more Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Syrah than elsewhere in the valley.

As consumers begin to recognize names such as Calistoga on their Napa wine bottles, so too are the individual AVAs of the valley beginning to individually promote themselves apart from the wider Napa community. Which brings me to the Calistoga Uncorked event coming up on July 12th in San Francisco. Next Thursday afternoon, 30 winemakers from Calistoga will be pouring their wines at the Golden Gate Club in the Presidio. Many of these wineries aren't normally open to the public, so this tasting represents a unique opportunity to taste what the AVA has to offer.

Participating wineries include: 2880, Amici Cellars, August Briggs, Baldacci Vineyards, Ballentine Vineyards, Barlow Vineyards, Bennett Lane Winery, Bragg Vineyards, Canard Vineyard, Chateau de Vie, Chateau Montelena, Coqueral Wine Estate, Fairwinds Estate Winery, Hindsight Vineyards, Huge Bear Wines, Jack Brooks Vineyard, Jax Vineyards, Jericho Canyon Vineyard, Kenefick Ranch Vineyards, Knighton Family Vineyards, Larkmead Vineyards, La Sirena Wines, Lava Vine/Von Strasser, Next Door wines, Poggi Wines, Phifer Pavitt Wine, Romeo, Storybook Mountain Vineyards, Switchback Ridge, The Grade Cellars, Tom Eddy Winery, and Weppler Vineyards. Light bites will also be served.

2018 Calistoga Uncorked Tasting
Thursday, July 12th
4:00 PM to 7:30 PM
The Golden Gate Club
Presidio of San Francisco
135 Fisher Loop
San Francisco, CA 94129 (map)

Tickets for the event run $75 and should be purchased online in advance, though some may be available at the door. My usual tips for such tastings apply. Come well hydrated, well slept, wear darker clothing in the event of spills, skip the perfume, and if you want to learn something, spit!

Two Ways to Celebrate Women in Wine this July

While the catalysts of today's movements focusing on and empowering women are often horrific and tragic, the attention now being paid to women and their circumstances in many walks of life and business is long overdue. #MeToo and other rallying cries have sparked conversations that should have happened decades (centuries?) ago, and we continue to see the rippling effects throughout many aspects of society.

Thankfully, these conversations have made their way to the wine world, like everywhere, due to the courage of those who are forcing the conversations to happen. 62% of the graduates of the prestigious UC Davis Viticulture and Enology program are women. Yet the percentage of California wineries who employ a female winemaker hovers at around 10%.

Yes, there is work to be done. There are talented women to be celebrated. There must be progress. And we should drink well while doing it.

I've recently learned about two opportunities to do that, both of which sound fantastic.

The first is a tasting to be held in San Francisco on July 15th featuring "The Women of Natural Wine." This event is a joint wine tasting of a bunch of very tasty wines poured by the women behind them, and movie screening of a stellar documentary about female entrepreneurs in a refugee camp in Lebanon. I've seen the movie, called Soufra, and can highly recommend it. The wine tasting is largely a benefit for the women behind the movie, who are also selling their cookbook.

The tasting, organized by Pamela Busch (of The Vinguard) and held at The Great Northern, will feature 12 wines and 12 of the women involved in their production (some are winemakers, some are importers, some are owners). $30 gets you into the tasting, $40 gets you the tasting and a screening of the film, and $75 gets you all that and a cookbook too. Get your tickets and learn more about the event online.

WINeFare: Women in Natural Wine Tasting
Sunday, July 15th
12:00 Film Screening, 2:00 PM - 5:00 PM Tasting
The Great Northern
119 Utah Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

The second event is a conference and tasting dubbed The Bâtonnage Forum, and it involves a day's worth of speakers, panels, and discussions about women in the wine industry. According to the event's web site "Bâtonnage is the brainchild of all those who identify as women working in all the different facets of the wine industry... even (especially) those who have traditionally been overlooked or spoken over." But really, the event is the brainchild of Stevie Stacionis, co owner of the Bay Grape wine shop in Oakland.

In what looks to be a fairly intimate event, you can spend the day discussing implicit bias, advocating and negotiating, work-life balance and more with some of the more prominent female names in California wine, from SF Chronicle wine columnist Esther Mobley to wine director and restaurateur Shelly Lindgren to winemaker Megan Glaab of Ryme Cellars.

And after all the discussions, there will be wine to taste, too -- a walk-around tasting of a dozen or so wineries represented by their female owners or winemakers. Tickets for the event are a modest $50 (or $75 if you want to donate a bit of cash towards making this an annual event), and for your money you get tickets, a tote bag and a T-shirt.

I suspect this event will sell out, so advance ticket purchase is highly recommended.

The Bâtonnage Forum
Saturday, July 28th
Held at a private residence
1040 Bell Lane
Napa, CA 94558

I hope you'll consider attending one or both of these events, as they are bound to be well worth the time, and tasty to boot.

Photo by Stevie Stacionis, from the Battonage web site.

Silicon Valley Wine Auction: May 20, Saratoga

Given their proximity, you might expect that the nouveau riche of Silicon Valley might have more awareness of the quality of the wine region practically (and in some cases quite literally) in their backyards, but the Santa Cruz Mountains wine region has been quite slow to rise in the consciousness of California wine consumers. Even with superstars such as Ridge Vineyards having clearly established the region's potential decades ago, it still remains a much less talked about and traveled wine region than its more famous brethren to the North, Napa and Sonoma.

This is a darn shame, because the Santa Cruz Mountains are turning out some of the most exciting wines made in California today. In particular, new Pinot Noir plantings are proving to be phenomenal in personality and quality, and new Cabernet plantings are showing great potential as well.

All of which is why anyone in Silicon Valley who considers themselves a wine lover should be attending the Silicon Valley Wine Auction. Launched in 2014 by the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Education Foundation and the associated Winegrowers Association, this auction and tasting has been raising millions for kids' education initiatives in Silicon Valley.

For wine lovers, the event, which features an exclusive dinner event, a silent auction and tasting offers the unique opportunity to do good while having a damn good time. More details can be found on the event's website, but the point of this posting is promote the chance for you to taste the wines from more than 40 Santa Cruz Mountains producers in a single location. These are great wines that are worthy of your attention. And the event is for a great cause that is worthy of your support.

So mark your calendars for Sunday May 20th, and go taste some of what the Santa Cruz Mountains have to offer.

2018 Silicon Valley Wine Auction
Grand Tasting Event
Sunday, May 20th
1:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Montalvo Arts Center
15400 Montalvo Rd
Saratoga, CA 95071 (map)

Tickets for the event cost $95 for general admission, or $145 for VIP access to the tasting 1 hour early and an oyster and sparkling wine bar, which sounds like the perfect thing for a Sunday afternoon. Tickets invariably sell out, so get yours online soon. There's a super fancy private winemaker dinner the evening before, and the price on the web site reads "call for tickets" which means something like "if you have to ask..."

My usual tips for public tastings apply: dress in dark colors in case of spills; get a good night's sleep and come hydrated and fed; leave off the perfume or cologne; and spit out your wine if you want to learn anything and last through the afternoon.