Serious 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 or the recent Pinot Days are great opportunities to get a sense of a certain varietal and the quality of the recent vintage in California and events like the upcoming Family Winemakers are an opportunity to taste wines from smaller producers.
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 exhausts itself with 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 $75).
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 vineyard 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.
Each year the organization hosts a two part event: On Saturday they offer a full day seminar on a specific topic, often a certain AVA or certain varietal, and then on Sunday they offer a tasting event showcasing a specific varietal as represented by nearly 100 wineries in the valley.
This year's event will feature an all-day seminar on August 14th at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena entitled, "From DNA to Dinner: All You Wanted to Know About Cabernet." Led by UC Davis professor Emeritus and vintner Carole Meredith, the event features Cabernet paired with a multi-course lunch from the teaching kitchens at the CIA.
The following day, Sunday the 15th, around 80 wineries will pour their recent vintages of Cabernet (with a few other varieties thrown in) 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 $75 sent in advance, or a check for $80 on the day of the tasting will do the trick. Membership is available on the spot, and covers the tasting plus any others that you choose to go to for the rest of the year. If you'd like to attend the seminar on the 14th, there is an additional cost of $150. Or, if that is the only part of this event you'd like to attend, non-members can just go to that for $175.
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.
For those of you who make decisions about such tastings based on what you think you'll get a chance to taste, here is the list of wineries and the wines they'll be pouring (PDF).
Napa Valley Wine Library Association Member Tasting
Sunday August 15th
Silverado Resort and Country Club
1600 Atlas Peak Road
Napa, California 94558
Annual membership dues for the Association are $75, or $80 if purchased at the door. 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 and on the event can be found on the Association's web site. Please note that the location for the Saturday event is the Greystone Castle in St. Helena
My usual tips for such outdoor public tastings apply: wear loose fitting but dark colored clothing (but keep in mind that it may be very warm for the outdoor tasting). Eat a good meal before going and drink lots of water while tasting. Decide in advance which wineries you would like to visit, and make sure to spit rather than swallow the wine to make sure you get a chance to enjoy (and remember) a number of wines.
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