Based on what you read about in the paper, magazines, etc, you'd think that pretty much the only wines that California produces are Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Oh yeah, there's Syrah, but who buys that anymore?
California actually produces many fantastic wines that aren't made from these dominant grape varieties, but most people don't drink them. At least not often. And some people haven't even heard of them.
Enter what may be the most unique wine festival in California and perhaps the country. Some of the most under-appreciated and least consumed wines in the state are those made from grapes like Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Riesling. There aren't a lot of places in California where these grapes thrive, but the Anderson Valley, three hours north of San Francisco, is the de-facto home for growing and making wines from these varietals in the style common to the French border region of Alsace.
California-grown Alsace-style (don't call them Alsatian, that's a dog) wines are not plentiful, nor are they particularly well publicized, but that seems to suit both the winemakers of Anderson Valley, and the folks who have been happily buying their wines for years. But in the interest of spreading the word, and the love, a couple of years ago all the winemakers who produce these wines decided that they needed to get together to showcase and celebrate their shared passion.
2012 marks the 7th Annual Anderson Valley Alsace Varietals Festival. The event continues to draw a loyal following of wine lovers as well as those curious (and lucky) enough to make the trek into the idyllic green of Anderson Valley in February.
The events begin at 8:30 AM Saturday morning, February 18th, with a technical seminar on growing and making Alsatian style wines given by both local and visiting winemakers. The very mellow grand tasting begins afterwards at 1:00 and goes until 4:00 PM, after which attendees have a chance to relax before a winemaker dinner begins at 6:30 at Scharfenberger Cellars (which is almost sold out).
Tickets are available for each event separately, or as a package. On Sunday the 19th, most wineries in the valley hold open houses with food and, of course, more wine to taste. If you can find a nice B&B to settle into on Friday and Saturday night, you can make quite a nice weekend of it. And if not, well, the drive is quite pretty.
The tasting has a wonderfully small-town vibe to it, and is quite relaxed and manageable. Nice snacks are generally served, including oysters, a great cheese selection, and tasty little bites of sausage. The tasting almost always features several wineries from Alsace, which are always a treat to taste along with the local wineries.
If you've not got firm plans for next weekend, I highly recommend considering this event.
7th Annual Anderson Valley Alsace Varietals Festival
Grand Tasting February 18, 1:00 PM
Mendocino County Fairgrounds
14400 Highway 128
Boonville, CA 95415 (map)
Tickets to the Grand Tasting are $65 and the seminar costs $45, or you can buy a joint ticket for $95. As a nice gesture to the long drive that some may make, you can also buy a designated driver ticket that gets you food only for $50. The winemaker dinner costs $125. Tickets should be purchased in advance online.
If you're planning on making the drive, make sure to give yourself plenty of time, and if you get carsick, take something in advance, as the road is quite twisty. Here's a site that has some lodging options if you need them.
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