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2012 Family Winemakers Tasting: September 9, San Francisco

tasting_logo_color_whitebg2012.jpgSize isn't everything, they say, but sometimes it's mighty impressive. The yearly Family Winemakers tasting in San Francisco has as one of its many claims to fame that it is the single largest tasting of California wines in the world. That alone would not be reason for excitement, were it not for the generally very high quality of the wines that are on offer, year after year.

Regular readers know that this tasting, now in its 22nd 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.

If you've never been to a large public tasting of wine, then this might very well be the best one to experience for the first time. Such tastings are a fantastic way to learn about wine in a way that you simply can't anywhere else -- by tasting many dozens of wines in comparison with one another.

So set aside a few hours on Sunday September 9, buy a ticket, and enjoy some of the best that California has to offer.

Or, you could get a pair of tickets for free by exercising your creative side.

I'm giving away four pairs of tickets to four creative readers. I'd like you to tell me a story about family and wine, whatever that means to you. Fact or fiction, prose or poetry, short or long, it doesn't matter. I'll choose my four favorites, and those readers will get a pair of tickets to the Sunday event.

DEADLINE FOR STORIES: Thursday August 16th, Midnight Pacific Time. I'll announce the winners by August 18th, so that any of you who don't win can still get early-bird pricing on your tickets if you decide to go anyway.

Have fun!

2012 Family Winemakers Public Tasting
Sunday September 9th, 3:00 PM until 6:00 PM
Festival Pavilion
Fort Mason Center
San Francisco, CA 94123-1382

Tickets are available until August 19th for $55, and then they will cost $65 in advance online. Any remaining tickets will be sold at the door on the day of the event for $75. And if you really want to taste a lot of wine, 75 consumers can buy their way into the trade tasting for $85, first come, first served.

Trust me when I say you want to buy a ticket in advance. Also trust me that you want to park far, far away from Fort Mason and then cab, walk, or take a bus to the event, as street parking, or even parking in Fort Mason's paid lot can be quite difficult.

Finally, do yourself a favor and observe my tips for large public tastings: wear dark clothes; leave the perfume or cologne at home; come with your stomach full; drink lots of water; plan which wineries you want to visit using the list on the web site, and for Pete's sake, SPIT! You may think that you need to swallow to enjoy the experience, but you really don't. You'll be able to taste many more wines and will actually learn something.

Comments (11)

rs wrote:
08.12.12 at 8:55 PM

There's prob overlap, but in Napa Next Gen is a small organization of sons and daughters of vintners who are in the family wine business. They have a tasting once a year. http://www.7x7.com/napa/napa-valley-insider-next-generation-wine-carries-family-biz

Randy Fong wrote:
08.15.12 at 4:59 PM

My Dad was a hard working, not very educated, gritty guy. Not quite a coal miner, but he would have made a good one. I remember when he first introduced me to my first glass of wine in my early teens. He sat me down at the dinner table and told me he was going serve me the "good stuff". Wow, I thought - my first glass of wine! That's when he pulled out a jug of Ernest and Julio Gallo "wine" and poured me a big serving in a beer mug.

At the time, I thought it was pretty good. Ha...It's amazing to think that in my tony Pac Heights neighborhood, they wouldn't even think of using something like that to sauté their meats in!

Olivia wrote:
08.15.12 at 9:02 PM

I grew up learning to love wine at family meals. Losing that at boarding school embodied all the freedoms of home I had given up. But then, on submitting my first college application, I got a box from my parents with a bottle of Taittinger and the note:

"Wishing we were celebrating together.
Invite friends.
Don't get caught."

There was no ice maker in my dorm, and we couldn't drink it warm, so I camped out in the hall by the fridge, waiting anxiously for that bottle hidden in a dish towel to chill. Then we popped the cork and had a real toast to my very cool parents very far away.

Sarah wrote:
08.15.12 at 9:07 PM

Wine has played a huge role in my family. For the longest time, we literally had nothing in common. My dad was a successful business man/CFO. My mom was a homemaker. My brother had no direction. I, myself, was focused entirely on new with no appreciation for much of anything else. Then came wine. My mom and I went to France when I graduated high school, and explored champagne. It ignited my passion for wine. Only a couple years later, my brother chose to work for a wine store (small business) that he ultimately bought and now runs with my Mom and Dad. We now all bond over wine. My mom and I went to the Willamette valley on a mother-daughter trip where we focused on discovering new makers for my brother. At hOlidays we hold family wine tastings to Pick one another's brains. Even my exhusband gets involved and still joins in for the family gatherings focused around wine. We lOve how it has brought us together and gives us common ground to talk. Not just sit in a room and be, but actually talk. And share opinions. And laugh. And enjoy. It has become an integral part to our bonding, and I think it's a common means for family to come together... Like a meal, a trip, or any other experience. It's just more accessible... And defies geographic boundaries. And I'm grateful for that.

Zoe H wrote:
08.15.12 at 11:49 PM

I sit in my living room's comfy old armchair… the softly worn brown leather proving years' of my enjoyment. The slats of the blinds let in tiny lines of light that pattern my floor. My dear kitty Oscar, lies paws-up-under-chin on his back at my feet, creating a fuzzy bulge in the floor's light patterns. He purrs contentedly… his 21 pounds of happy kitty-ness helping to accentuate his deep soft rumble. After more sad stories than I care to recall, Oscar is my only real family now. The two of us have a long and caring relationship and count dearly on each other.

My 1930's jazz playlist softly dances through speakers behind me. I had taken off the shoes that were torturing me all day and slipped into thick lamb's wool slippers.

All of this to set the mood.

Who says you need a special occasion to open that special bottle? Tonight *I* am the special occasion. I have been holding onto this bottle for years. Forced to drink inexpensively-acquired wines as my mainstay, I am excited about being able enjoy something wonderful. Something that was created and developed over several years with the care and attention of many looking after it… encouraging its greatness.

The bottle had been dusty earlier when I'd pulled it out from under my cabinet. I'd carefully wiped it down with a towel before decanting… leaving it to sit for an hour or so, as I put together a tray of cheeses and soft artisan bread slices to accompany this dear wine. I'd acquired this bottle long ago, in a funny-but-wonderful way that will have to wait for another story to be told.

So now here I sit, carefully attuned to all that is around me… glass in hand, anticipating what is to come. Admiring how the dark scarlet color looks in the dim evening lighting.

I bring the glass to my nose… breathing in cautiously at first, and then deeply as I become confident of the aroma… inhaling the earthy oaky dark scents that a great wine can have. It smells so wonderful. So so wonderful. I sit there slowly swirling the dark liquid in my glass. Appreciating its rich aromas as much as I can before allowing myself a taste.

It is time.

I let the glass touch my lips and take my first sip. Bring the wine into my mouth and let it fully cover my tongue with it's rich full flavor. Oh, so much flavor. Dark ripe cherries, earthy forest floor, red plums, a hint of tobacco spices… combine together in a melange of flavor and complexity that years of barrel- and then bottle-aging have afforded it. As these amazing flavors run down my throat, my tongue is left enjoying the remaining tannins… still showing a strong presence, but obviously softened with time.

The flavors stay tantalizingly in my mouth for what seems forever.

I smile. I am so happy at this moment. Opening an older bottle can be such a risk. Age is not always a best friend to wine. But I have been very lucky this evening… the wine gods have favored me with perfect treatment of this very special bottle.

I reach down to rub Oscar's belly… my contented sigh matching well with Oscar's contented purrs.

We are going to have a wonderful evening, aren't we Oscar?

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.