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06.24.2013

2013 West of West - The Sonoma Coast Wine Festival: August 2-4, Sebastopol, CA

west_of_west.jpgCool climate has become a popular catchphrase in the world of wine, thanks, in part, to global warming trends that threaten some popular wine regions' abilities to produce their traditional wines in the same styles to which they are accustomed. But serious wine lovers have also long known that great wine can often come from the very fringes of possibility -- places or situations where grapes struggle to survive, let alone bear ripe fruit.

As winemaking traditions migrated from the old world, where grapes are planted "where they have always been planted," to the new world, where intrepid winemakers sought new terroirs for familiar grapes, we have seen more winemakers explore some chillier possibilities for their efforts.

The western coast of Sonoma County is one such region, where adventurous winemakers were once told by many "experts" that they could never get fruit ripe so close to the foggy breakwaters of the Pacific. Thanks to pioneers like David Hirsch, however, we now know that the coastal fringes of Sonoma County are not only viable places for growing wine, they are some of California's most compelling terroir.

Indeed, some of my favorite California wines are grown within sight of the craggy shores of Sonoma County. That is, when they're not socked in by fog. The Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, and Syrahs (along with a smattering of other grapes) from Western Sonoma County are wholly different than the wines made twenty or thirty miles inland, and that difference is worth celebrating.

Which brings me to the West Sonoma Coast Vintners association, and their third annual West of West Wine Festival. The weekend of August 2nd, this festival will be taking over the Sebastopol, California. Anyone who ventures out to the event will find it to be a low key, deeply passionate, and fantastically educational celebration of some of Northern California's most interesting wines.

The event begins on Friday, August 2nd with small-format, intimate winemaker dinners. Saturday the 3rd will combine a series of seminars, including a blind-tasting and panel discussion featuring yours truly, along with a walk-around grand tasting event in the afternoon and a grand dinner in the evening. Sunday the 4th, special vineyard tours with picnic lunches are available, and the afternoon offers a second chance at the big tasting in the afternoon.

Around 40 different wineries will be participating, including some of my favorite small producers in all of California.

Normally, I don't write about events until a couple weeks before they're happening, but this one doesn't have a lot of tickets to sell, and will likely sell out by that point. So I'm giving you the heads up early.

I'll see you there!

2013 West of West Wine Festival
Saturday August 3rd
Grand Tasting: 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM
The Barlow Event Center
6770 McKinley Ave
Sebastopol, CA 95472

Tickets for the whole weekend, including winemaker dinners and seminars and tastings are $450, but you can get into just the tasting for $125, and other events have a la carte pricing as well. You can get the details and purchase tickets online.

My usual tips for such public tastings apply: get a good night's sleep; hydrate; taste on a full stomach; wear dark clothing to avoid wine stains; and spit if you want to learn anything!

If you're driving from San Francisco and not staying the night, please bring a designated driver.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise 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 Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud