Size isn't everything, they say, but sometimes it's mighty impressive. The yearly Family Winemakers tasting 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 24th 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.
This year's tasting features a seminar by Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein that has been given the most ungainly name in history: "Not the Usual Suspects: Unexpected Wines from Expected Places/Producers and Expected Wines from Unexpected Places/Producers." Despite this awkward moniker, the session will likely be great, as Evan is a good presenter, and the wines promise to be very interesting.
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.
After 23 years of being held in San Francisco, this year's tasting will now be held in San Mateo, a move that will be watched carefully by many to see if moving 20 minutes south results in a dramatically reduced attendance from the San Francisco wine scene (or a boost of folks from the Peninsula and South Bay).
Even if this tasting were held an hour away, it is worth attending.
2014 Family Winemakers Public Tasting
Sunday August 17th, 3:00 PM until 6:00 PM
San Mateo Event Center
1346 Saratoga Dr.
San Mateo, CA 94403
Tickets cost $60 in advance online. Any remaining tickets will be sold at the door on the day of the event for $70. If you want to taste expensive wine, $8 gets you into the iSip lounge for reserve wines. Finally if 2.5 hours is not enough time for you to taste everything you desire, you can buy an all-access pass for $100 that lets you get in when all the trade and media do, giving you a full five hours of California wine.
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.
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