West of West Wine Festival: August 3-5, Occidental, CA

Cool 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 second annual West of West Wine Festival. The weekend of August 4th, this festival will be taking over the little town of Occidental, California. Anyone who ventures through the redwoods to stop by will find themselves in the midst of a low key, deeply passionate, and fantastically educational celebration of some of Northern California’s most interesting wines.

The event begins on Friday, August 3rd with small-format, intimate winemaker dinners. Saturday the 4th 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 pig roast in the evening. Sunday offers a second chance at the big tasting in the afternoon.

More than 30 different wineries will be participating, including some of my favorite small producers in all of California.

I hope to see you there!

2012 West of West Wine Festival
Saturday August 4th
Grand Tasting: 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Occidental Center for the Arts
4008 Bohemian Highway
Occidental, CA 95465 (map)

Tickets for the whole weekend, including winemaker dinners and seminars and tastings are $450, but you can get into just the tasting for $145, 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. The roads are curvy and not the kinds of places you want to take any risks after a day’s worth of wine tasting.