With all the fanfare surrounding Cabernet and Pinot Noir coupled with the obsession this country seems to have with Chardonnay, it’s sometimes hard for people to remember that California produces a lot of other different kinds of wine. It’s even harder, it seems, to get people to drink some of it.
Enter what may be the most unique wine festival in California, from one of its most beautiful and least visited wine regions. 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 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.
2016 marks the 11th 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 20th, with a technical seminar, which is unfortunately already sold out. But the real reason to go is the Grand Tasting afterwards at 1:00 PM until 4:00 PM. That evening, several wineries around the valley host intimate dinners for those looking for something to pair with their Pinot Gris.
Despite having the title “Grand” this is a decidedly low key affair, which means it’s perfect for the curious wine lover. There aren’t hundreds of producers, only dozens, and most are quite happy to spend time chatting with you. There’s no crush of thousands of attendees, because it’s a bit out of the way. All of which makes this one of my favorite little events held in California each year.
And if you haven’t had enough after the tasting, on Sunday the 21st, 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.
11th Annual Anderson Valley Alsace Varietals Festival
Grand Tasting February 20, 1:00 PM
Mendocino County Fairgrounds
14400 Highway 128
Boonville, CA 95415 (map)
Tickets to the Grand Tasting are $75. 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. 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.