The 32nd Annual Vintners’ Holiday at the Ahwahnee Hotel is now two-thirds complete with sessions #5 (December 1-3) and #6 (December 4-5) remaining. This wine education experience is a wonderful juxtaposition of extraordinary scenery, intimate winemaker conversation, fine food and a historic hotel with Thanksgiving weekend delightfully sandwiched between sessions. This article will focus on the venue and the flow of the various sessions. A subsequent article will focus on the vintners and the actual seminars.
The Ahwahnee, located in Yosemite National Park, was built in 1927 and is a National Historic Landmark. It mixes architectural styles of rustic local granite, Art Deco, Native American and Middle Eastern influences. For shear impact the granite facades and redwood beams shock the eye against the monoliths of granite that surround it on virtually 3 sides in the heart of the Yosemite Valley. This year, the lack of early rains left the, normally stupendous, Yosemite, Bridalveil and Horsetail Falls virtually dry. This did not diminish the splendor of this amazing park.
Each session includes a welcome reception where you can meet the winemakers/vintners and taste their wines with light hors d’œuvres, four (4) seminars (one with each winemaker), a five course gala dinner prepared by the Ahwahnee culinary staff paired with wines from the attending vintners and a ‘celebrity’ moderator to tie the entire package together.
Sessions #3 and #4 were moderated by noted wine writer and judge, Dan Berger. Dan grew up as a sportswriter in Los Angeles but ultimately migrated to wine writer for the Associated Press and the LA Times. Dan, with wife Juliann Savage, later moved to Sonoma County and became a wine writer for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. He now publishes a weekly newsletter “Vintage Experiences”. Dan and Juliann are the driving force behind the Riverside International Wine Competition which occurs every May.
Dan’s unobtrusive, but exceptionally informative, moderator efforts made the entire experience run smoothly while allowing the four vintners in attendance to reveal their philosophies and passions as they described the wines they profiled.
The rapid fire 90 minute Welcome Reception provided the first opportunity to chat with the four vintners in a relaxed social environment while enjoying scallop ceviche, arancini balls, beef bolgogi, wonderful cheeses and crackers. Always fun!
The Session #3 vintners were absolutely exceptional for their knowledge of enology, their experiences, their individual contribution to the California wine industry and, finally, their individuality and personalities.
Steve Urberg, winemaker for Gloria-Ferrer which was established in Sonoma County in 1982 by Jose and wife Gloria Ferrer. Jose’s parents had parents established Freixenet in Spain in 1915). Steve has been winemaker for about 13 years after learning the ropes at Hess Collection. Steve described the méthode champenoise used in making their wines.
Dan Goldfield, winemaker, co-founder and partner at Dutton-Goldfield. Dan earned his chops at LaCrema and established Hartford Court for Jesse Jackson before establishing Dutton-Goldfield with friend Steve Dutton in 1998. Dan lead a tasting of 5 vineyard designed wines including 3 Pinot Noir and 2 Chardonnay.
Robb Talbott, owner of Talbott Vineyards and an icon from Monterey County. Robb pioneered cold climate Pinot Noir at his Diamond T Estate in the Carmel Valley and is the proud proprietor of acclaimed Sleepy Hollow Vineyard. Robb poured four (4) Chardonnays from Sleepy Hollow and Diamond T.
Dave Duncan, President and CEO of Silver Oak Cellars and Managing Partner of Twomey Cellars pouring six (6) Twomey Cellars Pinot Noir wines from legendary Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Barbara County. Five of the six were from different clonal varieties including Pommard, 777 and Martini while the sixth was a blend of the other five wines.
More about the seminars, the vintner/winemakers in Part 2 of this article.
Moving on, the gala dinner is the culmination of these sessions. The Ahwahnee kitchen staff, under the imaginative leadership of Chef de cuisine, Bob Anderson, pulls out the stops with their five (5) course extravaganza. Each course specially paired with a wine selected from the participating vintners. Although the menu is, generally, not published at the time of ticket purchase, the concierge can make substitutions upon arrival which takes out some of the concerns around fixed menus.
The Session #3 menu began with Smoked Sacramento Sturgeon perfectly paired with the 2008 Gloria-Ferrer Carneros Brut Rosé. The Brut Rosé was creamy, full bodied and delightfully copper-colored. This was followed by Charcoal-grilled Monterey Calamari paired 2011 Dutton Ranch/Rued Vineyard Dutton-Goldfield Chardonnay. Ouch – this was so exceptional it almost hurt!
The next two dishes were the kind that makes the Ahwahnee legendary. Sonoma Duck & Mushroom Ravioli paired with 2011 Talbott Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Pinot Noir quickly followed by the main, Brandt Beef Tenderloin &Oxtail en Croute paired with a 2009 Twomey Cellars Napa Valley Merlot. Wonderfully flavorful and beautiful matched.
Dessert was a Chocolate Caramel Gelée with a Port Wine Reduction Sauce. Guests were provided as much of each wine as they desired. Tables of eight allowed for new friends and acquaintances to be made while the pomp of speeches was virtually non-existent. Thanks Dan..Perfect!
If the above in any way stirred interest in attending one of the remaining 2013 Sessions check the Yosemite website. A pricey but exceptionally well organized and enjoyable event….even after four times!