As reported in Part 1, the 32nd Annual Vintners’ Holiday at the Ahwahnee Hotel is now two-thirds complete. The last two Sessions will occur December 1st-3rd and December 4th-5th. Part 1 focused on the venue (The Ahwahnee). This article focuses on the wine education experience with four acclaimed and highly accomplished vintner/winemakers.
As mentioned in Part 1, 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 moderator to tie the entire package together.
Dan Berger, noted wine writer and wine judge, moderated Sessions #3 and #4 with wit and immense knowledge of wine and wine making. Dan and wife Juliann Savage publish a weekly newsletter “Vintage Experiences”. They are also the driving force behind the annual Riverside International Wine Competition.
Dan’s moderator efforts truly made the entire experience run smoothly while allowing the four vintners to display their personalities and their own insights and knowledge gained through their personal journeys.
The four (4) vintners included in Session #3 were as divergent in style and geography, as possible, for California wines. Michigander Steve Urberg is a chemist/winemaker cum laude who came to California to attend Cal graduate school in Chemistry. Steve first tread the caves at Gloria Ferrer during the 1996 harvest and returned to stay in 2001. He has become a blending expert following the méthode champenoise, the oldest and most traditional way of make sparkling wine. Steve presented three still wines (a Chardonnay and two, mostly, Pinot Noirs) from the 2012 harvest. These will be used to blend a future sparkling wine. Then he offered three sparkling wines (2007 Blanc de Blanc – all Chardonnay; Non-Vintage Blanc De Noir – white wine from black – Pinot Noir – grapes; and, 2005 Royal Cuvee – 2/3 Pinot and 1/3 Chardonnay) that used similar still wines in their blending process. Steve’s explanation was fascinating and informative. Very worth a trip to the Carneros in Sonoma for a tour and tasting.
Dan Goldfield of Dutton-Goldfield followed with a humorous and energetic presentation of five (5) of his flagship 2011 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyard designate offerings. Also a chemist by education, Dan first came to California in 1980 doing research at Cal. He attended grad school at Davis while earning his real world chops at Robert Mondavi and Schramsberg. After producing some very noteworthy Pinot Noir at La Crema, Jesse Jackson asked Dan to develop a new winery, Hartford Court, specializing in cold-climate Pinot and Chardonnay. In 1998, Dan hooked up with old friend Steve Dutton, a highly regarded wine grower, to create Dutton-Goldfield. The 2011 releases presented were from vines over 30 years old. They were all in the mid-13% for alcohol which is a happy trend for California reds. Each wine had excellent intensity while maintaining their balance and complexity. As Dan says, “You make what you would want to drink, because you might have to!”
Robb Talbott, owner of Talbott Cellars, is an icon in Monterey County. He pioneered cold climate Pinot Noir at his Diamond T Estate in the Carmel Valley in 1982, which may account for having to wait 9 years before turning a profit. Robb later used his proximity and risk taking to beat Jesse Jackson to the punch to acquire legendary Sleep Hollow Vineyard in 1994. The Chardonnay and Pinot from these two vineyards are unbeatable. Robb presented four (4) Chardonnay wines. The 2012 Logan Chardonnay, 2012 Sleepy Hollow Chard and the 2011 Cuvee Sarah Case Chard were as different as they were delectable, although they all were from Sleepy Hollow. These were followed by the 2011 Chard Cuvee Audrey (named after Robb’s mother) from Diamond T. Robb (with winemaker Dan Karlsen) finds a way of making a broad palette of wines at a nice range of price points, all of which use only screw caps, a personal crusade based upon the waste and reputational damage from ‘corked’ wines.
The last winemaker of Session #3 was Dave Duncan, President and CEO of Silver Oak Cellars and Managing Partner of Twomey Cellars. Dave was instrumental in establishing Twomey in 1999 to produce a Napa Valley Merlot with the depth and distinction for which Silver Oak is known. The Sonoma incarnation of Twomey focuses on Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. For Vintner’s, Dave provided six (6) Pinot Noir from the iconic Bien Nacido Vineyards of Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County. Many winemakers make Pinot from Bien Nacido and most of them are exceptional thus the reputation of wines from there. Twomey Pinot is exceptional in that they procure about 45 tons of grapes from the area. The 6 were as different as one could imagine with a variety of clones, including Pommard, 777 and Martini represented. They all expressed the terrior and the varietal with generally alcohol in the mid-13%. As Dave explained, Twomey produces “moderate alcohol wines (to go) with food”. Love them!
Session #5 and #6 will be moderated by Peter Marks, Master of Wine & Vice President of Education, Constellation Academy of Wine, a Constellation Brands wine education program. Participating wineries include Robert Mondavi, Tablas Creek, Hartford Family Winery and Franciscan Estate Winery for Session #5 (Dec 1-3) and J Vineyard and Winery, August West Wine, Huge Bear Winery & Beckstoffer Vineyards and Ravenswood Winery for Session #6 (Dec 4-5). May not be to late to get tickets so check the Yosemite website.