Calistoga Food & Wine Festival: November 19, Calistoga

For all the fame and popularity of Napa wines, the chances to taste a lot of them at one sitting are actually few and far between. Perhaps because they need no introduction, Napa hasn’t historically done many large-format public tasting events (there are plenty for the trade).

However, the wine world grows only more competitive, and in recent years, some of the sub-regional associations of Napa have begun to put on winetasting events for consumers. Case in point? The upcoming Calistoga Food and Wine Festival, put on by the Calistoga Winegrowers Association.

Held at the swanky Solage Resort in Calistoga, this event promises tastes of wines from more than 30 producers from the Calistoga AVA in Napa, along with gourmet food pairings from 7 fantastic wine country restaurants and live music.

Tickets aren’t cheap, but I suspect you’ll get more than your money’s worth of food and wine, as Solage doesn’t do anything halfway. Also, part of the proceeds from the event will be donated to Calistoga Cares Food Pantry, a non-profit that provides food to those in need.

You can see the list of wineries and the restaurants serving food on the event web site.

2022 Calistoga Food and Wine Festival
Saturday, November 19th
1:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Solage Resort
755 Silverado Trail N.
Calistoga, CA 94515

Tickets for the event are $250 and should be purchased online in advance. The event will likely sell out. Note that attending guests are being asked to part at Calistoga Vintner Services at 865 Silverado Trail N Calistoga, CA 94515 on the day of the event.

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Paso Garagiste Festival: November 12, Paso Robles

One of my favorite pastimes involves tasting wines made by small winemakers who either are just beginning their journeys to becoming more established, or those who are deliberately small and will always remain that way.

By deliberately small, I mean they make a couple of hundred cases of wine, have no tasting room, and no vineyards to their name. California is full of these sorts of wineries, and while not all of them are great, these small, estateless wine brands can make some truly excellent wines.

Every region of California plays host to some of these wine labels, but only the Central Coast has a festival that specifically showcases them. Enter the Garagiste Wine Festival. Started in Paso Robles almost a dozen years ago, this tasting highlights several dozen little Central Coast wineries that many have never heard of, and might never hear of, except for this opportunity to stroll around and taste their wines on November 12th in Paso Robles.

Of the many wineries showcasing their wares, a majority just come into existence in the last six years, and all but a couple dozen of them have no tasting room, and more than 90 percent of them have no employees other than the winemaker. The term artisan has been overused to exhaustion at this point, but it certainly applies to these producers.

The event begins on the evening of November 11th with a “Rare and Reserve” kickoff party that involves a buffet dinner and a bunch of library and limited releases to taste from the attending vintners. Then on Saturday November 12th, a morning seminar on Syrah will take place at 11:30 AM, followed by the Grand Tasting at 2:00 PM.

For those up for a little field trip on the second weekend of November, there will be plenty of discoveries to make in Paso Robles.

11th Anniversary Garagiste Festival
Saturday, November 12, 2022
2:00 PM – 5:00 PM
(+ after-party)
Paso Robles Event Center
2198 Riverside Drive
Paso Robles, CA 93446 (map)

Tickets for this event start at $79, but paying an extra $20 gets you into the event an hour early, and another $25 gets you access to the after-party. Or you can buy an all-day VIP ticket and get to attend the Syrah seminar as well. Purchase your tickets online here.

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Santa Clara Vine-to-Wine Tasting: October 23, Saratoga

For most Bay Area residents, wine country is a bit closer than they might think. Before it was Silicon Valley, Santa Clara County (stretching from Palo Alto south to Gilroy) was fruit country, and more specifically wine country.

Vines were first planted at the Santa Clara Mission (in what is now downtown San Jose) in 1798. By 1855, the county had around 35,000 wine grape vines planted, but by 1858, there were 3,954,000 vines in the county, according to Thomas Pinney’s A History of Wine in America.

While highrises and office parks have squeezed out almost all of its agrarian past, Santa Clara county still hosts around 30 different wineries. Most are small operations, but these dedicated vintners are carrying on a tradition of growing and making wine in Santa Clara County that is just as long, or longer, than many of the more famous and better-known wine country destinations in Northern California.

On Sunday, October 23, the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley Association will be putting on their annual event, known as Vine-to-Wine Santa Clara. Hosted at the picturesque and historically pivotal site of The Mountain Winery, this tasting will feature more than 20 small wineries pouring their wares, various bites of food, live music, and something called “barrel decor.” Your guess is as good as mine on that one.

In any case, if you’re interested in seeing what the small wineries of Santa Clara County are up to, and maybe discovering some hidden gems, this tasting is for you.

2022 Santa Clara Wineries Vine-to-Wine Tasting
Sunday, October 23rd, 2022
1:00 PM to 4:00 PM
The Mountain Winery
14831 Pierce Rd
Saratoga, CA 95070 (map)

General Admission tickets run $90 and should be purchased in advance online.

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Valley of the Moon Festival Tasting: October 8, Sonoma

We are definitely back in the swing of things when it comes to wine tasting events. Wine Country is open for business, and crowds of people drinking wine are no longer the scary propositions they once were.

So you’ll be seeing more notices of large public wine tasting events here on Vinography again, for the same reason I’ve always written about them. Such events are the single best way for anyone interested in wine to educate their palate and discover new wines to love. Not to mention the fact that some of these events can be a lot of fun, with great food, music, and more.

Which brings me to the upcoming Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival. Put on by the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Winegrowers, this event is actually two-day set of activities, including fancy dinners, the annual Sonoma Grape Stomp (which is just what it sounds like), and the Grand Tasting, which is what I’m here to tell you about. You can learn more about the other activities on the event’s website.

The event culminates in a walk-around tasting featuring between 30 and 40 wineries outdoors in the old Sonoma Barracks on Sonoma Plaza. Various food vendors will be on hand offering bits and bites, and it will certainly be a lovely way to spend a Saturday evening, especially if the weather is good.

2022 Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival
Grand Tasting Event
Saturday, October 8th
6:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Sonoma Barracks – Sonoma Plaza
2 West Spain Street
Sonoma, CA 95476 (map)

Tickets for the grand tasting will run you $125 until September 20th, after which the price will go up to $150. Local Sonoma residents can get tickets for $95 under early-bird pricing. As with all such public tastings, I recommend darker clothing to avoid accidental wine stains, making sure to have food in your belly, and spitting so you can actually learn something.

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2022 Wine & Spirits Top 100 Tasting: Oct 13, San Francisco

I like to say that there are wine tastings, and then there are wine tastings. The annual Wine & Spirits Magazine Top 100 Tasting is quite possibly my favorite big public wine tasting each year in San Francisco. Why? Because the quality of wines poured at this event is always second to none. Some of them are wines that many of us rarely get the chance to taste because they are either too expensive or too difficult to find. Many others are simply just great examples of their particular region or grape variety.

The event has increased its focus on food over the years, and now features tasty bites from the magazine’s top restaurant picks for San Francisco, which means that when you need to take a break from drinking great wine and get something in your stomach, you don’t have to settle for mere crackers and cheese. No, you can feast on slow-roasted pork shoulder and polenta or freshly shucked oysters, for instance.

Held at the top of the Metreon building in San Francisco, which is a great event space, the tasting has plenty of space to spread out, and great views of Yerba Buena Gardens and the city skyline. Dare I say this is the one wine tasting event that is worthy of being a date night?

2022 Wine & Spirits Top 100 Tasting: Oct 13, San Francisco

Whether you’re there to flirt with a date over fine wine, or to anti-socially taste and take notes on new and exciting finds for your cellar, it’s an event worth going to. It’s also an event worth planning to go to, if you get my drift. It sells out, so you’d be wanting to get your tickets to this event now.

As usual, a portion of the proceeds will benefit Baykeeper, an environmental non-profit focused on the health of the San Francisco bay ecosystem.

2022 W&S Top 100 Tasting
October 13, 2022
6:00-8:00 PM
METREON San Francisco
135 4th St #4000
San Francisco, CA 94103 (map)

This event nearly always sells out, and with good reason. Purchase tickets in advance (with a discount) online. A basic ticket will run you $145, and for an extra $50 you can get in 30 minutes early and not have to fight the crowd to taste Penfolds Grange, Cristal, or that Grand Cru Burgundy you wanted to try.

Also be aware that people tend to dress up a little at this event, though no matter what you wear I recommend it being dark in color to ward against unforeseen splashes of red. As with all such public tastings I recommend a good night’s sleep, snacking in between tastes, lots of pre-mid-and-post hydration, and spitting to ensure you enjoy yourself and remember the experience.

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2022 Sake Day Tasting: October 1, San Francisco

Japan has given many things to the world that I cherish, but few of them have an unofficial holiday that gives me the excuse to celebrate them. Every October first, along with sake lovers all over Japan and around the world, I get to observe Nihonshu no Hi, also known as Sake Day.

Like wine, no one knows exactly when sake first made an appearance on this planet. In a similar fashion to grape wine, the knowledge that fermented rice eventually yields an alcoholic beverage was probably discovered in accidental and then later deliberate stages, as innovative and curious folks explored ways of getting drunk. Ah, human ingenuity.

Sake production and demand peaked in Japan around the mid-19th century when a law was passed allowing anyone to become a brewer. As many as 30,000 breweries were opened in the year of the law’s passing, though that number dwindled as taxes on sake and its raw materials increased through the end of that century.

Despite not being anywhere near its 19th century production levels, sake is seeing a significant rise in interest outside of Japan (and sadly a decline in interest within Japan). More and more excellent sake is leaving Japan and making its way abroad.

All of this means that in early October you’ll not only have something to celebrate but, some really good stuff to celebrate with, should you care to partake in the annual Sake Day celebration put on by San Francisco’s own True Sake store.

Sake Day is an opportunity to taste a wide assortment of sake, something that is rarely available to do for most non-professionals. And you can do some good in the process. All ticket proceeds go to supporting the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California.

If you’re looking for a way to learn about sake, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better occasion to do so. Because the best way to learn about sake is to taste a lot of it!

2022 Sake Day Celebration
Saturday, October 1, 2022
4:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Hotel Kabuki
1625 Post Street
San Francisco, CA 94115

This event sells out every single year, and often well in advance, so purchase your tickets soon. None will be available at the door. We’ve already missed the early bird pricing, so now tickets will run you $100 for the event.

For those interested in tasting a lot of sakes at the event, I recommend bringing your own spit cup or water bottle to spit into, as spittoons are traditionally not offered at sake tastings, for reasons that I don’t understand but which probably have to do with tradition.

Photo of sake casks by Nicki Eliza Schinow on Unsplash

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Family Winemakers Tasting: August 21, Oakland

Way back when hundreds or even thousands of us all gathered fecklessly in enclosed spaces without masks, pressing the flesh and cavalierly spitting liquids into big pails, there were a couple of wine-tasting events that were could-not-miss affairs for me in San Francisco.

One of them was the annual Family Winemakers tasting. Fifteen years ago, this was one of the few public wine tastings where you could find small, artisan producers who made only a couple thousand cases of wine a year pouring their wares for the public.

The tasting used to feature more than 100 different producers, and at one point it proudly boasted of being the single largest public tasting of California wines in the world.

These days, the luster has come off of this tasting a bit. It is no longer the place where you can find most of the up-and-coming small wineries in California. But the organization still counts among its membership some really excellent wineries, and 60 of them are going to be pouring their wines on August 21st in Oakland.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating in this context again: such public tastings are one of the single best ways that wine lovers can educate their palates, not to mention discover new wines and wineries to love and patronize.

So if you want to spend a nice afternoon doing such things on Sunday, August 21st, I highly recommend it.

If you’re interested in the list of participating wineries, it can be found here.

2022 Family Winemakers Tasting
August 21, 2022
12:00 PM – 4:00 PM
BLOC15 Event Center
252 2nd Street
Jack London District
Oakland, CA 94607 (map)

Tickets can and should be purchased in advance online. My usual tips for such tastings apply: get a good night’s sleep, go with food in your belly, wear dark clothes, leave the perfume/cologne off for the day, and spit your wine if you want to learn anything (or even remember the experience).

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2022 Petaluma Gap Wind to Wine Festival: August 13, Petaluma

When it comes to the relationship between place and the wine in your glass, there’s an awful lot of talk about geology and soils, about sun exposure, and overall temperature ranges. But one thing that sometimes gets left out of the conversation is wind.

One of California’s newer growing areas was defined in part by wind, and the wineries that populate the Petaluma Gap AVA, want to show you what that tastes like on August 13th, when the region hosts the Wind to Wine Festival.

Spanning parts of Marin County and southern Sonoma County the Petaluma Gap AVA stretches fro the northwestern part of the San Pablo Bay out to the coast. Its boundaries are shaped in part by the cold winds and fog that flow in through a gap in the coastal mountains.

The Petaluma Gap AVA, outlined in white. Map courtesy of the TTB AVA Explorer.

The Petaluma Gap is home to a few wineries (most notably the venerable Keller Estate, photographed above by George Rose) but many Sonoma County and a few Marin County wineries source their fruit from this area of rolling hills. The region is known particularly for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but Syrah is playing an increasingly important role as well.

On Saturday, August 13th, at the historic Gambonini Family Ranch just outside of the town of Petaluma, the Petaluma Gap AVA association will be putting on a tasting of more than 70 different wines grown in the region by more than 20 different producers. There will be live music, food, and “storytelling,” which as far as I can tell is an opportunity to get to know some of the producers a little better in an intimate setting.

In all, it sounds like a fairly idyllic way to spend a Saturday afternoon in August.

2022 Wind to Wine Festival
Saturday, August 13th
1:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Gambonini Family Ranch
7325 Old Lakeville Road #3
Petaluma, CA 94954 (map)

Tickets run $65 for basic entry, and if you pay $95 for a VIP ticket, you can get in an hour early. You can purchase tickets in advance online, though some may be available at the event. Check the weather before the event, as it might be pretty hot. Dress accordingly, stay hydrated, put some food in your belly, and spit your wine so you can explore everything the tasting has to offer.

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2022 Taste of Sonoma Celebration: June 25, Santa Rosa, CA

Let’s hope the warm weather is here to stay for a little while in California, if only because it makes events like the Taste of Sonoma celebration so much more pleasant. Taste of Sonoma, back again like so many things in this changed world, used to be the annual Sonoma County wine event. Let’s hope it continues uninterrupted from here.

Set up on the extensive lawns at Kendall Jackson’s main wine estate just outside of Santa Rosa, the event is a grand tasting extravaganza, providing attendees the opportunity taste wines from more than 90 different wineries, nosh on food from several different food trucks, and (for a nominal extra fee) attend seminars and guided tastings on different aspects of Sonoma wine.

Provided the weather looks good, its generally a delightful way to spend the afternoon, not to mention get a sense of the recent vintages from Sonoma and discover new wines and new producers that might be your next favorite. The wineries pouring range from big to boutique, and there are a number of excellent names on the list, including folks like DuMOL, Aperture, Smith Story, Woodenhead, Keller Estate, and more.

2022 Taste of Sonoma Celebration
Saturday, June 25
11:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Kendall Jackson Winery and Gardens
5007 Fulton Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95403 (map)

Tickets for the event will run you $195 per person, with VIP tickets (which get you early access) for $225. Both of those tickets may be available on the day of, but the prices go up considerably, so you’ll want to buy them online in advance.

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2022 Napa Wine Library Tasting: April 24, Napa

Spring is in the air, folks, and a lot less virus. And it’s not just the flowers that are blossoming, but wine tasting events, too. Life is returning to some semblance of normal, which means we can all now spend idyllic afternoons tasting fantastic wine in the shade of majestic trees.

Well, maybe not every afternoon. But on April 24th, we can definitely do that, as part of one of Napa’s best public wine tasting opportunities, the Napa Wine Library Association annual tasting.

The Wine Library is just what it sounds like: a library with books about wine. Started in the early Sixties by a group of winery owners that realized the irony of having a public library in the heart of Napa Valley that possessed virtually no literature or resources about wine, the library association was built on donations of money and books from Napa’s wine families over four decades.

Now occupying a special section of the St. Helena public library and even owning a small vineyard out behind the building, the Wine Library Association is a membership organization that gives its members access to these materials, some of which are rare and historic, as well as to annual tasting events.

These events have been going on for more than fifty years, offering members the chance to sample wines from producers all over the valley. This year around 50 wineries will pour over 100 wines from across Napa Valley in the grove at the Silverado Country Club. If you’ve never been to the grove at the Silverado Country Club, it is an idyllic place for a wine tasting, even during a hot Napa day.

“That’s all well and good,” you may be saying, “but this is a members-only event and I’m not a member of the Napa Valley Wine Library Association.” That’s true. But $175 gets you membership and entrance to the event.

Sound like a steal? It is. Unless you’re a member of the trade that attends Premiere Napa Valley, or someone willing to pay in the hundreds or even thousands for a package at the annual Auction Napa Valley, there is generally no other way to get the opportunity to taste so many Napa Valley wineries in a single setting. If you’re serious about learning more about Napa wines, especially if you’re interested in some of the less famous wines of the valley, this is an event you don’t want to miss.

If you’re interested in the wines on offer, you can find the list on the Napa Wine Library Association website.

2022 Napa Valley Wine Library Association Tasting
Sunday, April 24th
4:00 PM to 6:00 PM
Silverado Resort and Country Club
1600 Atlas Peak Road
Napa, California 94558 (map)

Purchase tickets for this event in advance, as it may sell out. Also, if you’re interested in some educational programming, the Wine Library Association is putting on a panel discussion about mentorship in the wine industry on April 21st with Warren Winiarski and several winemakers he has mentored over the years. You can find details about that event on the association’s website as well. The in-person tickets for that have sold out, but you can also attend by Zoom.

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