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A roadmap to Family Winemakers of California

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If you’re a regular at the annual Family Winemakers of California tasting being held on September 9th from 3:00 to 6:00 PM at the Fort Mason Festival Pavilion then you probably have a game plan for navigating a tasting of this size. If you’re new to the game or if you’re a bit overwhelmed just by the idea, take heart, help is on the way.

I spend a big chunk of my time attending wine tastings. Each year I taste about 5,000 different producers from every winegrowing region in the world. Here in California, I not only spend time visiting wineries, I jury several regional wine competitions which helps familiarize me with smaller producers including many of those pouring at Family Winemakers whom only sell their wine directly to consumers.

Like any good quarterback, I always have a game plan lined up before heading out onto the field. I invite you to piggyback on my research and use this list as a guideline to some not-to-be-missed wines by California’s best and brightest. The real beauty of Family Winemakers is that it’s one-stop shopping; a place where you can discover the small, family-owned wineries that it’s taken me months and even years to come to know.

I’ve included a few comments, tasting notes and links to my articles for The Tasting Panel magazine and Examiner.com to help you pick and choose what interests you the most but you can’t go wrong if you taste them all. And by taste, I mean just that; using the spit bucket while you’re on your discovery and then revisiting a wine you want to explore further and enjoying it when you’re eating a bite.

If a guided tour is more your speed, consider upgrading your ticket here for a visit to the “iSip” lounge where you can put yourself in the expert hands of Sommelier Courtney Cochran. Cochran will be leading a guided tour of eight wines that focuses on lesser known varietals like Albarino, Petit Verdot, and Nebbiolo and is served with light bites to demonstrate food pairing.

Early bird tickets to Family Winemakers of California are on sale through September 8th for $65 and tickets are available at the door for $75.

Here are just of few of the wonderful producers who await you at this tasting:

Amapola Creek Vineyards & Winery                                                                                                                             Richard and Alis Arrowood named their new winery after the Spanish word for poppy. Look for Joseph Belli Vineyard Russian River Chardonnay, Richard’s signature estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a Syrah/Grenache blend “Cuvee Alis” and Monte Rosso Zinfandel.

Cain Vineyard & Winery
Winemaker Christopher Howell strikes the perfect cord with Bordeaux blends that marry fruit from his Spring Mountain estate with that from the Benchlands and floor of Napa Valley.

Carol Shelton Wines
I think of Carol as the Queen of Zinfandel and rightly so. Shelton’s expressive Zinfandels first came to my attention when I tasted them for inclusion in “1000 Great Everyday Wines.”

Chacewater Wine & Olive Mill
Look to this producer for some very stylish Lake County Sauvignon Blanc. 2011 is a New World style that shows crisp, herbal aromas with a hint of petrol and intense gooseberry flavors that gain character from spending time on the lees.

Clos Saron
Winemaker Gideon Beinstock makes a stunning medium–bodied, pepper and spice-forward old-vine Cinsault from the oldest vineyard in Lodi and his other wines are just as tasty and interesting.

CRU Wine Company
Italian varieties are winemaker Mitch Cosentino’s specialty and his Euro-centric wines from Pope Valley include a Super Tuscan blend and several Bordeaux-style blends.

Bray Vineyards                                                                                                                                                                Amador County producers like Bray are on a roll with Barbera. I tasted scores of Barbera at the Barbera Festival in June and was charmed.

Dunstan
Wente Clone Chardonnay from the Ranch House Block. Drink now and forever praise the Wente clone.

Galante Vineyards
Monterey producer Jack Galante makes deep, tasty, chewy Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends.

Gregory Graham Wines
Look for Rhone varieties like Grenache from this Lake County producer and a tasty 2011 Sauvignon Blanc that shows Asian pear and white fruit aromas that intensify on a silky mid-palate with a lifted citrus finish.

Klinker Brick Winery
Zinfandel is synonymous with Lodi and fruit from 15 different old-vine sites makes Klinker Brick. Steve Felton knows a thing or two about this variety.

Ladera Vineyards
Winemaker Karen Culler’s balanced and complex Cabernet Sauvignons from Howell Mountain and Napa Valley never tasted better. She makes a Sauvignon Blanc too.

Lost Canyon Winery
Elegant vineyard-designate Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay by winemaker Brad Longton who also makes the wines for Fritz Winery.

Merryvale                                                                                                                                                                        Known for its prestige wines “Profile” and “Silhouette,” the winery’s Starmont label is produced using solar power and tastes like the sunshine that helps make it. Fruit forward with subtle oak.

Mi Sueno Winery
Coombsville producer just east of Napa in “The Avenues” makes a very tasty Syrah. 2006 was spicy and peppery with medium tannins and finish.

Rock Wall Wine Company
Shana Rosenblum is following in the footsteps of her iconic dad Kent. She makes a wide range of wines including bubbles and loves to experiment with small lots. Take your pick.

Rosa d’Oro Vineyards
Lake County winemaker Pietro Buttitta focuses on Italian varieties like Barbera, Sangiovese and Nera d’Avola and many others. Artisanal and very well crafted, find a dish with tomato sauce to eat with these.

Shannon Ridge Vineyards & Winery
Lake County’s Clay and Margarita Shannon have put Clearlake Oaks on the map. Their estate vineyards make great wines and they also own Vigilance winery in the Red Hills AVA.

Spring Mountain Vineyard
Winemaker Jac Cole’s Cabernet Sauvignon is easily as good as the highest-priced wines grown on the Valley floor and sometimes ever better. Mountain fruit requires careful work with tannins and he’s the master.

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