California Wine Fair Debrief

California Wine Festival by Rick Vyrostko

California Wine Festival by Rick Vyrostko

And that’s a wrap, people! The California Wine Fair 2017 is done for Canada, and I’m only now getting my promised post up. I’ve been a bad blogger, it’s true. I’ve also been down with some kind of flu, and it’s about time I got caught up.

All photos are courtesy RICK VYROSTKO PHOTOGRAPHY.

The event for media and industry immediately preceded the event for the public and, as I advised in the announcement post, I went in with a plan: to stick to bubbly only, so I could see and taste a maximum of wines and make my way through a fair swathe of the room. We only had two hours to see, taste, and take notes on something like 340 different wines.

As per usual with my plans, it immediately went out the window.

The entryway was flanked by ranks of capacious, ecumenical glasses; you know, probably designed for a Chardonnay but they won’t dissolve if you pour a syrah in there on your rounds. Buzzing busily around were several helpful people with maps of the room and practical tips for plotting your approach. The corners of the immense ballroom were occupied by towers of foodstuffs that went virtually untouched (I’ll take “how you can tell you’re not in Vancouver anymore” for fifty, Alex).

My plan, which I held to in Vancouver a few years back, had been to drink only sparkling wines, but of course I folded at the first table, because the first table was…

wait for it…


Longtime readers of this blog will be aware that we have a long-running booze crush on the Coppola wines, for which we blame Internet Famous Actor/Waiter/Drinker Brian Atene.

Coppola does have sparkling wines, but they ALSO DO do some really full-blooded reds, so you know where I went immediately. I’d never tried the Director’s range before, the Diamond collection Claret being my go-to, and impressively complex and rich it is, but the Director’s wines were an order of magnitude more nuanced.

Technically, I should have started out with something lighter, simpler, but what the hell, when your favourite wines are immediately inside the door, I say go for it.

Heartburn longa, vita brevis.

A toast to California wines

A toast to California wines

Next up was Matchbook Wines, where I tried a Tempranillo for perhaps the second time in my life, quite different from the merlots and malbecs and cab sauvs I’m used to, and got quite an education on the climate of the Dunnigan Hills. This is what the wine fair is particularly great at: introducing you to districts and styles of which you’d otherwise be unaware. And since you won’t get through more than a quarter of the room on any given year, this event keeps giving and giving. Consider making your way through all of it your four-year degree plan.

The Hall and Walt booth had such excellent booklets that I didn’t take any tasting notes at all, and only wrote that it was a great example of the kind of familial ties that bourbon country also boasts Hall and Walt are family). They had an excellent and educational flight of three different Walt pinot noirs (pinots noir?), that most malleable of grapes, with three distinctive styles, really showing off the winemaker’s skill. The Blue Jay was the most approachable, but least complex; a wine everyone will like, but not necessarily one everyone will remember. The Clos Pepe and Gap’s Crown were more idiosyncratic, with the Clos being more fruit-forward, and Gap’s Crown favouring the earthier flavours of oakmoss and even cigar.

California Wine Fair crowd

California Wine Fair crowd

I moved on to Ravenswood, where I tried the Lodi Zinfandel and was pleasantly surprised at the complexity of a wine grown in what I’d put down as an area too hot for subtlety. Again, it was a learning experience. It’s a mouth full of berry flavours with a dryish cocoa finish that goes on and on. A good zinfandel might one day replace Cab Sauv in my heart (note to Cab Sauv: step up your game, mon vieux).

At the Woodbridge booth I had the great pleasure of taking centre stage (for once in my life, inorite?) and introduced a half-dozen attendees to the concept of frosé, a treat for which the Woodbridge white zinfandel is particularly well-suited. It’s got plenty of flavour, tons of melon, and a level of sweetness that holds up well to an ice-cold chill and perhaps less well to the third glass on the patio.

I couldn’t leave without trying wines from The Prisoner. I’m a sucker for a good story, and a winery called The Prisoner has to have one, right? There I tried Thorn and the eponymous Prisoner, which came with another great story: the mixed blacks, which sounds like an Australian rugby team named by racists but is actually a blend of old-world grapes which duplicate the flavours of Mediterranean wines with which the first-generation immigrants would be familiar. It was indeed redolent of the old world, a classic, balanced wine with chocolate, fruit, and quite a lot of vanilla in the flavour profile. According to their site it’s composed of “Zinfandel with the unlikely “mix” of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Charbono.” Thorn is a merlot blended with syrah and malbec, which is everything something of its pedigree should be, with a little bit of what it should not be, as with all the best boyfriends.

After that, I attempted to sample some bubbles, but gave it up as a bad business. Next time I start with the bubbles, I swear!

That, of course, is what I said last time.

That's just two tables. There were something like 300 wines at the California Wine Fair

That’s just two tables. There were something like 300 wines at the California Wine Fair


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