The program was entitled “TASTE: California’s Family Wineries” and the flyer explained, “The theme this month is small family wineries, artisanal wines and new brands to watch. Winemakers from Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Paso Robles & Santa Barbara will pour dozens of wines that showcase California’s diverse climate, soils, and topography.” The host was Ian Blackburn, a Master of Wine candidate and founder of LearnAboutWine.com, a web site dedicated to wine education. So, we signed up to go and learn something new.
The early evening weather was balmy and setting was an open-air plaza next to a hip, upscale restaurant in Beverly Hills. We didn’t know what to expect, but we thought we might just find something new and different. We were not disappointed. Over 20 wineries were represented at about a dozen tables, pouring well over 50 different wines and, by our guesstimate, over 200 people attended. Some wineries can’t arrange to send a representative, so Ian trains culinary students and others wine-loving volunteers to learn about a wine and then pour and talk about it for the evening. The event program listed the wineries and wines, with plenty of room for tasting notes. Ian explained, “This is part of our TASTE series. It is designed for wine consumers, not for the trade. We aren’t sponsored by the wine industry and we buy many of the wines, although some are donated by the wineries. We don’t sell wine, but we hope that through our efforts wine clients will be created and that the future of wine is improved.”
There were too many wines to name them all and there were so many, we can’t even swear that we tried them all between us. The plentiful cheese table gave us welcome breaks throughout the evening. Some of the wineries were old favorites, such as Summerland Winery, but most were names we had never tasted. Some of the standouts to us (listed in no particular order) were the Ramian Estate “Chapter Five” Mt. Veeder Napa Valley 2005 (a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with some Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec), a 2005 proprietary Rhone-style blend from Singh Family Cellars (part of the Ramian Estate collection from winemaker/owner Brian Graham), the Cobblestone 2006 Arroyo Seco Chardonnay, the Core 2005 Santa Barbara Red (a Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre blend), the Rutherford Grove 2005 Sauvignon Blanc, the Cole Bailey Vineyards 2006 Sesquipedalian Sauvignon Blanc, the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc Santa Ynez from Cordon (a label fathered by Summerland Winery’s winemaker, Etienne Terlinden), and both the 2006 Chardonnay and 2005 Pinot Noir from Athair Winery, the new label of Jim McMahon (also the assistant winemaker at Luna Vineyards) and his father-in-law, Tom Keith.
Ian put together a wonderful and informative evening for his guests (several people we interviewed at random said that this was typical of his programs). The focus is on wine education, but it isn’t delivered in a classroom lecture format. The knowledge is imparted by the wineries and volunteers in a more congenial setting—the best way to absorb lots of information and, of course, lots of interesting wine. Ian is certainly moving wine education in the right direction!