Faces & Forums


Rhone Rangers mix taste, trade

May 2009
by Kate Lavin

San Francisco, Calif. -- More than 125 wineries gathered at Fort Mason's Festival Pavilion to pour Rhône favorites Syrah, Grenache and Viognier, as an eager public also sampled blends and lesser-known varietals such as Mourvèdre, Roussanne and Marsanne.

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Cheryl Quist (left), executive director of Rhone Rangers, surveys the scene at the grand tasting. Larry Schaffer (right), who spoke about Rhône blends on a panel, holds a bottle from Epiphany Cellars.
PHOTO: Bridget Williams

But the highlights of the March 21-22 event were the seminars leading up to the grand tasting. San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonné moderated a discussion about growing cool-climate Syrah in Pinot country. The California winegrower panelists, who came from as far north as Santa Rosa and as far south as Los Olivos, had differing opinions about what constituted a "cool-climate" growing area. And their varied climates were evident during the tasting that accompanied the talk.

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Lindsey Caldwell manages Northern California sales for Ventana Vineyards and Winery. Angie Vetter is the associate brand manager for Cambria Estate Winery in the Santa Maria AVA.
When it came to Rhône blends, a new group of eight winemakers discussed themes such as co-fermentation, native yeasts and unforeseen challenges, prompting one audience member to ask, "If blends taste so much better, why do varietals cost more?"

Karen MacNeil of the Culinary Institute of America moderated the third and largest session, discussing the state of American Rhône varieties in 2009. Catering to aficionados and trade members, the panel explained the winegrowing techniques responsible for the flavors, such as Bridlewood's Viognier, or "peach cobbler in a glass."

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Amanda Berlanga (left), who works in the lab at Paso Robles-based Adelaida Cellars, chats up visitors to the Adelaida booth, along with Coby LaMattina and winemaker Terry Culton (right).
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