Do you know what I love most about wine events?
It’s the people. (The wine is a nice bonus).
Getting to meet the people who plant, grow, harvest, ferment, store, bottle, and lovingly share their passion for wine with the world is a wonderful honor. Just as every wine has a distinct nose and taste, every vintner has a special story.
Last week, I met some very special wine makers at The Wine Road‘s Taste of Sonoma event. Sonoma County vintners from three wineries — Alexander Valley Vineyards, Collier Falls, and Papapietro Perry — came to Portland for a night of speed wine tasting and a dinner and wine pairing event. Writers from the Oregonian, Portland Mercury, Thrillist, and I were treated to not only fantastic food & wine pairings, but also amazing conversation and greater insight into Sonoma County wines.
The evening began with a little mixing and mingling over bubbly, cheese, and appetizers from Urban Farmer Restaurant.
Then we moved into Speed Wine Tasting. Each wine maker was at a station with their wines and maps of their regions, and we rotated from one station to the next in 15 minute segments. During this time, I learned how the Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, and Dry Creek Valley differ in terms of wine production.
ALEXANDER VALLEY VINEYARDS
Perhaps the oldest and more established of the featured wineries as Alexander Valley Vineyards (AVV). In 1962, the Wetzel family purchased the land and planted some of the first grapes in the area. Since then, it has been and remains to this day a family affair. The third generation of the Wetzel family has joined the business, and today they produce 100,000 cases annually, 75% of their production focusing on red wine.
At Taste of Sonoma, I had the pleasure of meeting and learning about the Alexander Valley Vineyards from winemaker Kevin Hall. Hall has been with AVV since 1998, and introduced me to The Wicked Weekend package, which features AVV’s Sin Zin, Temptation Zin, and Redemption Zin. Clever, right? I can attest that the Sin Zin is indeed sinfully good — and well priced. I was able to pick up a bottle recently at our neighborhood grocery store for under $12. Rest assured: it is a lush, soft Zinfandel that is worth the sin of paying so little for a wine so great.
We also enjoyed the 2011 Estate Chardonnay from AVV with our starters at dinner.
Once a movie and music mogul, Barry Collier and his wife built their dream of Collier Falls Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley, a picturesque piece of heaven that sits above the fog line, which means that their grapes see a lot of sun. The limited production vineyard releases a Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Primitivo, Petite Sirah, and a Late Harvest Primitivo which we enjoyed with our dessert.
I would suggest trying the Late Harvest Primitivo for your next dinner party, but be sure to also purchase a bottle or two of the Syrah du Soleil. The grapes from this wine blend (with Sirah and Zinfandel) were planted with great love by Susan Collier before she passed away from ALS in 2007. 100% of proceeds from this special wine are donated to ALS research.
PAPAPIETRO PERRY WINERY
It was such a pleasure to meet Bruce and Renae Perry (the “Perry” portion of the winery’s namesake; Ben and Yolanda Papapietro make up the other half). They are such a fun, humorous, happy couple, and their apparent passion for life comes through vividly in their vibrant wines. I loved chatting with Renae about her high tech marketing background and how Bruce and Ben began by producing wine in Ben’s garage. Today they produce small lots of Zinfandel and Pinot Noir using grapes from the Russian River, Anderson and Dry Creek Valleys.
We were lucky enough to enjoy a 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from Papapietro Perry (retail: $49) with our delicious dinner from Urban Farmer Restaurant.
While writing homage to these amazing wineries and the fabulous people who pour their souls into the wines, I have to also give thanks to Urban Farmer Restaurant for their culinary creations at the Taste of Sonoma event.
Pork belly? Yes, please! Urban Farmer is revered as a modern steakhouse, and I just love how they give their dishes such attention. Their pairings were spot on at this event, especially the chocolate mousse mud pie paired with Collier Falls Late Harvest Primitivo. I admire how the meat dishes at Urban Farmer somehow contain the perfect balance of both richness and a delicate lightness.
THE WINE ROAD
Many thanks to The Wine Road for bringing a Taste of Sonoma to Portland, Oregon. If you would like to learn more about Sonoma Wine Country, I highly suggest checking out WineRoad.com. There are approximately 190 wineries in the group, and if you’re planning a trip to Northern Sonoma County, they produce what I believe may be the best map of the region for your wine tasting vacation. They also have a new concierge service to help you create your best customized wine experience.
When you do go, don’t rush it: you might miss out on getting to know some amazing vintners whose stories will likely stay with you and help you appreciate the wine you are drinking all the more.