Family Winemakers Tasting Event in San Diego

Family Winemakers Tasting Event in San Diego
The yearly Family Winemakers of California event in San Diego is always such a great opportunity to discover new small family owned wineries. Small family run farms are the heart of California, so lending support to their efforts makes the event even more meaningful.  Held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, there is the opportunity to taste of 500 wines from over 125 wineries. However, as ambitious as you think you are, it’s simply not possible to taste them all. This year I went in with a gameplan to taste wines from the Healdsburg/Sonoma region and some new ones from Paso Robles area since I’m a frequent visitor. It was a relaxing day and there were a fun mix of people milling about including winemakers, trade industry and consumers. Several people made fun of me for taking my geeky notes, but trust me after tasting so many wines I’m so thankful I kept notes!

Here are my standout favorites from the event. As a winemaker so astutely pointed out to me once, “The best wine is the wine that you like.” Everyone has their preferences, so just like sizing in clothing, wine fits everyone in a different way. As a disclosure, I do not like heavy fruit bombs. All of the wines I have highlighted are therefore lighter, smoother and more flavorful than some of the big kahunas that exist out there.

The Farm Vineyard from Paso Robles

This Adelaida region winery is not open to the public, so I made a beeline over to their booth upon arrival. Tasting their wines is a priviledge and based on the crowd around the winemaker’s table, the secret was out. This winemaker couple (along with an Argentinian partner) work the farm themselves and cultivate their wines from start to finish. My favorite was the 2012 Touchy- Feely. Bright, rich fruit but it remains fresh with a hint of mineral with a smooth finish. There are only 294 cases produced of this  77% Grenache and 23% Syrah blend. Azmina explained to me that they decant the wine and use blowers to ‘blow off the alcohol’ before further processing. This wine takes a lot of work, and it shows. It is only available through their website and you must register to be a member (free membership) to get the emails of availability. Getting an email notice from them is like getting a secret message from Batman in the sky – you don’t want to pass this one up, or else you’re a Joker.

Tablas Creek 

Tablas creates French style wines in the Paso region which is a departure from many of the other wineries in the area that typically go big. My favorite from Tablas is the dry style Espirit de Blanc, which is bright in citrus, but solid minerality with low sugar. 2013 Esprit de Tablas Blanc is a blend of three estate-grown varietals, propagated from budwood cuttings from the Château de Beaucastel estate (Yes – it’s actually a FRENCH vineyard in California!) Roussanne provides the core richness, minerality, and flavors of honey and spice, while Grenache Blanc adds green apple and anise flavors, a lush mouthfeel and bright acids. Picpoul Blanc completes the blend, adding a saline minerality and tropical notes. This wine would pair well with any rich foods or seafood and is consistently one of my favorites year after year. In fact, I’ll be ordering some online.

The 2015 Patelin de Tablas Rosé was also a happy surprise. The beautiful pale peach colored Rosé is bright grapefruit but also low sugar which is why it’s another standout winner. The wine is produced from four red Rhône varietals: Grenache, Mourvèdre, Counoise, and Syrah . Often Rosés are too sweet and winemakers will label them as being great summer wines (a.k.a Patio Pounders). Why? I don’t need Kool-aid in the heat! Keep it light, refreshing and full of flavor. Love Tablas Creek.


So happy to stumble onto this team yesterday. The logo reminded us of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which is our former alma mater. Lo and behold, there is a Cal Poly connection! After doing the secret Cal Poly handshake, we talked wine. This Paso Winery is relatively new, and it’s clear great things are coming for them. Their 2013 Estate Grown Cabernet is delicious and a value at $25/bottle.
They also have a beautiful private inn, so if you’re looking to make a Paso Robles trip, check them out.

Ladera Vineyards

Located in the Howell Mountain appellation, Ladera focuses their attention on Cabernet Sauvignon production. I sampled the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Cabernets. Sadly I didn’t jot down WHICH 2012 vineyard version I tasted, as they do offer several. However, I did like the 2012 ‘Mystery’ Cabernet best. The Cab exuded blackberries and spice, but a very nice smooth finish. This is the type of wine that you pour of glass of and need nothing with it other than a nice blanket and a fireplace.

Keenan Winery

I have to be honest here. I think I liked every single wine this guy (Michael Keenan) produces, which was sort of exasperating. Really? Can’t you have just one dud? Keenan Winery is located in the Spring Mountain District of Napa, which is north of Cain…another winery that is not so shabby. So combine sacred wine terroir and outstanding effort, and well you get Keenan Winery. I bet if I visited their property, I would hear angels singing up the drive-way. If I had my wine arm twisted, I would say that my favorite was the 2012 Cabernet Franc. The wine has berry, acid and a great smooth texture. It retails for $68, and as there were only 480 cases produced I can see this selling out soon. Given the price point, some may buy and hold for special occassion. You can sit on this wine, but seriously it’s so good that $68 is a bargarin – buy this and bring it to dinner at a restaurant and pay the damn corkage fee.

Howell Mountain

Located in the aptly named Howell Moutain AVA, Howell Mountain Vineyard also sits on a blessed mother land perfect for wine growing. I’m not usually a huge fan of Zinfandels because they can be too sweet, but Howell Mountain has produced some winners. Their 2013 Old Vine Zin (from 101 year old vines) was a pleasant drinker. It is balanced, with spice and chocolate and has a nice long finish. My favorite however was the  2013 Primitivo Clone Zinfandel. Also with elements of spice, the flavor was bright and light and not heavy on my tastebuds. It’s $45 retail and can sit for a bit, although it’s very drinkable now. It’s one Clone that can attack my wine fridge anytime! Sorry for the Star Wars reference – told you I was a geek!

Collier Falls

Formerly in the entertainment industry, the owner of Collier Falls winery now spends his days tending the glorious acres of his beautiful Dry Creek Valley vineyard near Healdsburg. Collier Falls produces sustainably farmed Zinfadel, Primotivo, Syrah, Petite Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. My favorite was the 2012 Cabernet Savignon. Very smooth berry with hints of clove. The retail price is $45, so bring this crowd pleaser to a friend’s house to share. By the way, there really is an actual Collier Falls on the property which is said to be 30 feet high. Given the recent rains, it must have an impressive flow right now! However, only the farmer and wine grapes will get to watch the water show. Should you wish to sample Collier Falls Wines you may visit their beautiful tasting room in Healdsburg, which would be equally impressive.

Sojourn Cellars

Soujourn Cellars came to the event with their no-nonsense A game. If you’re a Pinot Noir fan, then look no further. The 2014 Pinor Noir is already racking up some nice notoriety from Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator and more. This flavorful pinot has powerful fruit with an earthy layer that screams out, “Hey, I’m a Pinot – and I’m fabulous!” It’s priced at $39 which to me is a super deal. A bottle of this Pinot and a nice cheese plate from Marin County, and we’re good to go.

What a great day! Look for these wines in restaurants, or check them out online. Better yet, visit them if you can. I’ll be making a trip to the Sonoma area in late April so I can’t wait to check a few of these out in person. Finally, to the guy who actually asked a winesmaker where ‘Healdsburg’ was, please don’t come next year. 🙂




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