Another Tasting With the Family Winemakers of California

A tasting table at the Family Winemakers of California tasting event - and that's just one table!

This is the third year we’ve done the Family Winemakers of California tasting event, featuring over 200 California wineries, from all over the state. They do two – one in Del Mar, California and a trade tasting in Pasadena. It’s probably the most fun thing we do all year.

We think tasting events are a great way to learn about a lot of wine in a short time, and to try new stuff, or maybe re-try stuff we thought we didn’t like.

While tasting events can get pricey (we, fortunately, get admitted via a press pass), they are actually more economical than going to a wine bar or visiting the wineries. Family Winemakers of California featured over 200 wineries, most of them pouring four to five and more wines. Think about paying for 10 to 15 flights at your local wine bar, then do the math. In most cases, you’ll come out ahead at the event.

And if you want to make it even more cost-effective, you can volunteer to help at these events (and they always need volunteers). That will generally get you in for free, with plenty of time for tasting. You just have to work for it. Please. We don’t want to encourage freeloading.

The thing that makes this event extra special is that the uniting theme is the wineries, themselves – relatively small family-owned operations. Most of the wineries were represented by the owners and/or the winemakers. And sometimes, the owner and the winemaker were the same person.

Compare that to going to one of these large, corporate wineries and being served by someone who’s never even met the winemaker, let alone the owner.

The other advantage to this particular tasting is the breadth of wines poured. Unlike Pinot Days, which is all pinot noir, there’s a little bit of everything represented at the Family Winemakers’ tasting. Which makes it the perfect venue to try wines you’ve never had before, such as a nebbiolo, an albarino, a petit verdot or a marsanne. We even tried some wines we don’t traditionally like and found one we actually did (more to come).

If you’ve never been to a tasting like this, you might be a little shocked when you see folks spitting out wine into cups. Spitting is a total necessity when you’ve got this much wine to taste (and you’re not even going to come close to hitting all 200 wineries). That’s why there are dump buckets everywhere.

No one expects you to swallow, so don’t feel like you’re implying you don’t like something when you spit it into a cup. And it’s no big deal if you don’t like something. Obviously, you wouldn’t spit it right back into the pourer’s face and scream, “Yuck! Blech!” But you don’t have to say you like it when you don’t. We prefer the silent nod or even a murmured, “Interesting.” Which isn’t a lie. You just don’t say that what’s interesting is how these guys stay in business selling such miserable plonk.

You might also consider that what you think is miserable plonk, somebody else thinks is utterly transcendent. We were reminded of that while tasting at a table where we thought about half the wines had this odd, icky off-taste to them. But while talking to the winemaker/owner, we were interrupted several times by a broker who was just ecstatic over the wines and setting up a major purchase, and the two the broker liked the best were the two we hated. Oh, well.

Please tell us what you think.

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