'Family' Keeps Growing

More than 400 winemakers offer tastings at 18th annual event

by Kate Lavin
Family Winemakers of California
Travis Hutchinson and Amanda Simpson, newcomers to trade organization Family Winemakers of California, talk about Whalebone Winery at a tasting event Monday in San Francisco.
San Francisco, Calif. -- Of the 408 wineries pouring at the recent Family Winemakers of California event, the trade organization identified more than 70 as being new to the annual tasting at Fort Mason Center's Festival Pavilion. Now in its 18th year, the event opened to consumers after a 1.5-hour trade-only segment Sunday, and on Monday it opened to the trade exclusively for four hours.

Attendees widely agreed that the atmosphere Monday was completely different than what they'd seen during the consumer event the day before. "Yesterday was crazy with the consumers," said Ashley DuBois of Los Gatos-based Black Ridge Vineyards, which was making its first visit to the Family Winemakers event. "Today is much more focused. They come search us out and have specific questions," she said of the many restaurants, retailers and distributors making their way through the rows of wineries pouring.

Making connections

For representatives of many of the newer wineries, the event provided an opportunity to visit with other winemakers from their regions. "Lake County is an up-and-coming region," said Blythe Beaubien, brand manager for Shannon Ridge Vineyards and Winery, "and there is a lot of representation here, a lot of camaraderie."

Suzanne Burens, a first-time event participant who co-owns Wild Heart Winery in Los Olivos with her husband, Jim, said she'd met a lot of new California vineyard owners, which is of particular importance since the couple has often sourced grapes from as far north as the Alexander Valley in Sonoma and as far south as their home district of Santa Ynez Valley.

According to representatives from Family Winemakers of California, trade attendance for Sunday was up 150%. More than 1,340 members of the trade attended the tasting Sunday--a jump from 889 the year before.

Rolling harvest

The statewide representation at the event was underscored by the harvest status of each vineyard represented. While Travis Hutchinson of Whalebone Winery said harvest at his family's 10.6-acre vineyard in Paso Robles doesn't get underway until late October, Stephen and Craig Sterling of Esterlina Vineyards missed the first crush of the season on Monday to attend Family Winemakers.
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