Twenty-First Taos Winter Wine Festival
- January 23, 2007
The Taos Winter Wine Festival launched yesterday for the
twenty-first year in a row. With all the recent storms providing
an ample base for skiing, I expect this year's event will
bring record attendance. In today's column, I'll highlight
some of the activities that attracted my attention.
The Taos WWF has grown enormously from the
inaugural back in 1987 when Chris Stagg invited a few of
his favorite winemakers out to Taos to ski, in exchange
for pouring some of their wines apres ski. The professional
management brought to the table by Greg O'Byrne has lifted
it from its humble beginnings to a first rate event. Even
so, it is a small, cozy festival that attracts some of California's
best winemakers... at least among those who love to ski.
Several years ago, I recall trying to keep up with Ridge
Vineyard's Paul Draper, a man more than a few years my senior.
He carves turns just as skillfully as he carves out top
notch Zinfandels from great grapes.
The Festival spans nearly two weeks. The
first week is devoted primarily to the wines of National
Distributing; the second those of Southern Wines and Spirits.
Wines from the smaller distributors are sprinkled throughout
both weeks. During the week, there are a series of seminars
in the late afternoon, and winemaker dinners in the evening.
On the two Friday afternoons, there are the Grand Tastings
with the opportunity to sample wines from all the present
wineries. High point of the event is the Great Chefs of
Taos dinner on Sunday at De La Tierra restaurant led by
the very knowledgeable Craig Dunn.
One of the big attractions of the event
is its size. Large wine events can be sort of a zoo, with
little opportunity for personal contact. At Taos, you can
often ski a few runs with a winemaker, or quiz them on their
latest release on the lift ride up. The dinners often are
intimate enough that you can grill them to your heart's
content. And this one- on-one interaction is what most winemakers
Yesterday's seminars included Josh Jensen's
Calera Winery. Josh, a tall, lanky, raw- boned Clint Eastwood
look-alike, is one of the premier winemaker skiers. His
vineyards carved out of rocky limestone soil near the bucolic
town of Hollister yield some of California's greatest and
most Burgundian Pinots. Moreover, he turns out one of the
most Dolly Parton-ish in style Viogniers that is a perennial
favorite of mine. And his taste in colorful sweaters makes
him one of the most fashionable figures in all Taos!!.
This afternoon's Zinfandel panel is always
a hit with the Zinfanatics, a particularly passionate breed
of wino. Kent Rosenblum cranks out a plethora of stunning
Zins from a cavernous locomotive repair shop on the old
Alameda Naval Air Station using several dozen premier vineyards
throughout California. His former marketing director Kevin
Brown, will be showing wines from his small R&B operation
as well. Susan Ridely will be discussing the wines from
the famed George Hendry Vineyard, source of one of the great
Rosenblum Zins. George, in addition to being a meticulous
farmer, also builds in a barn on his ranch...get this...proton
accelerators, a last link to his earlier days at the Berkeley
Laboratory Bevatron!! Not your usual sideline for a clod-busting
The panel will also include Michael David
of that eponymous winery. He grows wine in Lodi an area
that's an up and coming star for Zinfandels, as more winemakers
discover the very old Zin vineyards located there. Filling
out the panel will be Peter Mathis of Ravenswood, a winery
whose Zins I've followed from the very start in 1976.
Saturday's seminars will star Craig Williams,
longtime winemaker for Joseph Phelps. His Insignia Cabernet
is regarded as one of California's finest. Not being a Cab
fan, I'm usually more interested in his Rhone-style wines.
He and Josh Jensen were two of the first Viognier producers
in California. His Le Mistral Rhone blend is a bargain and
demonstrates that cool Monterey County can, indeed, produce
fine California Rhones.
My curiosity was particularly piqued by
the "Wines of Spain" presentation next Wednesday.
Ray Vigil owns a brand-new wine importer and distributorship
here in New Mexico called Vin Iberia. This country has a
multitude of interesting wines from obscure regions available
for those making the effort to root around in the rural
backwaters. I'm interested in seeing what new Spanish wines
Ray's portfolio has to offer.
A week from Saturday will be Brian Larky's
"Great Wines of Tuscany." His Della Terra portfolio
(www.dallaterra.com) of Italian wines has more gems on it
than Elvis Presley's gaudy white jump suit. An accomplished
skier and outdoor adventurer, his Northern Italian wines
are always some of my must-trys.
In addition to many of the winemakers mentioned
above, the two Grand Tastings have a number of tables I'm
eager to visit. Tomorrow's lineup includes Baileyana (Scott
Woodward's Syrah from the Edna Valley is exceptional), Maryhill
(some very fine Washington Syrahs), Sineann (Peter Rosback's
Oregon Zins are unusual and exceptional, his Pinots very
good), and Zaca Mesa (Clay Brock's Rhone varietals are hitting
on all cylinders).
The following Saturday's list includes Arcadian
(Joe Davis' Pinots and Chardonnays are some of the finest
available in New Mexico), Crawford Malone Wines (a distributor
of a large range of fine California wineries. I'm dying
to try their Basket Case wine!!), Marietta (Jake Bilbro's
Old Vine Red, Lot Number...umpty-ump now, is one of my all-time
favorite value reds), Zealer Cellars (based in Carmel, their
Syrah, Napa Cab, and Sonoma Zin are exceptional wines and
very good values), and our very own Vivac Winery (Jesse
and Chris Padberg are making some of New Mexico's most interesting
wines up in Embudo. Stop at their tasting room on your trip
up and buy some of Liliana's superb chocolates...to die
Information on the Taos WWF and ticket ordering
can be found at www.SkiTaos.org or 505/776-2291 Ext 1427.
The tasting venue at the two Grand Tastings
can be a bit crowded at times, especially when clumps of
people stand at a table and block other's access to the
wines. Proper tasting etiquette calls for you to step up
to the table, receive your pour, and then step back to sample
the wine, so others can receive their pour. If you wish
to discuss the wine with the winemaker, they'll usually
be more than happy to step aside and hear you out. This
protocol seems to be widely ignored here in New Mexico.
If some curmudgeonly grump carrying a red spittoon, with
a look of purpose in his eye and on a mission, asks you
to step aside....that'll probably be me!! .