Under leaden, drippy skies the 9th Annual International Alsace Varietal Festival gathered white wine lovers under the protective shelter of the Mendocino County Fairground buildings in Boonville, California on February 8, 2014 as the crowd rejoiced at the first significant deluge of the year.
There were a few newcomers, some old timers and various name changes but all the vintners took pride in sharing their aromatic whites with appreciative sippers, as the Alsatian varietals filled the air with aromas of flowers and springtime. The good news is that Alsatian wine lovers can still find their favorite wines and, although the acreage in shrinking, it’s not true that every acre has been ripped out in favor of the latest whim of the wine world. Reisling, Gewurtztraminer, Pinor Gris, Pinot Blanc and Muscat stood front and center, not shrinking behind their robust, ruby colored cousins on this day.
A big part of the appeal of this festival was the intimate and collegial atmosphere, where pretensions faded away in favor of hearty enjoyment of food, wine and good company. Growers and vintners were on hand to share their passionate opinions about root stock, weather, soil, irrigation and other topics that fascinate farmers the world over while consumers waxed poetic over the fruits of their labor. Chefs rounded out the assemblage, crafting taste sensations to showcase the wines perfectly.
The festival kicked off the morning with a very successful Technical Conference. Not for the faint of heart was the wine tasting that began at 8:45 a.m. with a comparison of Rieslings led by Dan Berger, of Vintage Experience, and a panel discussion on the value of a sweetness scale. A horizontal tasting of locally produced Gewruztraminer was then conducted. Finally, Lars Kronmark, Chef Instructor at CIA Greystone delivered animated, humorous and insightful demonstration of various food styles that complement aromatic wines. An array of delicious treats, such as flaky, savory pastry, house smoked trout and frogs leg, were paired with medium- and low-acidity white wines rich with the aroma of green apples, white blossoms and peaches, transporting the room to gustatory heights.
As if that wasn’t enough, the excess continued with a fast-paced cooking demonstration with Chef Francois de Melogue, of Figue (located in Palm Desert), who whipped up Moroccan Sea Scallops with Preserved Lemon Farrotto, Green Charmoula Sauce and Gewrztraminer Beurre Blanc.
Top 10 Alsace Wineries
The following represents a highly subjective top-ten list of wineries (in no particular order) at the 2014 International Alsace Varietal Festival, according to a small group of tasters. More than ten wines are listed since some wineries showed more than one wine that tickled our fancy. To track down all the winemakers a trip up and down the west coast would be required, in addition to a hop over to France.
Wine: Willamette Blanc de Gris 2010; Les Pinots Noir & Gris White Blend 2012
Lichen Estates, which used to be Breggo before Doug Stewart sold the name, has just seven quality acres near Highway 128 planted with Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. They sourced grapes from the Willamette Valley to produce the crisp sparkler, Blanc de Gris, full of tiny bubbles and a hint of green apple. Les Pinots contains 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Pinot Gris, a tangy white wine blend that pairs well with food.
Location: 11001 Country Road 151, Boonville, CA 95415
Wine: T-Bud Dry Gewurztraminer 2012; Gewurztraminer Library 2007; Gewurztraminer 2012
Husch Vinyards presented a vertical tasting of Gewurztraminer. The 2007 library wine is, unfortunately, not available for purchase, which is too bad because this wine proves that a Gewurztraminer can age nicely, mellowing while maintaining good structure and acidity. The 2012 was brighter, but still with good structure and traditional aromas of honeysuckle and lychee, while the T-Bud (grafted onto Chardonnay with a ‘T-bud’ grafting method) exhibited crisp acidity, a bone-dry finish and grapefruit flavors.
Location: 4400 Highway 128, Philo, CA 95466
Wine: Pinot Gris Grand Cru 2007
Medium dry and crisp, this wine actually comes from the Alsace region of France. The Schlumberger’s are seeking to create gastronomic wines and the Pinot Gris is a good example of their success.
Location:100 rue Théodore Deck, 68501 Guebwiller Cedex, France
Wine: Monterey Gewurztraminer 2012
From the rolling hills of Monterey comes the elegant Fogarty Gewurztraminer, full of jasmine, lime and peaches.
Location: 19501 Skyline Blvd, Woodside, CA 94062
5. Lula Cellars
Wine: Dry Gewurztraminer 2013
Lula Cellars, based in tiny Philo, will be releasing their 4th vintage of Dry Gewurztraminer, whose floral notes pair perfectly with seafood or spicy Asian flavors.
Location: 3101 Hwy 128, Philo, CA 95466
Wine: Pinot Gris Anderson Valley
Napa’s Cliff Lede bought the Breggo name but has decided that Boontling doesn’t fit into their new vision so it will be re-imagined once again (stay tuned for new name). They source from their Anderson Valley Savoy Vineyard and others to create their Pinot Gris, with subtle flavors of quince highlighted with citrus accents.
Location: 11001 Highway 128, Boonville, CA 95415
Wine: Split Rail Vineyard Pinot Gris; Confluence Vineyard Gewurztraminer
A hint of lavender and minerals sets the effusive Pinot Gris apart, while the Gewurztraminer showed more restraint, releasing its classic aromas of lychee and pear slowly.
Location: 9200 Highway 128, Philo, CA 95466
Wine: Riesling 2012, 2010
Representing the Central Coast, Cutruzzola Vineyards, with just two acres planted to Riesling, shared their 2010 and 2012 vintage, both of which exhibited good structure, floral aromas and balanced flavors.
Location: Cambria, CA
Wine: Vin de Terroir 2012
From Robert Sinskey comes an unusual, food-friendly wine, from the Scintilla Vineyard in Carneros. Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Gewürztraminer come together bringing floral aromas, spicy notes and a mineral finish.
Location: 6320 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558
Wine: White Riesling 2012
A silver medalist at the SF Chronicle wine competition, this white Riesling expressed tropical fruits, apricots and mandarin, with good acidity.
Location: 5501 Highway 128, Philo, CA 95466
Wine Riesling 2012
Hailing from the Rogue Valley in Southwest Oregon, Foris’ Riesling stood with the best, providing balanced acidity with green apple and nectarine.
Location: 654 Kendall Road, Cave Junction, OR 97523
What to do? We ended up with 11 wines in our top 10 but we don’t think anyone will mind. The Technical Conference and wine tasting at the 9th Annual International Alsace Varietal Festival was a successful blend of education, conviviality and flavor.
International Alsace Varietal Festival
Held annually in February
To reach Boonville from San Francisco by car (approximately 2.25 hours, depending on traffic):
- Take U.S. 101 North
- Take Exit 522 to Highway 128 west, toward Ft. Bragg and Mendocino
- Follow Highway 128 until you reach Boonville