Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - March 12, 2010

The barrel treatment

New wine event gives a sneak sip into future releases

by Emily West

Wanting to look into the future? Forget the crystal ball, it's all about the wine barrel.

The Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association hosts Barrel Tasting Weekend, from March 20 to 21. The group's newest event, in its second year, allows tasters to get a preview of wine that's not quite ready to be bottled.

Mitchell Katz, winemaker at the winery with the same name on Vineyard Avenue in Pleasanton, said the event is also a good opportunity to experience how wine is made. They will have two barrels containing the same varietal -- their 2008 Sangiovese -- to allow tasters to taste the difference in barrels.

"The best way I describe the barrels," Katz said, "is like a spice rack. Each French oak company gets wood from a different terroir (terrain). You get a difference with every barrel."

This event is good for those wanting to educate their palate, as they can learn more about the journey of wine, from grape to glass. Katz said it's good to ask the winemaker how old the wine is and how it will change. People ask him how one wine might have a vanilla characteristic, for example, and he said it's partly the grapes, but also a result of using different barrels.

While the wine still has a ways to go until it's bottled, sampling it now will provide a good indication of what it will become. If participants find something they like, many wineries are selling the wines at a discount before they are bottled and released to the public -- also known as buying futures.

Katz will be pouring his 2008 Sangiovese, which was won best of class in seven of the last eight California state fairs, and it will be discounted at $14 instead of $25. They will also serve the popular 2007 Fat Boy Reserve Cabernet, which is regularly $40 and will be $26 during the event.

Jim Ryan, winemaker at Concannon Vineyard in Livermore, will be on hand with a wine thief -- the glass dropper -- ready to provide barrel samples and answer questions at their remodeled tasting room on Tesla Road.

"People get to see where the wine is in its lifespan and try to see where it's going," Ryan said. "You don't have the opportunity (to taste from the barrel) that often, and it's a whole different flavor profile. It's all free instead of squished in the little bottle."

One of his favorite parts about these types of events, Ryan said, is talking with customers and getting a feel for what they want.

"We get all of the Nielsen ratings, facts and figures and trade publications, but out there we get a good barometer of the people, what they like and what they don't like" he said.

People in the valley, as well as nationally, are looking for value.

"One of the great things about the Livermore Valley is that our wines are still a pretty big value," he said.

Ryan will be serving a cabernet sauvignon out of a brand new oak barrel and a neutral barrel, as well as petite sirah -- the wine Concannon is credited for first making in 1961.

Events such as the Barrel Tasting Weekend are helping to attract people to the Livermore Valley, still considered to be a hidden gem to some, including Katz.

"It seems that every weekend, more and more people are coming from San Francisco and the peninsula," he said. "When I started, we were winery No. 16 in 1998 and now there are over 50 wineries. The bar has definitely been raised. There's more competition, so there's better wine."

More than 25 of these wineries will be participating in the Barrel Tasting Weekend, which is from noon to 4:30 p.m. March 20 to 21. Tickets are $25 when purchased online by March 19 or $30 at the event. Ticket sales are limited, however, and sold out last year. The price includes an official tasting glass and a map.

For a list of participating wineries and more information about the event, visit www.lvwine.org or call 447-WINE (9463).

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