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Friday, February 27, 2015

Barrel Tasting, Here it Comes!

Sonoma County's version of March Madness is three weekends of special events coming out of wine barrels! The first two weekends are the Wine Road Barrel Tasting in northern Sonoma County (Russian River, Dry Creek, and Alexander Valleys). The third weekend is Sonoma Valley's turn with Savor Sonoma Valley.

Barrel Tasting, March 6-8 and 13-15, 2015

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The Barrel Tasting is organized by the Wine Road association of northern Sonoma County wineries. It's original focus was for an open house event featuring barrel samples of young wines with the opportunity to buy futures. Futures buying is paying now at a discount, but you don't get the wines until after they're bottled, usually a year or so later.

For the last 15 years or so it got to be a big party at some of the wineries and this spilled over into the town of Healdsburg. Lately, the wineries are trying to get away from the party atmosphere and go back to featuring futures wines. The prices for the event has been rising thinking this will discourage the partiers. It does seem a bit more tame now. In the "old days" (the '80s) this event was one weekend only and it was free!

This is probably the most popular wine event in the county. There are over 100 wineries participating. All will be open the Saturday and Sunday of the first weekend. Not all are open on Friday. A few don't participate in the second weekend.

At many of the wineries you'll get to chat with winemakers and cellar hands--the folks that actually make the wines.

Some tips if you are going:
  • The event is Friday through Sunday. Take Friday off work and attend to avoid the big Saturday afternoon crowds at the popular places. 
  • Where will the crowds be Saturday afternoon? Dry Creek Valley and in Healdsburg. This is your opportunity to visit Russian River Valley or Alexander Valley. 
  • The wineries are spread out so it's best to pick one area for each day. For instance, Friday in Dry Creek, Saturday in Russian River Valley, and Sunday in Alexander Vly.
  • Make dinner reservations now for Saturday night.
  • When I go barrel tasting I take along one of those Red Solo Cups to spit in. That way I can stop by more wineries without worrying about getting tipsy.
  • This isn't a food event though a few may have something available (free or for a cost). It's best to bring your own sandwiches, cheese, water, etc. You can make time for a restaurant stop in one of the nearby towns, but expect them to be busy.
  • Many of the participating wineries aren't normally open to the public. This is a great time to look for that little, hidden gem.

Event info

Savor Sonoma Valley, March 21-22, 2015

Not to be outdone, Sonoma Valley's winery association, Heart of Sonoma Valley, puts on their own barrel tasting. This one is also about food. It's a little less crowded than the Barrel Tasting from the prior weekends as it's a bit more expensive (because you're getting food, too).

About two dozen wineries participate--enough to keep you busy for a couple days. A number of them have very small production and you'll get to chat with the winemaker/owners. The wineries are located along or near Highway 12 between the towns of Sonoma and Santa Rosa.

Event info

Why Buy Futures?

There are a couple reasons to buy now even though you don't get the finished product for many months. Some of the wines, especially from the smallest producers, may not be available after their release in the bottle. The futures price should be the least expensive you'll ever see the wines. Another reason is it gives you an excuse to visit again when your futures wines are ready for pick-up. Or you can have them shipped to you, but that's not as much fun!