Archie McLaren, the beret-topped impresario of the Central Coast Wine Classic, has organized his fest for 30 years now, raising money for all sorts of non-profits who do work in healing, performing, and studio arts. "I love the Central Coast Wine Classic, and think it's a largely unrecognized gem locally," claims Jason Haas, Partner and GM at Tablas Creek Vineyard. "The auction is its centerpiece, and gets great attendance from serious bidders from around the country as well as the local wine community, but the educational seminars are superb each year, the auxiliary dinners always beautifully done, and the two tastings a chance to taste some of the Central Coast's greatest wines in relative peace."
The event, which runs July 10 - 13 at sites ranging from Hearst Castle (it's an expensive, lavish dinner you can't get into) to the Avila Beach Golf resort, location for Sunday, July 13's White Rhone Varietal Symposium and a Reserve Tasting featuring 50 wineries and 15 food vendors, is a wonderful way to get a snapshot of the broader Central Coast, from Santa Barbara up to northern-most reaches of Paso Robles (and a ringer or two from Napa).
That White Rhone Symposium will be a fine example of what panelist, and long-time white Rhone supporter, Bob Lindquist from Qupe Wines says, "The seminars are meant to be very consumer friendly, not technical, wine geek seminars." This one in particular is a chance to taste, and learn about, whites that aren't chardonnay or pinot grigio, and even if they can be hard to pronounce, they're delicious and gaining more and more of a root-hold in California.
"There was an era when people were looking for the 'next big thing,' which I think was a difficult burden for any grape to carry (viognier, for example, didn't fare well with the title), but now all that grapes like this need to aspire to is a place in the discussion," Haas, who will head the panel, suggests. "Even better, the Rhone white grapes encompass such a wide range of characters, from floral (viognier) through power and structure (roussanne) to freshness (grenache blanc and picpoul) to elegance (marsanne) that it gives winemakers and consumers lots of wonderful options to play with."
Lindquist, who will be pouring his marsanne, claims, "I've been making marsanne since 1987 and have found that most vintages can age for 15-20 years. They get honeyed and nutty and gain richness and complexity." Stephan Asseo, owner and winemaker at L'Aventure, adds, "Our job in the day to day is to educate our own customers step-by-step like I did in the past for my crazy Paso red blends." On the panel his daughter Chloe Asseo will represent the winery and pour his 2013 Estate Cuvee Blanc.
Then the Reserve Tasting, which sometimes has even more room to move from table to table as some folks head out after the long four-day weekend of wine (hint hint), will give folks a chance to sip the best of Central Coast, and even an outlier like Heitz Cellar from Napa, famed for making one of the greatest cabernet sauvignon's in California history. L'Aventure will be pouring its hard-to-find and delicious blends, 2012 Optimus, 2012 Côte à Côte, and 2012 Estate Cuvée; Tablas Creek will pour its flagships, 2011 Esprit de Tablas, 2011 Esprit de Tablas Blanc, and 2013 Dianthus Rosé.
And the spotlight will also fall on smaller, less known yet spectacular producers like RN Estate Vineyard & Winery from Paso. "Blending for me is a form of artistry, something I learn from and enjoy," says owner/winemaker Roger Nicolas, who will pour his 2010 Harmonie des Cepages, a blend of the five red Bordeaux varietals (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, malbec, and petit verdot). "It is also a way of assembling different varietals sometimes growing in less than ideal weather conditions, while endeavoring to create something unique and exceptional."
Nicolas, who has had a restaurant career in notable spots such as La Grenouille in New York, The Lodge at Pebble Beach, and L'Etoile in San Francisco, and then an hotelier career running an exclusive inn in New Hampshire, turned to Paso and wine in 1995. There he grows Bourdeaux grapes and some Rhone varietals, while he turns to more temperate Santa Barbara for his pinot noir; he will also pour a 2011 Pinot Noir from Fiddlestix Vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills. "We chose those two wines because they represent our vision, focus, and commitment to handcrafted wines with finesse and elegance, designed to be enjoyed with food," Nicolas says. The goal is to please what Nicolas calls, "one of the most ideal gatherings of discriminating wine consumers in the pleasant beach resort of Avila Beach."