It’s all in the family

You might call them an extended family of fine wineries. The 2011 version of Family Winemakers of California assembles at the Del Mar Fairgrounds on March 13 from 3 to 6 p.m. More than 200 of the California wineries in the association will give visitors a chance to get to know the quality of wineries that are small producers and are passionate about offering only the best wines they can make. 
The vision of an alliance of California farmers presenting hand-crafted wines was the creation of Suzanne Frontz, now president and general manager of Cinnabar Winery in Saratoga, in the Santa Cruz Mountains. She and her winemaker George Troquato favor the Bordeaux/Burgundy style of complex wines, and comb the wine countries around them for vineyards with that rich mouthfeel and makeup that has endeared wine lovers to the greatness of the California version of French wines. 
“We make 12,000 cases at Cinnabar,” she said. “When we began to make wine in a garage in 1987, just 250 cases were made. It was all started by my family, and is still owned by members of my family.” 
Frontz, who lives in Coronado and commutes to wine country, lit up when I asked her what was new this season. “Mercury Rising is our proprietary blend that we feel strongly about. It’s the 2008 cabernet/merlot from Paso Robles ($21) which is one of about 20 different appellations that will be tasted at the Family Winemakers event.  I urge guests to plan ahead when they come and have a good breakfast.  We have site plans and wines listed in a complete program.
About 85 percent of the 4,000 wineries in California fit into the Family Winemakers category.  129 new wineries came into being last year.  Its’ a vibrant, growing business and we love it.”  Guest advance sales have doubled over last year’s event, as the economy has turned and the wine industry with it.
For a complete list of the wineries that will be pouring more than 1,000 different wines at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, go to familywinemakers.org. For questions, call (415) 705-0646.
You can purchase tickets at the website, which range from $55 to $75 each. After the event, you can truly say you tasted all that is the family of California wines.
Lunch with a Twisted Spur
I know, sounds like something out of “True Grit,” but it was a lovely lunch with members of the Niner Wine Estates team from Paso Robles, Amanda Cramer the Winemaker and Tucker Spear, director of sales.
Amanda is no stranger to readers of “Taste of Wine.” She is the real deal, having won Winemaker of the Year last year at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. Since the beginning, she has flown high literally with a world of experience first at UC Davis, then Napa Valley, Australia and Chile. She worked under the great winemaker Heidi Barrett before teaming up with Niner in ’04.
At the end of the day, Cramer believes that quality winemaking begins in the vineyard. “The agricultural aspect is more important,” pointing out that 2010 will be the first all estate-produced vintage. “The most important decision I make as a winemaker is the harvest date. It must be at the absolute peak of grape readiness for the excellence of the wine to be made.” The 2007 Twisted Spur is 52 percent merlot, 30 percent cab Franc, 15 percent syrah and 3 percent petite sirah ($25). It’s Paso perfect.
Wine Bytes
— The Pacific Coast Wine Festival at the Island Resort in Newport Beach is coming at 5 p.m. March 5 with a sit-down lavish dinner at 7 p.m. This event benefits the Pacific Symphony of Orange County and includes tasting rare and premium wines, silent and live auction and live music. Tickets start at $325 each. Details at (714) 876-2364, or visit pacificsymphony.org/pcwf.
— Just Pinot is the theme at a tasting in Bacchus Wine Market from 2 to 8:30 p.m. March 6. Cost is $20. From Burgundy to Oregon, there will be seven tastings. For more, call (619) 236-0005.
— The Crossings Golf Club in Carlsbad has its Wine Down event in the Canyons Restaurant from 5:30 to 8 p.m. March 10. Sanford is the featured winery along with menu items for $20 per person. RSVP at (760) 444-1861.
— Vigilucci’s Restaurant downtown Carlsbad has an Antinori’s Italian Wine Dinner at 6 p.m. March 9. The $75 fee includes a three-course dinner and the newest vintages from Antinori. RSVP at (760) 434-2580.
— Temecula Creek Inn and Robert Renzoni Winery present Wine Maker starting at 6:30 p.m. March 9. Chef Sal creates a wine-inspired dinner with tasting portions of each course paired with Italian style wines poured by Robert Renzoni of the winery in Temecula. The cost is $20 per person. Call (951) 694-1000.

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