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Family Winemakers of California was held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds
Family Winemakers of California returned to the Del Mar Fairgrounds for its annual tasting event. Photo via Facebook/Family Winemakers
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Family Winemakers returns to Del Mar Fairgrounds

It was a pleasure to have Family Winemakers return to Del Mar Fairgrounds for its annual tasting event.  The event features family-produced and hard-to-find California wines, many of which are award-winning small, family-owned wineries that create wines from many of the state’s fabled wine-growing regions.

Last year’s 2021 event was unfortunately canceled due to Covid. However, Frank and I were on hand for this year’s show along with our travel writers Nancine Belfiore and Scott Hagner.

Family Winemakers of California is an “organization that reflects the small producer’s point of view.” The mission focuses on advocating for the rights and interests of its members to freely produce, market and sell their products, and is dedicated to preserving the diversity of California wine.

In fulfilling its mission over the past 17 years, they have expanded the ability of wineries, particularly small producers, to compete in the marketplace.

I always love the diversity of the wineries at the show ranging from small lesser know boutique wineries to names such as Justin and Chateau Montelena representing wine countries from San Diego and Temecula Valley to Central Coast to Napa Valley and the northern hills of Mendocino. In total, there were more than 50 wineries from across the state. Taste of Wine and Food was able to visit nine wineries during the event.

We started at Amrita Cellars to enjoy Russian River Pinot Noir with the 2017 vintage having a fruit-forward palate versus the 2018 pinot’s more earthy, old-world style.

Next, we headed over to Paso Robles’ Cass Winery to visit our good friend (Rockin’) Ted Plemons, co-owner of Cass Winery. The best way to describe Plemons is “Party in a Box.” It was fortuitous that Cass was on a corner table as they had a crowd all day and for good reason.

Rockin’ Ted Plemons, left, co-owner of Cass Winery, Angela, Cypher Winery, and Mike Pronier, Cass Winery.
Rockin’ Ted Plemons, left, co-owner of Cass Winery, Angela, Cypher Winery, and Mike Pronier, Cass Winery. Photo by Rico Cassoni

Rockin’ Ted brought an epic nine different wines to showcase. This included the 2021 Viognier, Roussanne and Rose (mourvèdre with a splash of grenache) made Provence-style with a light press on the fruit. All three were launched at the show.

Of the three launches, the viognier especially stood out for me although all three were winners. For reds, Ted was pouring mourvèdre, grenache, Backbone Syrah, and cabernet sauvignon.

“Rico I wanted to give visitors something to talk about, and I brought (library) 2017 Damas Noir Reserve Mourvèdre and 2018 Rockin’ Ted (90% cabernet sauvignon, 5% merlot, 3% malbec, and 2% petit verdot),” Ted said.

Ted’s mission was accomplished and he indeed indulged guests with Damas Noir and Rockin’ Ted.

Paso Robles was also represented by Pomar Junction and Derby with Vin West International’s Broker, Rhonda Rezek, on hand pouring whites and reds including chardonnay, GSM, tempranillo, and both red and white blends. Justin’s Katie Eberle, Sales Manager, was pouring well-known Justin wines featuring its Cabernet Sauvignon, Flagship Isosceles and Savant.

Next door to Cass was Chateau Montelena. Estate Director George Blanckensee was also spoiling guests with Montelena’s Library Cabernet Sauvignon (2007), as this was one of the few perfect growing years this century. Blanckensee was also serving a cabernet sauvignon (2017) and chardonnay (2019).

We were able to see several local wineries all with great and exciting news. Oceanside’s Coomber Craft Wines owners Skip and Maureen Coomber shared that they are in the process of opening up a new location in downtown Vista within the next few months.

At the show, the Coombers were serving their 2018 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon and non-vintage Merlot Dominate (50%) red blend with cabernet sauvignon (30%) finished with splashes of petit verdot and mourvèdre. Temecula’s Falkner Winery is busy working on new construction from the fire that destroyed the winery in 2020.

“The new winery’s expansive cozy deck will be perfect for guests to enjoy and is coming along nicely,” said winemaker Duncan Williams.

Williams was pouring one of Falkner’s flagship, award-winning wines, Amante, a Super Tuscan-style wine that I always enjoy along with a syrah.

Local Encinitas, Burtech Family Vineyards was pouring its 2019 Sonoma Valley Merlot, a 94-point San Diego International Challenge Director’s Award winner. Further, they were awarded the People’s Choice Award at the event.

While many San Diego wineries are urban wineries, Burtech is an 11-acre horse farm and local vineyard. It’s a reason why Burtech will be opening a new tasting room in Encinitas this year to handle the increase in their estate wines produced.

A top-tier winery at the show was Napa County’s Howell Mountain Vineyards. Accolades include being named “Top Cabernet Franc in the World” at the prestigious TEXSOM International Wine Competition, Wine Enthusiast’s 2020 Top 100 Wines in the World with its Zinfandel (#40), which was also Wine Enthusiast’s Highest Rated Zinfandel of the Year, a 95-point winner.

At the show, owner Mike Beatty and winemaker Bryan Kane were pouring 2017 cabernet franc, petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon, and killer Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, a 2021 Wine & Spirit’s 95-point winner and a Wine & Spirits “Year’s Best US Cabernet Sauvignons.”

I am already looking forward to next year’s 2023 Family Winemaker’s Event! See more information at familywinemakers.org.

Wine Bytes

The Lodge at Torrey Pines’ premier culinary festival, Celebrate the Craft, is being held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 3. The event showcases Southern California’s finest chefs, food artisans, farmers, wineries, and craft breweries. Sip and savor to your heart’s content on The Lodge’s outdoor Arroyo Terrace overlooking the world-renowned Torrey Pines Golf Course and Pacific Ocean. General admission tickets are $195. RSVP at bit.ly/3tpY3BR.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. Frank and Rico are two of the leading commentators on the web.  View their columns at tasteofwineandfood.com. Go to recent columns.  Reach them at [email protected]

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