California Wine Fair 2012

Every year, I eagerly anticipate the California Wine Fair. Located at the Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto, the walk-around tasting is a great way to spend a few hours discovering this diverse state. It really has it all - sun, surf, tech, stars and most important - wine.

Wines of Grgich Hills
2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
This year I had the chance to attend the afternoon event for trade and media. I was excited because I would be sharing the same spit buckets as some of the city's most respected sommeliers, writers, agents and buyers. You know, spitting wine is actually an acquired skill - one that I have yet to master as I always somehow manage to get whatever's in the bucket on myself. Bleh.

Alessandro from Profile Wine Group
Pouring J. Lohr wines
The public tasting is always held in the evening. There is a modest entrance fee. I say modest because for the quantity and quality of the wines, it's well worth it. This event gives you the opportunity to taste some wonderful examples of what California has to offer. This year, there were over 100 wineries participating. I'm sure you've seen some of the names before in your local LCBO store:

Profile Wine Group pouring
Signorello wines

J. Lohr Winery
Beringer Vineyards
Roert Mondavi Winery
Francis Ford Coppola Winery
Sterling Vineyards
Grgich Hills Estate
Heitz Wine Cellar

... and luckily for us, the list goes on!

Tara Colaneri of Colaneri Winery
and Ontario Winemaker of the year -
Andrzej Lipinski
An event like this can be quite over-whelming as there are just too many wines to physically try.  You can't do it all. Well, you could try but probably wouldn't get very far before being head first in one of those spit buckets. Trust me, I learned the hard way one year.  That's all I'll say about that. What I recommend is to do some research on the participating wineries. The list is always posted well before the event. It helps to have a game-plan. Divide and conquer.

Miner Family Winery
2008 Wild Yeast Chardonnay
On the hunt for varieties other than Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, it didn't take long to stumble (maybe not the best term to use for a wine-related post) upon the other darlings of California such as Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Zinfandel. Of course, what I always start with is some sparkling wine. This year, it was the bubbly of Gloria Ferrer. Sparkling wine is a great way to prepare the palate for a taste-a-thon.
Flowers Pinot Noir is
always a hit

Having spent quite a bit of time there for work, I've developed quite the affinity for California. I had the opportunity to visit many wineries in Santa Barbara County, Sonoma County and Napa Valley. Hopefully on my next trip, I'll explore Paso Robles - home of some fine Zinfandel and various Rhone varietals.

Zaca Mesa 2009 Viognier was
 a great new discovery
California is a state with approximately 1300 km of coastline. The state's topography and soil variances leads to diverse growing conditions which of course come out in the wines. The cool air from the Pacific ocean acts like a giant air conditioner for vineyards - especially those closer to the coast. Plenty of sunshine to properly ripen the grapes, cool fogs and breezes from the ocean to cool them down - this is why the state can have such a flourishing wine industry.
Whenever I visit a particular California wine region, I always find the people to be warm and welcoming. They're excited to share not only the wine, but the passion and knowledge that goes with it.  It really is quite infectious. Sure, some regions can be slightly more touristy than others but I can guarantee that you'll always have an enjoyable visit.

Dierberg Family of Wines

California is usually at the forefront of research and innovation. Did you know that the state actually grows 100 different grape varieties? Experimentation with winemaking techniques, technology along with flexibility in creating unconventional blends is like none other in the world.

The wines of Peju
The growers and winemakers are also leading the way for sustainable winegrowing practices. That could be a whole other article: Sustainable, Biodynamic and Organic Farming. For brevity's sake, let's just say that they're trying to create products that have the least amount of environmental impact right from practices in the vineyard itself to those inside the winery. Sustainability - from grape to bottle. Just remember, sustainable does not equal organic.
Packed with eager tasters

For more information on sustainable winegrowing in California:

If you really want to have a great, detailed read about California, check out this webpage by Jancis Robinson:

I urge you to check out the California Wine Fair when it's back in town next year. In one evening, you can discover what the Golden State has to offer. You can, in the meantime, begin your research by picking up some California wine on your next visit to the LCBO. Coincidentally, one of themes for the current Vintages release is  "California Legends".

Learn more about the wines of California

This is a fun show with world-renown wine expert Oz Clarke
and Top Gear's James Hammond
I'm hooked!
Oz & James's Big Wine Adventure 
Los Carneros