Wine festivals can be daunting affairs. The amount of information and variety of wines available can be overwhelming if you don't devise a strategy ahead of time. But they're also a great way to try new releases and learn what is going on regionally in the industry.
Let's look at how best to navigate these wonderful venues.
Be selective. I focus on either an appellation or one or two grape varietals and keep my tastings to a maximum of four or so winemakers.
This allows me to make good use of my time at festivals. It is difficult, especially at larger festivals such as JPR's or Newport's, to taste all of the releases being shown. I generally focus on a particular vintage date, tasting a variety of releases and evaluating the depth and beauty of that year. I found this particularly helpful when tasting the stunning 2008 Oregon pinot noirs released from a variety of Oregon winemakers. I tasted the wines from the barrel as well as when they had matured. What a great experience it turned out to be.
Do your homework. Take care to understand what is being released to taste. For example, with the 2008 pinot, I spent a great deal of time studying the different winemakers and what styles to anticipate. I am not a fan of the lighter releases, but I knew exactly where to go for the deeper, more profound releases that were being poured.
I am a fan of going to specific vineyard sites for specific varietals. For the Applegate Valley Uncorked tastings, for example, it was quite easy to go online and see what the participating wineries were pouring that weekend.
Get information and be a good listener. Nothing is worse for wine pourers than to begin a talk on their offerings and have the attendees stand there, stupidly, paying little or no attention to what they are saying. All winemakers and their representatives are proud of their wines, and I think a modicum of respect for effort expended and willingness to share is important.
Wine fairs are all about sharing, saying what you prefer and why and listening to what is said in return. I simply cannot tell you how many professional wine folks get turned off by inattentive ticketholders. Much of this happens because of overindulgence.
About wine consumption and festivals: Please, always try to be on your best behavior around professional wine folks. It is about learning, communicating and having fun. Believe me when I tell you that winery professionals are looking for instructive feedback to take back to the winery.
Regardless of how much you will be drinking, bring a designated driver. Period.
Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland and still works there part time. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.