Why wine festivals? | AspenTimes.com

Why wine festivals?

Kelly J. Hayes

If you live in the world of wine, there is a party to be found just about every day of the year.Here in Aspen, the biggest wine party of the year is just a month away when the Food & Wine Magazine Classic in Aspen returns on, dare I write it, Friday the 13th of June. The Classic was founded more than a quarter-century ago by Gary Plumley of Of Grape & Grain fame in Snowmass as a way to drum up business in, what was then, the offseason. Now everyone has gotten into the act.In April alone, an offseason month in many places, wine drinkers can count on imbibing at festivals as diverse as Sexy Syrah in Seattle, the Red River Wine Festival in Wichita Falls, Texas, the Bud Break with Pasta along the Shawangunk Wine Trail on Long Island, and the St. Michaels Wine and Food Festival in St. Michaels, Md. Yes, give a chamber of commerce a spring weekend and a little incentive and you have a ready-made wine and food party.Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course.Wine events are fun and they are a terrific way to get out and taste wines that you may never have thought of tasting. Red wine drinkers might discover a yen for viognier, a lover of imports may find a merlot from the Texas Hill Country that reminds him of the dusty first growths in his cellar. (Well, that may be taking things too far, but any excuse to taste new wines is a good one in my book.)But there are a few consumer events that go a little further in their level of sophistication: Events run by vintners who aim to showcase their wines and to make damn sure that everyone is having a great time to boot. There currently are three are on my radar that I would like to attend.The first is ZAP. ZAP stands for Zinfandel Advocates and Producers. For the past 17 years, they have put on what is now termed the largest single wine event devoted to a single grape. Held in January at Ft. Mason on San Francisco Bay, ZAP brings together more than 1,000 different bottlings of zinfandel from 300-plus producers and serves them to an army of Ziniacs over a four-day period. Everybody from Abundance Vineyards to Zingaro is there, and if you like zinfandel, what could be better? The 2009 version of the event will take place Jan. 28-31 (that would be Super Bowl Sunday, for you Broncos fans). Information can be found at http://www.zinfandel.org.Next on the list is an event in Oregon called the International Pinot Noir Celebration, which takes place the last weekend of July in McMinnville, Ore., a great wine (and beer) town. This event, which has roots going back to 1987, may be the antithesis of ZAP, much like pinot noir is the antithesis of zinfandel. While ZAPs reputation is akin to a zin-fueled rave, the IPNC as it is called, is more akin to a, well, celebration. The town is taken over by those who love pinot noir, the wine that pioneering Oregon winemaker Dave Lett, in the fine book The Boys Up North, described as feminine, complex, sensuous and compelling. The beauty of the Oregon wine country in summer only accentuates a gathering of oenephiles who are there for the love of the grape. Go to http://www.ipnc.org.Finally, and unfortunately, I have just missed the Hospice du Rhone event that takes place the first weekend in May (Kentucky Derby Day for you big Brown fans) in Paso Robles, Calif. This event focuses on the producers of wines that use the Rhone grape varietals, syrah, grenache and mourvedre among the reds, and roussane and marsanne among the whites. There are 22 separate Rhone varietals and California, particularly the central coast, has become a hotbed for the grapes and the wines made from them over the last decade. Visit http://www.hospicedurhone.org.Maybe next year. Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at malibukj@wineink.com.