From the simple taste of an unfamiliar varietal at the local wine bar to a full-fledged European viniculture tour, the opportunities to broaden one's wine smarts are becoming more plentiful and rewarding. One particular California wine region that presents a diverse selection of public wine education is the Northern Central Coast. The region's lengthy history of grape growing, paired with expanding recognition for quality winemaking, makes it an ideal place to learn more about wine. Whether you choose to attend a lighthearted Wine Tasting 101 class or a hefty technical seminar, the curriculum will surely stimulate your palate and your mind.
The nine appellations of Monterey County present a multitude of enriching lessons about wine. A sip of Chardonnay grown in the Santa Lucia Highlands compared to one produced in the Chalone region would alone be enough to tempt you into a class on terrior. Several of the wineries, vineyards, and businesses that dot the varied landscape of Monterey offer informative chances for the public to get to know the nuances of these wines a bit better. Almost any day of the week is prime time to explore this region, and those interested in learning are oftentimes rewarded with great savings and deals to boot.
Morgan Winery, founded in 1982 and with a longtime history of producing varietal-specific, balanced wines, features "Library Sundays" at the Taste Morgan visitor center in Carmel. Every Sunday, from 2 to 5pm, a special array of older-vintage selections gets opened up to the public for no extra fee.
Wednesdays are thematic for wine tasting, with "Wine-Down Wednesday" at Tarpy's Roadhouse featuring a rotating spotlight on Monterey County wines, paired with a specially designed pre-fix menu and discounts on by-glass pours. On the first Wednesday of the month, head east on Carmel Valley Road to Chï¿½teau Julien Wine Estate, where Winemaker Marta Kraftzech will lead you on a flavor tour in the "World of Wine Series" via comprehensive tastings.
The Monterey County Vintners & Growers Association (MCVGA) has put together a full curriculum for people interested in getting started in the wine biz. In partnership with CSU-Monterey Bay, the Wine Entrepreneurship Course, taught by a small team of wine professionals and educators, offers people truly interested in actualizing their winemaking dreams a way to implement them through writing a business plan and putting it into action.
On the third weekend of the month, venture out to Martin Ranch Winery for a unique educational experience. Tour the facilities and learn about winemaking from the maker himself, then taste some outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon onsite.
The wide spectrum of wine education in Santa Cruz is indicative of the community itself. Emphasis on sustainable practices, small production, and high integrity mixes with a bit of eccentricity and casual accessibility to make wine lessons here informative, memorable, and fun.
One of this region's leading characters of international acclaim, Randall Grahm was a pioneer in bringing attention to little-known Rhï¿½ne varietals here in the United States in the early 1980s. His headquarters, Bonny Doon Vineyard, sits on Santa Cruz's West Side in a burgeoning urban wine tasting hotspot. Join him every Thursday evening at his stunning new Cellar Door Cafï¿½ for a guided barrel tasting in the cellar followed by an intimate family-style winemaker dinner.
Tabitha Stroup of You Have a Friend In Cheeses has a background in the wine industry and is a cheesemonger and trained chef. As a long-time locavore, she promotes delicious awareness of Santa Cruz's bounty through a gamut of themed wine and food classes around town. Most recently, working with Bargetto Winery, Roudon-Smith, and Beauregard wine club members, she has led seminars in pairing local wine with local food. She also appears every Wednesday at In Vino Veritas in Scotts Valley, where she focuses on Italian varietals with matching regional dishes. In the past, Stroup and her associate, Melissa Schilling of Praise Cheeses, Pass the Wine, brought a unique curriculum of wine teaching to Cabrillo College that included such tantalizingly titled classes as "California Sippin'," "Deciphering Wine Lists," and "Oenomusiphilia" (dedicated to full sensory palate self-evaluation).
For a more classic tasting approach, visit Soif wine bar in downtown Santa Cruz, where a multitude of flights, seminars, and pourings with guest wine experts from around the world highlight natural-quality winemaking; limited production; and expressive, traditional techniques.
The Santa Cruz Mountain Winegrowers Association hosts interactive events all year round. These give the public a way to get to know the local winemaking community, tour the beautifully diverse landscape where the mountains meet the sea, and take a front-seat approach to learning what this region has to offer.
Napa Valley Meritage Wines of Note:
2005 Casa Nuestra Meritage
"Full-bodied, well structured wine with flavors of blackberries and cassis."
--Assistant Winemaker Stephanie Trotter-Zacharia
2005 Cosentino The Poet
"Youthful, with tart cherry and currant up front, polished in the middle with pomegranate that evolves into a long, spicy finish."
--Winemaker Mitch Cosentino
2006 Flora Springs Trilogy
"A lovely cassis and cherry bouquet and huge black-fruit flavors that envelop the palate."
--Winemaker Paul Steinauer
2005 Franciscan Magnificat
"Enticing aromas of dark cherry and black plum, elegant, well-structured mouthfeel."
--Winemaker Janet Myers
2006 Merryvale Profile
"Aromas of cassis and raspberry, blended with tobacco, cedar. On the palate it is dense and concentrated."
--Senior Winemaker Sean Foster
2005 St. Supï¿½ry ï¿½lu
"Aromas of plum and black cherry, flavors of smooth vanilla, and hints of tobacco."
--Winemaker Michael Scholz
2005 Sterling Vineyards SVR Reserve
"Inviting aromas and opulent flavors.ripe blackberries, black cherries, nuances of mocha, cedar, toasty oak, and violet spice."
--Winemaker Mike Westrick
2003 Trinchero Mario's Reserve Meritage
"Deep, dark, open, and lush with leather, vanilla, anise, and violets."
--Winemaker Mario Monticelli