No one has yet come up with the happy formula for a "wine festival." Is it a carnival? If it is, how can the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] student find words or wine of sufficient quality to further his or her education? If it is a seminar, will it become too technical and bore lay persons who attend?
Perhaps the closest approach to something that really works is the California Wine Festival, held here for the past two years at the beginning of December. More than 800 persons (including representative of 64 wineries) attended the four day affair last month. The Monterey peninsula is an attraction in and of itself and the Monterey Conference Center, where lectures and tastings are held, is a handsome modern family with splendid acoustion.
The largestsegment of the audience was made up of restaurateurs and wine [WORD ILLEGIBLE] many of whom came from cut of state. Next were "wine [WORD ILLEGIBLE] with doctors and their wives leading the way. A third visable category was teachers, wine academics.
They received, at a digestable pace, lectures from winemakers and wine merchants that fell into the "pop" (as in music, not wine) category: informative, but nothing too technical. Detailed [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and answers were reserved for afternoon "buzz" sessions with the speakers. A "technical seminar" on winemaking the day before the festival itself drew an attendance of [WORD ILLEGIBLE]
But where the California Festival scored most strongly was with the selection of wines available for tastings and the manner of their presentation.
The participating wineries ranged from giants such as Gallo, Christian Brothers and Almaden through prestige small names that included Chalone, Chappellet, Chateau Montelena and Chateau St. Jean to relatively new arrivals such as Hoffman Mountain Ranch, Enz and Raymond.
At an opening reception, in an overcrowded hotel ballroom, each winery put forth a single wine.On the two succeeding evenings tastings were held in the Conference Center. The wines available - as many as three a winery - were top-of-the-line products. As the same wines were offered both nights, the careful taster could concentrate on selected grape types or styles the five evening without missing something important. While the winemakers themselves weren't pouring, they or other winery representatives were available for informal questioning.
The festival has room for improvement, as the organizers themselves admit. The speeches at luncheon sessions were far lighter than the $15 supplement for each event. Cooking demonstrations might better be conducted separately than woven into the the lecture format, though about half the audience - a remarkably high percentage - raised hands when asked by one cook if they had a food processor at home. Some wineries would have liked more guidance in what to offer at the tastings.
The Robert Mondavi Winery, always attuned to opportunities to educate the public, served three years of pinot noir, making comparison possible and all the more interesting because Michael Mondavi had spoken of the winery's pinot noir experiments at a morning session.
The future of the California Wine Festival seems assured.