21st Annual Family Winemakers of California Event & A Food Gal Giveaway

Enjoy the opportunity to taste more than 1,000 California wines. (Photo courtesy of Family Winemakers of California)

Fans of California vino will want to head to Fort Mason Center’s Festival Pavilion, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 21, for the 21st annual Family Winemakers of California tasting soiree.

Enjoy the opportunity to sip wines from more than 300 California wineries that will be pouring about 1,000 different wines — all in one place.

This year’s event will be dedicated to the late-great Jess Jackson, founder of Family Winemakers and the Kendall-Jackson Winery, who passed away this spring at the age of 81.

It also will feature a new perk: Wineries will be selling select wines on site. So, if you fall in love with a particular vintage or varietal, you can buy a bottle to take home to enjoy.

Participating wineries include: Ceja Vineyards, Eden Canyon Vineyards, and Paltz & Hall.

Tickets are $65 each in advance or $75 at the door. Big spenders who fork over $100 per ticket can gain early access to the tastings for the trade before the doors to the public open up.

Contest: I’m thrilled to be able to give away one pair of free tickets to the Aug. 21 event. Entries are limited to those who can actually be in San Francisco that day to attend the wine tastings. Entries will be accepted through midnight PST Aug. 7. Winner will be announced Aug. 9.

How to win?

Just tell me what one of your favorite California wineries is — and why.

Here’s my own answer:

“OK, I may be biased, since I wrote an article about this winery back in the day when I was the food writer at the San Jose Mercury News. But I love Eden Canyon Vineyards. It’s the only Filipino-American estate winery in the country. It was started by Danny Villamin, a skilled woodworker who never grew anything before, but somehow got a hankering to try his hand at growing wine grapes. The winemaker is his daughter, Elaine, who is blessed with a naturally astute palate and a wicked sense of humor. I love that they followed their dreams to become pioneers. And I adore that every glass of their complex Cabs has a story behind it.”

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  • Some of hubby’s and my first dates involved wine tasting in Napa Valley, Sonoma and Alexander Valley. And I will always be fond of several Napa Valley and Sonoma County wineries. Before the toddler was born, it was so easy to hop in the car and spend the day wine tasting…

    Life changed a lot when the toddler was born, and, after spending many months at home, we just had to get out one day when he was a few months old. But we knew that there was no way that we could make it all the way to Napa or Sonoma. We remembered that a friend of ours had told us about the Gilroy wineries when I was pregnant. In fact, she had visited several Gilroy wineries and served some of the wines she had picked up. Hubby really enjoyed them. So on that beautiful Sunday in spring, we set off to the Gilroy wine area and discovered several wineries we fell in love with. It’s really hard for me to pick a favorite, but I think I’ll have to go with Kirigin because it’s not your typical winery. It’s small and low key. We have spent well over an hour talking to their wine maker on one occasion (while the toddler was peacefully sleeping in his stroller). Their Vino de Mocca is a unique dessert wine, which we have given as gifts many times and which people always enjoy.

  • The first time I ever got to actually do wine tasting was when I visited the vineyard of Napa in July 2011. I attend Le Cordon Bleu and am I getting ready to take a wine class which I am excited about. I went on a tour at Beringer Vineyards and learned so much about the grapes and the process on how wine is made. I cannot pick just one vineyard because I loved them all. I have a new love and passion for wine that I never knew could exist, it’s like the love and passion I have for food. It is also about the respect I have for food and wine. I want to learn so much more. I spent the whole day in Napa and have tons of books and magazines that I am reading now. I have always loved wine, but I have never been in love with wine until I started getting educated on it.

  • Hello,

    I may sound too “old school” but I like and appreciate wineries that consistently make great wines. Year after year, I want to trust that a particular wine from a particular winery has a certain profile. That is why, for the most part, I am not a long-term fan of single vineyard / single varietal wines–although some are great, they’re different wines every year and I can’t always remember what they pair well with.

    This is why Turnbull in the Napa Valley is my favorite. Their Sauvignon Blanc and their Cabernet Sauvignon are great to begin with, and are consistent year to year. I know what to expect from them when I am on the road and at a restaurant in, say, Chicago. Was it the 2002 or the 2005 that was great with an aged steak? I don’t need to remember that–I just need to remember the wines of Turnbull.

    I had the chance to meet the winemaker sometime back and enjoyed listening to his thoughts about consistency in a brand, and those resonated with me. Perhaps I am too “old school” when compared to all the wineries that are making bizarre, quasi-not-wine concoctions–but I stick with what I know. That’s my 2 cents.


  • I had just returned to California from 3.5 years abroad living in Kenya. My girlfriend from Kenya, who was then living in London flew out for New Years and we went to Healdsburg to stay at a friend’s place, along with my dog who I had brought back with me from Kenya. While dining at Zin the night we arrived we struck up a conversation with our waiter about winerties to visit and he recommended a good selection that left us overwhelmed. When we expressed concern about having to drive from place to place amongst all the tasting, we asked him for the number of a cab service which he gave us. A while later, he approached our table and sheepishly offered to drive us around as he was looking to make some extra money and we agreed, seeing that he was nice, a local, had grown up around wine, and we could certainly use some guidance.

    The next day, we all piled into my car, dog in tow of course, and headed out to the wineries. Hands down, our favorite was Bella Vineyards. They were so welcoming and kind. They took special care of my dog with water, treats and scratches, and their wine was simply divine. They let us tour the cave, gave us a special sample of their 2004 Lily Hill Zin which they said was very rare and they were out of, and generally treated us like royalty. Upon looking through their shop where they sell flatware, tableware and chotchkies, I spied two dusty bottles of wine on a display and low and behold – 2004 Lily Hill Zinfandel. I immediately went to the sales rep and asked if I were to have found some of that delicious, non-existent wine if I could buy it and he said yes. Sweet.

    That night the two of us enjoyed one of my two bottles of Bella Vineyards 2004 Lily Hill Zinfandel while sitting in my friend’s yard watching the sun set over the Dry Creek Valley. Still got one left. Saving it for another very special day.

  • My favorite Napa winery is Round Pond. It has nothing to do with the wine there but the fact that my hubby proposed to me right after we went there. The winery itself is very romantic and you can enjoy tastings in their outdoor patio overlooking the entire vineyard. What can I say? I’m a sucker for love!

  • My favorite winery is Ceago. They are a biodynamic winery located right on clear lake. We actually visited them by boat and were able to pull right up to their dock. I’ve never seen such a beautiful winery! The wines are wonderful too and I really appreciate their bidynamic approach.

    A close second is Irish Vineyards up in Murhpys. I’ve never had a wine I didn’t like from them (and it’s where we purchased our wedding cuvee!).

  • We recently were in Temecula for wine tasting and it was so much fun…unfortunately we live in Southern CA 🙁
    Hope you are having a fantastic week Carolyn!

  • I can’t remember my favorite winery because I typically get too drunk to remember. Haha, JK. But sadly, just partially. 😉

  • Your question reminds me of a terrific wine discussion we had lately that was based on the question, “If you could only drink one varietal of wine for the rest of your life, what would it be?”

    Answers to the ‘varietal’ question ranged from the obvious (Cab, Chard) to the trying-too-hard (Primitivo, Nero di Troia, etc.). Surprisingly, the most creative reply was Pinot Noir. Not because Pinot is the wine of the time, nor because the respondent was a die-hard “Sideways” fan, but because (and I quote) “I’d choose Pinot Noir, because then I could have my red, my rosé and my sparkling.” Built-in diversity. Brilliant.

    That’s why, in the spirit of calling out a place that offers diversity every time I visit, I’d have to answer Preston Vineyards in Dry Creek.

    It’s essentially a farm (like most wineries) but there’s something truly happy, quirky and ever-changing about this place. The first thing you notice when you arrive is that it is obviously someone’s home, and that you’re entering an area where kids likely grew up with tire swings, feeding chickens and playing hide-and-seek among corn stalks. Actually, you can probably still do that today.

    Preston produces a number of reds and whites – I’ve tried their Zin, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc. They also have a rosé called “Portugese Pink” that I love just for the name. But my favorite is the “Guadagni Red” – essentially a 3-liter wine jug (or “growler”) – that you can fill straight from the tap on certain days. Because Preston is also a farm, they sell small-batch produce from a makeshift honor-system farmstand on the front porch of the tasting room complete with vegetables, fruits and nuts, fresh eggs, sauerkraut, salami and cheeses. Inside they have homemade bread, estate olive oil, and house-cured olives. Good stuff.

    This was the first winery my boyfriend, Mike, ever took me to. We visited on a hot day and had to drive very slowly down the dirt road to avoid kicking too much dust up onto the grapes. We grabbed a couple bottles of wine, a loaf of their amazing fresh bread, a bottle of oil and meats, cheeses and fruits – then found an old table and chairs around the back of the house and proceeded to gorge ourselves. I remember that the flowers were blazing and the bees practically buzzed tunes for us. We could smell bread baking and a cat came over and asked to be scratched (and fed some of our salami). We watched other picnickers through the rose bushes, played a little bocce ball, poked around the old forno, chatted with one of the family members (I can’t remember her name), ate some more, drank some more, and then packed up when the sun started to fade. It was a perfect winery picnic.

    Preston has gardens, pigs, chickens, wheat fields, elderberries – apparently there’s even a hot spring and an old fishery. I’ve visited 3-4 times since Mike took me there, and every time we find something new. Their wine is good – even better when consumed on site. It’s not fancy. It’s certainly not exclusive. It is simple, comfortable, inviting and fun. And it’s my favorite.

  • Benziger. Their wine is very solid. Each and every wine they make is good from year to year regardless of the varietal. There are several wineries where I enjoy one wine but hate another one from the very same winery. With Benziger I always know what I’m getting and I can trust that it’ll be good. Plus, everyone in the tasting room is really nice and the people who handle the wine club are simply wonderful! It’s also a pretty winery to visit. It’s just great all around! 🙂

  • One of our favorite California wineries was Mirassou. They were still located in Evergreen in San Jose when we first moved there, and we went there for tastings almost every Saturday after the Farmer’s Market opened on the site. We became members after tasting (and buying) an absolutely wonderful Petit Syrah that they had pulled out of the library. They also had a great Monterey Riesling that we thoroughly enjoyed.
    Sadly, there’s no more Mirassou in San Jose, as the family sold the name to Gallo and moved to Livermore, becoming La Rochelle. They’re still well known for their Pinot Noirs, but it’s so much farther to drive out to visit.

  • My favorite is Teachworth Windery a little known winery in the Napa Valley found in the hills overlooking Calistoga. They produce handcrafted cabernets that have won a number of blind tastings. The estate has an incredible view of Mt Helena. The owners took a barren hill and transformed it into a secluded private reserve with a beautiful vineyard along with a main and guest house.

  • Wow, more than 1,000 different wines?! It sounds like an incredible event!

  • This tasting would dwarf any tasting in any region in the whole of Australia! 1,000 wines is phenomenal and I think I would be nicely sloshed by the end of it with a big smile on my face!

  • Before knowing much about wines and becoming more interested in California wineries and their vast and individual histories, and in the early days of marriage to my wife, we made the seemingly obligatory Napa and Sonoma County wine trip with friends.

    After stopping by about a half-dozen wineries, we arrived at the winery that was the furthest one away, Fritz Winery.

    Our little group was lucky. The tasting room person led us on a tour of their caves and we tasted wine right out several barrels’ bungholes. Yeah, I still laugh out loud at that.

    The experience, the camaraderie, and the wines were amazing, and I’ve been hooked on wines since that winery visit. And Fritz Winery is therefore still remains one of my favorite wineries in California.


  • My favorite California winery is Woodside Vineyards. I first visited the winery while taking a geology of wine course. The San Andreas runs through the center of a vineyard and the wines are delicious.

    But I also have a slightly more sentimental reason because I asked my friend to taste one of the bottles with me because I was thinking of sending some to my parents as a gift. My attempt at being suave worked and we have been together since.

    They have moved their tasting room from Woodside to Menlo Park and it is also a storage facility for fine/rare cars, which my boyfriend enjoys checking out. Sounds weird, but it is a lot of fun and they often host special tastings and dinners where the wine maker gives lectures on different aspects of the wine making process. At the last dinner we attended, we had the chance to taste the different batches of Chardonnay before blending and learned how the different oaks affected the flavors and some insight into how the winemaker determines what to blend.

  • I love Flora Springs winery because they make their wines old fashion way using barrels from France.
    Would love to go to this event. Thank you for a chance to win

  • Heather – Woodside Vineyards has awesome Pinot Noirs as well.

  • Contest is now closed. Come back tomorrow to see who won.

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  • My favorite Family Winery is Ceja, I was taken there last week by relatives who has been going there at least twice a year for the past 8 years. First of all, I felt like I was greeted by my own family, you don’t know how important that is coming from a large Mexican family. Second, the wine was so delicious, I immediataly signed up to be a member, third I was told “Come and visit us soon!” while given a hug and a kiss in the cheek.

    In my 15 years of going to Napa, never have I felt this welcomed as I did at Ceja Winery, and at their restaurant. Truly a one of a kind.

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