International Alsace Varietals Festival

If you have not been to Anderson Valley, you should make it your next wine destination. A few months ago, Pamela and I headed south for the International Alsace Varietals Festival. This festival takes place in the critically acclaimed but often overlooked wine region of Anderson Valley, California located near the MendocinoCoast.  Anderson Valley played a major role in my early education about hospitality at wineries for industry professionals when Milla Handley of Handley Cellars invited Pamela and I to be guests at the winery back in 1995. 

Now, almost twenty years later we have traveled the world to learn about wine and now, once again our travels have brought us back to Anderson Valley and another stay at Handley Cellars.  Most wine aficionados associate Pinot noir with Anderson Valley.  Just like the Willamette Valley (we grow white wine varieties here too) a lot of the white varieties grown in Anderson Valley originated in Alsace. The grapes I am referring to are (but not limited to) Pinot blanc, Pinot gris, Riesling, and my favorite Gewurztraminer. This festival is not held just to promote Anderson Valley Wines, but rather celebrate and showcase the white wines of the region.

It is, above everything else, an educational opportunity to gain a broader sense of the many styles and geographical locations the wines represent. This year, wineries from California, New Zealand, New York, Germany, Michigan and Oregon were present. Upon arrival at Handley Cellars, we were greeted with a wonderful industry tasting. One of the highlights of the evening was meeting Randy Schock. Randy works with Milla Handley as co-winemaker at Handley Cellars and his association with Anderson Valley wine started in 1998; so his knowledge of Anderson Valley’s viticultural history is extensive.

We also had the pleasure to meet up with old friends from here in the Willamette Valley, Jerry and Meg Murray. Jerry has a new project Domaine Anderson. Jerry introduced us to Alex Crangle, assistant winemaker at Balo Vineyards. Alex brought some really great Pinot noir he made with winemaker Jason Drew; it’s always nice to try a new brand from a young winemaker who’s nailing it right from the start. Tasting through all the wines brought by winemakers who attended the dinner reminded me why among restaurateurs, Anderson Valley wines are so highly prized and appear frequently on their wine lists.

No other California AVA represents value and quality the way Anderson Valley does. As I mentioned, the event is primarily educational. Just like school, we started early.  The sessions began at 8:30 AM with a welcome from Anderson Valley Wine Association president, Joe Webb of Foursight Wines. Milla Handley, Dan Berger and Thomas Houseman. They walked us through a Riesling tasting while discussing the sweetness scale, followed by a session where we tasted five Gewurztraminer’s from five separate wineries, all from Ordway Valley Foothills vineyard.

Chef Lars Kronmark of CIA Greystone prepared six dishes to pair with six wines from Alsace that lived up to their slogan, “Wines of Alsace Pure Expression” each morsel achieved harmony with the wines they were paired with.

Food pairings at the Anderson Valley Alsatian Festival

The 2011 Ostertag Gewurztraminer d’E was a symphony of flavor — lightly spicy with an expression of lemon lavender making it my favorite for the day. With several other educational opportunities and later the Grand Tasting, this was a full day of wine. The Grand Tasting was everything I had hoped it to be; awesome wines and wonderful culinary treats.

All educational seminars and tastings are open for registration to the trade, media and the public. After the Grand Tasting, there is a dinner and the following day most of the Anderson Valley wineries that participate have open houses with live music and more delicious pairings.

Truffles dish at the Anderson Valley Alsatian Festival

Bacon wrapped monkfish at the Anderson Valley Alsatian Festival

Scharffenberger Cellars hosted the wine dinner and the meal was as great as the wines, but the dinner guests really made the evening.

Allen Green of Greenwood Ridge was as entertaining as he was twenty years ago and Brian Snelling of Philo Ridge winery made me realize Philo Ridge is a must stop destination if you’re in Anderson Valley.

Speaking of being in Anderson Valley, they have another event coming up the weekend of May 16th that is an absolute Must Attend event for Pinot noir enthusiast’s. The Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival, now in its seventeenth year, will be an event to remember and definitely worth taking a drive to attend the event.  If you are flying in, there are flights to Santa Rosa, and from there it’s only an hour away. And when you are there, make sure to see Point Arena and the Mendocino Coast.  Click here to learn more about the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival.


About the Author:

Marc has held almost every position in the food & wine industry and is committed to Celebrating Hospitality with Pride. In addition to being the co-founder and editor-at-large for Enobytes, Marc is a wine blogger contributor to (Wine Bytes) and writes the Wine Knowledge column in the print magazine About Face. The Contra Costa County Times, San Jose Mercury News, Tacoma Times Tribune and Washington Post have either interviewed or quoted Marc on his viniferous and culinary opinions. Marc has also appeared on Portland's "Vine Time" on News Radio 750 KXL and on California's Central Coast "From the Growing of the Grape to the Glass" on KUHL-AM 1410. He is also the author of A History of Pacific Northwest Cuisine: Mastodons to Molecular Gastronomy. While continuing to tenaciously search for what he may finally proclaim as his favorite wine Marc is relentless in his quest for the ultimate food and wine experience.

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