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Wine Festivals : Grape Growers and Aficionados Meet, Taste and Learn

February 07, 1988|ROBERT LAWRENCE BALZER

WHILE WINE consumption in America, to those closely associated with this industry in California, seems to be moving upward with glacial speed, even fractional moves become effective over time: Thousands of gallons of wines are finding new and greater appreciation every year.

There's further evidence of progress in the growing number of well-attended festivals and seminars all across the land, from the Wine Experience in New York (alternating years in San Francisco) to spring galas in Dallas and Austin, Tex., and in Monterey, Calif., plus a new one, scheduled for March 3-6 at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, called the American Wine Festival, which will make tasting events available to the public as well as the participants. But of them all, certainly the most unusual is the annual autumn series at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite.

In the beginning, MCA Inc., which had taken over the Yosemite Park & Curry Co., owners of the hotel, did not expect much from the Vintners' Holidays program, but the first event was a sellout. Guests now come from all over the world. Mornings are for enjoying the park and trails, and afternoons are spent with the wine makers, listening to inside information demonstrated with the wines in question. The Grand Hall is filled, with classroom seating at tables and generous pouring. This year's discussions, under the leadership of Richard Arrowood, wine master at Chateau St. Jean in Sonoma, focused on some of the difficulties in making Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay wines.

Some say that Pinot Blanc may be descended from the Melon de Bourgogne, which may have developed as far back as the 13th and 14th centuries into the principal variety of the Muscadet of the Loire. It is similar to Chardonnay but is tricky in fermentation. The stability of the musts is crucial, demanding close attention, if a triumphantly delicate wine is to emerge. At the Ahwahnee we sampled the 1984 editions in current release ($9) from the Robert Young Vineyard in the Alexander Valley and the unreleased 1985, both outstanding. For Vintners Holidays information, telephone (209) 252-4848.

On Feb. 11 at the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel, the Napa Valley Vintners Assn. has scheduled another and quite wonderful wine meeting. One part of this on-the-road show is a Wine Exploratorium, conceived as an educational exhibition to complement tastings. More than 50 wineries will participate, from S. Anderson to ZD, including almost every well-known winery in the Napa Valley. There will be more than 100 wines to taste, wine makers to meet, entertainment and generous hors d'oeuvres. The proceeds will benefit the California Museum of Science and Industry and its ongoing exhibition of wines: "Science as an Art." Tickets are $30 per person, and information and reservations can be obtained by calling (213) 744-7493.

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