Family Winemakers Recap – Best of the Newbies!

I attended the Family Winemakers of California (“FWC”) Grand Tasting at the San Mateo County Event Center on August 17th.  The FWC is the trade advocate for California’s “small family” wineries (although behemoth wineries like Kendall Jackson and Gallo are also considered family wineries most are in fact smaller family run wineries ). And a huge tasting like this brings in trade, media, and wine lovers from across the country.

Family Winemakers Tasting - The Best of the Newbies

After twenty-three years in San Francisco, I wondered what was behind the change in venue.   According to the FWC the change in venue was driven by “a reflection of our vintners’ desire to reach the broader wine market on the Peninsula and in Silicon Valley”.

Family Winemakers Tasting; The Best Of The Newbies

With 160 wineries pouring over 450 wines, it’s the single largest tasting of California wines in the world!

It’s my favorite big event because it’s a chance to taste so many different types and styles of wines from throughout California, from so many producers, large and small, old and new.  If you’ve ever wanted to taste wines back to back, this event is a great opportunity to do so.

Artistry and passion are the hallmark of FWC wineries at these tastings…

If ever there was a time the vinous cliché “So many wines, so little time” is true, it’s at a huge event like this.  With so many wineries pouring, I needed a plan to maximize my time at the tasting.

My initial thought was to check out the 32 wineries that were pouring at the event for the first time.  But when I checked out the Tasting Program, that yielded about 130 different wines…

Clearly, that wasn’t going to work.  Not if I intended to drive home!

So I narrowed my focus and decided to taste Chardonnay, and Cabernet (both Sauvignon and Franc) from the first-timers.

Family Winemakers Tasting; The Best of the Newbies
Nate and Lauren Belden of Belden Barns

I tasted around 50 wines from the first-timers.  My favorites (which I rated 90+ points – wines that I considered distinctive and memorable) were:

Whites and Rose

  • 2012 Belden Barns Grüner Veltliner
  • 2013 Belden Barns Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2012 Cuvee Wine Cellars Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
  • 2013 Pence Ranch Chardonnay
  • 2012 Pellegrini Family Vineyard Chardonnay
  • 2013 Xurus Sauvignon Blanc


  • 2012 Belden Barns Serendipity Block Pinot Noir
  • 2011 Chaix Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Chaix Vineyard
  • 2010 Encanto Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2010 Madrigal Red Wine Sonnet 63
  • 2009 Madrigal Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2007 Martin Ranch Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Thérèse Vineyards
  • 2011 Vineyard 511 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2008 Xurus Cabernet Sauvignon Sonatina Vineyard
  • 2009 Xurus Cabernet Sauvignon Sonatina Vineyard

After tasting through the first-timers,  it was time for “Taster’s Choice…Um..basically, I’m “off the clock” and taste whatever strikes my fancy.  I tasted another 40 wines.  My favorites from were:

Whites and Rose

  • 2011 Robert Young Estate Winery Chardonnay
  • 2011 Tablas Creek Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 2012 Tablas Creek Grenache Blanc
The “wine-up” at Tablas Creek. You can’t go wrong!


  • 2007 Corté Riva Cabernet Franc
  • 2007 Corté Riva Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2011 Frank Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2009 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2009 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Block Three Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2009 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Latigo
  • 2010 Smith Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2010 Smith Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Cook’s Flat Reserve
  • 2011 Tablas Creek Esprit de Tablas
  • 2012 Tablas Creek Mourvedre
  • 2009 Taplin Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Terra 9
  • 2012 Siduri Pinot Noir Clos Pepe Vineyard

It was a fabulous tasting.  It’s always such a thrill to discover new to me wineries, and of course revisit some always favorites.

On balance, I was pleased with the change in venue.  Parking is easier, it’s closer to home for me, and the crowd (though attendance seemed down compared to prior years) seemed more well-behaved.  I hope the event continues at the San Mateo location.

If you haven’t had a chance to attend a FWC tasting, I highly recommend checking it out! Your next opportunity is schedule for March 15, 2015 at Fairplex in Pomona.


  1. Rich Reader says:

    Thanks for the eye-opener. I very much enjoyed the 2009 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Block Three Cabernet Sauvignon somewhere else in the past year. It’s surprising how there can be so many great wines that continue to lurk beneath-the-radar of ordinary consumers, who will never find out where to connect.

    1. Martin D. Redmond says:

      Thanks for stopping by Rich! So true! Then again, I don’t think the majority of “ordinary” customers are willing to invest the time and energy into seeking out such gems…

  2. David says:

    Sounds like a great event! Definitely need a plan for big events like this, sounds like you had a good (and tasty) approach.

    1. Martin D. Redmond says:

      Thanks David. It’s such a fantastic event, but it is huge! Always nice to “discover” new to me wineries!

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