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Love Rhone Varietals? Check out the Rhone Rangers!

Posted by on June 20, 2017

Disclosure: I attended the San Francisco Rhone Rangers Event in San Francisco on Saturday, June 10th.  This was my experience.

The Rhone Rangers is my type of wine event.  It truly is.  Let me explain why:  Since I discovered my love of wine, I’ve been fixated on sharing and finding US Made Wines.  This is where my love truly began, and lets be honest: there’s some incredible wine making happening across the US.  Not just in California (although that’s where a lot of my discovery is happening since I reside there!) But in other places such as Virginia, New York, Missouri, Michigan, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho too!


  Held in the Presidio of San Francisco at the Golden Gate Club (walking along the Presidio is where this was shot)

So, why is the Rhone Rangers such a great fit?  The Rhone Rangers focus on Rhone Varietals (obviously! but think of varietals such as Viognier, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre.) But, they go beyond that: they also are focusing on what US Winemakers and Growers are doing with Rhone Varietals across the US.  It’s actually a really fun time to be following this group of winemakers because they’re still experimenting with Rhone Varietals, and discovering what they truly can do within the US.  Even some Rhone Varietals are beginning to make their own appearances on US soil for the first time, and varietals that aren’t as well known are beginning to show up (pay attention y’all!).  Also, more on that in a little bit.

In the last year I have fallen in love with Rhone Varietals, and in particular, what winemakers across California are doing with them.  After seeing Rhones throughout Lodi, Sonoma, Paso Robles, and Santa Barbara Counties, I knew I was ready to experience the Rhone Rangers, and I’m so glad I did.


The Rhone Rangers came to San Francisco on Saturday, June 10th, offering a well diverse group of Rhone Wines in one space for one afternoon.  They also offered 2 seminars:

The First, which I attended, focused on unique varietals of Rhones that people may not know as well.  This seminar showcased 4 different wines from 4 different winemakers: Jeremy Weintraub from Adelaida Vineyards with Picpoul Blanc, Larry Schaffer from Tercero Wines with Marsanne, Ben Cane from Westwood Wines with Counoise, and Neil Collins with the first US grown Terret Noir.


What is Terret Noir?  Truthfully, an entire room of people are still trying to figure it out.  As each of us listened to Neil Collins explain what it was, he even admitted, “he wasn’t quite sure himself,” and honestly, he really didn’t know that much about it.” Terret Noir was brought over from the Rhone Valley because it was one of the 13 Approved Rhone Grapes approved by Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This was a mission for Tablas Creek Vineyard to have all 13 of the Approved Grape Varietals.  In 2003, they brought the clone over from France, where it sat in Quarantine for 10 years before Tablas Creek Vineyard could even begin planting it (if you didn’t know, Tablas Creek also did this in the 1970’s with some of the more well known Rhone Varietals, and now look it Paso Robles!)  The 2015 Vintage is now their 3rd Vintage of the grape, and the first time it’s being released to the public. One thing we have figured out?  Everyone thinks this will be a GREAT blending grape.  They will be producing a syrah/grenache blend for their 2016 vintage. It’s a Red Wine, where I can honestly say, I have yet to taste anything like it before.  I instantly picked up floral notes from the wine, but the true fun, was trying to distinguish, “what was it exactly?”  It will be fun to watch to see what happens with this grape, and what it will become. There’s a great article on The Tablas Creek Blog about this Grape.

The second focused on the Pioneers of Rhone Rangers which brought in the early beginnings of the Rhone Grape Growers and Winemakers to discuss the early beginnings, and how the landscape has changed within the past 20 years.


Sondra Bernstein receiving her Lifetime Achievement Award at the Rhone Rangers San Francisco Event.

There was also a luncheon and Auction, where they honored Sondra Bernstein of The Girl and the Fig as their 2017 Lifetime Achievement Honoree, and to celebrate her past 20 years running The Girl and the Fig, where she only serves Rhone Style Wines at her restaurant.  She has been an avid supporter of Rhone Wines throughout the years, and it was truly felt when they honored her that afternoon.

And then, in the afternoon, a full grand tasting where 69 wineries were present to pour their wines:


The Grand Tasting in Action

What I loved about the Grand Tasting were seeing my favorite wine regions of California come together in one room to celebrate the Rhone Varietals of Wine:  Some recommendations from the grand tasting include:


Acquiesce Winery: Sue Tipton focuses on White Only Rhone Varietal Wines.  And on a hot, summer day in Lodi, it is the perfect place to stop into.  Sue does a GREAT job showcasing the White Rhone Varietals, but also Lodi’s ability to truly excel in making white wines.

Field Family Wines: Cinsault is a varietal that is popping up around Lodi, and Field Family Wines does a great job of showcasing this varietal, and I was so happy to see they were pouring it during the grand tasting.


Santa Barbara County:

Qupe: If you want to see how Santa Barbara County wineries are doing, definitely stop into Qupe, one of the pioneers of Rhone Varietals throughout California.


Tercero Wines:  Larry Schaffer told us his story of how he fell in love with the Marsanne Varietal during one tasting event, and the complexity of it, comparing it to a Red Wine, yes, a white wine that drinks like a red wine.

But, for me, it was his Mourvedre Rose that did me in.

Jaffurs Wines:  After tasting over at Tercero, Larry recommended I stop by Jaffurs Wine, and I’m so glad I did.  I fell in love with his Petite Syrah and Grenache Blanc, but was so happy to see one of my favorite Santa Barbara Vineyards was showcased in his wines with the Bien Nacido vineyard.


Westwood Wines:  I really enjoyed hearing about Westwood Wines story during Seminar 1, and since they reside in Sonoma County, and along the Petaluma Gap, this winery has me intrigued.  I will be visiting in the future.

Unti Vineyards:

This winery has been on my list to try for awhile now.  So I had to stop by their booth at the Grand Tasting.  And yes, I’d highly recommend.


Crux Winery: They have a GSM Blend Rose.  But, others have recommended that I try Crux in the past so when I saw them at the event, I had to stop by to try them for myself.  And I was very pleased.


Paso Robles:

Tablas Creek Vineyard: They have been such a front runner in helping develop Rhone Wines across California that you must stop by to try their wines at a Rhone event.

Adelaida Vineyards:  Try their Picpoul Blanc.  It is definitely a favorite summer drinking wine for me.

Kukkula Winery:


I wrote about Kukkula Winery previously.  And I love what Kevin Jussila is doing, and he makes some GREAT wines.  Check HIM out.

Ledge Vineyards:


When a winemaker suggests you stop by a booth, you do it.  I talked with Mark Adams for awhile.  One thing I love about his style of winemaking is that he really lets the wine become its own, and the tastes really come out when you taste his wines. 

Shale Oak Winery:


I’m not a huge fan of Viognier, however, when I tasted Shale Oak’s, I fell in love with it.  Another instance where you can’t say you don’t like a certain varietal of wine because truly, it comes down to finding the right wine for you in that varietal.


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