Observations of Wine Road Barrel Tasting Week One; Suggestions & Ticket Contest for Week Two

Week One of Wine Road Barrel Tasting was a big success, based my observations and talking with a fair number of wineries. This organization continues to amaze me with what does with transformation of industry events. Spoiler alert – read all the way through this – we are giving away 3 pairs of passes for Weekend Two!

Anticipation, and Highest Read Post Ever

There was some level of anticipation  – would the negative perception of this as a drunk-fest persist? Would the actions being taken by the Wine Road have any impact?  Or would it be a big success and continue its gradual transformation of a serious event focused on futures. Read on….

To my surprise, my midweek article ‘My thoughts on Wine Road Barrel Tasting’ was a runaway success.  I do a lot of these types of articles and contests, and they typically get some response and hits, but nothing spectacular. This post got 20+ comments, including after the contest was over. People wrote way more than normal.

This article is now #1 rank, surpassing my prized ‘Shipping Included’ – the Future of Direct to Consumer?’ which was a featured blog and #2 read by Winebusiness.com (and still ranks #4 read in the last 30 days!) as well as my article ‘A New Beginning & Old World Renaissance? ‘ which until recently had ranked #1.

Yet this post jumped over them all, and had little  to do with the contest – I give away tickets, often more pricey, all the time.

How would it all pan out? Ticket sales were a record high, more wineries than ever were offering future sales, and consumers seemed excited, and not focused on partying. But one never knows until showtime.

Observations and Interviews

I went out on Friday afternoon and Saturday, and monitored the Twitter #WRBT hashtag heavily on Sunday. I spoke to many winery operations personally, as well as Facebook and Twitter updates.

Here were the general trends:

Friday: Traffic and sales were much higher than many wineries expected, especially new participants. I actually expected this a bit, at least the sales part. People going on Friday are taking a day off, hoping to avoid the crowds and are serious wine buyers. Wineries reported greater than expected sales, both of finished wines and futures. Most I talked too were very pleased.

Saturday: The Weather held out and people were out in droves. By mid afternoon people were reporting Healdsburg and Dry Creek to be extremely crowded with tons of cars, busses and people. This is normal, see my suggestions for itenary planning a bit later. Most wineries reported lower sales than Friday, but were pleased, and year over year results seemed good. I made it back to Russian River Valley for the afternoon to avoid the masses. Crowds were good at all wineries, but not so much to impact my experience in any way.

Sunday: It did rain as predicted, and the impact seemed to be mixed. Russian River Valley wineries again seemed pleased. Some new participants had expected Sunday to be the busiest day, but my observation for many 2 day events is that Sunday is typically slower, and for most this panned out. Several Healdsburg and Dry Creek wineries were complaining on Twitter about lack of people, and had the time to be scouring for people to invite. Smaller RRV wineries still seemed quite pleased with people and sales. A very large winery did report sales about as a regular weekend, but agreed to the possible merits of exposure and the difference this event might be for small versus a large national brand.

Consumers Feedback

Consumer notes on the blog post and Wine Road Facebook page were ecstatic and mirrored what wineries reported. Many great comments including this one that I loved from Jason Klafter:

Barrel tasting is the main wine tasting event my wife and I attend. We have been going for about 5 years now. Each year it gets better and better and I love all the things I have learned and still learning. Our group has evolved to about 12-15 so we had stuck to the bigger wineries. Last weekend was an absolute awesome time. We found some smaller wineries that would accommodate our group and finally made my first “future” purchase.

Money has been tight over the past few years so buying a future case of one wine had never been really option. Like many, we would buy a bottle or two from different places. I’m so excited to have gone to Old World and they allowed a future mixed case which was perfect for my wife and I, as she is not a big red drinker. So I order a mix and can’t wait to pick it up when it’s ready. For our group, This year was had the most amount of futures that were ordered. We ordered 12-15 cases of futures and took home close to another 7 between us all!!!!

Can’t wait to go next weekend with a small group of 4!!! Finally going to hit up all the wineries we haven’t been able to go to.

Love it! And Kudos to you Jason, and your friends, for your support and openness.

My Prediction for Next Week:

Being the second weekend, traffic should dip some, but similar patterns predicted.  Friday will be less busy than previous Friday, but again be a good sales day to serious buyers and enthusiasts, Saturday a good traffic day but more looky-loos, and Sunday slower but decent sales. No rain is forecasted for all weekend, so that should help. Let’s hope too many people didn’t give up wine for Lent. (If you spit it doesn’t count.)

I want to add a quick comment about buses. I got an email from a reader who was perhaps offended (they won’t reply) about my previous article and comments on people drinking in buses. I by no means meant to imply that all people on buses are drinking on the bus. I heard from a number that, like this person, come from a remote location, and are serious buyers. If any are offended by that implication, my apologies. Its broadcast everywhere that buses aren’t welcome at many wineries  – that’s more from a lack of ability of a tiny winery being able to handle 30 extra people at once. Kudos to a number of buses I heard call in to ask permission, and were usually accommodated because it was scheduled. That’s far superior to the other tactic, ‘hide’ around the corner, unload on foot.

My Visits, Strategy Suggestions

I get asked a lot where I plan to attend. I typically don’t reveal that for a number of reasons. I try and visit new members, places I haven’t been, with a mix of the wine styles I prefer, and some old favorites thrown in to balance. This weekend I intend to go Friday afternoon, and hopefully both Saturday and Sunday. I am out of space and time here, so I will summate my two weekends of visits in a future post.

My strategy tip for the Wine Enthusiast: Hit busy areas like Healdsburg, Dry Creek, and bigger name wineries on Friday, or start of the day Saturday, or possibly Sunday. Use your Wine Road map – there are lots of clusters of wineries in less traveled Alexander and Russian River Valley – more then enough to fill up an afternoon, and while a tiny bit further apart, less people and less traffic. Driving a mile between stops may save you hours.

My Suggestions to Wineries

With only one exception, I was very impressed with the service, attitude, and experience at each winery. Hats off the hospitality staffs. Two (personal) suggestions for this or future events.

  • Put out spit cups. Its hard for consumers to spit in a bucket. Even I rather a cup. Kudos to wineries like Sheldon, Windsor Oaks and others, who do. In my opinion, this should be standard practice. People CAN learn this.
  • Food has been de-emphasized by design, and perhaps to a lesser extent cost. Some wineries jumped in with catering on site at a cost with some pretty awesome choices. I had terrific BBQ sliders at Longboard I was happy to pay for. Mateo had food at others. Food trucks are an option. There is nothing wrong with ‘pay to play’ and personally I’d rather eat at the winery.

Finally – The Contest

Thanks for staying with me – now here is your chance to win. Tomorrow night (only 24 hours) we will draw 3 pairs of tickets. To win, tell the Wine Road and I in comments either:

What varietal (wine grape) did you try that is NEW to you, last weekend. Where was it, was it a barrel sample or current release?


What varietal would you like to try, or learn more about this weekend.

Get ready – go!

Cheers, thanks for reading Simple Hedonisms Wine Blog – spread the word!


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16 Responses to “Observations of Wine Road Barrel Tasting Week One; Suggestions & Ticket Contest for Week Two”

  • This is our third year of barrel tasting. MY favorite barrel sample was a syrah from Joseph swan. An 2009 great oak vineyard. Do you know when its a heavy drizzily foggy day along westside road where the trees over grow the road. The smells in the air are a mixture of all the trees ie.. Redwoods, Manzanitas, Oak, and Euctaliptus. Along with the aromas of the ocean breezes and the river dirts.I called it fog in a glass. Omg it was so tasty. I can still taste it 4 days later. We also tasted a wonderful Carignane 2008 from Alexander valley made by Don at Cahill famiy winery. Its a very big robust food friendly wine and, it won the gold meadal at last years harvst fair. Cant wait for this weekend to try some new wineries. We have never done two weekends in a row before this will be fun. My over view of last weekend is a much more mellow time than last year. We brought some newbies and they are already making plans for next year they loved it.

  • Last Sunday we focused on the Russian River Valley, starting at Freestone and working our way to Santa Rosa via Forestville. The 2nd winery we stopped at was Russian River Vineyards of Forestville. I consider myself having an above average familiarity with the available wine varietals on the market. But they had a surprise for us at Russian River Vineyards. Not only was it the first time during the weekend that we tried a new varietal, it was a varietal that we had never heard of before – Charbono. They had a charbono rosé still in the barrel, and it was the 1st production ever for them of a charbono rosé, so in that sense it was rare, as there were no prior vintages of bottled charbono rosé to sample. Light, fruity, easy to drink and great on a hot day, but you could tell that it was still young and bright, and needed maybe 6 more months to calm down and gain some more structure before it would be optimal. They also had a regular charbono (meaning full red as opposed to rosé) from a prior vintage in a bottle, as well as a barrel charbono. The barrel charbono to me felt and tasted like it could use a few more months in American Oak barrels (French would be too mild). The fully matured, bottled charbono was definitely inky and tannic like a syrah but with not as much body i.e. not as much of a full mouth feel, in body it was more like in between a Pinot and a Zin; acidic like a Zin, with dark berries present but not as fruit forward as say a petite syrah, and also a tad dry which again made it seem Merlot-esque in its dryness. Overall an interesting wine. I think it will grow, slowly, but it will grow in popularity over time. We then had lunch at Corks which was really good, though I’ll keep this review limited to the Charbono, and not the food (which I do recommend by the way). Cheers!

  • Steven Kloman:

    I had to work last weekend, so I am hoping to join the fun this time. I love to explore how zinfandel is expressed from different soils and climates. But I have a real soft spot for a meaty cool climate syrah.

  • Nathan Yin:

    A new varietal that we tried for the first time is Petit Verdot from Geyser Peak. It was the 2009 vintage and it was a barrel sample.

    I would definitely learn more about Petit Verdot this weekend if I have a chance to go again :)

  • Gala Grant:

    I didn’t go last weekend, but I am hoping to make it this weekend for sure. I am always excited to try Pinot Noir and Sav Blanc, but this year I want to concentrate on wineries I have never been to. What I like to do is try what they are considered best at. The only wine I don’t really like is Chardonnay, but if they swear theirs’ is great, I will try it anyway!

  • Katie Redel:

    Unfortunately I didn’t get to go to the Barrel Tasting last weekend… But this weekend I would really like to explore some single varietal wines from the grapes that make up my favorite Rhone style blends. I always love Syrahs, they are often my favorites. But I would like to try some Grenache, Mourvedre and maybe some Roussanne and Viognier. I also want to try my old favorites like some Zins and Cabs. For some reason I have never gone, but I’m sure it takes going just once to get me hooked!

  • Geo Verna:

    My wife and I have participated during the last 4 Barrel Tastings, always going to some of our favorites, but mainly targeting new participants. This year we decided not to attend. Mainly due to the fact that most of the wineries are over-crowded, under staffed, and full of people that only want to drink (beer, wine, whatever). After reading this article, I told my wife we are going to attend the second weekend. Hopefully it will be an event to enjoy, learn about new wineries, and try new varietals.

    We usually pick a type of wine, or a varietal, to target during our tastings. My favorite is Petit Verdot. I have had some at Truett Hurst, Merriam, and Stryker, and will hope to see this at some of the wineries this weekend.

  • Laura Coy:

    Everyone needs to go to Old World Winery and try the Aboriou its amazing! A deep purple wine, nice tannins, very spicy! Derek has it as a barrel sample and available for futures purchase.

  • Rebecca:

    Love your tips to both consumers AND trade…food and spit cups (in my opinion)should absolutely be offered. Buying a treat off a food truck at a winery is great fun and adds to the experience! I would love to try and find a great stand alone Petite Verdot this weekend.


  • This was our third year barrel tasting and we pretty much have it down to a science with strategic routes for Friday and Saturday, while Sunday is more relaxed meandering around downtown Healdsburg. Our favorite stop of the entire weekend was Old World Winery, where we plan to go back to buy futures. The new to us varietal was his barrel sample of 2009 Abouriou, which we’ve never even heard of. I can’t wait to see how it turns out after bottling. His 2009 Zinfandel was amazing too.

  • ann romero:

    My husband and will be attending this weekend for our 5th year in a row. We come in from Arizona for the 2nd weekend of BT every year. BT and the Russian River Valley has turned us on to Zinfandels. The last few years we have spent most of our time on dry creek road. Zinfandels has become our wine of choice and we look forward to exploring the participating wineries in Alexander Valley and also visit the tasting rooms in the town square. We hope the rain is short lived!

  • Jen Arnold:

    I had an excellent experience during weekend one of Barrel Tasting. The future wines were fun to try and then comparing them to a finished product was an experience that led to the purchase of so many cases of wine that my hybrid was doing a wheelie on the drive home to Berkeley! During this past weekend, I also learned that I am a Rhone wine fan. I enjoyed many tastes of Viognier and Syrah and loved being able to try them in a barrel. One of my favorite stops was at Porter Creek Vineyards where I tried their 2008 Old Vines Carignan. This was my first time trying Carignan and absolutely loved the dark ripe fruit and soft tannins. Being a vegetarian, I am always looking for a big red wine that I can drink without a big steak and this was certainly it! The highlight of my experience at Porter Creek (outside of the friendly staff and authentic tasting cabin–oh and the amazing bird watching area!) were the phonetic spelling flash cards being held up every time someone asked how to pronounce one of these Rhone varietals. It was hilarious to see “Karen-yawn” on a card held up in the air over the crowd of tasters as I was ooing and ahhing over the wine.

  • I have been privileged to have gone barrel tasting a couple times. Each time I am able to learn more about different varietals and try things that I have never tried before. Being born in Sonoma County I have had the opportunity to be around several diverse wines and try varietals that very few people have had the opportunity to try. Last weekend I was unable to go Barrel Tasting but I am very excited to go barrel tasting this weekend to try some futures. I have done the research of where I want to go and to experience new wineries and futures of varietals that I never have before. I am really looking forward to trying the Montepulciano varietal. Not only is this a wonderful word to say I a huge fan of Italian wine. This is a red wine that likely originated in Tuscany and may be related to Sangiovese of which the two grapes are often confused for each other. I love to eat Italian food and often have hearty sharp cheese for a snack along with a glass of wine and from what I know about the Montepulciano varietal I think that it will be a great paring. After I have the chance to try this future I will be sure to update you on what I found and get you too excited about it.

  • Tom Scott:

    I’ve been and around the industry since 1986 and it’s so interesting to see how the general concept and these types of events have evolved. Once upon a time there were a small number of people who ventured out and were really serious about tasting, talking, and learning. Then the word got out and it became a party. Then this little dance started between what the wineries wanted (or were trying to accomplish) and what the public wanted. When food started to get included (something that in my opinion should have always been the case) factors like cost, logistics, portion size (sample vs lunch) and the guest’s expectations vs reality make it dicey. I always tell people, unless it says lunch assume it’s a sample. (And I agree, offering an option would be great). Love your idea about the spit cup. Most people don’t realize that they are generally available and that the big container on the bar is a dump bucket not a spittoon.

  • […] the Wine Road recent Barrel Tasting when people were Tweeting about hordes in Dry Creek and Healdsburg on  a Saturday afternoon, I was […]

  • […] year, I wrote two articles with dozens of people posting their positive comments on this event, and many who wrote to me as […]

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