Set under the most beautiful granite mountains, we recently cruised up to Yosemite for the Vintners’ Holiday at the Ahwahnee Hotel. If you’ve never heard of the Ahwahnee, you’re missing out. It is a stunning and beautifully rustic 1920′s hotel built in the Yosemite Valley – the most luxurious way (by far) to see the natural wonders of the national park. It has been a hotel for the rich and famous, and has housed movie stars, politicians, and royalty of international fame (even Haile Selassiei!). The wine “holiday” was a wonderful way to get out into nature, shmooze with a handful of California’s top winemakers and live the life of luxury at the Ahwahnee. Our sessions welcomed Benziger Family Winery, Freeman Vineyard & Winery, Plumpjack Winery/Cade Winery and Hidden Ridge Vineyard.
Over the course of the 3 night/ 2 day “Holiday,” (they are all sessions during the week, so you might want to call in sick for this one), we got reports from the newly finished harvest and stories from the field. The winemakers joined us for a tasting of wines and led us through personal stories, ranging from Benzinger’s very first harvest to the trials and tribulations of starting your own winery. I was impressed at the range of information that we drank along with our wine. The seminars were an array of information and anecdotes that would satisfy wine drinkers from mild enthusiasts to the budding entrepreneur. There were more than a handful of couples that came to get advice for beginning their own journeys to becoming vintners. My favorite advice from the weekend for new winemakers: “Plant something you like, because if you can’t sell it, you’ll be drinking it.”
In a big way, we experienced Yosemite through our mouths (something I have seldom done while being miles from any city). We dined at the Mountain Room, and the highlight of the meal was undoubtedly the trout. I have had fresh trout off of my fishing pole in Yosemite before but never anything like this – Trout Amandine: Boneless ruby trout fillet, Couscous salad, seasonal vegetables, Lemon brown butter, toasted almonds. The restaurant was gorgeous and we feasted into the night and strolled around after under the millions of stars.
Back the next day for more tasting, we learned about the specific terroir of the napa valley, and other AVAs and how the weather has affected the wines throughout the last decade (Chardonnay is iffy this year – the weather wash harsh on them because they have thin skin). We tasted a vertical of Cabernets from Hidden Ridge – tasting the different years’ weather told through the story of the fruit, and learned a much more in depth about biodynamic wines (keep your eye out for our next issue and and article about eco wines). For those budding grape growers, the wine makers went more in depth into specific clones and how grafting plants has enabled leaps into California wine making. Wherever you are on your own personal wine education, the seminars help We took a break the next day to tour the Yosemite Valley. It’s hard to put into words the beauty of the park, which is why instead of showing you a couple of photos, we decided to show you all the photos we took from the trip. Needless to say, we saw a bear, several dear, and eventually made our way back to taste more wine.
The event culminated in a exquisite banquet in the Ahwahnee Dining Room. It’s essentially a grand banquet hall with 34 foot high dark wood beamed ceilings that seats about 300 people and is still surprisingly intimate. The 6 course meal and wine pairing brought innovative cuisines to new heights:
Cade Winery Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 Napa Valley
Cold Scallop Ravioli
Benziger Family Winery Chardonnay, 2009 West Rows Sangiacomo Vineyard, Carneros
House Smoked Crescenza Cheese
Late Harvest Heirloom Tomatoes, Crostini
Freeman Vineyard & Winery Pinot Noir, 2006 Akiko’s Cuvée, Sonoma Coast
Slow Cooked California Quail
Sunchoke Puree, Sunflower Seed Essence
Hidden Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005 55° Slope, Napa Valley
Broken Arrow Ranch Texas Antelope Loin
Giant Corona Beans, Cardomom Roasted Carrots, Sweet Onions
Triple Chocolate Terrine
Pistachio Macaroon, Grappa Cherries, Green Apple Sorbet
Mouth watering yet?
If you are insanely jealous of us, fear not. The Vintners’ Holidays continue into the beginning of December, and it’s not too late to head up to Yosemite! If you want more information, you can find it HERE.