The Tasting Panel magazine

January 2016

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Page 81 of 148

january-february 2016  /  the tasting panel  /  81 Fred Dame: I'm sitting here at Awahenee looking at Half Dome and the incredible splen- dor of Yosemite. No man could have made this so there must be someone higher up. Kathy, can you ever get tired of it? Kathy Langley: You can never get tired of this beautiful place. Driving to work through the Yosemite Valley has to be the world's best commute. Vintners' Holidays are in full swing. I just fin- ished presenting Qupe, Verdad, Dutton Goldfield and Spottswoode to 200 thirsty guests over past two days. The winemakers and the wines were fantastic but I think this glorious place makes them even better. How many years has this event occurred? This is our 34th year, and next year there will be a big celebration for our 35th. Prior to 1982, the Ahwahnee would close on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend for three weeks. There was no skiing, the trails were too icy for hiking. So our GM, John O'Neill, and our Wine Director, Stew Goode, thought a wine event might just work. The first year it was called the "Grape Outdoors" and it consisted of a winemaker and his wife sitting around the bar with a few dozen guests. Now it's morphed into the event it is today. So you run this program from November 8th to the 19th, with two additional sessions beginning the Sunday of Thanksgiving. Twenty-four of California's finest wineries presented to your guests. I would say that would be a success story. Well, we are certainly putting "heads in beds." To be sold out at this time of year is really amazing. At the opening reception last night I couldn't help but notice that people were having a great time. The snow falling didn't hurt . . . At least half of them are returning for this event from last year. We have an extremely loyal clientele that returns each year. They wait for the day that we open reservations. Four of the events were sold out and the other two would have but we ran out of rooms! How do you select them? I can imagine there must be quite a formidable list of those wineries wishing to attend? Let's just say we have are pleased to be such a desired destination. We like to feature many price points and are par- ticularly interested in limited-production wines and multiple vintages. Our guests really love that aspect. I moderated this event for a number of years in the beginning and returned last year. I have to say the participants are very wine savvy. They ask great questions. You are correct. I'm always pleased that this event attracts knowledgeable aficionados here to the Yosemite Valley. That's why we really make an effort to make the seminars unique. I would say that's definitely true. I was presenting Iberian varieties with Luisa Lindquist of Verdad Winery—Spanish varieties from California no less. That was really a fascinating tasting. Does this reflect on the wine list? Yes, our list is almost all California wines with some French Champagne. Stew started the list that way and we have continued the tradition. The incredible growth of the state's wine industry has really been a benefit to us. So any changes planned for the coming years? Every year to try to tweak it a little bit to keep it fresh. We also have noticed that with other park guests visiting many of them have an interest. So if we have empty seats at any of the presentations, we invite them to join in. It's a nice way to make new friends and we see a number of them for the full event next year. I love it. The best advertising in the world: free! I think it says a lot about the Ahwahnee. So many wine events today are incredibly controlled. I really love the freedom that we have here. Well, you certainly don't see a lot of coat and ties. The night of the Gala Dinner is an exception, but many are just return- ing from hikes or park experiences. The Grand Finale, the Gala Vintners Dinner—it's held in the magnificent great hall Dining Room. What is the secret? We select the wines before the menu is put together. We look at the personalities and viticultural areas and then pick the four wines for the dinner. We then give those wines to our Executive Chef, Percy Watley, and he writes a menu. We are pairing the food with the wine. Okay, so let's taste this Qupé Marsanne. Something a little different, but what a wonderful wine: clean, fresh, floral and delicious! I agree; it has a lightness and natural elegance that everyone enjoys. We poured this last night at the reception and out of two cases we had one-and-a-half bottles left. You have the Bracebridge Dinner coming up. Is that similar to Vintners' Holidays? Not really; it is more of a theater event. It's a four-hour pageant and the menu is written for that dinner. We keep the menu order the same but change the ingredients every year. The courses are presented to Squire Bracebridge [the fictional Lord Neville Bracebridge, who hosts the event] before being served. Our guests love it. Costumes, décor— it's a great time. The guests select their own wines. So what do we need to do to make the world of wine better? Besides invite everyone to have a glass here in Yosemite, which I would recommend. I'd like to see the younger generation who is so in love with craft cocktails and beer find the same passion for wine. I think that is a natural progression and wine, and its history is fascinating as well as delicious! BEHIND THE SCENES WITH FRED DAME, MS

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