Following the inaugural launch of the 2011 Barbera Festival, located at Cooper Ranch & Vineyards within beautiful Shenandoah Valley, Plymouth, California, its organizers Brian Miller and Deirdre Mueller, had set a rather high bar for themselves for the second Festival held on 6/9/12. Anticipation for another great festival was high as tickets barely went on sale before they were snatched up and the event quickly sold out. This years’ Festival clearly exceeded the success of its predecessor in producing a fabulous event which recognized and celebrated over 80 California wineries serving up their renditions of Barbera, a quality wine varietal covering approximately 7,000 acres in California. This fantastic food wine originated in the Piemonte region of Northern Italy and has recently gained great respect not only in California but around the world for its smooth tannins, berry flavors and acid structure. An Italian sampling was also available compliments of Corti Brothers.
Since Kirk was tied up working, I embarked on a day of Barbera tasting without him. It was a tough assignment, but somebody had to do it. Upon arriving at the Festival, guests were met in the parking area by the man himself, Dick Cooper, known in and around the area as the “Godfather of Barbera.” Dick was all smiles and ready to chauffeur new arrivals to the front entrance in his four wheel tractor rig. It was quite welcoming. We couldn’t have asked for a nicer day as a cool breeze swept through the valley keeping the temperature perfect. The ambience was enhanced by music provided by The Brothers Comatose, a blue grass influenced folk rock band, perfect for the event. Craft vendors provided shoppers with an assortment of wonderful items for purchase, from jewelry to a variety of garden art. Food vendors were plentiful, represented by some of our local caterers and restaurants including Andrae’s Bakery, Beth Sogaard Catering, Taste Restaurant, Clark’s Corner and more. The food was delicious. I sampled an amazing crab quesadilla from Clark’s Corner, but attendees were clearly most excited about the wonderful selection of Barbera wine, the guest of honor.
Being a Barbera lover, I couldn’t have been happier sampling such quality and magnificent specimens as were lovingly presented by the representatives, owners and winemakers of the various wineries in attendance. Among the wines I sampled, could I pick a few favorites of the day? I am pleased to say I could not as the selection was outstanding. In discussing the varietal with various visitors to the area, I received frequent comments describing the California Barberas as “incredibly drinkable, fruity and smooth”. I can sincerely report a big “thumbs up” all around.
Of course, being a resident of Amador County, I enjoyed making the rounds to sample some of our local wines although it is only possible to mention a few in this brief report. Joe Shebl, owner and winemaker of Fiddletown Cellars was pouring his 2009 and 2010 Barberas. The two distinct vintages are remarkable, but there was no pinning him down as to whether or not he had a preference, “They are like children that I love equally”, Joe said. Wilderotter Winery’s 2009 Estate Barbera medaled gold at the Amador County Fair and was enjoyed by tasters describing a luscious full bodied wine with hints of dark cherries, chocolate and balanced acids. This wine would be lovely with rich food and pastas. Owner of Bray Vineyards, Robin Bray and winemaker, John Hoddy were all smiles, having won double gold for their 2009 Barbera at the recent Amador County Fair.
Pouring for Helwig Winery was winemaker, Scott Helwig along with wife Toni Laubach having just returned from their honeymoon the night before the event. Scott just released his 2010 Barbera having used Dick Cooper’s grapes. “The 2009 was such a popular vintage that it was important that the 2010 meets if not exceeds expectations for the bar that was previously set,” said Scott. Amador Cellars was represented by owner/winemaker Larry Long and owner Linda Long who described their 2009 Barbera as “fruity and spicy but smooth on tannins, with nicely managed acidity.” Linda enjoys the wine with barbeque salmon.The Festival could not have been more pleasing to the average wine enthusiast such as myself, tasting stations strategically set beneath the ranch’s shady walnut trees. Overall, it appeared that a good time was had by all, many who have already pledged to return for a third annual Barbera Festival.
By Cathy Patrenos.