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2008 California Wine Experience: The Grand Tastings

The weekend kicks off with an evening of hundreds of outstanding wines

Dana Nigro, Wine Spectator staff
Posted: October 17, 2008

In much of the West Coast, harvest has yet to wrap up; grapes are still coming into the winery, vats are in the midst of fermentation. But at nearly 200 of the best wineries in California, Oregon and Washington, many owners and winemakers are not there. Instead, they are gathered in Times Square, taking a break from crush to pour at Wine Spectator's annual Wine Experience, now in its 28th year.

"People here are just so passionate. The crowd is great," said Nicole Duncan, explaining why so many vintners make the trip, as she poured the 2004 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from her family's Ladera Vineyards.

The magazine's three-day wine extravaganza, held Oct. 16 through 18 at the New York Marriott Marquis, kicked off on Thursday night with the first of two evening Grand Tastings, spread across two floors of the hotel. Eager guests, many of whom had traveled across the country for the full weekend of events, lined up well before the ballroom doors opened, joined by locals who had picked up tickets for the evening.

"It's our anchor for vacation every year. Even in this economy, when it's time to buckle down, this is a non-negotiable," said Michael Petonic from San Francisco, attending the Wine Experience with his partner, Veronica Watson, for his fifth time and her eighth.

Throughout the ballrooms on Thursday, some guests happily wandered from one great winery to the next, while others could be found carefully scanning their tasting books and maps to plot out which wineries to visit. Paula Kraft, attending with her husband, Leon Kraft, from Baton Rouge, La., said, "We're excited about the new players on the team" such as Continuum, the new brand from Tim and Marcia Mondavi, and Hidden Ridge, a Cabernet producer in the Mayacamas Mountains. "That's why we like to come."

Along with new discoveries, the California Wine Experience (which alternates years with the internationally oriented New York Wine Experience) delivers plenty of the state's pioneering names and cult wines, plus stars of the Pacific Northwest, serving up a fantastic lineup of sparkling wine, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Syrah, Zinfandel and more, from an Albariño to a Viognier-Marsanne blend.

"There's no other place where you can taste this quality of wine at your own pace," said John Palmer Claridge of Chevy Chase, Md., who came to his first Wine Experience in 1995 and will be celebrating his 15th wedding anniversary with his wife at the Grand Awards Banquet on Saturday night. "I appreciate every moment of it."

Here are portraits of a few of the notable vintners and owners who were on hand to pour their wines, along with the guests who came to enjoy them.

—Photographs by Kent Hanson and Ilona Lieberman

Marcia Mondavi, Marvin R. Shanken, Tim Mondavi, his daughter Carissa, and Michael Mondavi.

Paul Draper of Ridge.
Delia Viader and her daughter, Janet, of Viader Vineyards.

Guests Loriann Glasgow, Kelly Corcoran and Dana Lawnzak.
Carol and Fred Schrader of Schrader Cellars.


Jeff McBride of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, Larry Stone of Rubicon Estate and Garen and Shari Staglin of Staglin Family Vineyard.

Michael Petonic and Veronica Watson of San Francisco are regular Wine Experience guests.
Josh Bergström of Bergström Winery.

Randall Grahm, founder of Bonny Doon, with cow horns, symbols of biodynamic farming.
Guests Tiffany White and Erin O'Neill.


Mia Klein of Selene pours her 2004 Chesler, a Cabernet Franc-based blend.
Kosta Browne founders Michael Browne (left) and Dan Kosta (right) with Marvin R. Shanken.


Mac and Lil McDonald of Vision Cellars pour their 2006 Pinot Noir from Cole Ranch.

Mark Buzan, wine director at Highlands Inn, is on the sommelier team at the Wine Experience.
Doug Shafer of Shafer Vineyards and Lindy Novak of Spottswoode Estate.

Guests Rebecca and Marlin Jackson.
Brice Jones of Emeritus Vineyards.


Guests Roger Tiburcio, Christian Tiburcio, Fili Perez and Christina Alamo, who traveled from Puerto Rico to attend their third Wine Experience.

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