Last year, when I was going through all of my tasting notes to compile a best of varietal year end tasting list, I was shocked to see how many times I loved the Syrah wines I was poured. Far and away my favorite varietal per wine tasted last year, I have always thought of myself as a Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon guy, more than willing to spend a day, or night, with a supple Pinot Noir, but my Syrah notes from last year included more than a few “LOVE,” “OMG!,” and “F*** Me, that’s good!” declarations before settling into more refined descriptors.

Tasting Saracina Vineyard’s 2005 Mendocino County Syrah last year, I was stunned at how great a wine can be. I love a host of Rhone varietals, not just Syrah, but last year was a lightbulb year for me, as I came to realize how much I truly enjoy these harder to market, extraordinary wines that fall far outside what most consumers usually reach for: the typical Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonney, Merlot, or White Zin.

My secret, now not so secret, life dream is to work for a winery, helping them connect with their customers through traditional old school and new web 2.0 social media marketing initiatives, selling more wine faster, and then off duty, with the winemaker’s help, make a barrel of wine.

The wine I would want to make is a GSM, a blend of three Rhone varietals: Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre; using Châteauneuf-du-Pape as the model, and sourcing all the grapes from Mendocino County vineyards.

The only two problems with my now not so secret dream are that there don’t seem to be Marketing jobs in abundance available at the wineries near where I live, and Mourvedre doesn’t seem to be grown in Mendocino County anymore.

There is an organization dedicated to advancing the knowledge, and enjoyment, of wines made from Rhone varietal grapes, called the Rhone Rangers. The Rhone Rangers is the largest non-profit organization in the U.S. focused on Domestic Rhone producers.

Each wine, or wine type has a fan base, champions, and tastings.

I have written about the Zinfandel Festival with the events, each individually amazingly worthwhile, leading up to the Grand Zinfandel Tasting, put on by ZAP, the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, and championed by Joel Peterson of Ravenswood.

The Rhone Varietals have their own events, a series of awesome seminars, and a Grand Tasting. The Rhone Rangers have a champion as well, Randall Grahm, bigger than life owner of Bonny Doon.

From the Rhone Ranger’s website:

In France’s Rhone Valley, twenty-two traditional grape varieties may be grown.  Twelve of these grapes are planted in the United States, including the best-known Syrah and Viognier, the up and coming Mourvèdre, Grenache, Roussanne and Marsanne, and the truly obscure (but delicious) Counoise, Cinsaut, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul. Plus Petite Sirah, whose parentage places it clearly in the Rhone.  Perhaps most exciting, most of these grapes play well with others, and most Rhone Rangers wineries produce blends as well as single-varietal wines.

On Saturday March 26, 2011 and Sunday, March 27, 2011, the Rhone Rangers are having a two day series of events in San Francisco, culminating in their 14th annual Grand Tasting at Ft. Mason.

I love events like these. I write about wines I enjoy, and try to taste as many wines as I can to broaden my experiences and be better able to establish context for new wine experiences. These tastings allow for many experiences in a short time frame.

I also try to write about Mendocino County wines. By no means a complete list, here is a list built using the Rhone Rangers’ list of groovy grapes cross referenced against the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission’s website of the wineries and vineyards involved with Rhone varietal wines and grapes:

Wineries

Vineyards:

Marketing guru, “Sonoma” William Allen of Simple Hedonisms, a solid wine blog, is newly working with the Rhone Rangers and reached out to some of his fellow bay area wine bloggers to spread the word about the upcoming events, and has made a pair of tickets available to my readers but we’ll get to that in a little bit.

From the Rhone Rangers’ website, here’s info on the events, with links to buy tickets:

NEW: RHONE RANGERS WEEKEND PASS Spend a weekend with the Rhone Rangers!  Our weekend pass ticket, new for 2011, includes tickets to all three educational seminars with early VIP admission (with the trade) to the Grand Tasting on Sunday. And the $150 price is a $40 savings over the price of the individual tickets.  Winemaker dinner not included.  Limited availability. BUY TICKETS: $150/each.

March 26, 2011, 1:00 – 2:15 PM. Seminar #1 – GREEN RANGERS: SUSTAINABLE, ORGANIC AND BIODYNAMIC AMERICAN RHONES. Sustainability has recently become a buzzword in the world of wine, but it has been an essential part of the practices of many Rhone Rangers wineries for decades. Join us for a discussion among sustainable, organic and biodynamic producers, and taste wines from each as we explore how and why Rhone producers sit at the forefront of sustainability in American wine. Participating wineries include: AmByth Estate, Bonny Doon Vineyard, J. Lohr, Landmark, Montemaggiore, Qupe and Terre Rouge. BUY TICKETS: $45/each.

Saturday, March 26, 2011, 2:45 PM – 4:00 PM. Seminar #2 – MOURVEDRE ON THE MOVE. Dark, brooding, meaty, loamy, and agreeable, Mourvedre is a grape for Rhone fanatics. Long known for its ability to add structure and age-worthiness to blends, American Rhone producers are pushing Mourvedre to new heights both on its own and in its traditional blending role. Taste six different Mourvedre-based wines from up and down the west coast — both varietals and as leading roles in blends — and learn why Mourvedre is on the move! Participating wineries incllude: CORE, David Girard, Folin Cellars, Kenneth Volk, Quivira, Tablas Creek and Tercero.BUY TICKETS: $45/each.

Saturday, March 26, 2011. 6:00 – 9:30 PM. RECEPTION, WALK-AROUND TASTING, DINNER WITH THE WINEMAKERS AND LIVE AUCTION. Our Saturday events conclude with more than 15 top Rhone Ranger wineries participating in a tasting of current and library releases, dinner with the winemakers and live auction at Dogpatch Studios, 991 Tennessee St in San Francisco. Catering will be provided by Girl & the Fig (the well-loved Sonoma food purveyor and restaurant, famous for its Rhone-Alone wine list). Two menu options: Crispy Duck Confit or for Vegetarians: Spring Pea Ravioli with Asparagus and Wild Mushrooms (choose your option when you purchase your ticket). Participating wineries include: Bonny Doon, Caliza, Clos Saron, Folin Cellars, J. Lohr, Kukkula, Landmark, Quady North, Quivira, Qupe, Ridge, Rock Wren Wines, Stolpman,Tablas Creek, Tarara, Terre Rouge, Terry Hoage, Thacher and Waterbrook. Proceeds benefit the Rhone Rangers Scholarship Fund. Attendance limited to 200. Seating with any particular winemaker is not guaranteed; winemakers will offer their wines to each table, giving everyone a chance to taste any wine offered that evening. Advance tickets only; no tickets available at the door. BUY TICKETS: $125/each.

Sunday, March 27, 2011, 11 AM – 12:30 PM. Seminar #3 – WILD WINES AND THE STORIES OF HOW THEY CAME TO BE. Whether it’s a 12% alcohol Syrah, a Viognier made with a month of skin contact, a Rhone blend made from grapes that European winemakers consider suitable only for blending, or a dessert wine made from air-dried Mourvedre, Rhone Rangers producers are pushing the envelope in a myriad of ways. Come taste these unusual wines from eight winemaking pioneers, as they share with you the inside stories on their wildest wines and how and why they headed off into uncharted territory.  Participating wineries include: Big Basin Vineyards, Caliza, Clos Saron, Katin, Pax Mahle Wines, Stolpman, Tarara and Terry Hoage. Ticket includes VIP early admission (at 12 noon) to the Grand Tasting (along with invited members of the trade & media).  BUY TICKETS: $100/EACH.


Sunday, March 27, 2011 2:00 – 5:00 PM. 14th ANNUAL RHONE RANGERS GRAND TASTING. The weekend culminates with the Grand Tasting, where over 2,000 people are expected to come taste over 500 wines from more than 100 Rhone Rangers wineries. For a list of participating wineries, click here. Sample gourmet foods from 25 or more specialty food purveyors, including cheese, bread, olive oil, charcuterie, fruits and other sweets and chocolates. A silent auction will feature Rhone Rangers wines and wine-related items; proceeds from the auction will benefit the Rhone Rangers Scholarship Fund. This event takes place at the Fort Mason Festival Pavilion.  Come out for a great afternoon of wine, food and fun. BUY TICKETS: $45/EACH ($40 if purchased by 2/25/2011).

When attending wine tasting events, much of the buzz, the hot wine, the tastiest pairing morsel, gets spread by Twitter tweets. When tweeting you can use the Rhone Rangers Twitter handle @RhoneRangers and the hashtag #RRSF.

Okay, to have a chance to win a FREE pair of tickets ($90 value) to the Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting in San Francisco on March 27, 2011 from 2:00-5:00pm, just leave a comment naming one Mendocino County winery that you would like to see make and pour a Rhone styled wine at the event, now or in the future. Let me make this simple, name a Mendocino County winery and you will have a valid entry – and I named about 20 in this post – be sure to include your name and a valid email address so I can contact you if you win. I will randomly choose one winner Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 5:00pm. One entry per person, prize is admission to the event for two, you are on your own getting to the event. Good luck to the entrants and thanks to William and the Rhone Rangers.