The Paso Robles Event Center was transformed into one large Rhône Zone as Franco-American and other international winemakers gathered to celebrate the 22nd Hospice du Rhône (HdR) conference and tasting held April 27 and 28. Close to $120,000 was raised at Saturday’s live auction.

Sip & Savor LogoTo bring some 150 winemakers and their wines representing France, Australia, South Africa, Oregon, Washington, Oregon and California is an impressive undertaking for HdR, a Central Coast-based non-profit organization.

Over the weekend,Rhône-lovers descended on Paso from all over the world to attend educational seminars, tastings, master classes and engage in camaraderie and ideas. Besides the two afternoon grand tastings (attended by 1,000 people each day), the series of four well-planned seminars offered a narrative of winemakers, their history and styles of the wines.

This year, we got a peek into South Africa’s cinsault renaissance, tasting nine wines from the regions of Stellenbosch, Swartland and Paarl; learnt the heritage of Adrian Hoffman, Barossa Valley’s sixth generation crusader; traced the history of old vines across California; and indulged in the visuals and wines of E. Guigal presented by Philippe Guigal, the third generation winemaker, as he filled us in on his family’s storied vineyards in Côte Rôtie, St. Joseph and Hermitage in Northern Rhône.

A new addition this year was Focus 22, an educational ride through the 22 Rhône varieties with a series of seminars exploring the regions of Arizona, Washington and Oregon. Presented on a Thursday, the three seminars limited to 40 people per seminar were held at the Paso Robles Inn Ballroom and moderated by wine critic and journalist Jeb Dunnuck.

The varied flavors of Rhône wines from different regions was certainly an
adventure for one’s palate. The bold, hi-alcohol and teeth-staining wines, usually the hallmark of most California, Washington and Australia’s Rhône style wines, stood in stark contrast to the French wines low in alcohol content and showing restraint.

There were plenty of wines from the Rhône-centric region of Central Coast, including some 40 wineries from Paso Robles. This is one of the rare events where wine aficionados get to taste the exalted Saxum wine whose owner/winemaker Justin Smith poured some impressive older vintages from 2007, 2008 and 2012. Booker, L’Aventure, Torrin, Ledge, LAW Estate, Linne Calodo, Clos Solene and Denner were among some of the Paso pedigreed wines savored.

Friday’s Rosé-themed lunch prepared by chef Nick Nolan of Paso’s Society offered Provençal fare served with a large selection of California and French Rosés. The afternoon also honored Dunnuck as Person of the Year.

Saturday’s barbecue lunch prepared by chef Martin Testa was followed by the spirited live auction. Among the 22 lots, the highest bids belonged to the12-magnum package from Francois Villard which was snapped up for $17,000 and a 43-magnum lot was picked up by vintner Stephan Asseo for $15,000 (gross proceeds from this lot will benefit the Northern California Fire Relief fund).

Over the two-day grand tastings, I came across some noteworthy wines from the Paso region, many of them blends of grenache, syrah, mourvedre (GSM). Among these were a blue fruit-scented 2015 GSM from Ledge Vineyards, and the complex 2011 Casual Encounters from Herman Story.

After tasting the teeth-staining red blends it was refreshing to savor few white wines such as Alta Colina’s 2013 viognier, roussanne from TOP, a viognier, roussanne and grenache blanc blend from Epoch and the deliciously aromatic Condrieu from French producer Yves Cuilleron.

The Hospice du Rhône event was founded in 1993 as The Viognier Guild’s “View from the Vineyards” in the state of Georgia. Enter John Alban of Alban Vineyards who took it a step further and expanded it to include other Rhône variety wines.

A year later Alban approached the Viognier Guild and offered to host the event at his Edna Valley winery. The one-day “Raisin’ Rhônes” event gradually grew to multi-day celebration. In 1999 the event branded itself as Hospice du Rhône. Over the years the festival has moved around from Paso Robles to various locations including Sonoma, Mendocino and Tennessee’s Blackberry Farms resort, as well as France’s Rhône Valley,

“That’s important — it allows us to explore broader audience,” Alban commented. “Different venues have different experiences.”

Saturday’s farewell dinner of smoky Central Coast meats was fired up by chef Spencer Johnson of Danior Kitchen and the evening rocked to the beat of Mariachi singers followed by Mark Adams (winemaker of Ledge) and his band.

A Central Coast-based non-profit organization, HdR’s goal is to improve the business conditions of the grape growers and wine producers of Rhône variety wines and grapes throughout the world and to provide ongoing educational opportunities to the wine industry. Proceeds from the funds raised at the live auction are used to further the organization’s goal.