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Education Vacations for Everyone
By Marguerite Thomas
Aug 27, 2013
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People who drink wine regularly fall into three broad, occasionally overlapping, categories.  The most basic group (sometimes known in the trade as “entry level drinkers”) are those who know very little about wine other than that it can be red, white or pink.  These are folks who generally have little-to-no interest in how wine is made or where it comes from, and who often--but not always--prefer sweet wines to dry (in which case inexpensive Muscat may be their wine of choice). 

In the mid-range, we find those wine drinkers who are armed with a smattering of knowledge and some basic wine jargon, often combined with strong opinions:  “I hate tannic red wines,” or “I drink Chardonnay only if it is steel fermented and un-oaked.”

In the third category, we find experienced wine drinkers:  Men and women who’ve sampled a wide variety of wine styles, and who have acquired a fair amount of knowledge about the subject as well as a desire to learn more.  With luck, they have a healthy curiosity about wine besides simply knowing the number of points the wines have received.  An open mind when it comes to evaluating a wine, plus a willingness to occasionally question one’s own judgment about a previously hotly held opinion--“There’s no such thing as elegant Zinfandel”--are further markers of an attentive wine drinker. 

Whichever of the three groups you might see yourself in, if you’d like to hone your tasting skill and broaden your range of knowledge, take my advice and consider attending one of the serious (but fun) events that are geared to both wine professionals and interested consumers.  I’m not talking about folksy, regional wine festivals.  While these can certainly be entertaining, inexpensive and (with luck) marginally educational, what I am referring to are the more specialized programs that concentrate on a single grape variety.  Professionally oriented events such as these may be costlier, but they’re also supremely focused, and they encourage attendees to learn more about wine while refining their own tasting perceptions and proficiency. 

My top two recommendations are the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC), and Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) Experience.  Equal parts mini-vacation and maxi-education, these weekend-long events give participants the chance to taste some of the best wines on earth, hobnob with world class winemakers, and just generally hang out with people who share similar interests to yours.  The setting is always informal, with excellent food an added bonus.  And if you expect to have fun as well, you won’t be disappointed. 

International Pinot Noir Celebration:  Whether you’re fascinated by the complexity of great old Burgundies, you crave California’s juicy young Pinot Noirs, or you simply want to learn more about the fine Pinots emerging from Oregon, you need to attend IPNC’s 28th annual event next year.  The Celebration take place July 25-27 2014, and as always will be held on the beautiful Linfield College campus in McMinville, Oregon.  Top tier Pacific Northwest chefs will be doing the cooking, sommeliers from Oregon and Washington’s best restaurants will be pouring, and food and wine luminaries from across the globe will be there leading seminars and tastings in a charmingly casual setting.  But even if you don’t remotely care about Pinot, you’re going to love the amazing salmon bake!  Set in an ancient oak grove, with lights twinkling in the branches overhead, this special evening event features live music, oceans of wine, and long tables heaped with delectable food, not to mention multiple sides of salmon cooking over open fires.  Trust me, you’ll be thrilled, and I’ll bet that like so many other attendees you’ll register to come again the following year.

The Zinfandel Experience:  I feel that I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend the upcoming ZAP Experience despite the fact that this is one event I’ve never attended myself.  It’s certainly on my must-do list, because from everything I’ve ever heard or read about it this, is a great opportunity for Zin lovers (such as myself) to celebrate the uniqueness and deliciousness of the wine, and to taste wines made in a variety of styles, from rustic to, well, elegant.  The next ZAP Experience will be held January 23-25 2014 at the Presidio and Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco.  A variety of forums and dinners are scheduled to take place at the hotel, and three separate tastings will be held at the Presidio, a stunning site near the San Francisco Bay.  Perhaps I’ll see you there….