The 2009 merlot blend was still resting outside in a massive steel tank, but after one taste a young couple left their phone number and told winemaker Robert Rex that they wanted to buy some once it's bottled.

For Rex, who with his wife Pj are managing partners in Deerfield Ranch Winery near Kenwood, the encounter helped explain why he takes part in the annual Savor Sonoma Valley barrel tasting.

"There's nothing better than pouring wine for the wine drinking public," he said. "That's why I make wine."

The weekend event is expected to draw more than 2,000 guests to 26 wineries around Kenwood and Glen Ellen. Along with reds and whites, the wineries are offering such food pairings as crepes, pizza, polenta, gelato and chocolate truffles.

The 24th annual tasting continues today from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

On Saturday at St. Anne's Crossing Winery near Kenwood, guests ate pulled pork sliders from nearby Palooza restaurant and sampled four reds, including a 2013 Sonoma Valley zinfandel from a vineyard that was planted on the very day of the 1906 earthquake.

Winemaker Chris Barrett said the event remains popular because of the concentration of wineries located along a small stretch of Highway 12.

And, he said, many guests want to know, "Is it going to taste like this when it's in the bottle?"

The barrel taste provides a good indication, he said, but the final product will be more mellow and possess a richer bouquet.

At a nearby table, Jennifer Bryan of Perkiomenville, Pa., said this was her sixth year at Savor Sonoma Valley.

"We are repeat barrel tasters," she said.

A few years back, Bryan and friends bought so many bottles from one winery that the next year they were invited to a party with the owners. "I didn't know whether to be proud or embarrassed by that," she said.

Next door at Naked Wines, staff members used a glass thief to take wine directly from two barrels: a Napa Valley merlot and a Santa Rita Hills pinot noir.

Wine adviser David Kohler said the day allows wineries to tell guests their stories. At Naked Wines, that story includes how wine drinkers can become winery members who help fund independent winemakers and in return receive preferential prices on their wines.

At St. Anne's Crossing, the story includes the opportunity to taste zinfandels from five different appellations in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. And at Deerfield ranch, it includes how Rex produces wines without such allergens as sulfites and histamines.

On Saturday the barrel tasting also offered guests the chance to come to the green hills of the Sonoma Valley amid blue skies and temperatures hovering around 80 degrees.

"It's a day to have just a whole lot of fun," Kohler said.

A single-day ticket cost $50, or $10 for a designated driver. More information is available at

(You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or