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BERGER: Take winery tour or try tasting event?


With great weather now gracing many wine-producing regions, wine lovers and those who want to learn more about wine are planning wine country tours.

It can be fun simply winging it and using the Internet to find out which wineries to visit, but a better strategy might be to attend a major wine festival or public wine event that offers not only a series of tastings, but also a festive way to chat with winemakers and perhaps have some food.

North America is full of such events, some better than others. Some cost a bit more than simply touring a wine country area, but they are often set up to deliver a lot more.

For example, Riesling lovers would do well to consider attending a Riesling Rendezvous wine tasting at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, Wash., just outside Seattle. The July 14 event is hosted by the nation's largest Riesling producer, Chateau Ste. Michelle, and Dr. Loosen, the famed German Riesling estate. The tasting will feature Rieslings from Germany, France, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.

Guests will have a chance to try foods from top Seattle food trucks as well as appetizers by Chateau Ste. Michelle's Culinary Director, John Sarich.

If you are really geeky about Riesling, two more days of technical seminars and tastings July 15-16 are scheduled nearby. Tickets are available through the web site, www.RieslingRendezvous.com.

One of the most interesting walk-around events is the annual Winesong Festival Sept. 6-7 at the gorgeous Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg. (Do not miss the dahlia garden!)

Attendees wander through the huge property from grove to grove, with wine and food stations set up throughout the gardens. At each food/wine station is a different musical group. Music varies and includes string quartets, trombone groups, guitarists, and a lot more.

After the walk-around wine and food tasting, live and silent auctions are staged (the former with a dinner by chef Bradley Ogden) to benefit the Mendocino Coast Hospital.

Details on the events and ticket prices are available at www.winesong.org.

One fascinating event is the annual Heirloom Tomato Festival at Kendall-Jackson Vineyard Estates, just north of Santa Rosa. The 17th annual event features tastes of literally dozens of heirloom tomatoes grown at K-J as well as tomato-based foods prepared by local restaurants.

The tomato festival is scheduled for Sept. 28 at the winery's hospitality facility. For details, see the web site www.kj.com/visit-tomato-festival.

The lovely Okanagan Valley of British Columbia also has an energetic fall wine festival, one of four staged during the year.

This year's multi-day event (Oct. 4-14) opens with a huge wine tasting, and is followed by other events, including dinners and individual winery events.

The quality of Canadian wines over the last decade has shot to the moon, and dozens of BC and Ontario wineries are now winning major awards at wine competitions. The quality of these wines is phenomenal, and hardcore wine lovers would do well to discover them.

At present, the only way to obtain these wines (almost none are sent to the United States) is to visit.

Details on the fall BC wine events are available at www.thewinefestivals.com. Or for a more complete way to plan a trip to BC wineries, see the website www.Winebc.com.

Wine of the Week: 2010 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County ($18) — The aroma here is attractively herbal with hints of cherry and pipe tobacco and the flavors are nicely varietal with perfectly handled tannins. Best with an hour of decanting.

Dan Berger lives in Sonoma County, where he publishes "Vintage Experiences," a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at winenut@gmail.com.