Winter storm pairs with barrel tasting for annual Wine Road event

Despite the rain, thousands of wine lovers were expected to crowd local wineries and tasting rooms for the annual barrel tasting event.|

Rebecca Pearcy of Austin, Texas, arrived in Healdsburg Saturday morning prepared for a long day on the Wine Road.

The native of England and owner of a nanny service wasn’t going to let a little thing like a powerful winter storm put a damper on her 30th birthday celebration in Wine Country.

She was armed with a big bottle of water, a powerful thirst for Sonoma County wines, and perhaps most importantly, a designated driver.

“We’re going to get wasted!” said Pearcy after she and friends posed on the huge Adirondack chair outside the Holdredge Wines tasting room on Front Street.

Thousands of tasters, undaunted by the weather, were expected to descend on northern Sonoma County wineries for the 39th annual Wine Road barrel tasting event this weekend.

Once a more low-key affair allowing buyers a sneak peek at how vintages are aging and the chance for advance purchase, the event has grown into a roving, at times raucous party where wine aficionados swirl and sample Dry Creek, Russian River, Alexander Valley wines alongside vanloads of drinkers with less discriminating tastes.

Lisa Mulcahy, co-owner of Sapphire Hill wines, said the demographics of the event have skewed younger over the years, but it remains a great way to get exposure to her small brand.

“We seem to be getting a lot of Sonoma State kids,” Mulcahy said as she poured a 2012 pinot noir from one hand and her 2013 Italian blend called Cinque Gemma from the other for a tasting room packed with bead-wearing millennials, most of whom paid $60 for a weekend pass.

The event, which kicked off Friday, continues next weekend.

Mulcahy was optimistic Saturday that the rains might actually drive the crowds toward city locations like hers, where they can walk to a large number of tasting rooms in a short distance.

San Francisco residents Chris Cincotta, 30, and Jackie Plathe, 29, have made the Wine Road barrel tasting and Dry Creek Valley Passport tasting event in April a tradition. This year the couple, both of whom work at a Bay Area tech firm, were impressed with the wines from Sapphire Hill and its neighbor Skewis Wines, as well as a sublime zinfandel from nearby Valdez Family Winery.

The threat of heavy afternoon rain kept them a little closer to town than they might otherwise have ventured, but in no way did it dampen their enthusiasm for the weekend.

“It’s a nice little getaway,” Cincotta said.

A cluster of tasting rooms on Front Street in Healdsburg was jammed with visitors crowding around barrels manned by winery staff and winemakers who shared their prized vintages paired with insights into how they are developing in their oaken boudoirs.

John Hart of Hart’s Desire Winery used a glass device called a wine thief to dispense his dark 2014 cabernet sauvignon from the barrel to rave reviews. The grapes come from a small vineyard on the slopes of Taylor Mountain, which gives the wine the “terroir of the forest” and “cedar notes,” he told attentive tasters.

Ken DeJarnette, a 59-year-old IT security consultant from Napa, said he was particularly impressed with Hart’s 2015 viognier, a complex white varietal that DeJarnette described as having “hints of banana.”

Hart said his viognier, which will be bottled in about two weeks, is often described as having “tropical” flavors, but rarely did he have someone use that particular fruity descriptor.

“I don’t know if I’m really a banana fan,” Hart said.

He swirled a bit into his own glass, inhaled, and sipped again.

“Maybe plantains,” he said with a grin.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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