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All roads lead to Rhone 

Attend a world-class wine event on the Central Coast

Would you be surprised to learn that several SLO County wine events draw wine connoisseurs and media from around the world each year? It's true. These experts are irresistibly drawn to the heart of the Central Coast wine region, where they can learn more about all of California's Central Coast wines. That's because three major wine tasting events are held here: the recent World of Pinot Noir in March, the upcoming Hospice du Rhone in May, and the Central Coast Wine Classic in July. They capture more attention from the international wine community, individually, than any other wine festival in California.

This year, Hospice du Rhone (HdR) titled its weekend event "From Roussanne with Love," which provides much more than an opportunity to meet the winemaker behind the brand it's about winemakers gathering together to celebrate their unique niche in the wine world. Over the weekend, everyone attending gets to

click to enlarge LOVE IT :  Hospice du Rhone is one of three major SLO County wine events that attracts visitors from around the world. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ERICK WAND AND HOSPICE DU RHONE
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF ERICK WAND AND HOSPICE DU RHONE
  • LOVE IT : Hospice du Rhone is one of three major SLO County wine events that attracts visitors from around the world.
# hang out with the winemakers, sommeliers, and wine writers who offer their insights on winemaking and winegrowing. And when the educational seminars conclude, you gather with these stars of the wine world at their tables for lunch and dinner, where you'll indulge in gourmet food and wine pairings, and share more than a few laughs.

Many of the passionate Rhone producers offer rare, highly limited wines that aren't available beyond their mailing list. Of course, this kind of festival doesn't happen everywhere--certainly not in Napa Valley, where only the wealthy and celebrities can afford to attend their famous wine auction. The truth is that very few festivals in California come close to matching any of the big three SLO County events that offer weekend-long tastings and winemakers' dinners that are affordable for most wine lovers. And at Hospice du Rhone, only a month away, fun is compulsory. That's why you've got to reserve your tickets now before they're all gone.

You don't have to be a member of the HdR just buying the weekend pass makes you an insider with a golden key. It will gain you access to mesmerizing seminars with world-renowned Rhone wine specialists, epicurean feasts prepared by five-star chefs, and artisan food purveyors. At each seminar and meal, you'll share tables with winemakers, sommeliers, chefs, and wine critics who never miss this annual celebration of Rhone varieties. For a wine lover, it's the equivalent of getting a backstage pass to a Rolling Stones concert. HdR is a high-spirited event that will provide you an unforgettable experience.

Now celebrating its 16th year, this event continues to carry an incredible energy because the talented souls who devote themselves to Rhone wines, which still aren't as mainstream as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in America, don't take themselves too seriously. But I guarantee this: They're pouring serious wines you want to get to know.

They offer outstanding seminars that are never duplicated, like this extraordinary look at artisans from Spain during this year's event: "Conquistadores--the Reign in Spain," which features specialists that include Philippe Cambie from Bodegas Mas Alta, Adolfo and Javier Munoz from Bodegas Cigarral Pago del Ama, Jurgen Wagner from Celler Capcanes, and Daniel Castano from Bodegas Castano and Bodegas Salinas. European Cellars importer Eric Solomon is bringing two producers who will present the wines for Bodegas Clos d'Agon and Bodegas Huerta de Albala.

According to HdR Executive Director Vicki Carroll: "The importers we work with (Ex Cellars, European Cellars, and the Australian Premium Wine Collection) are tireless trailblazers. They're constantly traveling to discover producers whose wines can be brought to the U.S. for us to enjoy. Without these importers, we simply couldn't host a truly international event. We very much appreciate their efforts."

The only way you can attend the seminars, however, is by buying the weekend pass, which is $795 per person. Admittedly, it's a steep price when your budget is tight, but you can buy individual tickets for $100 per person, per event, including the Rhone Fete Feast and Rhone Rendezvous on Friday and the Luncheon and Live Auction and Grand Tasting titled "From Roussanne with Love" on Saturday. The luncheons are extremely limited, so call for tickets soon or you'll miss out. During Friday's Rhone Rendezvous Tasting, a few tickets will be available at the door, but if you want to ensure you'll gain entry, order your tickets right away.

The fun and fellowship is constant, but the rewards are serious. HdR provides interesting and educational information for novices, and enlightens the wine experts who attend as well. A nonprofit organization, HdR serves as an international vintners association, providing promotional and educational opportunities through the annual event. The proceeds aid Rhone wine producers from around the globe, which includes bringing the small producers to our special corner of the wine world.

New this year is the Rhone Rendezvous Tasting on Friday afternoon. More than 100 international Rhone wine producers will offer their wines beside 20 artisan food producers, including local products such as Hearst Ranch Beef, Vivant Fine Cheese, Ocean Rose Abalone, and cuisine from several fine restaurants.

"We can't rest on our laurels. We pay attention to what people say and ask of us," said Carroll, explaining that they added this event with the help of local wine and food writer Katy Budge. She called on local specialty producers and encouraged them to show off their products at this internationally themed tasting. "We felt it was time to tweak [HdR] a little. If it doesn't work out well, we'll try something else next year."


INFOBOX: On the Rhone again

The 16th Annual Hospice du Rhone event comes to the Paso Robles Event Center, 2198 Riverside Ave., in Paso Robles May 1 through 3. The world's largest annual Rhone wine celebration features 22 Rhone varieties from more than 100 domestic and international wineries. Ticket sales opened Jan. 7, so there are only 40 weekend packages available at this point. You can also buy individual tickets for tastings and lunches. For reservations or more information, visit www.hospicedurhone.org or call 784-9543.



Contact New Times' Cuisine columnist at khardesty@newtimesslo.com.

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