The art of Sam Gittings, on display at the Robert Mondavi Winery, formed the backdrop for the annual meeting of the Oakville Winegrowers.

Undoubtedly one of my favorite events of the year, the Oakville Winegrowers delivered another exciting day full of in-depth vineyard and state-of-the-industry discussions, an epic flight of wines showcasing vintage and location differences and, of course, the walk-around tasting where the vintners from this famed region gathered to share their latest vintage releases.

The location is the legendary Robert Mondavi Winery, which has hosted the gathering for the 24 years since its inception.

“In the beginning, it was just a handful of vintners led by Bob and my dad,” Suzanne Groth mentioned in the opening remarks.

Suzanne also shared a story that resonated with me. She said recently while in Texas chatting with one of her distributors, the topic of consolidation came up referring to conglomerates buying smaller, family wineries.

The conversation led to her distributor to mentioning how inspiring it is to see younger generations like Carlo Mondavi, fourth-generation winemaker, had recently visited the market promoting his family’s Continuum Estate and it was enlightening.

Suzanne elaborated further by mentioning other examples of the next generations carrying the flag high like Maya Dalla Valle from Dalla Valle Vineyards, Morgaen Hoxsey from Ghost Block and Matt Meyer from Silver Oak. It is indeed worth mentioning the strong efforts from these kids.

This year’s panel masterclass was moderated by one of the most powerful women in the realm, Master Sommelier, Andrea Robinson, who led the rich conversation covering the changes in the last 30 years in the valley in regards of vineyard management. Trellising, canopy management and orientation were some of the topics discussed.

Renowned viticulturist Phil Coturri mentioned, “Due to global warming, I have raised the height of the fruit four to five inches in the last years,” referring to the heat radiating from the ground and his efforts to protect the grapes.

When the topic switched to the fruit and harvesting practices, winemaker Heidi Barrett said “In the last 20 years we have seen more quality on the fruit, sorting tables are a big part of the shift. “Customization to tailor to each given plot of land has given great benefit to the wine”

One of my favorite components of the program is the one-of-a-kind tastings each year. All wines from the diverse Oakville AVA, which is home to 42 wineries and 12 wineries that source fruit to produce an Oakville wine, according to the Oakville Winegrowers Executive Director extraordinaire Joyce Stavert.

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This year, the flight started with a side-by-side Paradigm Vineyards flight, first the expressive, balsamic-laced and tobacco-layered 1993 Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2013 Paradigm Cabernet Sauvignon served next was full of fruit in the core, perfumed and energetic. Heidi, who made both vintages mentioned “high pH wines simply don’t age well.” She said she thrives for 3.55, following André Tchelistcheff’s practices.

The next two wines consisted of the 1998 Groth Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, which was generous and characterized by a dried fruit nose and a confected red fruit core, out of a magnum. The 2008 Groth Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon showed elegance, cherry and plum notes with a velvety tannin structure, which made it very attractive.

The high-elevation Oakville Ranch Winery farmed by Phil Coturri followed the tasting with two beautiful wines, the 2015 Oakville Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon with an intense mountain fruit plum layer with cocoa and espresso, burly and sophisticated at the same time. The 2016 Oakville Ranch Robert’s Cabernet Franc was unapologetically delicious with violets, black fruit and freshly roasted coffee aromas.

The final flight came from Nickel & Nickel Winery in the valley floor. The two wines were the 2016 John C. Sullenger Cabernet Sauvignon with winter spice led by cinnamon, a candied core and voluptuous tannin alongside the 2018 barrel sample of the same vineyard, which showed great promise, plum, lilacs and vanilla decorated this wine.

The walk-around tasting that takes place in the Barrel Room is simply a sensory overload, all your favorite Oakville producers are there proudly pouring the current releases giving a true sense of the terroir and state-of-the- art farming and winemaking techniques.

Some of the wines I tasted included the celebrated and unreleased 2016 Vine Hill Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, which delivered a powerful story full of blackberry, wild brush and juicy tannin.

The 2015 Maya Cabernet Sauvignon from Dalla Valle Vineyards, with complexity, richness and intellectual was the kind of wine with which you want to have a long conversation.

The 2015 Nemerever Cabernet Sauvignon delivered an elegant scheme full of dark fruit, espresso and herbs wound up and rich.

Until next year, we await patiently for the next Oakville Winegrowers masterclass and tasting!

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Eduardo can be reached at eduardo@sakedrinker.com.