The Vintners’ Holidays at The Ahwahnee Hotel 2013

Dining Room at The AhwahneeTroya and I have had our eye on The Vintners’ Holidays at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Park for a couple of years now. We usually plan a little get away for each other’s birthday gift, and while the Vintners’ Holidays happen around both of our birthdays it costs a little more than we usually like for our little gift. Last year we decided we would combine our two gifts and go see what all the fuss is about. The programs run through November and December each year and each program is either two or three nights. The only real addition on the 3 night program is a wine and horderve evening on the first night. The concept of the program is getting some of the more recognized wine makers in California to speak on various topics such as how certain wines are made or how they are different based on where they are from (yes, terroir) while also presenting their wine. Over the 2 days of the program you have four afternoon sessions, and on the last evening you are treated to a dinner with wine paired from the wineries in the program.
I had not been to Yosemite Park in a very long time and had never stayed at the Yosemite ValleyAhwahnee Hotel, so I was very excited. When making the reservations Troya was given the option of staying in a suite at a much discounted price, so this made our anticipation that much higher. If you have not been to Yosemite Park, or it’s been a while, you should go just to remember what this magnificent park has to offer and how small and fleeting it can make you feel as you gaze up at these colossal rocks that have been there since the beginning of time. The Ahwahnee Hotel was built in the 20’s as a way to attract the 1%-ers of the time to the park. Since then the list of dignitaries and royalty who have stayed there is as impressive as any. For its time I am sure it was as spectacular as any, and the architecture is still very impressive, built out of concrete to withstand a forest fire but textured and painted to appear log cabin-ish and appease the eye. We were told that Queen Mary had once stayed in our suite, and while elegant and spacious, it did feel a little run down. Unfortunately we did not get a chance to see one of the regular rooms so I cannot comment on what they were like.
Since we had the horderve evening on the first night we decided to stay with that theme and run to the village store and get some cheese/salami/bread/crackers and fruit and enjoy it in our room with one of the many bottles of wine we brought ourselves. While not a huge selection, what they had filled the need and ended up being one of our best decisions of the trip. The following night we made reservations at the Ahwahnee Dining The Dining Room at The AhwahneeRoom. Reservations required, dress code enforce. One of the most impressive and elegant dining rooms anywhere. Now if the meal could have just lived up to the buildup and setting. No complaints with the service, but the food had a cafeteria feel and taste to it. The presentation was unimpressive and food was mostly on the bland side. No disrespect, but it felt like it was being made for octogenarians.
The program itself was spread over the 2 full days there, with 2 afternoon programs on each day. Our moderator for the program was Dan Berger, a very well-known and Vintners' Holidays at The Ahwahnee respected wine writer and judge, who did a great job keeping the program flowing and interesting. The first program, given by Steve Urberg from Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards was entitled “The contribution of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the blending of Gloria Ferrer Mѐthode Champenoise Sparkling Wines” and was very interesting and informative. Steve spoke in detail about the Champenoise method of making a sparkling wine and how the California weather is ideally consistent for making this style of wine. He also spoke on the importance of the yeast in the whole process and how they use a proprietary strain in their process. Interestingly he also recommended that sparkling wines be Cheers at the Ahwahneestored upright so as not to come in contact with the cork which can cause it to loose elasticity. The next session, “sites, age and clones-single vineyard Chards & Pinots of the Sonoma/Marin Coast” was given by Dan Goldfield from Dutton-Goldfield. His talk focused mostly on the various vineyards they use and some of the history behind the vineyards and the winery. The following day kicked off with a talk by Robb Talbott from Talbott Vineyards on “Terroir based Chardonnay vs Commodity Based”. If you are not familiar with the term terroir it is a French term that refers to where something is from and that the location, soil and environment will all influence what produced there. With single vineyard/estate wines you can taste how the terroir influences the wine and how they will be different from each other. Commodity based wines are generally going for consistency and volume but end up with no soul. To quote Robb “wine grown in the right place speaks for itself” and the winemaker is more a shepherd, guiding the wine through the process rather than a creator of the end product. He also could not pass up the opportunity to share his thoughts on corks vs screw caps, feeling that screw caps eliminates the multiple variables involved with corks that can negatively influence the wine. However DanVintners' Holidays at The Ahwahnee pointed out that corks can enhance the maturation process while screw caps can slow the process so they will essentially be about 6 months apart if bottled at the same time. The final session was “Five vineyard lots-2012 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir” by David Duncan from Twomey Cellars. It took a little while to figure out, but what we did in this session was very cool. Their Bien Nacido Pinot Noir is a blend of several different vineyards and during this session we got to taste each one of those wines individually while we discussed to properties of each, and then tasted the blend, the finished product at the very end and were able to identify all the characteristics from the individual wines in the blend. That evening we were back in the dining room for a 5 course meal paired with wines (mostly ones we had not already tasted) from the presenting wineries. The food, from the same chef as the night before, was all very good and for the most part was well paired with all of the wines.
Dry Miror Lake, YosemiteFinal thoughts on The Ahwahnee Hotel Vintners’ Holidays; first, once we got use to the size and style of the program it was actually very enjoyable and informative. It would have been nice to have smaller sessions which would have given it a bit more intimacy. The Ahwahnee hotel, while still very elegant and impressive, feels a bit like it is living off of its reputation rather than living up to its reputation. And finally Yosemite Valley itself, which has to be seen to be appreciated, and will never ceases to amaze.

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