Sunday, I spent an enjoyable and enlightening day with several hundred Pittsburgh wine enthusiasts and now I am boiling over with anger. Not with them, but with myself. I have been a fool to have wasted the past 11 years living in the United States by not being a member of the American Wine Society.
Sunday I joined on the spot, and every wine lover should consider doing the same. The object of this group is to educate members at all levels of wine knowledge. This conference was proof that AWS delivers. I can vouch for that because, after 30 years as a wine education professional, I learned a lot at its annual local conference, held at the Greater Pittsburgh Masonic Center in Ross.
The day began with four hours of classes focused on tasting and winemaking. AWS was founded in 1967 by Dr. Konstantin Frank, Finger Lakes grape-grower and winemaker, and today, the membership includes pros and hobbyists as well as amateur wine enthusiasts. I briefly joined a few of the technical winemaking classes, which were standing room only. Linda King, a winemaker and consultant from Yadkin Valley, N.C., delivered "Tips, Tricks and Timely Reminders." That group discussed yeast binding, bringing down high PH levels with tartaric acid addition, and cold stabilization among other technical topics.
Later I joined the classroom of Eric Miller, founder of Chaddsford Winery and author of "Vintner's Apprentice." He led us through a tasting of six wines from winemakers profiled in his book: Chardonnay from Willamette Valley, Ore.; Chenin Blanc from Nederburg, South Africa; Riesling from Mosel, Germany; Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend from St. Emillion, France; Carmenere from Aplata, Chile; and Shiraz from Coonawarra, Australia.
The next hour I spent "Discovering the Newest, Highest Awarded Appellation in California" with Alex Sebastian, proprietor of The Wooden Angel restaurant in Beaver and a respected wine judge. Surprisingly, the highest-awarded appellation in California is neither Napa nor Sonoma but Amador County in the Sierra Foothills AVA -- American Viticultural Area -- between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. Mr. Sebastian poured a tasting of four reds of that region made from a variety of grapes including Petit Syrah, Barbera, Carignan and Touriga.
For the next session I went to "Oregon -- Pinot Noir and Much More" presented by Jim Bernau, owner/winemaker at Willamette Valley Winery. He offered a tasting of four 2009 vintage pinots from different AVAs in the valley. His in-depth explanations of the different geological attributes of each sub-region made his tasting especially educational. My favorite was his Willamette Valley Vineyard Elton Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir. Unfortunately, it isn't available in our state.
An important part of the AWS annual conference is a competition of home-produced wines. This year 139 wines were submitted for judging. One hundred and nine medals were awarded to 59 winemakers.
At 6 p.m. our jam-packed day was over. Tired but excited by all that I had learned, I drove home thinking about the egalitarian ambiance of the event. It was impossible to tell the bankers and doctors from the teachers and carpenters. No distinction made between very sophisticated tasters and neophytes. All participants were genuinely interested in learning more about wine.
The other wine groups I belong to dress in black tie and evening dresses to dine on elaborate meals and drink top vintage grand crus, but I don't think they enjoy themselves nearly as much.
Annual membership dues for the American Wine Society are $49 for an individual and $62 for two members at the same address.
You can join online at AmericanWineSociety.org or by calling 1-888-297-9070.
Elizabeth Downer: email@example.com.