2008 Hospice du Rhone Events: Highs & Lows of American Rhone-style Wines Tasted

The Rhone Report: About Rhone and Rhone-Style Wines and Winemakers is part of an ongoing series.

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The 16th annual Hospice du Rhone events in Paso Robles, California from May 1 to 3, 2008 was an opportunity to consider Rhone-style wines from a fresh perspective.  Unlike most tasting opportunities, these events included Rhone-style wines from the Rhone Valley itself (51 wineries), elsewhere in France (4 wineries) as well as from Spain (4 wineries), Australia (17 wineries), South Africa (6 wineries), Chile (2 wineries), Argentina (1 winery) and the United States.  The American wines were mostly from California (144 wineries), but a few examples from Arizona (2 wineries) and Washington State (5 wineries) were also included.  While this is a California-dominated event, and while many of the Rhone Valley’s best producers aren’t represented, there is still sufficient European and other entries to make for interesting comparisons and contrasts.  The events included two general tastings and a series of focused seminars.

This month and next, we’ll report on a variety of observations and lessons from our participation in this event.

Hospice du Rhone organization

The Hospice du Rhone organization that organized and hosted the event is heavily dominated by wineries in the Central Coast of California region, especially those from San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties (101 wineries).  This makes sense, as those wineries can easily travel to Paso Robles and they can show off their wines to local wine consumers.  Apparently, the major force behind the Hospice du Rhone is John Alban of Alban Vineyards of Arroyo Grande in San Luis Obispo County.  We regretted the absence of Alban Vineyards from the Rhone Rangers Tasting and organization.  It appears to us that the Hospice du Rhone is at least a partial competitor to Rhone Rangers, although many wineries belong to both organizations and participate in both annual tasting events.  While we certainly appreciate that many of the smaller wineries in the Central Coast of California participate in Hospice du Rhone and not Rhone Rangers because the extra expense to them to travel to San Francisco (where the annual Rhone Rangers tasting is conducted), we wish that the more important wineries of the Central Coast, including Alban, would also participate in Rhone Rangers.  We also regretted that a few California producers of high quality Rhone-style wines notably absent from Rhone Rangers were also not participants in the Hospice du Rhone – Margerum, Kunin and Lavender Ridge were a few of those absences that stood out to us.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.