User ID:

Remember me
Lost password?

Thinking Outside the Lines in 2016: The Barbera Festival and the Rhone Rangers Celebration

By Stephen Eliot

Two very worthwhile events are on the calendar for curious wine drinkers this month, and each affords a tasty departure from the norm. The first is the sixth annual Barbera Festival held in the Sierra Foothill town of Plymouth, and, as regular CGCW readers are well aware, there good things going on with the variety of late. While Barbera has been grown in California since the late nineteenth century, it was generally given little respect as a stand-alone variety and used largely as a high-acid blender in making inexpensive red blends. In the 1960s and 1970s a few north coast wineries such as Louis Martini and Sebastiani included Barbera in their varietal line-ups, but in 1971 winemaker Cary Gott of Monteviña took a suggestion from Darrell Corti to heart and planted Barbera in the Sierra Foothills where it has subsequently thrived, and Amador County has become the focal point for serious Barberas of late. These days, Barbera is undergoing a mini renaissance of interest and with good cause. It can make lighter wines buoyed by plenty of natural acidity, but it can also produce deeper, weightier wines of substance as well. Ironically, Barbera acreage has been on the decline in recent years, yet the number of fine single-variety bottlings has been on the rise and the grape is gaining traction with those looking for high quality wines that speak with a different voice. On Saturday, June 11, some 80 Barbera-producing wineries will be pouring their wines at this year’s Barbera Festival, and, having attended the event in the past, we can earnestly recommend it to interested wine lovers of every stripe. Tickets are available only online and will not be sold at the event, so both dyed-in-the-wool Barbera devotees and inquisitive newcomers are urged to check out the Festival’s website at

The second not-to-be-missed celebration of wines that get far less attention than they should is the annual north coast Rhone Ranger gathering first begun in 1998. Rhone varieties have moved in and out of fashion since that first convocation, yet their top producers have proven time and again that they have a significant place among California’s more collectable wines. Slated for June 10 and 11 at the Golden Gate Club in San Francisco’s Presidio, this year’s edition will include a winemaker dinner and auction, a seminar on Syrah styles and a “Grand Tasting” of wines ranging from Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre to Viognier, Marsanne and Roussane from more than 60 member producers. Sad to say, the lion’s share of events are scheduled for the same day as the Barbera Festival, but both events are enthusiastically recommended, and, whether a drive to the Sierra Foothills sounds like a good idea or a day at the Presidio appeals more, no one will be disappointed with whichever they choose. More information can be found at


The CGCW Experience - Take the Tour

Meet the New CGCW

For thirty-five years, Connoisseurs’ Guide has been the authoritative voice of the California wine consumer. With readers in all fifty states and twenty foreign countries, the Guide is valued by wine lovers everywhere for its honesty and for it strong adherence to the principles of transparency, unbiased, hard-hitting opinions. Now, it is becoming the California winelover’s most powerful online voice as well. And, our new features provide an unmatched array of advice and information for aficionados of every stripe.


'Tis Sad
by TomHill
Posted on:6/1/2016 10:33:23 AM

'tis sad that they're both scheduled for the same day. I've wanted to do the Barbera Festival for several yrs now...but gotta go w/ the Rhones on that day.

   It, too, has amazed me how AmadorCnty has picked up Barbera and ran w/ it. The Barberas Cary made back in the '70's were legendary. I recall Darrell recounting the story of how, when given a glass of Montevina Barbera, a Piemonte winemaker declared it the best Barbera he'd ever tasted. And ScottHarvey made some terrific Barberas under the Renwood of which (alledgedly) came from GrandPere.



by Charlie Olken
Posted on:6/1/2016 11:18:18 AM

Amador County is one of the most unsung heros of the CA wine boom that started back in the 70s. It was getting plenty of play for its old vine Zinfandels, and maybe a few Barberas, but when Zin lost its standing in the early 80s, and the Chard, Cab, Merlot, Syrah fevers took off, Amador simply fell from grace.

I have to admit that we lost track of Barbera ourselves and only went back to it because a Zin winemaker from Amador, Joe Shebl from Renwood, suggested that we might like his Barberas as well as his Zins, that we decided to put Barbera on the tasting schedule as one of those "let's see what's going on here" sorts of ideas.

The results were surprising and close to spectacular. Barbera in Amador produces tight, rich, tart, fruity wines that have recognizable varietal character and longevity. Barbera has earned it place in our regular tasting rotation and we expect that it will gain in popularity. Clearly, the tight, acid-enlivened style of its wines is very much in keeping with the direction of the market. There seems to us to be no barriers to increasing popularity save for the information that will drive that popularity. 

by TomHill
Posted on:6/2/2016 10:13:33 AM

Thanks for the head's up on Amador Barbera, Charlie. Coming from you, that praise carries some street cred w/ me. I haven't been up in Amador since NEB

by TomHill
Posted on:6/2/2016 10:14:12 AM

Thanks for the head's up on Amador Barbera, Charlie. Coming from you, that praise carries some street cred w/ me. I haven't been up in Amador since NEB

by TomHill
Posted on:6/2/2016 10:14:42 AM

Thanks for the head's up on Amador Barbera, Charlie. Coming from you, that praise carries some street cred w/ me. I haven't been up in Amador since NEB4 two yrs ago...and that visit was just sort of a drive-by shooting. I really do need to spend some time up there again.

   So what's the case w/ non-Amador Barbera, Charlie?? Are we seeing the same strides elsewhere as up in Amador??

   Now that you're out in front of Barbera, are you willing to lead the charge for the glories of RibollaGialla??  :-)

   Looking forward to seeing you & Steve up on MBRidge next week. Eric has a very good line-up planned, including the '74 YC PS. It should be a remarkable tasting.



You're Welcome
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:6/2/2016 10:25:03 AM

You're welcome.

You're welcome.

Mike Dunne on Barbera (Part 1 of 3)
by Bob Henry
Posted on:6/12/2016 12:33:24 AM

Mike Dunne on the Barbera Festiva (circa 2013):


"... Sacramento grocer and all-around wine scholar Darrell Corti has written on barbera's history in Amador County, which began when Cary Gott planted a small plot to the grape at his nascent Montevina Winery in 1971.

"Corti's paper suggests that Amador vintners revisit a style of wine based on the county's two best-known varieties, zinfandel and barbera. In the 1970s, Gott made such a blend, which Corti named 'Montanaro.' Corti now suggests that the name be tweaked to 'Montagnaro' in recognition of barbera's Italian history and that it be trademarked by Amador's wine industry.

"'Zinfandel by itself can sometimes be rather clumsy and awkward up there. Barbera brings out some zingy character and adds liveliness to the otherwise dullish zin. This is my first notion. Second, barbera relieves the thick sweetness of sloppy grape growing from Amador County,' Corti says."

[Past experience has shown me that this blog has difficulties dealing with multiple embedded links.  So I am going to break this note up into three parts. ~~ Bob]








Mike Dunne on Barbera (Part 2 of 3)
by Bob Henry
Posted on:6/12/2016 12:34:49 AM

Mike Dunne on attending the Barbera Festival in 2014:

Mike Dunne on Barbera (Part 3 of 3)
by Bob Henry
Posted on:6/12/2016 12:35:43 AM

Mike Dunne on Amador Barbera (circa 2016):

Leave a comment below, but please limit your comments to 1,200 characters or less. We find it helpful to make a copy of our comments to be sure that they fit. In that way, you can edit them if they run long.

(Please note: your e-mail address will not be visible after posting)



Note: Refresh your browser to see your latest comments.

Having technical problems with the comment system? Click here.