Interview with Phillip Torres about Wine Tasting in Sonoma

I sat down with Phillip Torres of Epicure Wine Tours to get the scoop on an upcoming Sonoma County wine tasting event:

What is the upcoming event?

This year is the 29th annual Russian River Wine Road Barrel Tasting event, and there’s a new twist to it this year; it’s going to be held for TWO consecutive weekends rather than just one. It will be March 2, 3, 4, and March 9, 10, 11. There will be over 100 wineries participating in the Dry Creek Valley , Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, and the town of Healdsburg.

If I can’t visit all the wineries, which of the wineries should be on my
‘must visit’ list?

Let me break that down into categories so that I can more effectively answer. For instance, a couple of great spots in downtown Healdsburg are Selby Winery and Rosenblum Cellars. They are both very close to the Plaza which makes it convenient if you’d like to stroll through historic Healdsburg and do some shopping. If you’d like to find a great location to have a picnic, I recommend Armida Winery. They have a nice selection of wines and a beautiful picnic area overlooking the valley AND they have a bocce ball court. If you’re interested in seeing a real CAVE while you’re out wine tasting, then I recommend Alexander Valley Vineyards. Again, they have great wines and they will (usually) be able to have one of their staff members take you into the caves for a short tour.

What is the difference between wine tasting and barrel tasting?

Typically, when you visit wineries to go wine tasting you will be simply what they call their “current releases”. That simply means that you will be tasting wine poured from the bottle, and those are the wines that they have available for purchase. When you go “barrel tasting” it means that you are sampling wines directly from the oak barrels that they store the wine in during the aging process. They put a long, glass cylinder (called a “thief”) into a hole at the top of the barrel. The thief fills up with wine, then they extract it from the barrel and VOILÀ! They pour some into your glass and you get to taste a wine that’s not yet finished with its aging process. This gives you the ability to taste of these “barrel” wines and compare them to the same “current release” wine that they pour for you in the tasting room.

If I like the wine, can I buy it?

ABSOLUTELY! Not only that, but during this barrel tasting event many of the wineries will allow you to purchase “futures”. That is, the wine that you taste in barrel is usually sold at a discount, and when the wine is finished aging and they bottle it, you can return to the winery to pick it up or have them ship it to you. Of course, you are always able to purchase their current release wines.

Tell us about your company (and you).

My company, Epicure Wine Tours, is geared toward small, intimate wine tours (seven people or fewer). I get to know my clients on a very personal level, which allows me to take them to the wineries that I know they will enjoy based on their level of wine knowledge, likes, dislikes, prior wine tasting experience, etc., etc. Having conducted wine tours in Europe as well as Northern California wine country, it allows me to share my experiences and wine knowledge in a way that simply cannot be matched by someone who’s just a “limo driver”. I’m going on my second decade as a tour guide/wine aficionado. This is not just a job…. it’s my PASSION!

I understand that you use Bio Fuels in your vehicle, why?

I am a VERY strong advocate of doing all that we can to minimize any negative effect we may have on this planet. That includes eating organic foods, supporting sustainable, pesticide-free farming methods (particularly in the wine world), and generally employing environmentally sound practices in every aspect of my life. So, it was a logical choice for me to purchase an SUV with a diesel engine SPECIFICALLY so that could run bio diesel, which minimizes greenhouse gases, eliminates the need for fossil fuels, and reduces carbon-based emissions to zero. For me, it’s a no-brainer.

Any tips for the first time visitor to wine country?

This is such a beautiful part of the world. I have lived in South America, Europe, Mexico, and other parts of the world, but nothing compares to this. So it may seem counterproductive for me to steer people AWAYfrom doing wine tours, but I recommend to my clients that they try to do other things in addition to wine tasting while they’re visiting this area. Take a drive to the ocean, play one of our fabulous golf courses, stroll through the Sonoma Plaza and be taken back in time.

How about one ‘insider secret’ for Sonoma Valley wine?

Well, my secret isn’t really a “secret”, but here’s what I recommend: when you’re out wine tasting, if you like it…. buy it. So many of our wineries in this corner of the world are small, family-owned businesses that don’t produce a lot of wine. They simply cannot distribute their wines to a lot of markets outside of this geographical area. You don’t want to get home and kick yourself for having to say, “Darn! I should have bought that zinfandel that I really liked.” Buy it, take it home, open it, share it with friends. I GUARANTEE you won’t regret it.

Anything else you want to add?

This is a bit self-serving, but it is relevant and it is VERY important. Above all else, PLEASE don’t drink and drive. It’s just not worth it. And when you hire a knowledgeable driver, you get so much more than just transportation. You’ll get an insider’s perspective, a local’s point of view, and (hopefully) a new friend.

Phillip Torres of Epicure Wine Tours