Raising a Glass with–and to–Vanguard Wines

Written by on August 2, 2012 in Wine - 1 Comment

The 2012 Grand Portfolio Tasting at St. Charles Prep.

You know that scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory (the charming first one with Gene Wilder, not the creeped out Johnny Depp one) where Charlie sees the factory “garden” for the first time, complete with its river of chocolate and mushrooms filled with crème, and he can hardly control his excitement?

That was me on Monday at the 2012 Grand Portfolio Tasting event hosted by Vanguard Wines.

Brian and I pulled up to St. Charles Preparatory to kick off the week in style—with a tasting book in one hand and a wine glass in the other. And when the doors opened, I truly did not know where to run first with so many incredible wines and wineries from which to choose.

Vanguard is a wholesaler, importer and distributor of wines, with the goal of bringing the highest quality labels and vintages to restaurants and retail outlets across Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

The goal of the event, which was followed up by a similar tasting in Kentucky, was two-fold:

  1. To introduce country clubs and restaurants, bars and shop owners to some of the best wines from California, France, Italy, Argentina and beyond, and;
  2. To bring to Ohio labels that may not be as familiar as some of the big names, to continue to expand the area’s reputation as a sophisticated wine-drinking audience.

We were met at the door by no less than Drew Neiman, owner of both Neiman Cellars and Vanguard, who splits his time between making good wine in Napa Valley and cultivating a market for good wine far east of his California home.

For this annual event, he gathered 54 of the wines Vanguard represents to provide tastings and conversation on chardonnays and syrahs, cabernets and zinfandels.

But the most magical part of the afternoon was not that we were drinking “on the job” in the afternoon (although that was amazing), but rather that we were talking wine with the people who make it—the winemakers themselves—who clearly respect Vanguard and Columbus enough to pitch their wares personally.

Winemaker Eric Johnson shows off his Bishop’s Creek wines.

That was how we found ourselves talking sauvignon blanc with Mel Master of Tortoise Creek Wines and welcoming for his first Columbus visit Eric Johnson, winemaker for Bishop’s Creek Wines.

We had the most amazing visit with Walter Schug of Schug Winery in Carneros, Calif., who poured chardonnays and pinot noirs that had not been barrel aged, and others that had, and was detailed in the explanation and exploration of both.

But even better than his wines—which were delightful—was Walter’s story of his work at Gallo and Joseph Phelps, and how had to fight prejudice against pinot noir to bring his beloved grape to the main stream.

I know what your thinking—she got to go to this great event that only happens once a year. What the heck is in it for me?

What’s in it for you is knowing that Vanguard is supplying restaurants and wine shops all across Columbus with some of the best and most reasonable wines you can buy—Rocket Science by Caldwell Vineyards was, for example, a highlight of our recent Vino visit and we loved talking through its creation Monday with winemaker Marbu Marke.

So start looking for Joel Gott’s Gott 9 and 815 Cabs on wine lists near you, and do not pass up a chance to taste The Prisoner or D66 by Orin Swift Cellars.

And when you do, raise your glass for a toast to Vanguard, for it is the one making sure winemaking magic finds its way here to the heart of the Midwest.

About the Author

Nicole may have left her Napa Valley roots behind when she came to east and became an Ohio State journalism professor, but she manages to keep her glass full in Columbus' terrific wine bar scene. She writes for Columbus Monthly, (614), the Ohio State Alumni Magazine among many other publications across North America, and can open bottles of sparkling wine with barely a whisper to make sure those fabulous bubbles go in the glass. She also blogs at www.kraftofwriting.com

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