Au revoir, Hospice du Rhône
I was really surprised and saddened to learn yesterday, from a Facebook post by my friend Fred Swan, that the Hospice du Rhone event is pulling up stakes. After 20 years, HdR is no more.
It was the first great varietally-dedicated event in California. I used to go to HdR every year for Wine Enthusiast. I loved it. It had its own special feeling, held at the fairgrounds in Paso Robles, where they also have rodeos and summer rock concerts. HdR really was the model, I believe, for many other California wine events, including the World of Pinot Noir: large public tastings dedicated to a single family of wines, high-level seminars featuring great winemakers, and wonderful food. The Chardonnay Symposium is a direct inheritor of this heritage.
I read Fred’s article (in the link above), so all I know about the demise of HdR is what he wrote. He quoted John Alban, one of the event’s co-founders (and a great winemaker whom I covered in my last book, New Classic Winemakers of California: Conversations with Steve Heimoff), on one of the reasons for ending the event: “Hospice du Rhone needs to attract, respond to and employ a new generation. I really think it is that next generation that can tell us what they want. I think you’re going to see them transform it.”
Although I haven’t been to HdR for a couple years (I keep meaning to go, but something always comes up), I think I know what John means, though. The audience does seem to be an older one. I guess that’s only natural, since these events are fairly expensive: not just the price of admission, but hotels, travel expenses, meals and everything else. John is saying that these Rhône varieties have to catch onto Millennials, Xers and Yers, and perhaps HdR itself wasn’t really accomplishing that.
Lord knows, Rhône-style wines in California have their work cut out for them. I won’t even mention the Syrah-as-pneumonia jokes making the rounds. As for Grenache and Mourvedre, they can be good, but more often aren’t. I like some of the Chateauneuf-style blends, but they haven’t exactly caught fire. The whites–Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc–are gambles. The latter, Grenache Blanc, for my money is the best, overall. With Viognier, you never know what you’re getting. Sweet? Dry? Fruity? Minerally? Who knows?
I’ll miss HdR. California is poorer without it. According to the press release John and Vicki Carroll, HdR’s director, put out on the HdR website, HdR as an organization isn’t going anywhere; it’s just the annual event that’s ceasing. They say they plan to hold smaller events. I think that’s a great idea. I hope they can do a sort of road show, hitting major cities like New York, Miami, Chicago and San Francisco, maybe having tastings and food pairings at restaurants or wine bars. I don’t know exactly what the plan is to reach out to younger wine lovers. HdR has a blog, but no one seems to be keeping it current; the last post is dated Feb. 2. They have a Facebook business page, but like many FB business pages (including, sadly, my own) it’s pretty inert. You can also find them on Twitter.
I sincerely wish John, Vicki and all the other friends of HdR luck in the future.