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Vintacon 2005 is in the bottle!

Teslacon, the 2005 Vintacon began with a fizzle rather than a pop. Traffic put most attendees at the Courtyard Livermore after 7:00pm, and in most cases without any dinner. Not so dim as to start drinking on an empty stomach, it meant that festivities couldn't really start until after some food. The largest group ran off to Casa Orozco in downtown Livermore. Casa Orozco is a very popular restaurant, and for good reason. It did mean, though, that hospitality didn't open until after 10:00pm.

Upon return, we opened hospitality and the registration desk. Spring Schoenhuth, registration maven, did an exceptional job putting together the registration packets, wine charms and badge holders. Everybody got glowing rubber-band bracelets with appropriate phrases molded into them ("toxic" and "radioactive" were common). As usual, Friday hospitality was "Deadly Zins" and with one exception, lived up to the name. White Crane zin, Klinkerbrick zin, Moon Valley zin, Livermore Valley Cellars zin, we had it all. Then there was the Rivendell Undead Red, which definitely wasn't zin, and was, well, undead. In grand Vintacon tradition, we attempted a few hands of Frog Juice and then moved on to a few games of Apples to Apples before crashing.

Saturday morning the remaining members joined us after a quick breakfast. Dave Gallaher (van driver extraordinaire and hotel liason) and Gayle Wiesner (designated driver #2) shuttled us around construction and detours to get us to our first stop, Bent Creek Winery. Bent Creek was tasting everything but their Cabernet Sauvignon, which they had just sold out of. It was a popular stop with the membership. As we were leaving, Pat (one of the owners) let us know it was a good thing our next stop was expecting us, as "Earl is a bit busy today."

Cedar Mountain was a bit busy, but not with customers. Rich (the winemaker from Bent Creek) had been trucking in grapes all morning to be de-stemmed (quite a few Livermore wineries rent time on Cedar Mountain's equipment), so he and Earl were busy. We got a quick view of the process, and got to sample some of Rich's syrah (I think it was syrah) grapes. If you've never tasted wine grapes, it's different from table grapes. The berries are smaller, less juicy and sweeter, with a much more concentrated flavor. Again a popular stop, they made some pretty good sales with us. Linda (owner and business manager) joined us for a small picnic lunch before we moved on to the next stop.

Steven Kent Winery was a little surprised at our arrival, but with good reason; their internet connection at the tasting room had been hosed up for the last few weeks, and they had to print emails at home and bring them in. Still, they rose to the occasion, and we tasted 5 wines (including a single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon that wasn't on the list). Steven and his gang have cardboard caps on their wine barrels, so we all signed one that we decorated with rocketship stickers before moving along.

We followed a Ford Country Wagon with rocketship taillights most of the way to the Mitchell Katz Winery at Ruby Hill. Located in the rebuilt Ruby Hill Winery (it burned to the ground in the late 80's), Katz turns out a lot of wines, including possibly the best California Sangiovese produced anywhere. It was about this time that we discovered tasting at 5 wineries in one day might be a bit too much. Still, we soldiered on, tasted everything on offer (and it was a lot) and bought a little bit.

Our final stop for the day was Thomas Coyne Winery in the old Chateau Bellevue Winery (yes, older than Ruby Hill and still standing). Happily, it was a Rhone day, so we got to taste some of their wilder selections. The tasting room was the busiest that any of us had ever seen it. Tom and Emilie got us through the tasting at a reasonable pace, and then it was time to return to the hotel and get ready for the night's winemakers' dinner.

Winemakers' Dinner? After tasting at 5 wineries? Yep, the Radisson Hotel Dublin hosted a Bent Creek Winery dinner. The chef walked us through several pairings. Appetizers were grilled lemon chicken skewers and king crab/guacamole wonton cups with Sauvignon Blanc. Salad course was butternut squash salad with Chardonnay. Tomato, mushroom and radicchio risotto was paired with syrah. The main course was steak with eggplant ragu paired with the sold-out Cabernet Sauvignon. Dessert was an amazingly rich chocolate espresso lava cake paired with Bent Creek Port. It was well worth the $75/seat.

After all that, the "Any Port in a Storm" party was a touch washed out. We returned to hospitality, played a few more hands of Apples to Apples, and drank quite a bit of icewine. Any Port was just a bit too high in alcohol to go anywhere near at that point.

Sunday morning we cleared out, had a bit of breakfast, and made two winery stops. White Crane Winery was a fun little stop and a touch surprising. One of the tasting room volunteers turned out to be Veronica deCamp, the late L. Sprague deCamp's granddaughter. She knew her granddad was a bit famous, but having a dozen people who knew him and his work show up was a surprise for her.

We also did a return visit to Bent Creek (because twice wasn't enough) to pick up a few more bottles (the petit syrah is selling out). Pat told us that Rich and Tom were working on the new Cabernet Sauvignon down at the winery, and showed us the path to follow. Power washers and fruit-flies tend to take a bit of the romance out of winemaking, but seeing the fermenting bins of fruit and the equipment was fun.

Original plans included an afternoon of Goofy Golf, but by then we were all goofed out. We had a quick closing ceremonies in the hotel lobby, and went our separate ways.

TeslaCon (VintaCon 2005) was:
David Gallaher (facilities and transportation) and Spring Schoenhuth (registration and accounting), Kevin Roche and Andy Trembley (programming, winemaker liasons and hospitality), Martin Armgstrong and Diana Vick, Morgan Chapman, Dave Clark, Nancy Cobb, John McBain and Karole Ishida, Fred Moulten, Gerry Nordley and Gayle Wiesner (designated driver #2), John and Chris O'Halloran and Cindy and Gavin Scott.