STORY AND PHOTOS BY SUZIE DUNDAS
Edible Reno-Tahoe readers know there’s no shortage of wine-centric destinations in Northern California. Napa, Sonoma, and the burgeoning wine areas of Placerville and Apple Hill are popular destinations for Reno and Tahoe oenophiles, but there’s an even closer, albeit occasional, destination for trying the latest rosé that’s all the rage or Beaujolais du jour: Squaw Valley.
That may not come as a surprise for locals, as the Alpen Wine Fest has been happening for decades: 2018 was the 30th year of the event. According to Caroline Ross, executive director of the Squaw Village Neighbourhood Company, more than 40 wineries were in attendance this year — a half dozen more than 2017’s event. Offerings included wineries from well beyond the Northern California region, coming from as far as North Canterbury, New Zealand. According to Tiffany Tonnerre, a regional sales manager for Mt. Beautiful Winery, it has attended the festival for the last five years.
“It doesn’t take much to convince me to come to Squaw,” Tonnerre jokes.
In 2018, Mt. Beautiful offered tastings of six varietals of red and white wines, including its popular rosé, with hints of watermelon and grapefruit.
That’s not to say attendees aren’t treated to some of California's finest wines, however. New to the Alpen Wine Festival in the last two years is Tahoe City-based Illanta Wines. Formed in 2016 by two Tahoe locals, Illanta wines produces “Italian-style” wines with grapes sourced from what co-owners Allison Yonto and Jessica Stanley think are California’s best regions, sourcing from the hills of Santa Barbara for Chardonnays and grapes for their zinfandel from organic vineyards near Healdsburg, Calif.
Though Illanta Wines is a new player in the California wine scene, Yonto says they’ve already seen early adoption of their products, which now are sold in the Uncorked Wine Bars around the North Shore, as well as at select, upscale restaurants.
The Alpen Wine Festival is spread across Squaw Village so that attendees have plenty of room to stop and chat with pourers and owners and learn about the offerings as they sample. In addition to wines ranging from sparkling whites and Rieslings to peppery, oakey cabs and cab francs, the event included live music, al-fresco dining in the village restaurants, and a complimentary wine glass for each guest with an etching of the elegant Alpen Wine logo.
This year’s entertainment included classics from Grass Valley-based Beyond the Rails and Incline Village songwriter Jeff Jones.
According to Liesel Kenney, public relations dDirector for Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, the event will continue into future years.
“Events like the Alpen Wine Fest are really a jump-off point to creating a long-term love for the area,” she says. “We’ve very fortunate to be geographically located in a place where wine, food and adventure culture converge.”
Kenny says Squaw will continue to host food and drink events earlier in the spring and later in the fall as Squaw moves toward becoming more of a year-round culinary destination. Its next food-focused event will be Squaw’s annual Oktoberfest, slated for September 22nd; also the start date of the famous Munich Oktoberfest that inspires many of the Squaw celebration’s programming. While the Alpen Wine Festival offers a higher-end opportunity to expand one’s viticultural knowledge, Oktoberfest is all about brews, with family-friendly Bavarian competitions and music throughout the day.
“It’s amazing to think how much the event has grown in 30 years,” says Kenney, “and the support that we have seen for Can Do Multiple Sclerosis,” the beneficiaries of the event’s proceeds.
Though 2018’s total contribution is still being tallied, the event raised more than $25,000 to help fund health and wellness education programs for the multiple sclerosis-focused nonprofit.
The next Alpen Wine Festival will be held on Sept. 1, 2019.
Suzie Dundas is a Lake Tahoe-based freelance writer. She writes about everything from adventure travel to social media and inspired food and drink. You can find more of her work at Suziedundas.com.