Keystone Wine & Jazz Festival returns with live music and tastings |

Keystone Wine & Jazz Festival returns with live music and tastings

The Keystone Wine & Jazz Festival begins today with a Reserve Tasting event, and continues throughout the weekend.
Courtesy Keystone Neighbourhood Company |


What: Keystone Wine & Jazz Festival

When: Friday, July 15 through Sunday, July 17

Where: Keystone Resort

Cost: Wine tasting tickets range from $60 for a one-day wine tasting pass with food tickets to $100 for a two-day pass with food tickets. At the door, a one-day wine tasting pass will be $65 and a two-day tasting pass will be $120. Purchase advance tickets at

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Friday, July 17

7–9 p.m.: Reserve Wine Tasting; Event is likely to sell out, advance tickets recommended

Saturday, July 16

12:30–1:30 p.m.: Wine Seminar: Pinot Envy

3–4 p.m.: Wine Seminar: The Godfather of Zin with Joel Peterson

4–5 p.m.: Cigar and Craft Distiller Seminar

Sunday, July 17

10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Culinary Event: Prosecco & Pancakes

2–3 p.m.: Wine Seminar: Wine Olympics

When Joel Peterson first got into making wine, the production industry in California was still in its early stages, with a focus on cabernet and chardonnay. Forging ahead with the not-as-popular zinfandel, he went from small-time winemaker to creating one of the best-selling zinfandels in the world under his company Ravenswood Winery, which he eventually sold for $148 million.

Peterson will be a highlighted speaker this weekend at the annual Keystone Wine & Jazz Festival. The event, which runs through Sunday at River Run Village at Keystone Resort, pairs live jazz with seminars and tastings of more than 300 different bottles.


An innate love for wine was instilled in Peterson at a young age, when he sat in on his father’s twice-weekly gatherings of the San Francisco Wine Sampling Club. His first tasting was at the age of 10, when his father instructed him to “shut up and spit” and take notes for the group. He continued his wine studies from there.

“Basically, my whole career has oriented around making zinfandel known and getting people to understand what a valuable wine it is and how it really is California’s grape.”Joel PetersonOwner, Ravenswood Winery

Working as a microbiologist, he jumped into winemaking and founded Ravenswood in 1976 after an apprenticeship with Joseph Swan. It was with Swan that he learned the art of traditional winemaking and was turned on to zinfandel.

Swan, who had originally wanted to make pinot noir, had old-vine zinfandel on his property. He made a wine with those grapes as you would a pinot noir, with pleasing results.

“Low and behold, it turned into a fabulous wine,” Peterson said. “In fact, he got better known for zinfandel than for pinot noir. So that was my clue.”

At that time, most winemakers in California were ignoring the old vines that produced zinfandels. The state had a long history of growing these grapes, but Prohibition had changed the way wine was produced, and the grapes in the area were used to make mostly low-quality jug wines.

“I thought, ‘Well, if this were France, these would be our most treasured grapes,’” he said. “Because they’re old, and they’re low production, and their grape varieties had a combination found nowhere but in California.”

Making the commitment

So in 1976, Peterson made two single-vineyard designates of zinfandel, and he poured his heart into Ravenswood Winery, while at the same time keeping his job at a lab in Sonoma until 1992.

As time went on, he committed his pursuits to the old vines, ultimately developing the Vintners Blend in response to a partner suggesting he make white zinfandel to bring in more funding.

“I said ‘I’m sorry, I don’t do pink, I don’t do sweet, I don’t do wimpy,’” he said. “And he said, ‘If you don’t think of something, we won’t be here.”’

He created a lighter-bodied, fresher wine, using vineyards whose grapes were a little less expensive but still sticking to the old grapes. He was able to sell the wine at a lower cost, and Vintners Blend ultimately became the most-sold zinfandel in the world.

“Basically, my whole career has oriented around making zinfandel known and getting people to understand what a valuable wine it is and how it really is California’s grape,” he said. “No matter how good Cabernet and Chardonnay are in California, they’re always going to be compared to Bordeaux and Burgundy. … If you’re going to make the wine of the state and the wine that should be the most important wine of the state, it’s going to be zinfandel and its supporting cast.”

The festival

In his seminar today at 3 p.m., Peterson will be discussing the history of Ravenswood and Zinfandel — where it came from, how it got to the U.S. and California and how by 1888 it became California’s most planted grape. He will discuss the demise and revival of the grape and the young producers making it now. Participants will taste some of Peterson’s single-vineyard designated wines as he discusses how to make it.

“It’s really a seminar for anybody. If you like good wines that are interesting and you love history, I’m your guy,” he said.

Saturday’s Keystone Wine & Jazz Festival activities begin at noon with live jazz, and the Village Grand Tasting event begins at 1 p.m. “Every tent is manned with an expert, ready and willing to speak to a guest,” said Maja Russer, director of events and marketing for the Keystone Neighbourhood Company, which produces the event.

With more than 300 wines available for the tasting, along with spirits and beer, Peterson suggested going in with a plan.

“It really depends on your interest,” he said. “Say, ‘I’m going to taste all new cabernets I haven’t tasted before,’ or ‘I’m interested in this particular variety, and I’m going to find as many of those as I can taste.’ Don’t try to taste everything. One, you can’t. And two, after you taste a certain number of things, you begin to loose your acuity.

“If you taste a wine at the end of your tasting and you say, ‘This is great, I have to have this one, a bottle of it,’ it will almost surely will be disappointing because it will not taste anything like what you tasted.

“And I would also say spit,” he laughed. “Taste and spit; do not drink.”

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