Cabernet enthusiasts gather in fun, inviting, and educational experience
Under the watchful eye of James the Winery Cat, cabernet aficionados gather at a quaint, rustic tasting room to sip, savor, and have a good time. At the helm – Bruce Hansen, owner and winemaker of Hansen Vineyards and Winery. Nicknamed the “King of Cabs”, he is at home in this place affectionately known as the Cab House.
“Cabs were my first love, and they remain so,” Hansen said. “I made wine a long time ago with my dad, and this is what my wines have always revolved around. You certainly are not going to kid anybody in my wine club about a cab; they are cab lovers.”
The Cab Challenge is Born
In early 2016, the Hansen Cab Challenge was born. The concept took root when guests started bringing in cabs from other regions and shared their finds with Hansen. He loves comparing cabernets and, before long, started a monthly event attracting visitors from across the nation.
“It started with club members talking about how great a couple of other cabs were, and they wanted to challenge Bruce,” General Manager Pat Stoddard said. “His response? ‘Bring it on!’ and we’ve been doing it ever since. Bruce teaches them about wine and ensures everyone participates, learns, and has fun.”
How it Works
Five or six couples – all Hansen Wine Club members – send or bring their cab of choice to the tasting room a few weeks ahead of time. This ensures all of the wines are stored at the same temperature. The production year is determined ahead of time for each challenge – 2011, 2008, and so on.
On challenge day, the wines are brought up to the Cab Challenge room at noon. Stoddard opens the bottles, allowing the wines to breathe. Before the evening gets underway, she shuffles a set of cards – six if there are six bottles of wine, for example – and places them out in front of bottles one, two, three, and so on. The bottles are numbered, determining the order in which the pouring will occur, and then placed in burlap bags. Stoddard is the only person, at that point, who knows what is in each bag.
“I also take the corks out before the tasting so people can’t see the names on them,” Stoddard said. “We want it to be a true blind tasting. And Bruce has no vote; he is the moderator of the event.”
Wine glasses are set on numbered circles in front each couple’s place at the table, and are filled before the challenge starts, giving the wines a chance to aerate a bit more. Stoddard and Tasting Room Manager Suzie Gaddini then invite the group inside to begin discussing the numbers, not names, of the wines.
Let the Fun Begin
The conversation flows, with Hansen moderating and keeping things moving along.
“What I want you to do is take a medium sip from each glass,” Hansen says. “Find which one is your least favorite wine and push it in front of the circle. Now, I am not saying any of these wines are terrible; make no mistake, all of these wines are really good. But there might be one that doesn’t quite fit your palate today; push that one forward and eliminate it.”
The challenge is truly an education in all things cab. Hansen eagerly shares tidbits of information throughout the event and challenges taste buds until, one by one the wines are eliminated and the top choice for the evening stands out.
Vanessa Tasso has participated in several Cab Challenges with her husband, Gary McClaran.
“We just really enjoy Bruce’s wines,” Tasso said. “We showed up at the tasting room so much that Bruce invited us to one of his first challenges. It is not only about tasting and comparing wines, it is also a learning session.”
Miranda Thompson and her husband, Jeremy, came to the very first Cab Challenge and called it, “an amazing experience.”
“It is fun to compare cabs from various AVAs and regions and see their differences and similarities,” Thompson said. “Bruce is so good at leading the challenge. You just need to follow along, do what he does, and you will learn and have fun.”
Wrapping up the overall vibe of the Cab Challenge, Hansen said, “It’s about the fun and joy of trying really nice wines with other people. This is an easy-going, fun, come-as-you-are event. Bring a dish to pass around, and enjoy some of the best cabs in the world. Reserve your seat at the table today – I promise you will have a great time!”
2019 CAB CHALLENGE DATES
Challenges take place from 5 to 8 p.m. on the third Saturday of each month, except during harvest season.
- Jan. 19 – Vintage 2013
- Feb. 23 – Vintage 2014
- March 23 – Vintage 2010
- April 20 – Vintage 2009
- May 18 – Vintage 2008
- June 22 – Vintage 2007
- July 20 – Vintage 2006
- Aug. 17 – Vintage 2005
- Nov. 16 – Vintage 2015
Visit the Hansen Vineyards and Winery tasting room – The Cab House – at 5575 El Pomar Dr. in Templeton; open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. except for major holidays. For more information on the Cab Challenge, see hansenwines.com or call 805-239-8412.