The bi-annual Hospice du Rhône returns this year, April 21-23 at the Paso Robles Event Center, after an absence of four years as the 2020 event was canceled due to pandemic lockdown.
“It’s such a relief to think it’s happening, I’m so happy,” said Vicki Carroll.
As president, Carroll is the force behind Hospice du Rhône (HdR), an international vintners association that provides promotional and educational opportunities to growers and wine producers of Rhône variety grapes.
“I’m the Mom,” Carroll said with endearing humility when we met in the garden of her Spanish-style house in Edna Valley, surrounded by the family’s 25-acre chardonnay vineyard. Vicki and her husband Howard Carroll have resided here for 34 years.
For the past two decades, Carroll has been instrumental in guiding and shaping the success of this international organization. For her dedicated work, Carroll was nominated as the 2019 Person of the Year by The Wine Enthusiast.
Soft-spoken and affable, Carroll is quick to point out that it’s teamwork.
“We have over 100 volunteers, otherwise we wouldn’t have an event,” said Carroll in appreciation of the community’s involvement as well as support from Cal Poly and the local wine industry.
For over twenty years, HdR, the San Luis Obispo-based international wine organization, has brought renowned wine producers, distributors, sommeliers and enophiles to this sought-after event in Paso.
The bi-annual event which typically brings over 150 international Rhône style wine producers and industry people from France and Australia to Chile and South Africa, will be attended this year by 120 producers and importers mostly from France. The weekend is filled with seminars, grand tasting, a live auction and wine dinners at various Paso restaurants.
Seminars this year spotlight France’s Cave de Tain, the esteemed wine cooperative from Tain l’Hermitage, and wines of the Ventoux region. Washington State’s Walla Walla Valley will be represented by syrahs from the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater and wines from the unique terroir of Horsepower Vineyards, cultivated by draft horses.
Other events include two days of grand tastings, a Friday Rosé lunch featuring Middle Eastern fare, Saturday’s lunch during the live auction and closing dinner with entertainment provided by Paso winemaker Mark Adams (Ledge Wine) and his Mark Adams Band.
So how did Carroll get involved with HdR? You could say it came by happenstance.
The Cal Poly graduate has worn many hats, from working at Edna Valley Vineyard’s tasting room and as director of Edna Valley-Arroyo Grande Vintners Association to consulting for the local wine industry. That’s how she met winemakers John Alban and Mat Garretson, the team behind the rise of Rhône style wines in California.
“Mat’s Rhône epiphany was viognier,” recalled Carrol of the aromatic white variety, special to the Northern part of France’s Rhône region. And in fact, the HdR organization began as the Viognier Guild launched by Garretson in 1991 in Atlanta, Georgia where he owned a wine shop. At this first event, just 35 wines were poured for an attendance of 20 people.
It was Alban of Alban Vineyards and HdR’s founding director who took the event a step further and expanded it to include other Rhône variety wines. In 1992, Alban approached the Viognier Guild and offered to host the event at his Edna Valley winery. The one-day “Raisin’ Rhônes” event gradually grew to a multi-day celebration. In 1999 the event branded itself as Hospice du Rhône and Carroll was approached by Alban to be its director. It’s a relationship that has lasted 23 years, Carroll noted.
Over the years the festival has moved around from Paso Robles to various locations including Sonoma, Mendocino and Tennessee’s Blackberry Farms resort, as well as France’s Rhône Valley. But now, Paso Robles is the anchor for HdR alternating with Blackberry Farms.
Paso Robles became the chosen location for the HdR event because the terroir is so well suited to Rhône style grapes. Plus, the region was beginning to draw attention and people like Garretson and other Rhônist winemakers to Paso.
Carroll further noted: “Our relationship with the government of Rhône Valley has been valuable and rewarding,” she said with gratification. “Smaller AOCs [ French appellations] are coming to our events; they understand the significance of the relationship and it has strengthened us.”
The attendance of international winemakers has played a key role in the local wine industry. “There’s been an incredible exchange going on for years,” Carroll said. “Winemakers have forged friendships.”
The Central Coast-based non-profit organization, HdR’s goal is to improve the business conditions of the grape growers and wine producers of Rhône variety wines and grapes throughout the world and to provide ongoing educational opportunities to the wine industry. Proceeds from the funds raised at the live auction are used to further the organization’s goal.
For tickets to Hospice du Rhône 2022, visit hospicedurhone.org