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NorCal Wine Blog

News: Hospice du Rhone Changes Direction, Ends Big Paso Robles Events

The 20th annual Hospice du Rhone celebration took place in Paso Robles on April 28 & 29. It was the last such event. Hospice du Rhone organizers Vicki Carroll and John Alban have decided to pursue different event formats and locations going forward. The decision was announced early this morning via an email to Hospice du Rhone’s many supporters.

big_HdR_TastingPanel_FullPage_AdAccording to the email, the Hospice du Rhone organization will continue its mission of promoting Rhone variety wines, but will do so through smaller events in different locations. The event has helped bring about great and positive changes in the world of Rhone wines over the past 20 years. I covered the event’s history in detail in a series of articles in early April. The organizers feel change is needed so that the impact can spread even further.

I spoke with Hospice du Rhone director Vicki Carroll today about the change in direction. Charting a new course was not a financial necessity. “If the economy and revenue were a factor, we would have made this decision a few years ago.” The economy was at it’s worst then and ticket sales were a little slow. In contrast, this year’s event was a complete success. Every event sold out and revenues were good.

”It was the right time for a change,” Carroll told me. The decision was just made in the last few days. “My heart and soul is in this. Yesterday was a very tough day for me. It wasn’t easy to make the decision. But, in my heart, I knew this was the right direction. We’re going out on a high. After 20 years, we’ve experienced great success and brought so many people together. Our focus has always been education, it will be fun to seek out new audiences through smaller events in more accessible locations. ”

When I asked John Alban about the future of Hospice du Rhone prior to this past Paso Robles event, he also said, “The first change that I’ve envisioned for Hospice du Rhone has already been implemented. Smaller, more intimate events where we can do things we couldn’t do on a big scale.”

Among those events are the annual seminars at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee which have taken place three years in a row now. A Spring event restricted to just 60 people, it highlights the wines of two or three wineries and gives attendees even more personal contact with the producers than did the Paso Robles event. Dates for the 2013 Hospice du Rhone at Blackberry Farm will be announced in the coming months.

The Hospice du Rhone organization also manages an annual tasting of Rhone wines, from Monterey County south through Arroyo Grande, for Wine Advocate. Started ten years ago at the request of Robert Parker, this will be the second year with Antonio Galloni doing the tasting. Hospice du Rhone arranges the venue, collects the wines and arranges for the sommeliers to do the pouring. This year, there will be about 300 wines evaluated with the selections coming from wineries invited to participate by Galloni. The results will be published in Wine Advocate’s August Central Coast report.

Hospice du Rhone won’t just be focusing on a small group well-heeled of consumers or elite media though. They want to reach a broad demographic. There are no concrete plans yet, but suggestions from producers and offers from various venues and organizations started pouring in almost as soon as the email went out. No announcements are imminent though. “It has to be something that’s very worthwhile for everybody,” Carroll told me. “We want to be very thoughtful about our next step.”

John Alban said, “Hospice du Rhone needs to attract, respond to and employ a new generation. I really think it is that next generation that can tell us what they want. I think you’re going to see them transform it.” New events will be announced on the Hospice du Rhone website as details are finalized.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.


William Allen
#1 William Allen 2012-05-31 15:45
A bit more details, to a very sad announcement. If there was only one wine event I year I could attend it would be HdR. The energy is electric, this is very sad.

Nice to see a 'bit' more details, but it's not much. PR wise, I'd have waited to have a plan in place and give people something to focus on and hope for... instead people are now just sad, and waiting...
#2 winesoiree 2012-06-01 00:54
HdR is the only wine event that I can say I truly learn alot from, and I go to alot.

The passion and knowledge shared at their events is truly awe-some.

Here's to hoping for the best!
Richard Jennings
#3 Richard Jennings 2012-06-01 05:39
Thank you for this additional background on the HdR announcement. When I received their press release announcement on Tuesday, I was initially surprised. I reflected, however, on my own reactions to HdR this year--the first time I'd attended in a few years--which I'm still working on writing up for my blog.

It was clearly a blow-out event for the 20th anniversary, but a lot of it also felt like rehashes and reprises of HdR's "biggest hits" of the past 20 years. I wasn't inclined to come back for awhile, in part because the pace of the event--if you attend all the seminars, tastings and then evening activities, as I've normally done--is like a wine double marathon. It's too damn much for one weekend. My tongue was literally in pain for a couple days afterward, and you know I attend a lot of tasting marathons. But the whole seminar thing also seemed played out. Only one of the seminars was really enlightening for me, one was unbearable, and two were complete re-runs.

And they've been having a hard time finding good subjects and guests for four seminars per year for a few years now. Absent the seminars with star winemakers, what's really different about the event from other themed-tastings that happen all over the place these days? The grand tasting attracted some French producers that you don't usually see at RhoneRangers and the like, but a lot of what they were pouring wasn't that terrific either. Personally, I have always found the lengthy auction event on the second day tedious and hard to watch.

So I'm not mourning HdR's decision at all. I have fond memories of some cool seminars and meeting interesting people from past HdR's, but I think the event's gargantuan size was unsustainable. I applaud them for making the right move at the right time.

#4 gb 2012-06-01 14:24
We have attended the HdR event as consumers for many years and last year attended as producers for the first time. I agree with William (electric). Great place to meet Rhone producers.

Im sure what's in store in the future will help smaller producers like ourselves to show of new high quality brands to the public.
Fred Swan
#5 Fred Swan 2012-06-01 17:15
Thank you all for your personal impressions of Hospice du Rhone Paso Robles and your thoughts on it's future. Personally, I'm going to miss it, and not just for the one-stop opportunity to taste and learn about so many different Rhone variety wines. It was a gathering place for Rhone enthusiasts from all over the world, an event at which old friends would meet up every year and new friends were made.
Melissa Marnell
#6 Melissa Marnell 2012-06-06 01:27
This news makes me sad. HdR was the one 'marathon' event my husband and I looked forward to all year. It was amazing seeing all the producers this past year. I will have fond memories of the entire weekend for years to come thanks Paso for hosting a great event!
#7 vivelafrance1 2012-06-12 20:04
Great update on Hospice - thanks Fred! I went this year and enjoyed the seminars immensely. Whatever their future direction, I hope they keep the emphasis on education and the kind of lively Q-and-A session they had this year. Getting to meet and talk with the winemakers really helps enhance one's appreciation and understanding.

Do you think there will be less French participation as HduR focuses on smaller events and venues? One of the great attractions of the Grand Tasting for many I spoke with has been the opportunity to sample some of the finest producers of Old and New World side-by-side, as was the case at the Grand Tasting.
Fred Swan
#8 Fred Swan 2012-06-13 18:09
I think there will definitely be an emphasis on education, or at least exposure, in a consumer-friend ly way. I'm sure they'll try to get participation from all over the world, including France. I think who's in will really depend on the venue and intended audience though. And the focus will be on winery that don't already have the huge following of a Guigal or Ch. de Beaucastel. This is my best guess, not inside info.
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