The 36th Annual Wine Road Barrel Tasting at Wilson Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley. (Photo by John Burgess)

The 36th Annual Wine Road Barrel Tasting at Wilson Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley. (Photo by John Burgess)

The tasting, which unfolds this weekend and again next, is expected to draw thousands of people to the backroads of Sonoma County. For many Millennials, ages 21 to 31, the barrel tasting has become a “Spring Rite of Passage.” Tyler Jackson, 25, is the owner, wine educator and designated driver of Napa Native Wine Tours, a one man shop that’s successful in drawing Millennials. Jackson has already been to the tasting to work up his itinerary for the weekend. He’ll be taking six clients to wineries on Saturday and Sunday. “The Wine Road Barrel Tasting is ramping up,” Jackson said. “Tents are popping up everywhere. More wineries seem to be offering food and live entertainment. They are not letting the rain get in their way.” The short list of wineries Jackson is planning to take his crew to include: Christopher Creek, Arista, Armida, Balletto Vineyards and Hook and Ladder. “You never know if you’re going to hit them all in one day, so you keep an arsenal of places ready,” he said.

Sonoma County's 37th Annual Barrel Tasting at Truett Hurst Winery in Healdsburg. (Photo by Jeremy Portje)

Sonoma County’s 37th Annual Barrel Tasting at Truett Hurst Winery in Healdsburg. (Photo by Jeremy Portje)

Jackson’s group, ages 21 through 26, is from the San Francisco Bay Area. “They will be intoxicated but not drunk,” Jackson said. The distinction? “They will be buzzed but not drunk, causing a scene or drawing unwanted attention,” Jackson explained. The tour guide operator said he can see how “drunk” tasters can cause a problem, “but I’ve seen people at all age groups cause problems,” Jackson said. As for buying futures, Jackson said he doesn’t expect his tasters to be big spenders. Futures, for the uninitiated, are purchases of barrel samples that may require another 12 months or more of aging before they’re bottled. While Jackson’s group is expected to be less enthusiastic about futures, Kevin Robinson and his gang are eager to partake in potential deals. Robinson and his wife are from Orange County, but they have a time share in Windsor so they’ve organized a group of tasters. The crew of 14, family and friends, are in their 40s to 70ies, and they hail from Orange County, Nashville and Petaluma. In the past Robinson’s group has spent anywhere from $200 to $2,000 on futures. “We enjoy buying futures,” Robinson said. “You can’t beat the prices for sure. One of the reasons we started driving up from southern California is because running through the airport in San Francisco or Oakland was a pain. All it took was one missed flight for us.” Robinson doesn’t have any Millennials in his group, but said he doesn’t mind tasting alongside them.

Kokomo Winery is taking part in the 2016 Wine Road Barrel Tasting event. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Kokomo Winery is taking part in the 2016 Wine Road Barrel Tasting event. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

“We interact with all age groups,” Robinson said. “We’ve found that the younger crowd appreciates good wine just like everyone else. We’ve seen people of ALL ages have a little too much and have been cut off … or should have been. Nothing too bad though.” ————- For those who want to partake: The event is 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday for the next two weekends. Wineries from Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley will be pouring. People are encouraged to bring picnic foods, as this is not a food pairing event. Tickets are $45 for a weekend pass and $35 for Sunday only. For more information email info@wineroad.com or call 800-723-6336.