This weekend’s fifth annual University of San Diego Wine Classic features a four-course vintners’ dinner Saturday night and concludes Sunday afternoon with guests enjoying wine samples from 30 USD family wineries in California and Mexico, delicious gourmet food, live music and a silent auction with wine-related items.
Taking place at the beautiful Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice’s Garden of the Sea, the USD Wine Classic has quickly become a summer tradition for Toreros and members of the San Diego County community alike. While tickets for both events this year are sold out, attendees will enjoy it while knowing they’re providing key support for USD students. The USD Wine Classic, established in 2009 by the Alumni Association Board of Directors, is a fundraiser for the Alumni Endowed Scholarship Fund.
It’s also a chance to connect with and learn from the USD family wineries — owned or managed by alumni, parents and friends — that are present.
Take for instance Kristen Leonardini ’87 of Whitehall Lane Winery and Vineyards, and Jason Kimmel ’04 with Kimmel Vineyards. They’re attending because it’s a chance to return to their alma mater, to give back and it will be a fun working weekend.
“It’s a pleasure to do this event,” said Leonardini, who pours wine alongside her four-year USD roommate, Joleen Janusz ’87 (pictured, left with USD alumnus Kevin Dooley and Kristen, right), each year. On Sunday they’ll pour Whitehall Lane 2011 Napa Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 Carneros Chardonnay, 2009 Napa Merlot and 2009 Napa Cabernet. “Even if I wasn’t pouring the wines, I’d go. USD does a great job with it. It’s a great event for a great cause.”
Leonardini said Whitehall Lane was the first winery to commit to the Wine Classic in its inaugural year. Being back at USD is always special, she said.
“USD is really an amazing place. I had a great college experience there and I’m proud to say I graduated from USD,” said the double graduate in English and Political Science. “The Wine Classic is a chance to give back and I think it’s really important. I’ll always want to give back to USD.”
Leonardini will attend the vintners’ dinner, too. Whitehall Lane’s 2011 Sauvignon Blanc will be paired with the meal’s first course, lobster lasagna with summer flowers and lemon verbena.
Meanwhile, Kimmel, who has a business degree with a real estate emphasis, juggles his work as vice president of San Diego’s Cassidy Turley Commercial Real Estate Services with helping his father, Jim (pictured below, far left, with Jason and Jim’s wife Debbie), and the family-run Kimmel Vineyards. When Jason learned six years ago about the soon-to-be created USD Wine Classic, he was excited.
“We’ve been pouring at the Wine Classic every year,” he said. “We do a lot of wine tasting events, but USD is a high-quality event and has great people running it. We love to be there.”
Leonardini and Kimmel have grown up in families who are passionate about wine.
Leonardini’s family winery has been going since March 1993 when her father, Tom Sr., purchased the Whitehall Lane brand and vineyards in St. Helena, Calif. He’s shaped the winery ever since. It’s a business that employs his son, Tom II, daughters Katie and Kristen. While it’s been in their family for 20 years, Kristen was also part of the start of a wine retail sales business, Napa Valley Winery Exchange, in 1998. The store sells the family’s wines and hundreds of others. Leonardini, in fact, said that a few wines she’s discovered for the first time at the USD Wine Classic are also carried at the shop.
Asked about what makes Whitehall Lane standout from the Napa Valley wine crowd, Kristen Leonardini said, “We make really nice, clean wine. When you purchase our wines, you always know what you’re getting.”
Kimmel Vineyards is located in Potter Valley in California’s Mendocino County on a 1,100-acre family ranch. Jason’s father, Jim, and his brothers, Dennis and Gary, and matriarch Lillian — patriarch Ed passed away in 1991 — are devoted to the ranch and the wine business operations. The first Chardonnay vines were planted in 1986 and a Merlot vineyard was planted in 1997, according to Jason.
The fruits of the family’s labor were first publicly realized when its 2007 Chardonnay yielded 350 cases. Today, between all of its wines including its Four Blocks series, the family produces 12,000 cases all from estate vines.
Although Jason is fully committed to real estate, he’s by no means in the dark about wines. He’s a wine sommelier, has traveled to Italy and France and has been a consistent presence at the USD Wine Classic.
“The Wine Classic has many high-quality wines and it’s always fun to see friends of mine when I’m there,” Jason said. “It’s a great chance to develop contacts, provide more awareness of the brand and to purely give back to USD. We really appreciate what the USD Wine Classic has done for us.”
This weekend, Jason said he’ll be pouring two premium Kimmel Vineyard wines, a 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 Chardonnay, and two from its Four Blocks collection, a 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2012 Chardonnay.
Kimmel said his family’s wines are doing well, benefitting from good reviews and a greater appreciation among wine enthusiasts “who are savvier, they want something different, something new from an up-and-coming appellation such as Mendocino,” he said.
With 30 wineries present this weekend, including a few from Mexico, there’s likely something for all wine enthusiasts to enjoy and to discover.
— Ryan T. Blystone
For those attending the USD Wine Classic and wanting to share photos or tweet at the event, please use hashtag #usdwineclassic. Follow updates and other information via @usdwineclassic and @uofsandiego