40th Wine Tasting Celebrates Foothill Tradition – A Look Back at Forty Years of Tastings

The Columbia College Foundation will host its 40th Annual Columbia Wine Tasting on Saturday, April 9. It’s an event with a rich history. “It was 1977 and the California wine industry was coming of age after having won the now famous Judgment at Paris wine tasting competition against the French the year before,” remembers Tom Bender, long time organizer of the Annual Columbia Wine Tasting. “The growth in small Northern California wineries was under way and the time was ripe for inviting a selective number of them to Columbia State Historic Park for a Columbia College Culinary Department fund raiser.”

Bender was the City Hotel Dining Room Manager and a college instructor at the time and remembers helping with the event that first year. “We had about a dozen highly regarded wineries pour their wines in the upstairs City Hotel parlor for about 50 people that first year. We were off and running! I took over organizing it two years later and expanded it to other sites in the state park.”

“Most the wineries participating in the late 1970s were from Napa and Sonoma and were only a few years old. Early participants included Stags Leap Wine Cellars, Spring Mountain Winery, Clos Du Val Winery, Dry Creek Cellars, Chateau St. Jean Winery, ZD Winery, Domaine Chandon, Louis Martini Winery, and Kenwood Winery. Wineries would stay in Columbia at the City Hotel and enjoy connecting with each other year after year,” recalls Bender.

At the time our foothill wine industry was just getting started and it was just a few years later that wineries from Calaveras and Amador counties joined the festivities.

In forty years the event has grown to close to 80 wineries and features several local food concerns. Tasting sites are spread around the state park and the funds raised still support the Columbia College Hospitality Management Program. The lineup is a mix of around the state and local wineries. Several years ago a silent auction was added and includes wine collectibles and unique winery items. Most years the event has sold out and it is estimated that the event has raised close to $500,000 in total over the years.

Bender still teaches about wines at Columbia College along with several other restaurant related classes and remains closely connected to the wine industry. “The wine business is constantly changing and California is a global leader. And our Sierra Foothill properties continue to get attention. We actually can say we live in wine country,” said Bender.

To purchase tickets and find more information about the 40th Annual Columbia Wine Tasting visit www.columbiawinetasting.com. Tickets are $55 in advance and $60 at the door.