Top Chef for Winemaking? Sneak Peek at “The Winemakers” by Jennifer
The Winemakers Preview at Crushpad

The Winemakers Preview at Crushpad

Last night Jennifer (the bonafide TV obsessive and scholar in the house) got the chance to catch a sneak preview of the new PBS series “The Winemakers.”

It’s a 6-episode reality show set in the Paso Robles wine country that’s been at least 2 years in the making and some of it was filmed here in San Francisco at Crushpad.

Fittingly, Crushpad hosted a premiere party at the winery and many of the season 1 cast members were on hand to see some episodes for the very first time. Judge Leslie Sbrocco (We love her on “Check Please, Bay Area”) was also milling about and catching up with some of the season 1 contestants.

Earlier in the day there was also a casting call for the new season, which will take place in France’s Rhone Valley, with filming to start in just a couple of weeks. As part of the premiere event, we got clued in to the names of the 10 semi-finalists chosen from yesterday’s San Francisco casting session (two more sessions are scheduled for Sacramento and New York in the coming weeks).

I was very interested to see that one of the semi-finalists was Tanya Melillo, a woman who mounted a really impressive campaign for the social networking guru job at Murphy-Goode (but was not chosen, along with many others who had quite a bit of buzz). As with the Murphy-Goode gig, folks interested in auditioning for the next season of the Winemakers can also submit personal videos. The show will even select a cast member using this method as their application suggests that the applicant with the most views on YouTube, etc. will win a role on the show.

Tanya Celebrates Making it to the Next Round

Tanya Celebrates Making it to the Next Round

After the semi-finalists for season 2 were announced, we were also treated to two episodes from season 1, set to air on PBS in September.

The producers liken the series to “Top Chef,” in that it features 12 cast members who are passionate and knowledgeable about wine. Through a series of winemaking challenges, the show will narrow down the contestants to one winner who will be awarded the opportunity to start their own wine label.

The first episode featured the contestants arriving in California and preparing for their first challenge. They were all transported to California’s Central Coast for a full day of work in a vineyard and wineries during harvest. They began at 6am with a grape picking challenge at Robert Hall Winery, then worked the crush at Treana, followed by pressing at J. Lohr. The 2 teams of contestants were still working at 2am. It was definitely a trial by fire day and at the end of it all 4 were eliminated during a judging scene shot at Justin Winery (gorgeous place…Brian and I stayed there for a few days on our honeymoon).

We then got to see episode 3 and that’s where I think the series gets really interesting. Contestants had to work behind a tasting bar at Monterey Street Wine Company pouring several flights of wine. During the challenge a wine expert mole monitored their skills.

My favorite part, though, was a super challenging “Crossfire Challenge,” during judging, in which the aspiring winemakers had to answer a series of difficult questions about wine and winemaking. See below for a clip of that. During that scene my friend Kim and I were standing next to one of the contestants, James Darden (also a self-appointed candidate for White House Sommelier), and he joked with us that the contestants really should know the answers if they are going to be winemakers.

I’m not going to give away who got eliminated or who I think the front runners might be; but during the screening we did notice some of the canned contestants high-tailing it from the event before they were sent packing. Another told us that he/she has a wine brand in the works. I wonder if it’s the winning brand…I guess we’ll find out in September. All in all it looks like an interesting show, especially for wine geeks like us.


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