Already in high gear is the 29th Annual Central Coast Wine Classic, taking place this weekend in Avila Beach, Shell Beach and San Simeon.

The four-day event raises funds for nonprofit organizations throughout San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

The Central Coast Wine Classic has been recognized by its sponsor, Wine Spectator, as one of the “Top 10” charity wine auctions in the United States, according to organizers.

Chosen by the Wine Classic Foundation Board as 2013 beneficiaries are Domestic Violence Solutions of Santa Barbara; Heaven Can Wait Equine Sanctuary in San Miguel; Los Osos Middle School PTSA Music Supporters; Meathead Movers Wrestling Club from San Luis Obispo; San Luis Obispo Child Abuse Prevention Council; Sansum Clinic Cancer Center in Santa Barbara; Santa Barbara Botanical Garden; Symphony of the Vines from Atascadero; Women’s Shelter Program of San Luis Obispo County in San Luis Obispo and Woods Humane Society in San Luis Obispo.

Over the past nine years, the Central Coast Wine Classic has funded grants worth $2,101,055 to 103 similar nonprofit organizations, organizers noted.

Schedule of remaining events:

Underway from noon to 5 p.m. today (Saturday) is the Rare & Fine Wine & Lifestyle Auction, held at the official venue, the Avila Beach Golf Resort. The afternoon includes both live and silent auctions and a lunch provided by one of my favorite foodies, Chef Rick of Santa Maria.

For details on the lots available, visit

Tomorrow’s main events are a Santa Barbara County Syrah Symposium and the annual Reserve Wine Tasting. Both take place at the Avila Beach Golf Resort.

I asked three of the winemakers participating as panelists for the symposium — Mark Cargasacchi of Jalama Wines, Ethan Lindquist of No Limit Wines and Michael Roth of Martian Ranch and Vineyard — two questions about syrah on the Central Coast.

One: Why have you chosen to produce syrah?

Two: How has syrah grown on the Central Coast changed (evolved) during the past 20 years and again within the past five years.

Here are their answers.

Cargasacchi, who has produced at least two vineyard-designate syrahs for nearly a decade, calls syrah “my favorite, mostly because the grape can make a powerful wine with lots of structure and fruit.”

Santa Barbara County syrahs are continuing to turn heads “because more and more often, syrah is being grown in the right microclimates and soil conditions,” he said. Together, these factors “are a perfect combination.”

Where is such a region? Cargasacchi suggests Ballard Canyon (soon to be designated Santa Barbara County’s fourth AVA) as a place that exhibits terroir ideally suited for syrah.

Ethan Lindquist, who with partners Cliff Korn and Lee Tomkow, produces the No Limits label. Lindquist also produces syrah and other Rhone varietals under his own label, Ethan Wines.

“Our family has always produced cool-climate syrahs,” even when typical wine consumers favored bigger syrahs known in the industry as “fruit bombs,” he said.

Syrah for the No Limits label is grown in the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard of Edna Valley, a site owned by Ethan’s father, the esteemed Bob Lindquist of Qupe Cellars, and his stepmother, Louisa Sawyer Lindquist, who produces Spanish wines under her label Verdad.

Michael Roth is the winemaker for Martian Ranch and Vineyard, and voiced a special fondness for syrah.

“Like all the grapes we grow, syrah allows me to express our vineyards’ potential and its uniqueness. Part of syrah’s charm is its ability to convey the intensions of the winemaker and growing site,” he said.

Regarding how syrah may have “evolved” over the past decade, Roth said:

“I’m not sure that styles of syrah have changed that much on the Central Coast (because) we still have people producing huge wines that are heavily extracted.

“I think that people have been making lighter-bodied wines for a long time, and it has just taken the press and critics this long to give them their time in the spotlight,” he added.

Come hear Cargasacchi, Roth and Tomkow (filling in for Lindquist), as well as several other winemakers who cultivate syrah, discuss trends and styles. The Syrah Symposium runs from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The Reserve Wine Tasting follows, from 1 to 4 p.m.