I attended Affairs of the Vine’s 8th Passion for Pinot Noir Summit on Saturday, February 27, 2010, arriving at a bit before 12:00 noon and staying through nearly all of the festivities until 8:00 pm. Barbara Drady, Affairs of the Vine CEO offered a full day ticket in a contest which I won.

Barbara Drady, Chief Wine Evangelist & Affairs of the Vine CEO

Held at the first floor of the beautiful multi floor Osher Marin Jewish Community Center, I was welcomed with an event badge bearing my name and the names of the workshops I had signed up for.  Waiting for the summit to officially begin, I mingled with other attendees, chatting with other wine writers I have met at previous wine tasting events and finding a number of people that I have worked with at wineries to play the “whatever happened to” game of catch up with.

Dave Rogers, left, and Thea Dwelle, Wine writer Luscious Lushes, center

We were ushered into a ballroom with tables set up in to create a “U” shape. On the tables were 40 different Pinot Noir. Each of the bottles was completely covered in tape secured aluminum foil, labeled with different color names running from Aqua Marine to Yellow.

Pinot Noir prepared for 3 1/2 hours of blind tasting

Prior to the actual summit, 40 judges tasted many more Pinot Noir that had been submitted to be considered for inclusion at the summit. Tasting flights of eight wines at a time, and no more than 32 wines at a sitting, scores from the judges were totaled and the top 40 Pinot Noir were now available to be tasted by the summit attendees.

Wine bloggers and twitterers were well represented, and the following is a transcript of relevant tweets from my tweeps using the hash tag #PinotSummit:

LarryTheWineGuy Arrived at the #PinotSummit. Now for 8 hours of drinking Pinot. Where to begin?

elizabethdehoff After a quick stop at Whole Foods to pick up gluten-free crackers, I’m at the #PinotSummit! Still can’t believe I did this. :D

elizabethdehoff Just ran into @LarryTheWineGuy. #pinotsummit

LarryTheWineGuy Interesting aromas from the cafe near the #pinotsummit. Pinot and matzo ball soup?

LarryTheWineGuy thirsty crowd at the #pinotsummit. let us in already. mmmm pinot.

JohnOnWine At #PinotSummit recognizing folks from previous tastings, taken pictures, ready to blind taste and make notes.

elizabethdehoff Small world: One of today’s winemakers is Eric Luse, an AP photog I sat next to randomly on a HNL-SFO flight 3 years ago. #pinotsummit

elizabethdehoff One down, 40 to go… #pinotsummit

StevePaulo At #PinotSummit! (@ Osher Marin JCC) http://4sq.com/4AU8c2

SFDoug At the #PinotSummit (@ Osher Marin JCC w/ @brandyea) http://4sq.com/4AU8c2

elizabethdehoff No reviews yet — this tasting is blind. Plenty to come after the big reveal! #pinotsummit

elizabethdehoff Oh man. I don’t know what cheese they’re serving with the blind tasting but it’s really good! #pinotsummit

LarryTheWineGuy Half way thru tasting 40 Pinots at #pinotsummit. Very high level of quality. Wouldn’t kick these out of bed.

elizabethdehoff @LarryTheWineGuy Wow, you are way ahead of me! #pinotsummit

brandyea RT @elizabethdehoff: Oh man. I don’t know what cheese they’re serving with the blind tasting but it’s really good! #pinotsummit << Agreed!

elizabethdehoff GOD, I love Pinot Noir! #pinotsummit

brandyea Some at #pinotsummit blind tasting pondering whether wines assigned colors like gold and burgundy have leg up on pumpkin and lime green.

LarryTheWineGuy Slowly progress is made at the #pinotsummit 24 down, 16 to go. All good. some great. Arguing over which is which.

StevePaulo @elizabethdehoff @brandyea And wedgewood? Wedgewood is a color? #pinotsummit

elizabethdehoff @stevepaulo @brandyea I think it’s the color of the Wedgwood china or something? #pinotsummit

JohnOnWine 27 tasted, 13 left to taste at #PinotSummit.

elizabethdehoff @JohnOnWine I think I’ve tasted 13 and have 27 to go! Ack. #pinotsummit

JohnOnWine @elizabethdehoff clearly you have to drink faster, grab a 2nd glass and stop spitting! #PinotSummit

StevePaulo 28 Pinot Noirs. Stick a fork in this guy. #pinotsummit (and for this who think I’m insane… yes, of course I spit)

brandyea @stevepaulo @elizabethdehoff Yeah, Wedgewood’s a little lost on me, too! #pinotsummit

JohnOnWine #PinotSummit OMG, the INDIGO Pinot is the best, followed by VIOLET, then AUBERGINE. (Note: We had been tasting for over 2 hours, not everyone was spitting, and these three colors were not actual wines to be tasted)

brandyea Heard a guy compare one of the wines to Bob Ross, the guy w/ the crazy hair on PBS’ Joy of Painting. Not sure what that means. #pinotsummit

LarryTheWineGuy Approaching the final stretch at the #pinotsummit Only one clunker so far. This is Pinot heaven.

brandyea Nice try! >> RT @JohnOnWine #PinotSummit OMG, the INDIGO Pinot is the best, followed by VIOLET, then AUBERGINE.

elizabethdehoff OK, the Pinot labeled as “deep purple” is my favorite so far. #pinotsummit

LarryTheWineGuy @johnonwine #pinotsummit You had me going there for a minute. Shuffling thru my notes!

demilove @randyhall – At the #Pinotsummit in san rafael; want a report on it for @Winebizradio?

elizabethdehoff 10 Pinots to go. I’ve given up taking detailed notes, am just writing “Yum!” or “Eh” to simplify, will revisit “Yum!” wines. #pinotsummit

ShaRayRay Still gonna make it to the #pinotsummit!

vintuba At #pinotsummit tasting and taking notes. Some good, some bad, and some ugly

elizabethdehoff I got through 39 Pinots (can’t find the 40th). Lots of spitting! #pinotsummit

LarryTheWineGuy Q: Can one have too many Pinots? A: No. Just finished tasting 40 Pinots. Now ready for more. #pinotsummit

brandyea Made it through all 40. Only poured wine from bottle into spit cup instead of wineglass twice! #pinotsummit

educatedpalates Discovering new stars at #Pinotsummit

JohnOnWine RT @educatedpalates: Discovering new stars at #Pinotsummit <- All the new stars are at my table!

ShaRayRay Finally made it to #PinotSummit (@ Osher Marin JCC w/ @sfdoug) http://4sq.com/4AU8c2

ShaRayRay http://twitpic.com/15q6k7 – Discovering New Stars in Pinot Noir #pinotsummit

StevePaulo Umm who farted in here! #pinotsummit /via @winebratsf Stay classy, Brat ;D

ShaRayRay Hi @jamiebakas. You look like you need a glass of wine!! #pinotsummit

educatedpalates Wine and food pairing at #pinotsummit

elizabethdehoff Attending seminar on global perspectives on Pinot. Burgundy, CA, NZ. #pinotsummit

philular Getting set up @osherjcc for #pinotsummit grand tasting! #hahnwines

elizabethdehoff Burgundy, je t’aime! #pinotsummit

elizabethdehoff @winebratsf really good so far. Which one did you end up in? #pinotsummit

demilove Enjoying the lectures at #Pinotsummit!

JohnOnWine Most important thing learned at #PinotSummit was that my palate is the best. LOL.

ShaRayRay @philular I already left! :( Sorry to have missed the finale of the #pinotsummit

JohnOnWine Thrilled that one of my top 3 #PinotSummit wines is from a vineyard that had not impressed me before. #BlindTastingRocks

brandyea Dark gray = Hahn SLH Estate and turquoise = Lucienne Doctor’s Vineyard. Both 2007. #hahnwines #pinotsummit

brandyea Some faves from the #pinotsummit: Pacific Coast Vineyards 2007 Babcock Estate (gray), Claiborne & Churchill 2007 Edna Valley (tan).

JohnOnWine OMG! #PinotSummit just gave me a best taster trophy! Nah, not really.

JohnOnWine @winebratsf Real #PinotSummit faves: Purple, 08 Left Edge Sonoma Coast, Gray 07 Pac Coast Babcock Vnyd, Dp Purp 07 Deaver Sierra Foothills

brandyea Two last picks from #pinotsummit: Vine Hill 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains and Exhuberance 2007 Sonoma Valley. Nice discoveries.

AnoushBotanical Enjoyed participating in Blind Tastings plus Wine Making & Organic / Sustainable Workshops at #PinotSummit thanks to @myvinespace

LarryTheWineGuy My favorites from the #PinotSummit Elk Cove, Perception, Sonoma Coast, Left Edge, Nicholson Ranch, Artesa. The others were really good too.

LarryTheWineGuy Champagne Pommery had a delicious new cuvee at the #PinotSummit 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier. I like Champagne. A lot.

elizabethdehoff My favorite in the blind tasting at #PinotSummit: Deaver Vineyards Sierra Foothills Pinot Noir (2007, I think). http://bit.ly/cTOTJL

elizabethdehoff @winebratsf Yes! I was stunned that it came from the Sierra Foothills. Heard lots of others liked it too. #PinotSummit

The initial event was the blind tasting of 40 Pinot Noir in a comfortable 3 1/2 hours. I secured a table with Dave Rogers, a friend I worked with years before at Windsor Vineyards, and we would venture forth, find an untasted wine, bring it backk to the table, taste, write notes with a score, spit and dump the remainder into a large plastic cup, and venture forth affair. Conveniently, our table was under great lighting allowing a judgement of each wine’s color and clarity.

Dave Rogers, right, with a high school friend

Each attendee was asked to note their top three wines on a ballot, and the results of the totaled scores, broken down by gender, will be posted no later than March 15, 2010  right here.

Barbara Drady, foreground, Elizabeth DeHoff and Thea Dwelle, background

After the blind tasting, attendees split into groups to attend the workshops they signed up for.

Amy Cleary, twitter @educatedpalates

I attended Discovering New Stars – “An Introduction and tasting of wines from young wineries producing fabulous Pinot Noir,” moderated by C. Jason Mancebo of http://www.20dollarwineblog.com/ fame. The new stars were Mark Ray of Perception Wines, Bradley Brown of Big Basin Vineyards and Ken Post of Mariposa Wine Company. Tables were set with placemats prepared with three wines to be tasted.

Jason Mancebo, $20 Dollar Wine Blog

Mark Ray poured a 2007 Perception Wines Pinot Noir Orsi Vineyard. I try to find and write about delicious inexpensive easily obtainable wines, that is my wine writing goal. Having said that, this is a wine few will taste, and I have to confess a thrill hearing that production is only 48 cases (website says 43), the cost is $53 (website says $52), and the alcohol is 13.8 (website says 13.9). Remembering exact numbers aren’t important, taste is; and this beautiful Pinot Noir tasted delicious, the grapes coming from the Russian River Valley, from vineyards just across the river from William Selyem and Rochioli. It was interesting to hear Ray say he used a clone (114) that is neither his nor the consumer’s favorite when it comes to Pinot Noir, but that the varietal is so site specific that the grapes planted in Bernard Orsi’s loamy and very rocky vineyard just shine. It was a treat to taste a 2007 Russian River Valley from a single vineyard, single clone, only two barrels, and about 45 cases only.

Mark Ray, Perception Wines

Bradley Brown poured a 2008 Big Basin Pinot Noir, Woodruff Family Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountain. The grapes come from clones older than 20 years, planted where regular fog allows harvest a full month later than most other areas, and yields of only 1 ton per acre. The not yet released wine will sell in the low $40′s and runs 14.6% alcohol.

Bradley Brown, Big Basin Vineyards

Finally, Ken Post of Mariposa Wine Company talked about his 2008 CRU Pinot Noir, Santa Maria $35, about grapes from the Derbyshire  Vineyard near San Simeon yielding only 600 pounds per acre, and about grapes coming in at 29° Brix in 2008. I imagined miniscule clusters of sugar bomb raisins. At least one wine was watered back (thank you for having the balls to openly admit to what many do) to a manageable 14.7% alcohol.

Ken Post, Mariposa Wine Company

I found the seminar more interesting for the different paths to great Pinot Noir these three winemakers took, having started with significantly different starting places. Great wine is made in the vineyard, and it was interesting to hear how each of these three worked with grapes they had.

While the rooms from the first workshop were reset for the afternoon’s second workshop, attendees enjoyed a Cheese Intermezzo with bubbly in the ballroom.

The second workshop I attended was the Food and Wine Pairing – “An exploration of Pinot Noir pairings, what works with what Pinot Noir? Taste for yourself,” moderated by Rick Bakas, Director of social media at St. Supery Winery.

Rick Bakas, St. Supery Winery

The wines were a 2007 Lionheart Wines Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, a 2006 Kendric Vineyards Pinot Noir Marin County, and a 2008 Mariposa wine Company CRU Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Sarmento Vineyards. The foods were salmon with pickled ginger, pheasant pate with sweet chutney, and Manchego cheese. Our room wasn’t really set, and the event was a bit of a clusterfuck. Fifteen minutes into the workshop, Dave Rogers asserted some measure of control, moving up to the front table, grabbing the three wines, and announcing what we were going to be tasting. Eventually, everyone had the three wines and a too small morsel of each food to be tasted with the three wines, and tasting and note taking ensued.

Bakas then asked each table about their food and wine experiences. I found it interesting that some people could be so completely wrong. What I really found is that some people can’t break free of limitations and rules they have read or heard, while others can imagine new, possibly superior, pairings inspired by these pairings. Some could not taste the Pinot Noir for the sweetness of the chutney, while others allowed the chutney’s sweetness to compliment the Pinot Noir and create a more complete whole flavor profile. Some complained that the ginger spoiled the salmon and the Pinot Noir, while others, perhaps more used to pairing Pinot Noir with Asian cuisine, managed the whole quite well.

Second workshops finished, the summit attendees reentered the ballroom that had been reset for the Pinot Noir reception. The wine identities of the wines blind tasted at the summit’s start were revealed, medals were given out to participating wineries, tasty hors d’oeuvre were generously sampled, wineries poured their Pinot Noir and other offerings, notes were compared.

Pinot Noir Reception and Award Ceremony festivities

My top 10 Pinot Noir from the blind tasting were:

9.5/10 points – PURPLE – 2008 Left Edge Winery Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast,

9.0/10 points – GRAY – 2007 Pacific Coast Vineyards Pinot Noir Babcock Vineyards Santa Rita Hills,

9.0/10 points – DEEP PURPLE – 2007 Deaver Vineyards Pinot Noir Sierra Foothills,

9.0/10 points – BLUE – 2007 Mariposa Wine Company CRU Pinot Noir Vineyard Montage Central Coast,

8.5/10 points – AQUA MARINE – 2007 Kendric Vineyards Pinot Noir Marin County,

8.5/10 points – DUSTY ROSE – 2008 Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Noir Williamette Valley (OR) Mount Richmond,

8.5/10 points – LIGHT BLUE – 2006 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Pinot Noir Peterson Vineyards,

8.5/10 points – TAN – 2007 Claiborne & Churchill Vintners Pinot Noir Edna Valley,

8.5/10 points – WEDGEWOOD – 2007 Vine Hill Winery Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains, and

8.5/10 points – YELLOW – 2007 David Bruce Winery Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains.

No wine pours itself, or sells itself. The best winery representative at the summit was Megan Schachern of Row Eleven Wine Company.

I tasted and enjoyed the 2006 Row Eleven Pinot Noir Santa Maria, the 2007 Row Eleven Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, and the 2007 Row Eleven Pinot Noir 100 Barrel Reserve Santa Maria (J. Torres Vineyard,  Bien Nacido Vineyard, and Sierra Madre Vineyard). All three wines were delicious, but I would like to visit Row Eleven in San Rafael and taste again at the beginning of the day instead of the end. Megan shared a wonderful note on the winemaker; Richard de los Reyes puts his phone number on every cork that goes into a bottle of Row Eleven wine.

In addition to Dave Rogers, I ran into former Windsor Vineyards team mates Gordon Harsaghy and Linda Verdone. It was a genuine pleasure reminiscing with old friends.

Linda Verdone receives a kiss from Gordon Harsaghy

My thanks go out to Barbara and John Drady, and all of the volunteers from wineries and Affairs of the Vine, the judges, panelists, and everyone else who contributed to help make this a stellar wine event.

DISCLOSURE: I attended this wine event after winning a full day ticket in an online contest.