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