Once upon a time, before it was found that the best Pinot Noir in the United States comes from grapes planted in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, all of the wine publications, connoisseurs, and cognoscenti held that the absolute best, perhaps only, place to grow Pinot Noir grapes was Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

The notion that the only Pinot Noir that was good, worthy of buying, was Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, was so pervasive that growers of the grape in California were struck with angst and near despair, and led to the first documented cases of Pinot envy.

Pinot Noir is planted in many different areas, and in each it expresses itself differently. In the Russian River Valley, the Pinot Noir tends to bright candied cherry and floral rose notes; the same grape grown in the Carneros yields an increased mineral note; and Pinot Noir from Monterey’s Gavilan Mountain range produces a big meaty wine.

This Saturday, February 27, 2010 I am thrilled to be attending the 8th Pinot Noir Summit. I LOVE Pinot Noir.


The Pinot Noir Summit will be held at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael, CA from noon until 8:30 pm. There will be a full day of events that help lead to an increased knowledge and appreciation for Pinot Noir.

Barbara Drady and Affairs of the Vine have developed the “must attend” Pinot Noir event of the year.

The Pinot Noir Summit begins with a 3 1/2 hour blind tasting of 40 top rated Pinot Noir. Rating each wine tasted blind can lead to a better understanding of preferences. Do most of your favorite wines come from the same vintage or wine growing area? How do your personal ratings (the only ones that matter) compare with the ratings of the expert tasting panel?

Following the blind tasting, Summit attendees can attend two different 45 minute Pinot Noir workshops; workshop titles include “When Pinot Sparkles,” “Winemaking 101,” “Discovering New Stars,” ” Food and Pinot Pairing,” “A Global Perspective on Pinot Noir,” and “Sustainable? Organic? Does it Matter?” In between the two workshops is a 45 minute intermission – with cheese!

After the workshops attendees will enjoy a Pinot Noir Reception where top winemakers and winery owners pair their Pinot Noir – and a few other jewels they produce – with hors d’oeuvre and at the event culminates with Awards Ceremony when at 8 pm the final tasting results of the Pinot Noir Summit are announced, and the wines you tasted blind to begin the day’s events are revealed.

I grew up drinking Zinfandel and Cabernet, and Zinfandel was my favorite wine growing up. When I was young, Zinfandel was in every kitchen of every Italian friend of my family, it was everywhere. Frankly, when I was young, local Pinot Noir was not going to be tasty, more like paint stripper than a delicious food beverage.

Things have changed. Winemakers have found where Pinot Noir grows well, and are making lush, beautiful wines of unbelievable complexity and integration, with gorgeous fruit notes. I love Pinot Noir above all wines, be it from the Russian River Valley or Burgundy. When it is good, there is no wine more divine, more ethereal. Sadly, when it is bad, it is awful. There isn’t much in-between Pinot Noir; I find it great, or not. I think most other varietals are safer, they are more consistent vintage to vintage, or can be saved by a winemaker in a bad vintage more easily. Pinot Noir offers a greater glimpse into vintage than any other varietal, celebrating a great vintage with a wine so delicious as to defy imagination, or demonstrating a weak vintage with a wine unpalatable and displeasing.

Wine Spectator called the current vintage, 2007, the best in California history for Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. I have found this “wow” quality spreads to Napa and Monterey, to Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo. Right now, there are so many great, mind bogglingly delicious Pinot Noir out there just ready to be tasted.

Pinot Noir is also my favorite food wine, it is a chameleon pairing well with more foods than any other varietal. It is deservedly most chef’s favorite wine.

Tickets are limited, and can be purchased for the full day’s activities (only 14 remain) at $125, or for just the reception and ceremony (only 27 remain) at $75; just click on the link I provided above I will say that with so many great Pinot Noir available right now, this special tasting event with workshops is going to be especially great. I urge you to consider attending, but don’t consider too long – you don’t want to miss this event this year.

DISCLOSURE: I am the lucky recipient of an event ticket won in an online contest.