Over the last few years I have come to really appreciate the complexity of a well made Pinot Noir. I have long been a fan of Oregon’s Willamette Valley Pinots, and have enjoyed the evolution of Pinot Noir in California, especially now that my backyard is the Russian River Valley, recognized world wide as a premium Pinot producer.
The evolution in the quality of California Pinot Noir is still somewhat below the radar of the average wine consumer. This isn’t surprising; many of the highest rated Pinot houses do very small lots, and often sell only via allocation. And when a small producer gets a Wine Spectator or Robert Parker 90s rating, their wines can gain cult status, and you many never even see a bottle exported out of state.
The weekend of October 23-25, 2009, Pinot Report hosted Pinot on the River, a series of dinners, seminars, and tastings, culminating with the Grand Tasting on October 25th, hosted at Rodney Strong. Over 100 Pinot Noir producers, many very small, poured their velvety libations.
I always enjoy these walk around tastings, and my immersion in local industry networking and wine studies this year, made this one even more enjoyable. These events are more engaging and rewarding now, as I know more people in the industry, and have become a more passionate consumer, hobbyist, volunteer, and social media advocate.
Red spit cup in hand (carried in, and now stocked in my FJ Cruiser), along with a notepad and camera, I dove right in with one of my blog editors and friends, who also shares a passion for pinot (although not necessarily the same palate and preferences).
There were many great Pinot producers here, and it was impossible to taste everything offered. So, for those producers with which I am already well acquainted (and already a big fan), such as C. Donatiello, I only stopped by their tables briefly. Kudos to C. Donatiello (and others who followed suit) for coming out in a show of force. Pouring for C. Donatiello was both Chris Donatiello himself, and Webster Marquez, the winemaker. They were both busy, and I only got to say a quick hello late in the day, but not before I got a pour of their 2007 Maddie’s Pinot, which is always a treat. Much of my day was focused on tasting as many of the new and small pinot producers, as well as the many that attended from out of the area, like those who trekked up from Central California and the Santa Barbara area. A few of my other Pinot favorites such as Lynmar, were not in attendance.
I will comment on a few of my favorites, but first a quick overview on the event logistics. Overall, I felt the event was well coordinated. Some 800+ people attended, and fit into a space that wasn’t nearly as sprawling as the MacMurray Ranch, the site for the Taste of Sonoma – our finest local event, in my opinion.
The Rodney Strong staff was very hospitable, and on their game. For the most part, especially earlier in the day, it rarely felt cramped, or rushed, and I enjoyed being able to have a meaningful dialog with the pourer, which for many tables, was the owner and/or winemaker – which I truly enjoy, as I can both wine geek, as well as discuss business and marketing aspects.
The only flaw in the event was a lack shade for some tables. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and the temperature ended up in the high 70s. For those tables in the sun, it got to be quite warm as the afternoon wore on. As a result, many wines were poured at elevated temperatures even though such, high end red varietals need to be served well below that ambient air temperature to show their true expression. A great pinot noir served a tad warm can lose some of its subtle, velvet mouth feel, and taste more hot (alcohol) on the finish, transforming the experience from an eye-rolling sensory pleasure, to a merely so-so experience. Some tables diligently worked ice baths, rotating bottles in and out, so as to not let them get too cold, either (Roessler, in particular, did a noteworthy job here).
Personally, I’d also have liked to see some more food offerings worked in. The bbq was great, and there was a cheese sampling station I never made it too, but a few chefs offering small pairings would have been appreciated, and I’d have forked out a few dollars.
I did well making the rounds and sampled many of the producers, no small feat, given that some poured as many as five different Pinots Here are some of my favorites. No slight is intended to any producer not mentioned — I only got to about half of the 100, and skipped many of my already faves in order to discover something new.
- 2006 Sangiacomo Pinot noir, 656 cases. Great mouth feel, velvet body.
- 2007 Manchester Ridge (not on website). Much bigger fruit, appealing to those who like that style over Burgundian.
2007 Russian River Valley, 900 cases. A delicate, lighter Pinot, Burgundian style
2006 Durell Vineyards, 325 cases
I am a fan of this Carneros Pinot producer and don’t get there much, so I stopped to sample. Their reserve 2007 Cactus Hill shone brightest amongst its gems.
2007 Russian River Pinot – Big fruit, nice mouth feel, decently priced at $36
- 2007 Russian River Valley – dark in color, big fruit, hint of tannins, big pinot. $42
- 2007 Keefer Ranch – fruit forward, easy to drink, nice mouth feel. $48. [ This wine was one of my editor’s favorites of the day, who consistently tended to favor the fruit-forward style of Pinots of several producers who sourced fruit from the Keefer Ranch vineyard.]
2007 Redwood’s Edge
My dialog with Black Kite owners was also noteworthy for their savvy marketing and PR investments. Please see later this week for a follow-up article.
All and all a great event, and a great day. (More event pictures can be found here.) But then how can a day filled with amazing Pinot, chatting with winemakers and owners, surrounded by people who love wine, NOT be a great day. Cheers!