This last Saturday was the second annual Pinot Days event held at the Barker Hanger in Santa Monica. The Grand Tasting featured over 90 producers from Pinot Noir regions from California, Washington and Oregon. More than 300 wines were available for tasting representing a wide range of styles. It never ceases to amaze me that in a hanger full of wine all made from just one varietal, that there can be so many different styles and flavor profiles. Something for everyone’s taste - that’s why I love wine!
This year I had the opportunity to take one of the “regional tours” conducted by a winemaker from each region. I chose the Santa Maria Valley AVA and our tour guide was James Ontiveros of Native 9 Wines. A small group of us gathered as James drew a map and explained all about mountain ranges, coastal climate, rainfall, growing season and alluvial soils that make this AVA good for growing the temperamental Pinot Noir grape. James is a ninth generation Californian, and he and his family have been working the land of Santa Barbara County for a very long time.
So with much enthusiasm James then escorted us off to our first stop on the “tour”. We would visit 6 wineries/tables in the next hour and a half, meet with their winemakers and taste their Pinot. Our tour took us to Riverbench, practicing sustainable farming, where I liked all three of their offerings, then on to Native 9 where we also tasted his Alta Maria label. The Alta Maria had more of a fruit forward profile, while the Native 9, which is whole cluster fermented, had a more intriguing and very unique profile with smoke coming through on the finish. At the Hitching Post table we met Gray Hartley, who is co-owner along with Hitching Post restaurant owner Frank Ostini. Gray talked a lot about barrel influence on wine, which I found to be very interesting, and I enjoyed both of the vineyard designates he poured for us.
Ken Brown of Ken Brown Wines has been in the wine business for 34 years. To quote his website, “Most of my career has been spent pursuing the elusive traits that make great Pinot Noir”. Seems to me he has found them. This man knows his winemaking and the two elegant Pinots we tried that day are testament to that fact.
Josh Klapper of La Fenetre hardly seems to need any introduction at all. His name and wine pop up at all the tastings, and write-ups abound. And for good reason. This very likable young winemaker has been recognized for quite some time in the food and wine scene and now is is making some wonderful wine, negociant style, and in small case production. As we tasted through 3 vintages of Pinot, the ‘05 and ‘08 being my favorites, he spoke about how he loves the 2010 vintage, stating that it was great “stem vintage”. Josh was one of the winemakers at this event whose enthusiasm about what he does was surpassed only by his desire to share his wine with others.
Our last stop was with Joe Wagner of Belle Glos Wines to taste his Clark and Telephone Vineyard Pinot, 2008. This big wine with great concentration of fruit and very soft tannins, offered brown spices like nutmeg and cloves with a bit of vanilla right into the finish.
Our Santa Maria tour was over but the day certainly wasn’t. There were many more tables to visit. Londer Vineyards from the Anderson Valley in Mendocino, an area I also like very much for their Alsatian whites, came through with a couple of elegant Pinots with plenty of soft fruit. Enjoyed meeting and talking at length with Rosalind Manoogian and her husband James of Fog Crest Vineyard and I tasted both of her Russian River Valley offerings including Fog Crest’s inaugural vintage of their Estate Bottled Pinot. This small production Pinot, (75 cases), had lots of bing cherry and blackberry in the nose, cola and spice nuances and medium tannins.
I especially loved listening to Greg La Follette of La Follette . Talk about enthusiasm! He was making the ins and outs of wild fermentation seem fascinating. His offerings from Sonoma and Mendocino were very interesting to me with complicated, yet well balanced flavors including bacon and smoke, which he attributed to the wild fermentation. A lot of information in a very short period of time left me hoping to have more time some day in the future to speak further with this knowledgeable winemaker.
So much Pinot, so many styles, wonderful group of winemakers - it all makes for a great way to spend a few hours. Thanks to the producers of Pinot Days for bringing us this opportunity to learn, taste and compare. Cheers!
Date: January 20, 2011