Tag Archives: Pinot Days

Pinot Days Grand Tasting – Los Angeles, 2011

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!

Lisa Rigisich, Pinot Days event founder

Lisa Rigisich, (center), Pinot Days event founder

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.

James Ontiveros of Native9 Wines

James Ontiveros of Native9 Wines

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.

Gray Hartley of Hitching Post Wines

Gray Hartley of Hitching Post Wines

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.

Ken Brown at Pinot Days

Ken Brown at Pinot Days

Ken Brown wine

Ken Brown wine

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.

Josh Klapper of La Fenetre Wines

Josh Klapper of La Fenetre Wines

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.

Joe Wagner of Belle Glos Wines

Joe Wagner of Belle Glos Wines

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.

James and Rosalind Manoogian of Fog Crest Vineyard

James and Rosalind Manoogian of Fog Crest Vineyard

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.

Greg La Follette

Greg La Follette

La Follette Pinot Noir

La Follette Pinot Noir

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!

Pinot Days- Winemaker dinner and a tasting

To quote Sid Goldstein, author of “The Wine Lover’s Cookbook”, “Pinot Noir is, in a word, a wonder. It is a mysterious and seductive wine that echoes the smell of the earth from which it comes.”

Sometimes referred to as the “heartbreak grape”,  it is difficult to grow, and demands great attention both in the vineyard as well as the winery. It is the coveted grape of Burgundy, and currently widely planted in Oregon and California. Although I enjoy a bottle of Pinot every so often, I don’t drink a lot of it. Pinot Days, held here in Los Angeles for the first time last weekend, was a real eye opener for me, introducing my palate to many different styles of Pinot ranging from dry and austere to fat and juicy. I was happy to meet and learn from producers from many prime pinot growing areas including Washington, Oregon, New Zealand and California.

My Pinot adventure started with an impromptu winemakers dinner held at Upstairs 2, the restaurant that is, you guessed it, upstairs over the Wine House wine shop. I had received an e-mail from Lisa and Steve Rigisich, the producers of Pinot Days, informing us that they and several of the winemakers in town for the festival were going to put on a small winemakers dinner a few days before the festival and limited reservations would be taken on a first come, first serve basis. Well the dinner sold out in half an hour – we were among the 80 or so lucky ones that secured a reservation.

Each table was set for 8 with a “winemakers chair” at the head of the table – winemakers would be rotating to a different table with each course so we would have the opportunity to speak with a number of them before the night was through.

Our first course was a salad of Arugula, Frisee and Belgian Endive with Duck Confit and a Pinot Noir Lingonberry Dressing. With that we were poured 2007 Inman Family Russian River Valley. Owner, winemaker and all around lovely lady, Kathleen Inman, also shared with us her 2006 Olivet Grange Vineyards Pinot Noir. Both were my favorite style – dry, earthy, elegant and well balanced with bright natural acidity. The second estate wine served with this course was the  Suacci Carciere Wines –  Suacci Vineyard – 2007.

The second course was a wonderful dish of Wild Mushroom Crusted Halibut with a red wine sauce. Mushrooms are so delicious paired with Pinot Noir and the first of two wines served with this course was the Lachini Vineyards Cuvee Giselle – 2007, Chehalem Mountains, Washington. Ron Lachini explained to us the intricacies of  bio-dynamic farming techniques and the reasons he and his wife chose to go that route. Oddly enough his wine had a very strong grassy aroma. Both his and the Willamette Valley Vineyards, Tualatin Estate 07 paired nicely with the fish.

Next up was Grilled Free Range Veal Chops with Herbs du Provence and Veal Demi-Glace.  The first wine poured was a Fess Parker Winery – Ashleys Pinot, Santa Rita Hills 07. This was one of the biggest pinots I have ever had, having even Syrah like qualities.  I figured this one would pair nicely with the chops, but obviously it did not behave like a Syrah and it flattened with the food.  A better choice was the 07 C. Donatiello Winery – Maddie’s Vineyard. Still a bigger and bolder style of Pinot than I normally choose, it held it’s own with the grilled meat and potatoes.

The dessert course was two cheeses served with fig bread and candied walnuts. Ana Keller of Keller Estate joined us at our table for this course and shared with us her family’s history in the wine industry. I enjoyed her 07 “El Coro” , a fleshy wine redolent of cherry, plum and currant flavors mingled with spice and tobacco. Also enjoyed with this course Perception Wines Russian River Valley 07.

This would have been a nice enough event by itself, but it was just a prelude for so much more Pinot yet to come.

Trade tasting gets under way

Trade tasting gets under way

The festival was held at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, a venue I had visited once before for the Make-a-Wish annual winetasting fund raiser. It’s big and roomy offering plenty of elbow space for thirsty tasters. So much Pinot, so little time as there were over 75 wineries represented and the walk around trade tasting was a mere 2 hours. A quick perusal of the offerings and off we went. A couple of  producers had Chardonnay or Pinot Gris tucked away under their tables and I was glad I had a bottle of SanTasti palate cleansing beverage with me – yes you really can go back and forth from red to white with optimum enjoyment and appreciation. Highlights for me included:

Carr Vineyards & Winery: 07 Pinot Noir, Three Vineyards, Sta. Rita Hills and 07 Turner Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills

Clouds Rest Vineyards: Tried and enjoyed 4 vintages from Sonoma: 02,03,04,05

Bouchaine Vineyards: 2006 Carneros

Demetria Estate: 2006 Cuvee Sandra, Sta Rita Hills

Kindred Wines: 2007 Pinot Noir Amber Ridge Vineyard, Russian River Valley

Papapietro-Perry: 2007 Russian River Valley

Kindred Wines,member of SFWA

Kindred Wines,member of SFWA

Besides tasting some very interesting wines and meeting the creative men and women behind those wines, it was nice to catch up with friends. Eve Bushman of Eve’s 101 and Denise Lowe, the “goddess of vino”, were on hand for a photo op.

Denise Lowe, Xochitl Maiman and Eve Bushman catch up at Pinot Days in Los Angeles

Denise Lowe, Xochitl Maiman and Eve Bushman catch up at Pinot Days in Los Angeles

At 1:00 sharp Los Angeles Pinot fans, and there are thousands of them, converged on the festival, not letting the approaching storm keep them from the task at hand. I left with a new appreciation for this intriguing grape, respect for the fortitude of those who make the wine and a strong craving for a steak. However, one of my favorite recipes to go with Pinot Noir is this one shared by Chef Douglas Keane of Cyrus in Healdsburg, CA. Kathleen Inman likes this one too.

Truffled Red Wine Risotto with Parmesan Broth

I’LL DRINK TO THAT !