Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pinot Days Southern California, Grand Tasting

In the film Sideways Miles delivers a wonderful monologue about why he likes Pinot Noir.  He talks at length about the "thin-skinned, temperamental" grape which "needs constant care and attention" in order to thrive.  Miles calls Pinot Noir's flavors "the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and ancient on the planet."  It's obvious Miles has a deep and abiding respect not only for the grape, but for those growers who have what it takes to "coax it into its fullest expression."

Sunday January 17th, 2010 there was a celebration of the Pinot Noir grape, those who do the coaxing and those who take the raw ingredients in hand and make the magic happpen.  In Santa Monica Airport's Barker Hangar, nearly a hundred wine producers gathered to pour their Pinots and talk about them to interested individuals during the Pinot Days Grand Tasting.

The picture at left shows the crowd of "trade tasters" who began filing in at 11:00 a.m.  When the general admittance started two hours later, space became considerably harder to find.  The Pinot Noir kept flowing, though.  Wide open and in plentiful supply at some tables, hidden behind a mass of humanity at others, the wine was the star at each.  Most producers brought out their 2006 and 2007 vintages, while some featured a fresh-faced 2008.  There was even one 2009 I spotted.  It was a rose.  From Pinot Noir, of course.

At this type of event, I judge the most popular wines by counting how many times I have to make my way around the facility before I can muscle in to those oh-so-desirable tables.  There were five notable wineries at Pinot Days which required me to make several laps around Barker Hangar before the crowd subsided enough to allow a bit of access.

The crowd at Flying Goat practically went away by the second time I passed.  Their loss.  Flying Goat's '07 Dierberg Vineyard was a fabulous wine with hints of spearmint.

I was able to taste at Merry Edwards the third time around.  I liked the Sonoma Coast Pinot better than the Klopp Ranch, but both were fine efforts, lush and dark.

It was my fifth pass before I could sample the wares from Hitching Post.  They served a nice array, including their Cork Dancer with its lovely nose and vanilla candy scents.  St. Rita's Earth features just that, a healthy dose of Santa Rita Hills terroir.  Highliner has sweet aromas, firm tannins and layer after layer of flavors.  It seemed to be a real crowd pleaser.

Just across the aisle was J Vineyards. I made it through on the fifth time around here, too.  Their Nicole's Vineyard Pinot was perhaps the fullest mouthfeel I experienced all day.  It's a very smooth and deep wine.

By my admittedly unscientific method, Clos Pepe Vineyards was by far the busiest for the longest.  It was my sixth time around the hangar before I finally gave in and stood in line to taste Wes Hagen's Pinot Noir.  It was worth the wait.  The 2006 showed a lot of depth.  Hagen even brought along a Pinot Noir Rose, 2009, which was not too sweet and not too tart.  Each time I had passed, Hagen was literally holding court.  Pouring his wine while firing off fast-paced repartee with the faithful, listing the wines he had available for tasting, which included "one for the true believers."  Hagen was obviously enjoying his time pouring for the public.  At one point when he was hidden by the throng of people surging towards him I heard him remark, to no one in particular, "I learned everything I know about table tasting at La Super Rica!  Talk to everybody!"  And that he did.  Hagen is a good follow on Twitter, by the way.  When not referencing Santa Barbara's most popular taqueria, he sometimes waxes poetic.  The man has a gift for haiku.

In all, I tasted 47 wines at Pinot Days.  By the end of my session my palate had gone into a Pinot Daze, so I had to call it quits.  I did manage to taste from all the wineries I had set out to taste from, and a few I hadn't.  Here are some that captured my attention:

C. Donatiello Maddie's Vineyard - a minty note I liked a lot

Carr Vineyards & Winery Three Vineyards Pinot and Turner Vineyard Pinot - both show excellent minerals and a flowery component, the latter a bit more delicate

Demetria Estate - '07 has a lively nose and a bit of tartness on the palate; '06 has lots of depth

Derby Wine Estates - nice nose, earthy palate

Dutton-Goldfield Winery - '07 McDougall Vineyard has peppery notes; '07 Sanchietti Vineyard was one of my favorites

Fess Parker's '08 Santa Barbara County - a great nose and a dark quality; '07 Bien Nacido really fills the mouth well; '07 Pommard Clone was no slouch

Ketcham Estate '07 Ketcham Vineyard - a wonderfully expressive Pinot

La Fenetre - two great wines and an amusing good cop/good cop show from Josh Klapper and Adam Leeman

MacMurray Ranch Sonoma Coast - a very full mouthfeel and a smooth drinker

McIntyre Vineyards '07 Estate - violets and a more rustic feel than '06 Estate, which I found very appealing


  1. I did! I ended up with a rather long list of winners, but Maddie's Vineyard was on it.