Sunday, January 16, 2011


Inside Barker Hangar for Pinot Days

An airplane hangar full of great Pinot Noir is a hard thing for a wine lover to ignore.  The huge Quonset hut that is Barker Hangar at Santa Monica Airport held plenty of the wine world’s magic elixir on Saturday January 15, 2011.  That’s when the second annual Pinot Days event came to Southern California.

Several large airplanes could have been rolled inside the man-made cavern.  Instead, close to a hundred wineries were there for Pinot Days, pouring 300 or so different Pinot Noir wines.  The entries were mainly from the California wine regions known for the variety - the Russian River Valley and several AVAs in  Santa Barbara County were well represented in the large space.  There were a little less than a handful from Oregon, I saw one table from Washington and a winery from Tasmania ventured into the northern hemisphere for the day.

During the week, there were a couple of winemaker meet-and-greet situations which I could not attend, but were reportedly smashing successes.  So was the Grand Tasting event.  If you did not make it to Pinot Days for this second annual soiree, you really should keep an eye out for the 2012 event.  It's well worth the time and reasonable expense to see that you are there for it.

Two hours was not enough time for me to taste all the wines in the hangar, but I did get to sample quite a few I thought were truly exceptional.

Fess Parker Winery poured four wines which captivated me - they always do.  Their 2009 Parker Station has a funky nose and is drinking smooth and easy.  The acidity is very good, and selling for under $15 makes it the value of the day.  Parker’s 2008 Santa Barbara County shows black cherry and minerals on the nose with a dark floral taste.  The 2007 Ashley’s Vineyard rocks a little spearmint note and the 2008 Santa Rita Hills Clone 115 offers a peppery nose and subdued minerals on the palate.  Its bottle was also sporting a little coonskin cap on the tasting table.  Any of the four Fess Parker wines poured could qualify as my favorite Pinot of the day.

La Fenêtre's Joshua KlapperLa Fenêtre’s Joshua Klapper talked about picking fruit in the same way a gambler talks about the time his team beat the spread on the last play of the game.  Klapper was absolutely riveting as he spoke of determining when grapes were ready to be picked.  “Throw all that scientific junk away.  Look at them!  Listen to them!  The grapes’ll tell you when they’re ready!”  His tone softened somewhat when he recounted how - with the pickers working on getting his grapes into trucks - he saw other winemakers roll the dice and leave their fruit on the vine another day.  The weather that day would prove to be hot enough to ruin a substantial amount of that fruit.  Those winemakers did not listen to their grapes.  La Fenêtre’s 2008 Sierra Madre has a wonderfully smokey, floral nose and a dark, brooding presence in the mouth.

Kenneth Volk’s table featured the 2007 Santa Maria Cuvée.  Seven vineyards contribute to its smoke-filled cherry nose, luscious mouthfeel and great acidity.

Gainey Vineyard’s winemaker Jeff LeBard brought the light side and the dark side  over from Santa Ynez.  His 2008 Light Label shows the bright, red fruit while the Dark Label - well, it’s dark.  It also has an interesting cinnamon and nutmeg flavor profile.  Keep it in mind for the holiday season.  Also keep in mind that production was extremely limited on both these Pinot Noirs.

Clos Pepe's Wes HagenWes Hagen, the winemaker at Clos Pepe Vineyards, was drawing a crowd again this year.  His way with a story and easy manner with strangers turn him into a people-magnet at wine events.  He vacated the table for a while, and enough of his adoring throng dissipated so that I could have a few pours with his second-in-command.  The Clos Pepe vertical tasting of the last four vintages of Pinor Noir showed the ‘08 and ‘09 to be bright, fresh and well scrubbed, while their older brothers were very interesting indeed.  The 2007 Clos Pepe is fantastic, with an edge that is almost like citrus.  The ‘06 vintage has a minty aspect to fall in love with.

Cargasacchi was situated on Clos Pepe’s immediate left, and they had a pretty good sized group as well.  These two seemed to be the busiest tables in the hangar during the trade tasting.

Santa Rosa’s Martinelli Winery offered their 2008 Moonshine Ranch.  The fruit comes from a densely planted vineyard near the Russian River Valley which was named for an old still, dating back to Prohibition.  This Pinot has a huge, earthy bouquet, mineral-laden dark fruit on the palate and a very lively acidity.

Thomas Fogarty’s winemaker made it down from the Santa Cruz Mountains to show off three of his Pinots - Santa Cruz Mountain, Windy Hill and Rapley Trail, all ‘08 - and they were pretty, floral and delicate.  Nathan Kandler told me that his Pinots are aged for a year-and-a-half in barrels and another year in bottles, so these are almost new releases.  I commented favorably on them, but I had to tell him how much I loved Fogarty’s unoaked Chardonnay, too.

Pacific Coast Vineyards - Todd and Tammy Schaefer - served up a couple of bright and fruity Pinots sourced from Babcock Vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills.  They both regaled me with stories of millionaire winemaking in Malibu, of which I hope to hear more when I see them in February at the Beverly Hills Wine Festival.

Talley Vineyards poured three ‘08s that were full of dark and dusty Arroyo Grande earth.

Tantara’s 2008 Solomon Hills Santa Maria Valley showed great minerality and very good acid.

Ancient Oaks Cellars was represented by Ken & Melissa Moholt-Siebert.  Their family has farmed the estate for quite some time, only recently delving into winemaking.  Their ‘08 Russian River Valley includes some grapes from neighboring small vineyards as well as their own, while they also have a Pinot which is made exclusively from estate-grown grapes.

Frogmore Creek - from Australia’s island state of Tasmania - produces a Pinot under the banner of Forty-Two Degrees South as well as their Frogmore Creek estate wine.  The former sports a great nose and a cola flavor profile while the latter has a bold bouquet and dark flavors.  Both have a good, long finish.

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