It was a nice, spring-like day in Santa Monica - even though it was January 28, 2012 - and Pinot Days made another landing at Santa Monica Airport's Barker Hangar.
Producers of Pinot Noir wines - largely from California, although a few Oregon wineries were also in attendance - set up shop and poured their product for Southern California with great gusto. If you didn't make it out for the event, you really should plan on doing so next year.
There are so many different styles of Pinot represented, it's a great way to expand your palate and get a glimpse of some of the different ways the grape can be expressed.
Kenneth Volk (at right), head grape geek at Kenneth Volk Vineyards, wowed the crowd with his 2009 Enz Vineyard Pinot Noir. The grapes for this behemoth come from Lime Kiln Valley - a Gavilin Mountain region Volk leases and has worked with for 13 vintages. “It’s my monopole,” Volk declared, describing the extent of his involvement in that region. “The area was first planted when California was still under the Spanish flag," Volk said in the way of a history lesson. "My Pinot comes from a vineyard planted in 1895. I planted it to Pinot Noir in ‘96.” The wine is hugely aromatic, with mocha and flowers on nose. Big red fruit dominates the taste and a massive acidity can best be described as bracing. For those wishing a not-so-humongous Pinot, Volk's 2009 Bien Nacido Vineyard from the Santa Maria Valley shows a great fruity nose, juicy taste , and minty tea on the finish.
Dierberg Vineyards was ably respresented by Kevin Gallagher, who showed me some pictures of their winery facility in Happy Canyon. It's a real showcase, although it's not open to public. The green barn tasting room between Buellton and Lompoc is all most visitors know. "In the tasting room, we used to have pictures of the winery on the walls," said Gallagher. "People would see them and say 'we wanna go there.' We took the pictures down." I guess they don't want anybody bothering winemaker Andy Alda while he works his magic in his palatial surroundings. Gallagher referred to the 2009 Three Saints as the "little brother," and the 2009 Dierberg Vineyard Pinot as the "big brother." Both hail from the Santa Ynez Valley, the former showing red fruit and the latter exhibiting black cherry.
Stewart Johnson's Kendric Vineyards is located in San Anselmo, California in Northern Marin County. You may not have heard of any vineyards there, and Johnson says, "That's because the good growing locations are few and far between. I had to dig a zillion holes to find the right soil." I'd say he found it. Johnson poured a fascinating vertical of his Pinot Noir vintages from 2004 to 2009. '08 and '09 are very aromatic, while '04 and '05 are showing an intriguing eucalyptus note. All six vintages show great minerals.
La Fenêtre's tireless winemaker Joshua Klapper was a very familiar face for some of us. I had just seen him two days earlier at another tasting event. Thankfully he hadn't tired of me. The La Fenêtre 2009 Le Bon Climat Vineyard Pinot has an expressive bouquet with a slightly
tart flavor and a big black tea finish. Klapper thought there might have been sediment in the bottom of the bottle from which he poured my taste, and he asked how I liked it. "Not too gritty, is it?". It wasn't. I have the feeling if Klapper made a gritty wine, the wine would somehow be better for it.
A lesson on how consumers are swayed by wine scores awared by critics was something I didn't need, but I saw it for myself during a palate-cleansing break. A patron toting his wine glass and looking for the next wine to sample spied a sign at one table touting a critic's score. The gentleman uttered a monotone "ninety-five point Pinot Noir..." as he was drawn - as if by gravity - toward the Sojourn Cellars table. Spellbound, he sipped and nodded in approval.
Presqu'ile Winery's South African winemaker Dieter Cronje offered a Rosé of Pinot Noir made in the saignée method, in which the juice is bled off from the skins with the intention of making a pink wine. His '09 rosé displays tons of fruit aromas and flavors. Cronje suggested it as the perfect wine to sip while "sitting on a patio, looking at a beach and enjoying the afternoon." Presqu'ile's 2009 Estate Pinot Noir is bright with acidity and quite herbal, due to the whole cluster pressing of the grapes. It has a very Old World feel, with manageable tannins and restrained alcohol.
The Oregon section of the hangar was quite busy. The crowding around these tables indicated there was a lot of interest in Oregon Pinot.
Napa vintner Craig Camp poured hisCornerstone Cellars Oregon Pinot, the product of his partnership with winemaker Tony Rynders. Their 2009 Willamette Valley shows beautiful sour cherry flavor with tea on the very long finish.
Sokol Blosser Winery crossed the state line with their 2009 Dundee Hills Pinot, which is light with fresh, red fruit, great acidity and black tea on the finish.
Pali Wine Company makes wine near the airport on the west side of Lompoc, California. They do produce an Oregon Pinot, though. The 2010 "Alphabets" from the Willamette Valley shows some very herbal black tea notes.
Pali's Calirfornia efforts were just as good. The 2009 Cargasacchi Vineyard has dark fruit, spices and traces of coffee. The 2009 Fiddlestix Vineyard, from the Sta. Rita Hills, has beautiful blackberry, tons of acidity and minerals.
Santa Barbara County's Tantara Winery has a pinot that really floored me. The 2008 Solomon Hills has massive aromas of chocolate, an herbal palate with very dark fruit and spice and a cola finish. Their 2009 Sta. Rita Hills Rio Vista Vineyard is all about dark fruit and tannins.
The Malibu Vineyard features the work of winemakers Bruno d'Alfonso and Kris Curran. Their 2008 Rambla Pacifico is aromatic with flavors of plum.
The Zotovich Cellars table was manned by winemaker Ryan Zotovich, although when I stopped by owner/dad Steve was pouring the 2009 Reserve Zotovich Family Estate Vineyard showing brilliant acidity and bright cherries.
There wasn't much Paso Robles Pinot present, but Glen Hartigan of Hartigan Cellarsmanaged to bring some. Hartigan told me, "I've made wine for 20 years but this is the first time I've done it commercially." His west side Paso 2009 Hastings Ranch has a lovely expression of
mocha on the nose and an all-red-fruit palate. As you might expect from Paso Robles, there was plenty of acidity and forceful tannins.
Alma Rosa's 2008 Sta. Rita Hills is pure cherry with a lovely tartness on the finish. Their 2009 La Encantada offers black cherry and tea in a much more complex palate.
The Vin Village table had Rob Barnett pouring the 2008 Lucas & Lewelen Santa Barbara County, full of red fruit and minerals. The 2009 Goodchild High 9 Vineyard was wonderfully dark, with coffee notes. The Witch Creek Winery Clarksburg Pinot is an easy drinker with black tea notes.
Olivia Brion Winery, at 1200 feet in the Vaca Mountain Range east of Napa Valley, occupies one of the coolest growing regions in the area. Winemaker David Mahaffey spoke of the '09, '10 and '11 vintages as a "mini ice age." The 2009 Wild Horse Valley Vineyard is bright and floral, but "not ready yet," according to Mahaffey. "Needs another month or so," he said.
Ancient Oaks in Sonoma County was hoping to find a SoCal rep during their visit. The 2008 Russian River Valley delivers a very big fruit expression, while the 2009 Siebert Ranch Estate Pinot has gobs of dark fruit and a big tea finish. You get fantastic acidity in both, at $25 and $32 respectively.
Bien Nacido Vineyards poured the 2008 Solomon Hills, from the sandy soil of the westernmost vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley. The 2008 Bien Nacido displayed that vineyard's limestone and shale with big minerals. I could really taste the rocks.
Fritz Winery produces in Cloverdale. The big, bright cherry of the Jenner 2010 Sonoma Coast contrasted with the dark minerals, plums and anise in the 2009 Lost Canyon Goff-Whitton Vineyard Pinot.
Ken Brown made the trip from Solvang with his 2008 Sta. Rita Hills, which shows beautiful tart candy, and the 2010 Santa Maria Valley Garey vineyard and its giant note of black tea.
Loring Wine Company showed their 2010 Clos Pepe Vineyard, dominated by a smoky cherry flavor and raspberry finish.