The wintry weather - well, for SoCal that’s 58 degrees and a threat of rain - didn’t dampen the passions of Pinot Noir lovers who flocked to the fourth annual Pasadena PinotFest on February 11, 2012.
The PinotFest is the creation of Mike Farwell, managing partner and wine director of Pasadena’s Noir Food and Wine. Not only does his event bring Pinot to the people, it also helps raise money for deserving charities. This year, Hathaway-Sycamores Childrens Services benefited from money raised.
It’s billed as the Pasadena PinotFest even though the event is now held at the Altadena Country Club. The drive north from Pasadena toward the foothills is a short one, and the surroundings are absolutely beautiful at the ACC, even on a gray day.
Hundreds of Southern California wine lovers made their way through the circuit of wine stations set up in two different rooms, across a hallway from one another. The aisles in Hall One seemed to offer plenty of space at first, but as the crowd grew in size the space diminished.
After bumping my way around the room, I took refuge in Hall Two every so often. It was a lot roomier and there was a food station there. Chef Claud Beltran (left) and his crew made sure we all had plenty of tasty treats with which to refresh our palates.
I’ve been seeing Joshua Klapper (right) so often lately my wife is starting to get jealous. I’ve run into Klapper and his La Fenêtre and À Côté wines at a string of tasting events dating back to last fall. His table was my very first stop, and he was unusually unoccupied at the moment. “I don’t mind,” he said. “It’ll get busy.” It always gets busy when he pours his ‘09 À Côté Central Coast Pinot with the pretty nose and the ‘09 La Fenêtre Santa Maria Valley, $23 and $30 respectively. Klapper said the latter is “from the Bien Nacido and Sierra Madre Vineyards. Some pretty old vines there. Both vineyards were planted in the early seventies.”
Winemaker Ryan Zotovich was pouring elsewhere, so his dad, Pete, stood in for him ably. Pete told me his brother Steve - the owner of the vineyard - thinks so much of Ryan that he often likes to claim him as his own. After offering a Rosé of Syrah -produced in response to the Viognier crop resulting in disappointing yields - there was the Zotovich ‘09 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills and the Reserve Pinot. Both show earthy notes and great acidity, with the reserve displaying more of a floral aspect.
Ryan Carr (left) poured his Carr Vineyards & Winery '09 Sta. Rita Hills, which utilizes three vineyards and feels brambly with a sense of rocks and dust.
Harmonique calls themselves “Harmonique Pinot Noir,” even though they also offer Chardonnay. This Anderson Valley winery gives their Pinots names: Delicasé has a slightly sour cherry palate, while Eleganté is fruitier with a cola finish. The Noble One shows a touch more spiciness. They also poured Cima Collina ‘07 Chula Viña Pinot Noir, with gobs of spicy black cherry.
The Hitching Post label is the home for the wine creations of Gray Hartley and Frank Ostini. Ostini’s Hitching Post Restaurant is one of the Santa Barbara County businesses to have gained a sky-high profile in the aftermath of the film, “Sideways.” The Hartley-Ostini ‘09 Hometown Santa Barbara County Pinot shows great acidity along with coffee and tea notes, while their ‘08 St. Rita’s Earth is a Sta. Rita Hills entry loaded with black cherry aromas and flavors. A splash of their 2001 Clos Pepe Vineyard Pinot shows that one coming along very nicely, a dark and earthy experience with coffee and tea notes.
Graner and Bobbie Thorne (right) provided a delightful representation for their Thorne Wine. I asked if they are married, or just dating. Bobbie laughed while Graner replied, "We finally tied the knot 53 years ago.” Rio Vista Vineyard is their estate property and Ken Brown makes their wines. The Thorne '08 and '09 Estate Sta. Rita Hills Pinots both have great acidity and big notes of tea, with a long cola finish.
Moshin Vineyards' 2009 Lost Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot has a full, earthy nose and plenty of black cherry flavor.
The Riboli Family has winemaker Arnaud Debons (left) working out of their San Antonio Winery near downtown Los Angeles. The Ribolis have vineyards in other parts of California. I'm still taken with their '09 Windstream Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot. Dark fruit and fantastic acidity make this one a real winner.
The Kenneth Volk Vineyards '09 Solomon Hills Pinot has beautiful chocolate notes. I wish I could have tasted longer, but the thirsty mob surged and literally pushed me down to the Longoria table.
Rick Longoria (right) seemed happy to have me end up there. His 2010 Longoria Sta. Rita Hills Lovely Rita brings great minerality to a beautifully soft palate.
The Toretti family poured their 2010 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley, full of dark fruit.
Bob Cabral, the director of winemaking for Williams Seylem, was named last year’s Winemaker of the Year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. His 2010 Sonoma County Pinot shows beautiful black cherry on the nose with a delightful sour cherry palate. Great notes of black tea decorate the 2010 Russian River Valley.
Paul Clary says his Clary Ranch Vineyard is "farthest west in the Petaluma Gap for vineyards producing grapes for still wine." He calls his '06 Pinot Burgundian, with tea on the nose and a great minerality. The '04 is more fruit-driven. Clary told me, “This was a warmer vintage. I harvested in mid-September when i normally harvest in late October or even early November.”
Scott and Lisa Neal (left) are a husband/wife winemaking team of Coeur de Terre Vineyard in McMinnville, Oregon. The division of labor works out this way: she grows, he vinifies. Their Willamette Valley Pinot is only $21, yet it's incredibly smooth with great acidity and a dark, black cherry cola palate. Lisa explained, “We lost a lot of fruit to birds - they love those small berries. For the first time in 13 years I got out the shotgun. At first I was shooting to scare, but as we lost more and more fruit, I was shooting to kill.” Don't get between a winegrower and her grapes. The Coeur de Terre 2009 Estate Pinot shows an impressive array of very dark fruit, while the '06 Renelle’s Block - a $65 bottle - is dark yet soft with gentle, supple tannins - an extremely drinkable wine.
Brandon Sparks-Gillis (right) was a busy man - a pouring machine, in fact, when I showed up. The Dragonette Cellars 2010 Fiddlestix Vineyard smacks with a great acidity, its big fruit tempered by an herbal aspect and spiciness he attributes to whole cluster pressing.
Phantom Rivers Wine of Arroyo Grande sources their fruit. Almost all their wines are vineyard-specific. The 2007 Wolff Vineyard shows Edna Valley minerals and some great spice and chocolate. Rich cherry dominates the '08 Wolff while the '09 Mar Vista Vineyard, Arroyo Grande, is quite earthy.
At the D’Alfonso-Curran Wines table, the '06 Badge Sta. Rita Hills has a lovely, bright cherry expression.
I could barely get close enough to the Flying Goat Cellarstable for Norm Yost (left) to give me a pour. Fortunately, he has long arms. His 2009 Santa Maria Valley Garey Vineyard displays one of the best sour cherry expressions I've tasted. He also has a hit with the gentle fruit of his '08 Rio Vista Vineyard Pinot.
Stephen Ross Wine Cellars had three Pinots from what Paula Dooley called "extremely small vineyards." A nearby wit chimed in, "How small? One grape - that's all." That's an exaggeration, of course. The Stephen Ross '09 Chorro Creek Vineyard - in San Luis Obispo County - is a lovely purple, smooth and mineral-laden. Their '09 Stone Corral Vineyard from Edna Valley also shows great minerals - a given for Edna Valley - and a cola finish.
Randy Rozak, (right) of Rozak Vintners in the northeastern corner of the Sta. Rita Hills, poured two 2007 Pinots. "A Block" features the Pommard clone and "C Block" is the Dijon clone. Both show big fruit and great acidity.
Solvang's Bratcher Winery 2009 Santa Maria Valley Pinot is just about the darkest ever, while their '09 La Encantada Sta. Rita Hills shows red fruit with cola notes.
Arcadian Winery's Jill's Cuvée Soloman Hills brings that Santa Maria Valley earth to the forefront - it's downright smoky. They like to keep their wines in tight-grain French oak for quite a while. 2006 and 2007 are their current releases.
Rebecca Work (left) poured at the Ampelos Cellars table. The Ampelos 2008 Estate Sta. Rita Hills shows sour cherry and tea.
Sonoma's Sojourn Cellars is fronted by Craig Haserot and winemaker Erich Bradley. Their 2010 Sangiacomo Vineyard effort is a lovely 95-point wine showing minerals and creamy fruit. Their 2010 Gap’s Crown Vineyard is all about the luscious red fruit.