Friday, August 14, 2009

International Pinot Noir Celebration

The day starts early at the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC).  Breakfast is served at 7:30 outdoors on the lovely grounds at Linfield College.  David Millman, managing director, Domaine Drouhin-Oregon and President of the IPNC began the welcoming ceremony with the introduction of master of ceremonies, Jancis Robinson, British wine writer and perhaps the best in the business.  She pointed out that IPNC is not simply a pour fest like so many wine events.  IPNC is about education and learning while having an enormous amount of fun.  This reminds me of a favorite quote from the late Walt Disney, “ I would rather entertain and hope to educate, than educate hoping to entertain. “ These words aptly apply to IPNC.  

Next, the traditional introduction of the wine/vine growers who will showcase their wines. IPNC is truly an international affair with Australia (1), Austria (2), Canada (1), France-Alsace (1), France-Burgundy (10), France-Champagne (1), New Zealand (3), California (15), Oregon (30), and Washington (1).  That’s enough talk.  It’s time for wine.

Attendees at IPNC are divided into two groups, A and B.  One group travels off campus for the morning activities and lunch. The other stays on campus.  The next day is reversed.  Being in group A, we boarded a shuttle to a site unknown.  Our group was visiting a vineyard not a wine estate.  Le Pavillon is one of the original vineyards planted in Willamette Valley during the 1970s.  Our hosts were two producers from the vineyard, J. Christopher, represented by winemaker/lead quitarist, Jay Somers, and Holloran Vineyard Wines.  Upon arrival at 10 am, we were greeted with a glass of Hollaran Riesling produced from this vineyard.  

Jay and vineyard manger, Chris Smeaton, led us in a geological history lesson of the soil and Dundee Hills.  Northwest Oregon and Washington was ocean millions of years ago.  Since there are no volcanoes in Oregon, the red volcanic soil was brought to Willamette by the great Missoula Lake flood, again, millions of years ago.  Dry farming is employed because the red dirt holds moisture extremely well.  Vines are able to grow much deeper, up to 80 feet, which leads to higher crop yields and vine vigor, resulting in better economics.  Here’s one interesting tidbit for wine bar conversation.  Unlike the eroding East Coast, the Northwest is naturally growing more coastline.  According to Jay, in millions of years the coastline will likely extend 200 miles farther into the Pacific.  I doubt that I will think too much more about that.

Following the geology lesson, it’s time to taste some wines to the sounds of Jay Somers band.  We had a superb group of producers who were pouring some of their special wines for our small group of 40.  Cyril Audoin and his father Charles shared their 2005 Marsannay Clos du Roy.  I made a large investment (for me) in 2005 Burgundy and it was enjoyable to see the potential.  During my visit to Burgundy in January, I was told the 2005s were shut down presently or in their dumb phase.  The Clos du Roy was showing nicely with solid structure (tannin), which is expected from 2005.  Black fruit was surrounded by enticing minerality.  This wine will only get better.

Winemaker Jacques Tardy and owner Margie Olsen of Torii Mor in Dundee poured their tasty 2007 Dundee Select, a blend of three vineyards.  For Pinot Noir lovers this is an estate to know and love.  Now, for you Facebook fans join     Corky is the Torii Mor Golden Retriever who will keep you posted about the happenings at the estate.  Corky is superb communicator.

The affable Nick Mills from Rippon Vineyard and Winery in Central Otago, New Zealand presented his 2005.  Central Otago Pinot Noirs are precise, bright and fresh, wonderful expressions of Pinot Noir.   Maggie Harrison gave us a taste or more of her limited 2007 Botanica, which is a blend of her best grapes.  On Sunday following the close of IPNC, our group visited her estate for a private tasting under the trees on the side of the Amity Hills.  This is an up and coming estate worth watching. 

Following our tasting we had short seminar/discussion, ”Confessions of a Winemaker.”  Jay moderated the panel of above-mentioned winemakers about how they started their careers and their thoughts about winemaking.  Cyril Audoin formerly worked at Chateau Petrus in Pomerol and Nick Mills of New Zealand worked for Albert Mann in Alsace, France.  Learning from the best is always a sound strategy. Maggie commented that she never has cried so much as you did during the 2007 harvest.  Nine inches of rain will have that effect on you.  A comment from the audience suggested that she consider making Bourbon.  Naaaaa!

We are only at lunch on day one.

 Photo:  L to R (Cyril Audoin, Jay Somers and Jacques Tardy)


Sunday, August 2, 2009

IPNC: The Warmup, Dinner at Scott Paul Winery

For twenty-three years Pinot Noir lovers have made the pilgrimage to McMinnville, Oregon in the Willamette Valley to celebrate this finicky and challenging grape varietal at the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC).  This year brought an uncharacteristic heat wave for the weekend, but fortunately there was plenty of juice to satisfy the thirsty.  It was rumored that 600 cases of wine was consume over the three days. This does not include the private reserves most people bring to the dinners on Friday and Saturday night.  To offer you a sampling of the quality of the event, tubs of Pellegrino and Aqua Panna were in abundant supply. 

This was my third consecutive year at IPNC and upon checking in at my hotel I reserved a room for next year. 

Before we dive into the IPNC  festivities,  my group began on Wednesday evening with a fabulous dinner at Paley’s Place with Chef Vitaly Paley in downtown Portland.   The next day we moved right into lunch at Blue Hour.  Both of these restaurants are worthy stops if your future travel plans take you to Portland.

For me IPNC weekend begins Thursday evening with dinner at Scott Paul Winery (  The hospitable and gracious owners and hosts, Scott (left in photo) and Martha Wright, not only produce outstanding Oregon Pinot Noir, Les Paulee and Audrey (appropriately named after Audrey Hepburn), but are also importers of an outstanding portfolio of Burgundy producers.  Dinner  highlights their wines and presents a few of their Burgundy producers who are often in attendance.  Upon arrival this year, we began with my friend Thiebault Huber’s (Domaine Huber-Verdereau of Volnay) lively and yummy 2006 Puligny Montrachet.  For the Fois Gras Torchon, we compared Scott Paul’s 2007 and 2005 Audrey.  The 2007 showed bright, youthful acidity and the 05 illustrated how the youthfulness melds into silky Chambolle Musigny-like elegance.  I’m happy to have both wines in my cellar.

Upon entering the tiny village of Chambolle-Musigny in Burgundy, a large sign greets visitors stating the essence of this lovely hamlet, “Chambolle-Musigny, Elegance and Finesse.”  Thankfully, Herve and Anne Sigaut (center in photo), our co-hosts, poured a little elegance from their Chambolle-Musigny stable, the 2006 village and the 2004 Noirots Premier Cru.   Among most wine critics, the 2004 vintage in Burgundy has been maligned.  Yet, Joe Kluchinksy, the Burgundy point guy at MacArthur’s Beverages in Washington, DC told me recently that 2004 might surprise people.  If Sigaut’s Chambolle-Musigny Noirots is any indication, Joe could be correct.   

Siguat’s 2006 Chambolle-Musigny village was vibrant and lovely.  Unfortunately, the 2006 vintage in Burgundy was caught in the crosshairs of the dollar collapse against the Euro a couple years ago (I was there—expensive!).  The wines are not a bargain but are worth owning.  The 2006 Burgundies will provide delightful drinking long before the raved 2005 vintage is ready.  Both of Sigaut's  paired beautifully with Lamb Rack and Belly (my first for lamb belly) prepared by chef Gabriel Rucker with Andrew Fortgang of Le Pigeon in Portland, Oregon.

After Scott and Martha led us in singing  “Joyeux Enfants de la Bourgogne,” we were warmed up and ready for IPNC.   Stayed tuned for day one, two and three from IPNC.