IPNC Is The Place To Be
Pinot Noir, more than anything, should tell the truth. And it does that very well. But you have to take a risk in order to hear the truth and then you might not always hear what you expect. – Scott Wright, founder of Oregon’s Scott Paul Winery
The 28th annual International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) took place on July 25th-27th on Linfield College’s campus in McMinnville, Oregon. It launched with the usual fanfare and unbridled excitement of loyal fans who have been coming to the event for many years to celebrate this elusive, yet transparent grape. The theme of this year’s event was “Pinot Noir and the Doors of Perception” with each seminar, blind tasting and winery tour geared towards challenging one’s own preconceived notions and grandfathered assumptions.
IPNC is known for its incredible confluence of chefs, world famous vintners and wine educators. It enjoys a stellar reputation of a place to be, see, and be seen. Many wineries vie for a coveted invitation spot. Having experienced three festivals, I can clearly see why. It’s perennially a well run event, driven by the efforts of the IPNC staff and a large number of volunteers who donate their time in support of the event. Perhaps equaled only by la Paulee in France, a festival for which many oenophiles plan a year ahead to attend.
The event’s clever format consists of pre-IPNC winery dinners, two days of seminars and field trips, two lunches and two dinners, including the traditionally sold out Salmon Bake. Especially enjoyable is the Sunday Sparkling Brunch, which features sommeliers in colorful short shorts and hilarious wigs pouring guests awesome sparkling wines.
The event started off with keynote speaker, David Lynch of Bon Appetit magazine, who delivered a humorous rendition on why the wine world never needs to take itself seriously. Looking around the room he referred to the crowd as “the whitest ever, eerily resembling the Bush’s family reunion.”
The field trips to a variety of wineries had the guests abuzz. The winemakers who wound up on busses were as surprised as the festival attendees, to learn that they would be tasting their own wines blind and were expected to correctly identify them!
This year’s “University of Pinot” featured a wide range of seminar options:
- Sensory Science: The Physiology of Taste with Josh Raynolds, assistant editor of Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar
- Matchmaking: Smoke and Mirrors, a food and wine pairing seminar led by Chef Ben Dyer and James-Beard-Award winning wine, spirits, and food writer, Jordan MacKay
- Chemistry: Dropping Acid (a sly reference to the “Door’s of Perception” theme) presented by wine-philosopher, Elaine Brown
- Climatology: The Future of Cool Climate Viticulture with Master Sommelier, Vajra Stratigos and climatologist, Greg Jones
- Field Study: Distilling Terroir with perfumer Hall Newbegin
- Geography: Loire Valley Pinot with master sommelier, Pascaline LePeltier
- Regional Studies: The New California Wine with Jon Bonne, the wine editor at The San Francisco Chronicle
- Gastronomy: Pairing Tea and Cheese with Smith Teamaker owner, Steven Smith
Perhaps the most intriguing seminar was the “Aroma of Color” led by Jordi Ballester, a researcher in Sensory Science Université de Bourgogne. He has dedicated his career to studying the cognition behind the perception of wine. Is perception reality? Short answer is, yes. The “black glass” tasting was fascinating. We were supplied with three wines poured into black stemware and were asked to identify whether the wines were red, white or rosé. The group was unevenly split with most participants guessing correctly. However, as we were put to the addition challenge of blindly identifying various wines, it became very clear that there were many psychological factors at play. Furthermore, extensive wine expertise can be both an asset or a hindrance.
My IPNC extravaganza kicked off with a dinner at the beautiful Domaine Serene. Chef Vitaly Paley of Paley’s Place, Imperial and Portland Penny Diner prepared a feast for the senses. Truth be told, there were a number of great meals that weekend, but Chef Paley’s food proved to be simply unforgettable: quite refined, yet somehow soulful and nostalgic. Beautifully textural braised octopus salad with melt-in-your-mouth butter-poached potatoes, rustic mushroom and foie gras stuffed rabbit, skillfully elevated grilled leg of lamb with chorizo masa cake and green sauce were all executed to perfection.
The walk around tastings held prior to the evening’s dinners were remarkable. Many of the world’s best Pinot producer spoured their current releases. Noteworthy Oregon wines included Archery Summit, Bergstrom, Brittan (my wine of the event), Dominio IV, Hamacher (stunning 2012s), Harper Voit, Patricia Green, R Stuart & Co. and Scott Paul. California standouts included Donum, Drew, Foxen, Knez, La Follette, Navarro, Red Car, Rhys, Siduri and Talley. New Zealand was well represented by Mt. Beautiful, Wooing Tree and, most notably Villa Maria Estate. 2010 Taylor’s Pass was extraordinary and supplied a powerful motivation for tasting a whole lot more NZ Pinot. During a blind tasting, Villa Maria’s winemaker, Alastair Maling (Master of Wine), was the only one to correctly identify his own and his peers’ wines.
In a long standing IPNC tradition, each year attendees are treated to a bus trip through the unbearably picturesque Oregon countryside, and taken to a secret location. This year’s destination: Ponzi Vineyards. It was a truly great visit, complete with a phenomenal lunch catered by the Ringside Fish House. Prior to, there was a winemaking panel from heaven, with Alastair Maling, Luisa Ponzi, Eric Hamacher, Andrew Rich, Bryan Weil, each tasting their five wines blind along with us. Ponzi is a generational winery, with a long history of success across an expansive varietal board. They even make an ice-wine, called Vino Gelato, which is quite delish and made for a nice addition to the dessert course.
The Grand Dames dinner is traditionally terrific, with beautiful food prepared by renowned northwestern chefs. Additionally, many winemakers graciously shared library and large format bottlings. This year, the dinner celebrated female chef talents such as Stephanie Pearl Kimmel of Marche, Kristen D. Murray of Marice, Holly Smith of Cafe Juanita, and Cathy Whims of Nostrana.
The Salmon Bake, perhaps the most anticipated part of the event, started with a long line forming outside of the campus’s Oak Grove. In the spirit of generosity common to the wine world, many guests brought multiple bottles of wine to share with table-mates. If you see an impressive collection of illustrious and highly allocated Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhône, Oregon, California wines randomly covering the tables, you are at IPNC! Your palate ought to be bracing for an onslaught of goodness that you will process for months to come. The food was brilliantly executed by Ben Dyer, David Kreifels, Jason Owens of Reverend’s BBQ, Tommy Habetz and Nick Wood of Bunk, and Jason Stoller Smith from Timberline Lodge.
Sunday’s Passport to Pinot that often gets overlooked due to the fact that it features all of the same wineries that poured during the weekend. However, in my book, it’s a do-not-miss event. Complete with acrobatic acts and phenomenal food purveyors, it’s an opportunity to taste and validate what you have learned during the previous days. The wineries poured in two shifts, with a short break in between. Seventy top notch Pinots on the same lawn? I’m in!
What sets IPNC apart and puts it into its own category? Between the quality and diversity of producers selected, some of the best Chefs in the country, guests sharing legendary wines and very tightly, organizationally professionally run logistics, one would have to really struggle not to have a great time.
Anthony King, of Lemelson Vineyards and next year’s event chair, has some big shoes to fill! Yet, I have no doubt that the next year’s IPNC attendees are in for a treat. I know my personal expectations are sky high. Hear that, Anthony? 2015 isn’t all that far away.