Russian River Valley Pinot Classic makes Memorial Day memorable 5 min read

The annual Russian River Valley Pinot Classic is a great Memorial Day weekend event for wine lovers.


Russian River Valley (RRV) has been known for classy Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays for decades. Nestled in the heart of Sonoma County, the region has 15,000 acres under vine planted to 35 varieties. It is home to over a 100 wineries and produces a number of world-class wines. It’s also a gracious host of the annual Russian River Valley Pinot Classic.


I attended this event last year and was happy to spend yet another glorious weekend in the lush vineyards and picturesque tasting rooms of one of my favorite wine regions. The event took place over the Memorial Day weekend, a somber occasion honoring our fallen troops. It was touching to see how many wineries showed tributes in respect for the day—red, white and blue were on display everywhere.


The event offers guests stops at a series of wineries which host open houses, pour library releases, offer a preview of upcoming vintages and (often) food pairings. I stopped at a number of participating wineries. Here are a few highlights:


My adventure started at Hartford Winery, where I tasted barrel components of their Fog Dance 2013. Especially memorable were the 2011 Fog Dance and 2011 Marin offering which were paired with smoked duck and quinoa accompanied by pickled strawberries in balsamic gastrique.


On to Joseph Swan Vineyards, where I had a chance to sample 2010 Great Oak Pinot Noir and 2010 and 2011 Trenton as well as half a dozen barrel samples. Their futures program is a savvy way to save a few dollars on some great wines.


Emeritus, one of my favorite RRV producers, generously offered a vertical tasting of Emeritus Hallberg Ranch 2010-2011-2012, a barrel sample of 2013 and even a sip of 2011 Wesley. What a treat!


Dutton-Goldfield offered barrel samples of 2013 single vineyard Pinot Noirs, along the finished wines. Library offerings abound. Since I have no will power when it comes to Red Car wines, I felt that an unscheduled stop was in order. Winemaker Carroll Kemp crafts some of the industry’s most delicious wines. His 2013 Rose is a stellar example of a Rose of Pinot Noir. His brand new 2012 Chardonnay knocked my socks off. Both 2012 Sonoma Coast and Falstaff were divine, for dramatically different reasons. Syrah fans can’t afford to miss Kemp’s Syrahs, they are some of the best made in California. Discovering a new wine is always an exciting occurrence in my world, so I was particularly pleased to see DRNK on the participating winery list. The event debuted their 2013 Rose, 2013 Viognier, 2012 Chardonnay, 2012 Hallberg Ranch and 2012 Caver’s Cuvee Pinots. They also offered barrel samples of exceptional 2013 Hallberg Ranch Pinot Noir. DRNK is partnership between O’Reilly Media founder, Dale Dougherty and winemaker Ryan Kunde. Their wines were brimming with character, integrity and class. I highly recommend that consumers check them out.


The marquee event was the La Paulee dinner. Named after a vital chef’s tool, sauté pan, or poile, a “Paulée” is a gathering that celebrates the end of harvest with a simple family style meal cooked in a poile. In accordance with tradition,vintners and their guests share a post-harvest sigh of relief, conviviality and special wines from their cellars. Vintners from Arista, Bacigalupi, Benovia, Bucher, C. DonatelloDavis, DeLoach, Hartford, Iron Horse, J Vineyards, Joseph Swan, Kosta Browne, LaCrema, La Follette, Merry Edwards, Russian Hill, Siduri, Thomas George, Trione and Williams Selyem dug deep into their cellars and came out with double magnums of their flagship wines. Rare Burgundy made the rounds, courtesy of the attending guests. The classic French menu ofombreohevalier, oeufmeurette aufoiegras, cheese and dessert prepared by Michou Cornu, Chef de Cuisine at Boisset Family Estates was superb.


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Greg LaFollette


Having successfully recovered from the opulent festivities, the next day I made my way to VML, which was the highlight of the weekend. Formerly C. Donatello winery, it is now home to some of the tastiest RRV wines. The 2013 Rosé of Pinot Noir, 2012 Chardonnay, 2012 RRV Pinot Noir and the 2012 Floodgate Vineyard Pinot were all fantastic. A tri-tip pairing, served with arugula and divine chipotle aioli, plus live music completed the idyllic ambiance. Especially enjoyable was an impromptu pairing of Pinot Noir and blueberries, straight from the winery’s lovely garden.


Bacigalupi Vineyards, a generational wine grower who sold fruit to Chateau Montelena for the historic Chardonnay that took top honors at the 1976 “Judgment of Paris” celebrated Memorial Day by pairing nana’s red gravy meatballs with their wonderful 2012 Estate Pinot.


The exciting new discovery of the day was UPTick. According to the winery’s website, “UPTick is defined as a transaction in the stock market at a price above the price of the preceding transaction. It can also mean a move forward to a higher level experience in the quality and production of wine.”


They certainly delivered a “higher level” visual experience. Their decor consists of an electronic ticker-tape on the wall with real-time Dow and NASDAQ quotes. In addition, an old-fashioned ticker machine and a bull sculpture graced the Wall Street-themed tasting room. There were commemorative flags honoring the fallen heroes of 9/11, as Uptick owners lost friends in the tragedy. They support a number of military and firefighter charities, donating 25% of sales made during May 24th-26th event to the Marine Corps Relief Society.


It was wonderful to see the wine world honor the day and the sacrifices our brave men and women made on the battlefield. The wine country is a place for great connections and celebrations of life. Somehow, the joys of life seemed more poignant that day.


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Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

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