World of Pinot Noir moves…or does it?
Pinot Noir enthusiasts everywhere look forward to early March when producers from all over the world gather in the Central Coast to showcase their favorite wines. The World of Pinot Noir boasts a weekend full of top-notch seminars lead by wine industry stars, walk around tastings paired with gourmet bites, and extravagant meals.
This year, World of Pinot Noir (WOPN) moved from its cliffside home in sleepy Pismo Beach to a larger, more upscale location in Santa Barbara: The Bacara Resort and Spa.
Having attended the festival for several years, and being attached to the charming locale and informal nature of the event, I (along with many of my Pinot friends) felt some trepidation. Braving a torrential downpour, I drove to Santa Barbara wondering what my favorite California Pinot event would look and feel like in a new location.
Despite any reservations, the spirit of the event was very much intact. The geography may have changed, but the main draw, the opportunity to taste some of the world’s finest Pinot, had been expanded. This year’s World of Pinot Noir felt bigger and more intense. An influx of stellar Oregon Pinot producers was especially noteworthy.
There were gourmet cheeses and lovely hors d’oeuvres prepared by Johan Denizot, Bacara’s own celebrated Chef de Cuisine. Braised short rib ravioli with Pinot and thyme was quite divine, rich, and luxurious. And of course, there was the Pinot. Paul Lato’s Seabiscuit just about made me cry. With its seductive, gorgeous fruit and lingering finish, it’s the best he’s made to date. Paul also brought his 2004 Duende to showcase the ageability of his terrific wines. Noteworthy was Laetitia, whose sparkling Pinots are always spectacular. I also loved Chamisal and Crossbarn by Paul Hobbs, and Siduri and Larry Hyde’s debut. And last but not least, I enjoyed Flowers, Littorai, and Goldeneye by Duckhorn.
Saturday started with what turned out to be a highlight of the event, a seminar titled “Hollywood & Wine.” It centered around a discussion on the influence of two films, “Sideways” and “Somm.” These movies had a dramatic impact on the wine world in general, and on the Central Coast wine region in particular. A true American, rags-to-riches success story, “Sideways” was the film that was barely made, had no advertising budget, and all the odds stacked against it. Yet it succeeded in every way imaginable.
The film swept audiences and became a huge, virtually unquantifiable asset to the Santa Barbara wine community. Pinot sales soared, and tourists flocked in droves to Frank Ostini’s Hitching Post, which played a big role in the movie. The panel’s participants featured in “Sideways” mused at the dramatic positive effect the film had on their community with humor and genuine, deep appreciation.
A discussion centered on a more recent indie film “Somm,” which focuses on the grueling pressures of the Master Sommelier exam. This was accompanied by a real time blind tasting of six wines. I always say “palates don’t lie, lips do.” This is a great reminder of the power of one’s own palate. We also had an exercise in deductive wine tasting led by MS Brian McClintic, the star of “Somm.”
The walk around tasting that afternoon was the definition of embarrassment of riches. It was a who’s who of Pinot Noir: Kosta Browne, Williams Selyem, Hartford, Reuling, Black Kite, Saxon Brown, Michael Browne’s debut Cirq, Pisoni, Foxen, Patz and Hall, Archery Summit, Fel, MacPhail, Brewer Clifton, and numerous others.
All Pinot lovers should get to know these wineries. They represent the precious spirit of this elusive varietal. Their craftsmanship crosses over into the realm of pure artistry.
WOPN also featured a variety of international Pinot stars. There were too many to mention here. However, there was one Pinot noir from Spain, Alta Pavina, that was exceptionally exciting. Grown in high elevations, it was different from any other Pinot I have ever tasted, intriguing, bright, and sassy.
I had a moment with Norm Yost, Chairman of the Board of directors who took on a gargantuan task of herding wine cats and pulled it off seamlessly. We had a memorable conversation about Pinot people vs. Cab people vs. Rhône people. Somehow Pinot-files are different, special, deeply relatable, unassuming and engaging on a different level than any other wine folk.
As I wandered between tables, with my palate screaming for mercy, I could not help but think how lucky I am to be living and drinking at that very moment. 2012 is undeniably a vintage that will go down in wine history. Thanks WOPN, for being exactly who you are and maintaining that over the years. Don’t ever change.