World of Pinot Noir – Alice in Wine Land 4 min read

I started attending World of Pinot Noir, or “WOPN,” a decade ago. Back then, tastings were held in a couple of tents perched atop a cliff in Pismo Beach. These days, the event takes place at the gorgeous Bacara Resort and Spa, a resort well known for its stunning vistas, great golf course, and stellar service.


Every year, I see the same faces, which validates my theory “once a Pinot person, always a Pinot person.” Unlike other varieties, I have yet to hear someone say, “I no longer drink Pinot, I’ve moved on.” You don’t move on from the Rolling Stones. Or a woman that made you so weak in the knees that you forget your name and the name of your favorite baseball team. Many have gone through a Zin phase or a Cab phase…Pinot is not a phase, it’s a lifetime obsession. It is no coincidence that no other variety boasts such a robust vocabulary of sexual innuendo!


And where better to obsess over Pinots than in the company of other Pinophiles?  “Pinotphelia” is an active subculture. Attendees at Pinot events emanate a mixture of geekdom, generosity, idiosyncrasy, humbleness and a sense of mischief. Nothing beats the camaraderie of sharing a mad mania for the same object of obsession.


This event offered a spectacular assortment of Pinots from California, Oregon, New Zealand, Australia, and even South Africa.  In order to truly appreciate this experience you had to leave any preconceived notions at the door. I think of it as an Alice in Wonderland experience. When you fall into a hole and slide seamlessly into the world of wonder, nothing is the same, and everything feels astonishing.


Hundreds of wineries from around the world converged on Goleta, a suburb of Santa Barbara, to introduce their wines to eager event attendees (and sample their peers offerings.) Seminars, tastings, lunches, dinners and pre/after parties ran nearly round the clock. If you love Pinot Noir, this was as good as it gets.


I only tasted a fraction of the wines that I wanted to sample. No human being can embrace the un-embraceable. I aimed for a mix of long term favorites and new (to me) brands.


My highlights, in no particular order, from the two days of tastings (that is roughly eight hours of pure pleasure) are:



As you may have noticed, the wines were predominantly from 2012; a terrific vintage that turned out to be very giving and fruit forward in most regions of California. Nearly all of the wines showed well, which made it challenging to choose.


Crystal Dinner

The Crystal Dinner. At center is Brian Talley.

The weekend’s highlight was the Crystal Dinner, commemorating 15th anniversary of WOPN. It was touching to hear Brian Talley (read more about Brian and Talley Vineyards here) speak of the first tender years of the event.  He initially had called in favors from his vintner friends to support it, but now the event is so successful, it sells out in a few weeks. Five winemaker hosts, Brian Talley, James Hall from Patz and Hall, Joe Davis from Arcadian, Jeff Mangahas of Williams Selyem, Dick Dore from Foxen and Calera Wine Co. brought their 2000 bottlings to contrast with the current vintages. This comparison showcased the longevity of the wines made by these outstanding producers.


All in all, this was another stellar event. There was a fair amount of nervous energy a couple of years ago surrounding WOPN’s move from the cozy cliff side to a glamorous seaside resort. Brian Talley, the event’s founder, shared in the concern. He started the event so that Pinot people could bond and share in the love of Pinot Noir. This noble goal turned out to be venue-proof. I could easily see the euphoria written on the festival-goers faces; that unmistakable glow of blissful belonging. It took me days to wipe the silly post-Pinotal grin off my face! I was stimulated, yet sated; happy, but sad that it ended. I’m looking forward to next year’s event more that I care to admit.


One of the top questions I get is, “Which one wine event would I choose?”  There is no way will I ever be able to answer that question; they are all so different. What I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that WOPN has a capacity to create a bonding experience like no other. Talley’s vision lives on. Cheers to that!


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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