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Earthquake-stirred memories of World of Pinot Noir

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As I write this (early Monday morning Cali time), we’re all still on edge from a very sharp, violent earthquake that hit at 5:34 a.m. this morning. No apparent damage, but reports are still sketchy.

Anyhow, here are some random notes from a fabulously successful WOPN 2012 event:

What’s up with all these Santa Rita Hills producers making sparkling wine? Sea Smoke’s “Sea Spray,” Clos Pepe, Brewer-Clifton?

John Haeger’s annual Friday morning seminar a sellout. Among his interesting remarks [paraphrased]: “Pinot Noir in California would have taken longer to happen if not for the burst of French Champagne houses that invested here in the 1970s-1980s.” And “The push to cool areas wasn’t so much because winemakers were seeking the coastal influence but because you could make sparkling wine even if the grapes weren’t ripe.” Think of Anderson Valley’s Deep End [Roederer] or the cooler parts of Arroyo Grande Valley [Maison Deutz, now Laetitia].

My hunt for under-14% Cali Pinots was an abject failure, there were so few. But in a year, and definitely by the 2014 WOPN, they’ll be all over the place, I predict.

Winemakers on the 2011 vintage [if they’re honest, which not all are]: very difficult. Lots of mold.

Huge shoutout from me to the somms and other volunteers, without whom there would be no WOPN!

I went to the “media room,” where they have duplicate bottles of all the wines poured at the public event. It was very uncrowded so I got into a conversation with the somm who was managing it. He poured me a Pinot, blind, and asked what I thought. Terrible, I said: soft and sugary sweet, like a glutinous candy. Exactly he said, grinning. Then he explained that, earlier, the room had been crowded with writers, including a FWC [Famous Wine Critic]. They were talking about that wine, and the lesser luminaries didn’t want to speak up because they were unsure of themselves. Then the FWC said he thought it was great, and suddenly everybody else was, like, “Yeah, great wine!” The herd instinct is alive and well in wine criticism.

On Saturday morning, while others hiked and golfed [yawnnnn] I went to Allen MeadowsBurgundy From the Ground Up seminar. Only Meadows [Burghound] could bring the Druids into a discussion of Burgundy. [By the way, the winemaker sitting next to me drank Diet Coke and munched on Danish throughout Allen’s tasting! But then again, he’s from Oregon...]. Allen’s two-hour master class alone was worth the price of admission to WOPN [not that I paid : >]… He’s forgotten more about Burgundy than the rest of us will ever learn. Except that he hasn’t forgotten… I’ve been to a gazillion wine seminars, most of which I forgot about 2 minutes later, but Allen always makes people think. If you think it’s easy keeping several hundred hungover, sleep-deprived winos captivated, on the edge of their seats, early on a weekend morning, you’ve never tried it. A real tour de force.

For me, the standouts of Allen’s tasting [all 2008s] were: Benjamin Leroux Volnay Premier Cru Clos de la Cave des Ducs; Comte Armand Pommard Premier Cru Clos des Epeneaux; Bruno Clair Vosne-Romanee Champs Perdix; and Bruno Clair Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Cazetiers. After that magnificent tasting, the California Pinots under the tent seemed almost too much…but that lasted only for a minute or two until their sexy, plump opulence got to me. A standout: Failla 2010 Keefer Ranch (Russian River Valley), poured by Ehren Jordan himself. I haven’t yet formally reviewed that wine, so I won’t here, but my oh my, how great it is. For older wines, Rick Longoria poured his 2002 Fe Ciega, a wine I did review, eight years ago. I gave it 91 points, gave it an Editor’s Choice designation, and called it “serious Pinot Noir.” I should have added “and ageable.”

By the way, the Burghound gave me a long, fascinating interview. I’ll have a multi-part Q&A with him starting tomorrow.

  1. “They were talking about that wine, and the lesser luminaries didn’t want to speak up because they were unsure of themselves. Then the FWC said he thought it was great, and suddenly everybody else was, like, ‘Yeah, great wine!’”

    Wait! So all of those people were just lying to my face to make me like them?!? And wait! You didn’t think it was great Steve? :)

    Looking forward to your interview with Allen.

  2. David Rossi says:

    Looking forward to the Burghound interview. Not only does he know Burgundy, but I trust him with Cali and Oregon Pinots too.

  3. James Rego says:

    I find it somewhat amusing that the FWC found the wine posing as cherry candy to be great! So much for trusting a critic’s view of a wine(Unless, of course, if you have aligned your palate somewhat close to his or hers’.) I, personally, do not drink a lot of the Central Coast wines, simply because, so many of them are ripe and overblown. If I want candy I’ll go to a candy store! There are some good wines down there (Calera comes to mind) but so many are sweet and more sweet.
    Which brings me to another point and that is the single most important tasting note on a wine is whether it is dry or sweet and so often it is not mentioned. I personally, don’t trust the ratings from the Wine Spectator for this reason. I have had good results with the Wine Enthusiast ratings. Try the wine before you buy in quantities!

  4. The press room when I saw it (both on Friday and Saturday)actually was not a complete representation of the ‘field’ and I found more than a few wines inside seemed less expressive than those outside, yet it was a good preliminary run through. Lest I be mistaken for a FWC, the only wine I suggested anyone try in the press room was the 2009 La Fenetre Bien Nacido which was far from soft and sugary sweet. Did you try the Harrignton Terrane (no sulfites added)? I was trying to find you to try it in the tent since it may make an interesting story for a blog. How did Gus like the beach?

  5. I didn’t get to the Harrington. Gus doesn’t quite understand the concept of “ocean” but is curious.

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