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Cabernet was so last week. Here comes World of Pinot Noir.

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My head should be filled with thoughts of Cabernet Sauvignon, after spending a large part of last week at Premiere Napa Valley and its associated events. Most of the more than two hundred barrel lots were from the 2011 vintage. Despite much chatter among winemakers about the season’s difficulties, I found the wines I tasted concentrated, balanced and delicious, and not too high in alcohol. Ageworthy, too. But then, two things have to be pointed out: Napa Valley has the best grape sorting regimes in the world, and these Premiere Napa Valley lots are the best wines the winemakers can produce. They may or may not be indicative of the commercial releases, which should start appearing in 2014. But I strongly suspect we’re going to see a solid vintage.

However, it’s Pinot Noir I’m thinking about, because I’m leaving this Wednesday for the the 13th annual World of Pinot Noir, one of my must-attend events of the year. I’ve been going since the very first one. It started off as a modest little thing, sponsored by Central Coast wineries. But over the years, WOPN has expanded its reach, attracting winemakers from around the world, and is now the premier Pinot Noir event in California.

I remember being so impressed by that first WOPN that I told Wine Enthusiast they ought to figure out some way to co-sponsor it. They did. Keep in mind, WOPN was launched well before Sideways, at a time when California Pinot Noir wasn’t exactly a household name.

Historians will someday pinpoint just when California Pinot took center stage. For me, I felt it coming before it actually arrived, which is why I went to WOPN in the first place. It was in Shell Beach, a pit stop on the drive between S.F. and L.A., and that first year attracted only a handful of wineries. But something told me both that Pinot was about to erupt, and that WOPN had the potential to be important.

Why did I think Pinot Noir was on the verge of fame in 2001? Because I’d been following it for a long time. It’s like anything else that has to do with intuition or hunches; you have a feeling of growing momentum. During the 1990s there had been interest in Pinot among the people who mattered: writers, critics, educators, somms, even some forward-thinking collectors (the words “forward-thinking” and “collectors” do not often unite in comfort). The California wine community was a very small town back then (in some respects, it still is), and information passed quickly. I heard about Williams Selyem and Rochioli by 1990, had begun visiting, and of course had known about Richard Sanford in Santa Barbara County, even though I didn’t get down there for a few more years. It was the excitement of the older professionals I knew, my mentors, that infected me and informed me that Pinot Noir was the coming variety.

Even though I began writing for Wine Enthusiast by 1993, for various internal reasons I didn’t start reviewing wines for them until the mid- 1990s. I just looked up my earliest Pinot reviews and they make for interesting reading. My top names from that era remain some of the best Pinot houses around today: Testarossa, Fess Parker, Hanzell, Iron Horse, MacRostie, Acacia, Robert Mondavi, Talley, Marimar Torres. When I look at the prices for vintages from the 1990s, they were high for back then, but have remained relatively stable ($35-$50) over the years, showing that Pinot Noir has not experienced the same price inflation as Cabernet Sauvignon. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps Pinot producers remember the bad old days, when everybody said California was patently too hot for Pinot Noir; maybe they think they lucked out, and that to raise prices to triple digits would kill the goose that laid the golden egg. Whatever the reason, consumers are the beneficiaries. Compared to dozens of Cabernet Sauvignons that cost in excess of $100 (often far more), Pinot Noir is a bargain.

Starting this Thursday, I’ll be blogging live from WOPN, including throughout the weekend; I am, it seems, the Official World of Pinot Noir Blogger! I’ll be talking about the best wines, the most interesting winemakers, the food, the personalities and whatever nuggets of news and information I can gather. Twitter too.

 

  1. All of us from the World of Pinot Noir look forward to sharing a glass of fine Pinot (noir, bubbly, white!) on the beautiful shore of the Pacific Ocean!

  2. Molly Bohlman says:

    Steve, we look forward to your participation in WOPN, as always!
    Tickets to the Friday and Saturday tastings, as well as select seminars and dinners are still available at http://www.wopn.com or 805-489-1758. It’s going to be a beautiful weekend in Shell Beach!

  3. Thanks so much for spreading the word about WOPN. All of us here on the Central Coast appreciate your support and enthusiasm for our region. See you in Shell Beach!

  4. The lack of price appreciation is certainly part of the reason for its growing popularity. The inherent nature of the gentle grape/wine compared to tannic, fruit bombed, “liquid berry pie” Cabs is also part of the equation.

    Having said that, what are your thoughts on any “emerging CA style” of Pinot Noir? Of late I’ve noted many articles on its becoming too rich, too ripe and too large scaled. Is that changing?

    Looking forward to your reports!

  5. tom, I do think that pinot vintners are embracing a lower alcohol style. They may also be resorting to alcohol-removal technology — who really knows? And cooler vintages may be helping to achieve ripeness at lower brix levels.

  6. Thanks for remembering me from the 90s! Indeed, when I started planting Pinot noir in 1988 it was against everyone’s advice! I just knew RRV was good for it and loved Burgundies, so … There were certainly few of us and it turned out to be an easy sell! Just tasted a bottle of my 1995 on Satrurday from a friend’s cellar and it was in beautiful shape.

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  1. NEWS FETCH – FEBRUARY 25, 2013 | Wine Industry Insight - [...] Cabernet was so last week. Here comes World of Pinot Noir [...]

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