2015 Pinot Days Boasts More Granularity & A Great View of San Francisco

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I was fortunate to once again be in the Bay Area during the annual Pinot Days Event, which is deemed to be the largest gathering of Pinot Noir producers in the world. They have four events — San Francisco, southern California, Chicago and New York City, although I’m only familiar with the one in San Francisco and attended it last year when it was held in one of those massive bunkers at Fort Mason. Check out my write up of last year’s event, when I was on a mission to find the biggest boldest Pinot on the floor, a tough thing to do in only four hours.

The goal of the event producers is to give every Pinot lover a place to “go deep” within the style you love. As I mentioned in my piece last year, I’m not a typical Pinot lover and get much more excited about Bordeaux, Cabs and Zins than I do any Pinot Noir, even the award-winning ones from the Pacific Northwest. That said, my palette is coming around slowly but surely and there are more Pinots I like as the months and years march on — tasting many diverse styles is the key.

The event gathers hundreds of Pinot Noir winemakers to pour hundreds of Pinots that range from the picture of elegance to forward and “discovery and oh wow.” As Pinot lovers and winemakers know, Pinot Noir is much more than a grape variety – it’s an art form. We started with Landmark (have always enjoyed their wines – their Pinot was delicious but it’s their Chardonnay that still has me at hello) and then moved to Fess Parker from Santa Barbara County. It had great texture and structure  with its bright natural acidity and lovely forward dark cherry, raspberry and floral notes with spicy notes to finish it off.

Last year, I fell in love with Fred Scherrer‘s Pinots (below), the winemaker from Scherrer Winery in Sebastopol, CA and was blown away again this year. His bottles range from $46 to $75, his 2008 Platt Vineyard Pinot Noir, the one that left my palette the happiest. Either the 2008 or the 2010 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot, both on the high end, would pair really well with a lovely Duck dinner. Two thumbs up!

A call out to Saintsbury who had several great Pinots to try from Stanly Ranch, Lee Vineyard and others. My favorite was the 2012 from Lee Vineyard – a bit bigger and smoother than all the other pours.

While we liked the Pinot pours from Sojourn Cellars, I must admit their Cabernet Sauvignon which they had secretly hidden was even more delicious! (I went back for a second pour over an hour later — it was that good). And, the girls behind the scenes were fabulous – we had fun at their table at least twice! A call out goes to their 2013 Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast, which received 96 points from Pinot Report and 95 Points from Robert Parker. It is priced at around $59 a bottle.

Then, there was Figge Cellars, which is a boutique winery producing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah winesfrom various vineyards in Monterey, California. The double whammy blue eyes and great packaging grabbed my attention — the result? Medium bodied with just a little spice!

I loved what came out of Foxen Vineyards – kudos to Kaitlin Hite for the great background! They’re best known for their outstanding Pinot Noirs from the Bien Nacido and Julia’s Vineyards — they do a great job with Pinots given Santa Barbara’s diverse microclimates.

The winery is apparently named in memory of William Benjamin Foxen, an English sea captain and Dick’s great great grandfather, who came to Santa Barbara in the early 1800’s. (GREAT STORY!) In 1837, he purchased the Rancho Tinaquaic, a Mexican Land Grant, and adopted the distinctive “anchor” as his ranch cattle brand that became a trademark of the winery.

Other great thumbs ups go to Duckhorn Vineyards (I love their Merlots), but they also have a delicious Goldeneye Pinot Noir (et hem, the theme of the event) from Anderson Valley. This was my top pick of their Pinot although their Migration from Russian River Valley was a close second — Migration’s sophisticated Burgundian-varietal wines highlight lush fruit, bright acidity and balanced oak for a finish. It was French oak barreled for 10 months and is a 100% Pinot, the result being a lovely blend of cherry, cranberry, strawberry with hints of orange-cinnamon spice.

Notes from the winemaker on the 2012 vintage — on the palate, beautifully delineated layers of freshly tilled earth, leather, lavender, and pennyroyal are balanced by flavors of sweet Bing cherry, Japanense plum and black currant notes. Admist the chocolately French Oak, I mostly got swallowed up in the plumy jammy taste, a little deeper and richer than I expect from most California Pinots.

I also loved what came out of Papapietro Perry from Healdsburg (I so need to get back up there). My favorite pours were the Pinot 51 from Russian River Valley and the Leras Family Vineyards, also from Russian River Valley. Located on Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg, I’m so overdue for a return visit. Be sure to read my write-up from my 2012 visit (have been up to Sonoma and Napa several times since then but not with an in-depth review in mind)

Cru Wine Company out of Madera also had a lovely balanced Pinot pour as did Kanzler Vineyards out of Sebastopol (thanks Lynda) and while the Pinot pour from Wrath Wines was lovely, it was their Syrah which really held my attention – YUM!!!

My last call out before returning to my former favorites goes to New Zealand. Of their 7 pours, call outs go to the Giesen Clayvin Vineyard 2012 from Marlborough and the Felton Road Bennockburn 2013 from Central Otago. Mroe at @nzwineusa and #nzwine and www.nzwine.com.  Bear in mind that my taste leans more towards a lot of structure, texture and layers – it’s the Cab lover in me who continues to strive towards better understanding the YUMMINESS in all things Pinot Noir.

In addition to Fred Scherrer’s scrumptious Pinots, which I fell in love with once again at this year’s Pinot Days, other winery call-outs from last year’s tastings include the following:  (Note: I returned to MacMurray but not the others this year — never enough time!)

  • Davis Family Vineyards in Healdsburg, CA. Guy Davis is behind this one. Spicy and fun and yes, bolder than most.
  • Domaine Serene in Dayton Oregon: Owners Ken and Grace Evenstad and the winemaker is Erik Kramer. Their reserve was so worth the wait. (there was a long line at this one).
  • MacMurray Ranch in Healdsburg, CA: Winemaker is James Mac Phail. Not as lush and smooth as Fred or Erik’s Pinot, but it makes the list.
  • Pence Ranch in Pacific Palisades, CA: Winemaker is Jeff Fink. While this one didn’t bowl me over, I had a special moment with it. Flexible, I thought it was just a “nice drinking” wine that could go with a lot of dishes.
Needless to say, we had fun and expanded our palette to more delicious Pinot! My hope and goal is that after each tasting and experience I’ll be better versed in the world of Pinots and find as many “aha moments” in a bottle of Pinot as I do in a bottle of Zin and Cab. A long journey, but oh such a pleasurable one! Hats off to the Pinot Days team for producing yet another fabulous tasting event!

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