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Tasting Wine at IPNC 2003

IPNC 2005
International Pinot noir
Celebration -- A Review
by Rusty Gaffney MD, the "Prince of Pinot"

Have you ever had that yearning to go back to college? How about returning to a small, manicured campus just to study Pinot Noir? No homework, no written tastes, just practical Pinot Noir tastings where you can study and compare the myriad of styles of this wine from producers all over the world.

And to top it off, gourmet meals unlike anything you ever ate at college.

Pinot Noir has come a very long way. David Lett reminisces about his first harvest in 1970 where he did everything wrong. He harvested unripe grapes, fermented too cold, and aged the wine too long. At $2.65 at bottle, this “Oregon Spring Wine” was probably way overpriced. Today, the consistent high quality of Pinot Noir is a testament to the progress that has been made here in America in only 35 years. There is a lot of great Pinot now and something for everyone’s palate.

The onslaught of great Pinot Noir at the 19th Annual International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) in McMinnville, Oregon left me delirious. It reminded me of that song from the 1950s: “Sugar (Pinot) in the morning, Sugar (Pinot) in the evening, Sugar (Pinot) at suppertime, Be my little sugar (Pinot), and Love me all the time.”

I attended the IPNC with a friend, Art “Fruit Bomb” Fries who is a Pinot drinker-in-training. Although we enjoyed many of the same Pinot Noirs, Art kept drifting to the dark side. I pushed for elegance, he demanded fruit. I looked at the alcohol levels, he laughed it off. I spoke of acid and balance, he drifted off into a deep purple haze. I rhapsodized about terroir, he mispronounced it “the rear”.

Art and I were not alone in our differences. A panel of wine critics could not agree on several of the Pinot Noirs presented to them A New Zealand wine to some had lovely sweet fruit, good cut (acidity), but a short finish that was less impressive than the start. Others took the exact opposite track, claiming the finish was quite compelling and long. A California Pinot Noir was said to be the worst wine of the five presented by one critic, others felt the rustic notes of the wine were appealing and some in the audience actually voted it the best wine in the lineup. The point is, BYOP (Bring Your Own Palate) and enjoy the Pinot Noir in front of you regardless of what a wine critic might pontificate.

The setting for this wondrous event is bucolic Linfield College, an intimate campus marked by majestic oak trees, stately brick buildings, and ubiquitous hanging petunias. The total of 650 conferees included 125 representatives of the 65 featured wineries. In addition, there were 45 guest chefs to prepare the gourmet fare assisted by staff from their restaurants and 40 other professional and amateur chefs who volunteer their time for the IPNC. Over 50 volunteers from all over the United States work throughout the Celebration in the background insuring that the “dirty work” of setting up and cleaning up goes smoothly.

Volunteers at IPNC 2003

Everyone seems transformed by the ambience of the event . Lively conversation spawned by a spirited passion for Pinot Noir leads to multiple new friendships. There is no room for competition or judging wines at this event. It is a true celebration of Pinot Noir, offering the wine lover the chance to discover the many different styles of Pinot Noir and the colorful people behind the wines.

Since the first IPNC in 1987, over 10,000 pinotphiles have made a pilgrimage to this occasion. The IPNC has hosted 118 winemakers from France, 23 winemakers from New Zealand, 12 from Australia, 11 from Italy, 8 from Germany, 7 from Switzerland, 5 from Canada, 3 from South Africa, 2 from Chile, and one each from Austria, England, Israel and Spain, for a total of 193 foreign wineries.

Guest speakers at the IPNC have included such wine notables as Lalou Bize-Leroy, Jancis Robinson, Robert Parker, Remington Norman, Michael Broadbent and Christophe Roumier. Attendees have the opportunity to taste more than 250 wines at each Celebration (and I failed miserably, losing track around 175).

The IPNC is the granddaddy of Pinot Noir conferences with spin-offs now held in California, Tokyo, Australia, and New Zealand. The opening ceremonies is held at an outdoor amphitheater in front of a grand old oak tree where some of the world’s greatest Pinot Noir winemakers are introduced.

Keynote, 2003 IPNC

(only for the most hard-core wine geeks)

Alluvial Soil: unconsolidated terrestrial sediment composed of sorted or unsorted sand, gravel and clay that has been deposited by water.

Clay: large class of very fine-grained soils from various origins.
Glacial Loess: fine, wind-borne deposit of silt carried along the edge of a glacier.

Limestone: sedimentary rock consisting of at least 50% calcium carbonate by weight.
Schist: metamorphic rock of laminated layers of chiefly micaceous minerals (say what?)

Sedimentary Soil: loose, unconsolidated deposit of weathering debris, chemical precipitates or biological debris that accumulates on the Earth’s surface. An example is Shea Vineyard in the Yamhill/Carlton AVA of Oregon.

Silt: sedimentary material of very fine particles intermediate in size between sand and clay.

Volcanic Soil: formed in one of several ways, notably: the erosion of hardened lava flows, the breaking down of small chunks of igneous rock formed when magma is spewed from an erupting volcano, or the deposition of volcanic ash. An example is Stoller Vineyard in the Dundee Hills of Oregon.

This year for the first time, proceeds from the IPNC are supporting Salud, an Oregon program that provides medical and dental care to seasonal agricultural workers.

One of the themes of this year’s Conference was dirt or what the French more eloquently call terroir. A film titled “The Real Dirt on Pinot Noir” was created by Matt Giraud and Mike Corrigan especially for this year’s event. This beautiful documentary reviews the geological history of the terroir of Burgundy, Oregon and New Zealand. Volcanoes, glaciers and shifting oceans on this earth millions of years ago has shaped the current geology, resulting in today’s terrain and soil composition in the vineyards.

A few generalizations were presented for each region. In New Zealand, the alluvial soils lead to Pinot Noirs that are structured similar to Pommard and Gevrey-Chambertin with typical dark colors. Wines from the Central Otago region of New Zealand tend to be more elegant.

In Oregon, there are basically two soil types: volcanic and sedimentary. There is no calceric rock found in Oregon that is typical of the Cote d’Or in Burgundy. The volcanic soils of the Dundee Hills produce Pinot Noirs that are more floral and expressive of red berries, and are more Chambolle- Musigny-like exhibiting lightness and elegance. These features are thought to be due to the high moistureholding capacity of the deep soils.

The sedimentary soils found in Eola Hills, in contrast, produce Pinot Noirs marked by dark berries presumably because the vines are more stressed. The wines are more akin to Gevrey-Chambertin. A full glossary of terms is at right. The main thought to take away? Dirt matters.

The Food


Table Setting at IPNC
The food at this Conference was astonishingly fresh and delicious. Oregon is blessed with a bounty of gastronomic riches - wild mushrooms and salmon, shellfish of all types, an array of berries and fruits, organic dairy farms, artisan cheeses and bakeries, home style sausages and hams, coffee roasters, and a crop of outstanding chefs.

The sustainable food movement that began in Berkeley with chef Alice Waters has now become centered in Portland, Oregon. “Sustainable food” refers to a short chain of supply and demand that emphasizes the consumption of local food. I had always thought Sonoma, California was most representative of a successful sustainable food program, but the food served at this Conference made me really sit up and take notice. I will never forget courses like “Roasted Guinea Fowl with Garlic Tapioca, Northwest Mushrooms and a Smoked Bacon Nage” or “Northwest Seafood Sausage with Saffron-Apple Rouille, Kohlrabi Sprouts and Wild Fennel Pollen” or even the most basic of offerings that soared with freshness like “Local Heirloom Tomatoes with Lemon Oil, Basil, Sea Salt and Black Pepper.”

Breads and desserts were marvelous. At the Traditional Salmon Bake dinner alone there were fifteen desserts including “Double Chocolate Brioche Stuffed with Cherries and Chocolate” and “Blue Cheese and Red Plum Tart with Rosemary-Pinot Noir Caramel.” I could go on and on. The Portland Roasting Co coffees were actually the best I have ever drank and that is no exaggeration.

Desserts at IPNC's Salmon Bake

The Traditional Northwest Salmon Bake is the highlight of the gustatory pleasures. Salmon is prepared native Northwest style on alder stakes over a huge fire pit (see photo below) and is accompanied by an extravagant outdoor buffet.

IPNC Salmon Bake


Wine Speak

Another seminar was also led by Andrea Robinson and focused on “wine speak”, the often bizarre wine descriptors wine critics use that strangely, but often accurately, describe the aromas and flavors of wine. Certainly wine critics can have a pretentious vernacular, but these terms have real meaning. Here are some examples:

= “brambly” - the aroma and taste of the foliage of dark berries and black currents; a hot leaf smell; a descriptor the English like to use.

= "pyrazine” - green pepper smell

= “beef jerky” - big, heavy, older red wines; a byproduct of fermentation; baconey, bouillon, soy.

= “bubble gum” - secondary to whole cluster fermentation without crushing; the fruit under carbon dioxide gas produces a bubble gum gas; typical of Beaujolais.

= “cotton candy” - from aging wine in American oak; also coconut.

= “sweaty saddle” - from Brettanomyces which is ubiquitous in the winery on barrels and equipment; barnyard.

= “band aid” - typical of South African and South American wines and undesirable - Brettanomyces run amuck!

= “foxy” - a funky, animal smell; often in concord grape wines.

= “metallic” - a steely or wet metal taste; a hallmark of terroir and typical of French Chablis.

= “wet dog” - an aroma found in older French Chablis, White Burgundy, and Loire Chenin Blanc.

= “beeswax” - typical of Semillon wines; also wines from Loire and White Bordeaux.

= “lanolin” - associated with Semillon wines.

= “ lead pencil and cedar": characteristic of Left Bank Bordeaux; from the soil and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

= “ sexy” - a term used when the wine arouses you; arouses your attraction.

= “ sulfur” - sulfur dioxide is used as a preservative and antioxidant in wine; a lite match smell; usually dissipates shortly after the wine is open to the air.

= “ rotten eggs” - the smell of hydrogen sulfide is a flaw in wine; may also take on a bike tire or tar aroma.

A featured conference at the event was “Everybody’s A Critic” which was chaired by Andrea Immer- Robinson, a former “Best Sommelier in the U.S.” who has written five wine books and stars on a television program which will premier October 3 on both the Fine Living and Food Network. The panel was composed of the most influential wine writer in France, Michel Bettane, legendary wine writer and Master of Wine, Michael Broadbent (who will release a book on Domaine de la Romanee Conti in the fall), New Zealand wine guru Bob Campbell, noted wine writer Elin McCoy, who recently wrote The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste, and wine critic for The Wine Advocate, Pierre Antoine-Rovani.

The panel discussed how to access value and quality in a wine and how they personally taste wine. Five wines were poured: 2003 Domaine Bouchard Pere et fils Beaune Greves Vigne de l’Enfant Jesus, 2003 Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir, 2002 Bethel Heights Vineyard Casteel Reserve, 2001 Au Bon Climat Knox Alexander Estate Grown, and 1999 Domaine de l’Arlot Clos des Forets St. Georges. There was quite a lot of spirited disagreement about the wines among the panel members and audience proving once again that everyone’s palate is unique. There were a number of pearls thrown out by the panel and I list them here for your reference:

=A major criticism of Oregon Pinot Noir is that the wines are more about fruit than complexity.

=Many tasters make the mistake of judging young wines by looking for secondary characteristics they want in an older wine.

=Young wines speak of fruit, older wines speak of terroir characteristics.

=The first 5-10 years, Pinot Noir fruit dominates, in later years there is more a sense of soil expressing itself.

=A young wine may be slightly reductive when first opened. It may smell of burnt electrical cord or eraser. This is often a sign that the wine will age.

=When tasting red wines, always wear a black shirt!

=Tasting a lineup of wine samples does not do justice to the wines. There are so many other “real world things” that go into evaluating wine: style, what the winemaker is trying to do, the desirability of a second
glass, and compatibility with food.

=Swirling wine in your glass not only frees up aromas, it also cleans the glass!

=When you taste a series of Pinot Noirs, there is a build-up of tannin in the mouth making subsequent wines taste more tannic. Green olives can counteract this effect.

Michael Bettane and Michael Broadbent came off as the must erudite of the panel, Pierre-Antoine Rovani as the most confrontational and opinionated. When asked if winemakers today are forced to make wines in a style favored by wine critics such as himself, he answered by saying there might be a few, but the majority of winemakers are dedicated artisans who remain loyal to their own style. Personally, and I discussed this with several others afterwards, I thought this response was ludicrous. An analogy proves my point. As a chef in a restaurant, food is offered that the customer prefers, not necessarily want the chef wants to cook. Can you go into any restaurant today and not find seared ahi or hanger steak on the menu? The same reasoning applies to wine and winemakers. Certainly many wines are styled to appeal to a majority of the perceived public’s taste.

The IPNC, true to its name, brings Pinot Noir producers together from all over the world.“

There’s a camaraderie between Pinot Noir producers,” says David Adelsheim. “No one thinks that there are any secrets and everyone is willing to share their knowledge, expertise and experience. As a result the quality of Pinot Noir has gone up not only in America but around the world because there is this tremendous energy focused on making better wine.”

The Pinots of Oregon- How it Began

In 1805, Lewis & Clark had endured every hardship possible when they arrived at the mouth of the Columbia River in close proximity to the Willamette Valley. In their canoes they were thrashed by the worst storms imaginable. Explorers to this region eighty years earlier had named it Cape Disappointment. Why would any sane person want to plant Pinot Noir in an area named Cape Disappointment?

It was the hippie generation that spawned the modern Pinot Noir era in the Williamette Valley. The mindset of the pioneers who first planted Pinot Noir here grew out of the idealistic belief of the time that anything was possible with a passion and a desire.

The first plantings of postprohibition Oregon Pinot Noir were by David Lett (Eyrie Vineyard) and Charles Coury (Charles Coury Vineyards near Forest Grove) in 1966. Neither of them had much practical vineyard management and winemaking experience.

Charles Coury remains an unsung hero of Oregon Pinot Noir. At UC Davis he wrote his master thesis titled, “Cold Limit Amerlioration Hypothesis” in which he theorized that vinifera varietals produce their best quality wines when they ripen just at the limit of their growing season. Along with Lett, Coury chose Oregon as the closest climatic match to Burgundy. Lett and Coury were soon joined by Dick Erath and Dick Ponzi .

As the sky eventually cleared for Lewis & Clark, these early vinous trailblazers found Pinot paradise near Cape Disappointment. 1985 was the year that people really began to open their eyes to the potential for Pinot Noir in Oregon. National acclaim for the 1985 vintage was followed by the purchase of land in the Dundee Hills of the Willamette Valley in 1987 by the respected Burgundy house, Domaine Drouhin. That same year, the First International Pinot Noir Celebration was held in McMinnville, Oregon.

Four decades later, Oregon may still have a lingering reputation as “ leftover hippies” because it remains a tolerant and laid-back place. Lifestyle is still more treasured here than money. Andrea Immer-Robinson may be speaking for the Oregon Pinot family when she said, “ Pinot Noir is like a Grateful Dead show, “When it’s great it is so unbelievably great.”

The original intent of the International Pinot noir Celebration was to introduce Pinot Noir to the American public and assist the thirsty consumer in appreciating Pinot Noir and inducing them to drink it. The event has progressed way beyond these early intentions to become a festival to celebrate Pinot dreams come true. Like early America’s pilgrims who celebrated their bounty with a holiday, this Celebration has become a “ Pinot Noir Thanksgiving.”

The Wines - Some Standouts
















ADEA Wine Company 2003 Reserve Pinot Noir $45/$50.00
This is a full-throttle Pinot Noir from a warm vintage sporting 15.3% alcohol. Although this big style of Pinot Noir is frequently not appealing to me, I enjoyed this immensely with the mesquite-roasted Oregon Country beef sirloin served at the Grand Dinner.

Owner Dean Fisher’s interest in Oregon wine grew out of his skill for designing and building useful winery equipment in a shop on the Fisher Family Farm two miles south of Gaston and nine miles north of Carlton in Yamhill County. He struck up a friendship with Michael Etzel at Beaux Freres and his first winery contract was to design and build the sorting table at Beaux Freres. He subsequently built equipment for multiple other Oregon wineries and along the way learned the fundamentals of winegrowing and winemaking in Oregon. He planted his estate vineyard in 1990 with the help of Michael Etzel and made long-term contracts with selected growers including Coleman Vineyard, Laural Vineyard, Shea Vineyard, and Yamhill Valley Vineyards.

After making his wines early on at Medici and Lemelson, Dean opened his own winery and custom-crush winery facility in 2002 in a beautiful setting on the old Fisher Family Farm property in Gaston. The first wines Fisher made were bottled under the Fisher Family Cellars label but a copyright conflict led to a change to ADEA in 1998. The name is an acronym for members of the Fisher family (Ann, Dean, Erica and Adam). Production is now about 2,500 cases.

Andrew Rich 2002 (sold out) and 2003 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($26)
The wines are made in a very drinkable style, elegant and balanced. Equally at home before dinner or with dinner, they are sensibly priced.

Rich is a soft-spoken New England transplant who became interested in wine in the 1980s and received his training at Bonny Doon Vineyard. It was here that his interest in Rhone varietals developed. Rich is quite an enigma: he is known as one of the few Rhone Rangers in Oregon (sourcing grapes from Washington as well as Oregon), his signature wine is Gewurtztraminer ice wine, and he makes excellent Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Andrew Rich Wines was founded in 1995 and since 2002 has settled in at the Carlton Winemaker Studio in Carlton, Oregon.

Soter Vineyards 2003 Beacon Hill Pinot Noir $44.55/$49.50
A superb offering and maybe my favorite Pinot Noir at the event. This Pinot Noir jumps out of the glass with violets, black raspberries and chocolate dust. Tastes exactly like a great Chambolle-Musigny. A privilege to drink!

I have been a fan of winemaker Tony Soter for many years. His resume is impressive and dotted with Cabernet superstar wineries like Spottswoode, Araujo, and Dalla Valle. Soter founded Etude in the Carneros region of California in 1982 and made a string of exceptionally well-made wines from Pinot Gris, to Pinot Noir to Cabernet Sauvignon. Etude was sold recently to Beringer Blass but Soter continues on there as a consultant.

In 1997 Soter purchased the Beacon Hill Vineyard, a 20-acre hillside on the north fork of the Chehalem Valley, located above Willakenzie in the Yamhill-Carlton District. The site is named for a lighthouse-like structure at the top of the hill. The Pommard- clone vines had been initially planted in 1988 on their own rootstock. Additional plantings were undertaken in 1998,1999, and 2004 including some “heirloom” clones Soter is famous for.

Today there are 16 acres of ecologically-managed Pinot Noir from which an estate Pinot Noir, a sparkling Brut Rosé, and a Rosé of Pinot Noir (first release 2004) are produced. The inaugural Soter Vineyards releases were the 1998 Beacon Hill Pinot Noir and the 1997 Brut Rose. A Blanc de Blanc style sparkling wine will be released in 2007-2008 and a very limited amount of Cabernet Franc is made under the Soter Vineyards label from Cabernet Franc and Malbec grown adjacent to the Soter home in the Napa Valley. The Pinot Noirs have improved every year.

Plans have been made to build a winery in an old barn on the property. Soter is assisted at Beacon Hill by James Cahill, associate winemaker, and Vinetenders Vineyard Management, operated by Joel and Louise Myers of Dayton, Oregon.

Territorial Vineyards 2002 Stone’s Throw Pinot Noir $24.29/$26.99
This is a cuddly food wine that shined with the six-hour braised pork belly with herb salad served at an alfresco lunch. An elegant offering that has a whole pantry shelf of spices.

Territorial Vineyards & Wine Company was founded by two Lane County wine grape growing families. Estate-owned and estate-managed vineyards lie west of Eugene in the foothills of the coast range. The 11 acres at Equinox Vineyard were planted in 1993 to Dijon clones of Pinot Noir and the 15-acre Bellpine Vineyard, which bears the name of the soil type, was planted in 1999. Owners Jeff and Victoria Wilson-Charles and Alan and April Mitchell have been growing grapes for a combined total of over thirty years. Sustainable agricultural methods are combined with aggressive canopy and yield management. The stateof- the-art winery facility is located in urban Eugene . Fashioned from a old coffee warehouse, a new tasting room is part of the facility,

A reserve Pinot Noir, the 2002 Territorial Capital T Reserve $33.75/$37.50 is a bolder wine made from six of the best barrels of the 2002 growing season. I found this rich, deep offering less appealing at this point than the Stone’s Throw but time in the cellar may bring everything together.


About the author:
The PinotFile is a unique free weekly online newsletter dedicated to Pinot Noir featuring winery and winemaker profiles, Pinot Noir releases and reviews, and insider's information for acquiring artisanal Pinot Noirs. Warning: readers may develop a hopeless passion for Pinot Noir. The Creator, Editor, and Publisher is Rusty Gaffney MD, the "Prince of Pinot".

Read more about him here.



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