You'd have to be dead or sleeping under a rock somewhere to not know that Pinot Noir is the hottest wine on the market at the moment (except in small circles where people are still swooning over the 2005 Bordeaux). Pinot grape prices are through the roof, which means that Pinot Noir prices are steadily climbing, and with some California Pinot Noir now fetching scores above 96 points in the Wine Spectator, the public appreciation for this grape has reached a fever pitch.
This means, of course, that there's never been a more perfect time for a festival dedicated to one of California's least understood and most underrated Pinot Noir producing regions, the Anderson Valley. I have an odd relationship with wines from the Anderson valley. I've had some absolutely atrocious wines, a lot of mediocre wines, and several absolutely phenomenal wines from this landscape of extremes. This is true both of Pinot Noir, and also the Alsatian varieties (such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Gris) that the valley is also famous for producing.
Despite mixed experiences, the highlights have been so good, that I keep a keen, watchful eye on everything that comes out of the valley, both from those producers that I enjoy, but also from the upstart small producers that seem to be popping up every year. That Anderson Valley is capable of producing Pinot Noir of great longevity and profound character is undeniable in my opinion. The other day I had a mid 90's Pinot from this appellation that was exquisite, and would clearly have been so for another five or 10 years.
So the trick for me with Anderson Valley is finding those producers who have figured out what they are doing, and how to master the crazy temperatures of the valley which can range from inferno-like heat to San Francisco frigid foggy. The 2007 Anderson Valley Pinot Festival is the best opportunity I can think of for discovering those winemakers that have managed to exploit Pinot Noir's affinity for such extremes of temperature.
The festival begins on Friday, May 18th with a Technical Conference for those interested in the detailed aspects of cultivation, winemaking, and sales in the region, followed by a barbeque that evening. Saturday, May 20th the grand tasting offers a chance to sample Pinots from most of the producers in the region and to attend winemaker dinners if desired. Sunday, the wineries of the area throw open their doors for open houses, at which the public can taste not only Pinot but the other wines of the region.
I've never been to one of the festivals put on by the Anderson Valley Winegrowers, but I'll bet they're pretty good. This is a somewhat "off the beaten path" event, meaning that it's not within an hour's drive of San Francisco which will keep the rabble away, and make for a laid back time for those dedicated enough to make the drive.
Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival
Friday, May 18th - Sunday, May 20th
Grand Tasting, Saturday May 19th 11:00 AM - 3:00 PM
9200 CA Highway 128
Philo, CA 95466
Tickets for the grand tasting are $75 and are available for sale online. The technical conference runs an extra $100 and winemaker dinners are $150.
As a nice courtesy, the festival also offers a $35 "designated driver" ticket for someone who wants to eat and enjoy the festivities without tasting wine.
The weather is likely to be warm or even hot. Bring sunscreen and a sun hat, and make sure to drink lots of water.
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