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08.01.2007

IPNC 2007: Tidbits, Gossip, and Thoughts

I'm now safely back in San Francisco after spending last weekend at the 2007 International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, Oregon. I have to say, I'm already missing the sun and the trees and relaxing days filled with good food and great wines.

As I reflect back on the event, which I can heartily endorse for anyone interested in the Pinot Noir grape and its wines, there are some small bits and pieces of my experience which have not yet been captured by my previous posts, so I thought I'd just catalogue them here for my own peace of mind, and for your potential enjoyment.


DO WE REALLY NEED ANOTHER PINOT GLASS?
I have neglected to mention explicitly thus far, that one of the big "highlights" of this year's IPNC event was the unveiling of a new Riedel wine glass -- one specifically designed not just for Pinot Noir, but for Oregon Pinot Noir. In his remarks during the opening ceremonies Georg Riedel asked the hypothetical question of whether such a glass was warranted, and then declined to answer his own question, suggesting that he did not want to "open a can of worms."

Well I'm pulling off the lid and dumping them on the table.

I had a conversation with Georg Riedel about 4 months ago when he was in San Francisco in which he pretty much admitted that he had been cajoled, begged, and finally (as appropriate for a good old fashioned business man) paid to create this glass against his better judgment. Let's be clear, I'm not talking about bribery here -- apparently the IPNC was able to place an order for enough of these glasses that it became worth Riedel's while to make the glasses. That is, after all, the business that he is in.

But does the world need another Pinot Noir glass? And does the world need a glass specifically for Oregon Pinot Noir? And does the Oregon Pinot Noir glass actually improve the experience of drinking Oregon Pinot Noir more than it does, say Santa Barbara Pinot Noir?

The answer to all of the above is NO. Don't get me started on whether great wine glasses are even capable of changing the flavors of wine in the first place, as the manufacturers claim. You don't want to stick around for as long as I can rant about that one. Aromas, yes. Flavors, no.

I don't begrudge anyone their opportunity to create whatever product they're willing to pay for, so kudos to the IPNC for getting their own glass, but consumers are confused enough about wine glasses not to need something like this.

In my opinion, it's a dangerous precedent for the world's leading wine glass purveyor to be setting. Like bridges and highway projects in senatorial home districts, the door is now open for every wine region, if they've got enough lobbying power, to get their own glass.

Lord help us.


FRANCE vs. USA, ALWAYS
I was surprised to see just how much there really is a rivalry between French and American winemakers. I think by and large it is a friendly, but definitely exasperating one at times. The cultural, or perhaps better stated, philosophical divide between the two was clearly demonstrated through a number of conversations I had and interactions I witnessed (and heard about second hand) throughout the weekend.

Perhaps the most blatant of these were the conversations I had with winemakers from both regions surrounding the issue of ripeness. The French complained to me of over-ripe American Pinot and the American winemakers that think it's good wine. The Americans complained to me about under-ripe French Pinot that tasted like dirt, and the French winemakers who seem to be in denial about how ripeness affects their wines.

"They almost refuse to admit that the legendary years for Burgundy then AND now are all the years in which the grapes got the ripest!" railed on top Oregon winemaker to me at one point. "It's some sort of cultural blindness," he said.

Old rivalries die hard, even amidst a clear spirit of cooperation and celebration that brought many French and American winemakers together as part of this event.


SMALL IS THE NEW BLACK
Buddy, one of my readers, asked me whether I thought the small winegrower/winemaker was on the wane. He said that he had spoken to some winemakers who were concerned at the amount of acreage being purchased by large companies.

I did not have similar conversations with people, but what I think is happening is an inevitable maturing of the Oregon wine industry -- a process which Napa and Sonoma have both undergone as well. Big money will inevitably move in, but there's a lot of ground not planted yet to grapes, and even if that land gets more expensive over time (which I'm sure it is) there will always be people who are looking to follow their dream of living in wine country and growing grapes. These folks will buy up small plots that may or may not be planted, and they will start their own labels and sell grapes to those who want them.

In short, I'm not worried. But then again, I don't live in Oregon, and I'm not trying to buy grapes on the market.


YOUR PENSION IN OREGON VINEYARDS
Speaking of big money in Vineyards, a source who shall remain nameless told me that CalPERS, the public employee pension and investment behemoth is making huge investments in Oregon Pinot Vineyards -- buying land in chunks of 500 acres and planting it to Pinot Noir.

It's quite funny to hear that many California government workers may be silently investing in the Oregon wine industry.

How good an investment that will prove to be, it's not quite clear. Apparently the folks hired to manage these vineyards are going to HUGE expenses in their maintenance, including the use of helicopters to spray the vineyards, when a field worker with a tank and hose could do it just as well. Not only that, but apparently the grapes aren't that good, but are being offered at astronomical prices ($9000 per ton was the starting price my source suggested). Apparently though, they're keen enough to sell that they can be talked down to $2000 per ton pretty easily.

Seems like buying bottles of DRC might have been a better bet.


ERIC ASIMOV IS THE MAN
On the last morning of the conference, while he was no doubt on his way to the airport, the folks at the IPNC decided that they ought to auction off the wine glass that wine writer Eric Asimov had been using all weekend, finger smudges and all.

They got $125 for it, once it was filled with Schramsberg sparkling rose.

He is truly a god among men, isn't he? (I can hear him cringing from here).

I tell you, though. Ain't no one ever paid good cash for something that had my lips on it for a few hours. Even for charity. You go, Eric!


I'M STILL NOT PART OF THE IN-CROWD
Speaking of what a dude Eric Asimov is, you only need to look at my list of tasting notes on Burgundies from the IPNC conference and his list. Which one of these kids was sitting at the right table for the Sunday night Salmon Bake?

During this big dinner out on the lawn of Linfield College, people break out some pretty amazing wines. The problem is, you either need to know who these people are and they need to like you, or you need to be good at ingratiating yourself with groups of strangers.

Proving nothing has changed for me since junior high school, I'm still not good at either.

Maybe next year Eric will take me under his wing if I pay him $125 and dip myself in Champagne.


YOU SHOULD ATTEND THE IPNC!
If you've found my coverage of this event interesting, you should check it out yourself. Registration for the 2008 event is now open (but not necessarily evident on the web site -- you should call them). Tell them Alder at Vinography sent you and you might get a free Oregon Pinot Noir Glass. Thrown at you.

Comments (18)

Eric H. Stiefeling wrote:
08.02.07 at 9:03 AM

As the President of The Golden Gate Wine Society I have attended 10 IPNCs over the last 14 years. Most of the attendees are Napa Valley professionals.We usually fly up on Thursday and visit wineries for 3 days and do the Sunday Tasting. It has been eye-opening to see the growth of their industry,the latest in tech toys and taste the evolution of fine wines. The restaurants arent too shabby either.

Ryan wrote:
08.02.07 at 10:42 AM

Alder, this is an especially tasty post, in particular the Riedel and CalPERS bits. Cheers!

St. Vini wrote:
08.02.07 at 1:05 PM

"Don't get me started on whether great wine glasses are even capable of changing the flavors of wine in the first place, as the manufacturers claim."

Please...get started!
One of my personal favorite rants.
Riedel has redefined the laws of fluid dynamics and actually guides the flow of liquid only to certain parts of your tongue!
Science? no
Genius? ye$

V

barrld wrote:
08.02.07 at 4:52 PM

Isn't the whole debate about Riedel and specially shaped crystal really much ado about nothing? Whatever George Riedel may be, he's certainly a marketing wiz; give him credit for that and move on with your favorite glass or crystal stem. Frankly, I prefer the Eisch crystal b/c of the comfortable shape of the base that rests nicely in the palm of my hand. Does it aerate wine? who cares.

Alder wrote:
08.02.07 at 4:58 PM

Barrld,

The thing about specially shaped crystal is that it is a story that most of the wine world has bought hook, line, and sinker without any scientific basis. To those who are rationally minded, it rankles.

Malcolm wrote:
08.03.07 at 3:35 AM

Alder,
One thing that slightly confuses me about the Oregon P/N glass thing is why would someone want a special Oregon P/N glass?

I can see why a particular maker might want a branded glass that "helps" the consumer appreciate the nuances of that makers wine - because they could buy it as an exclusive and use it as a marketing tool with both consumers and the bar and restaurant trade. But surely an Oregon P/N glass is just another generic glass (a very nice glass I'm sure but just another glass) - so apart from some retailers who specialise in Oregon P/N - who would want to commission it (over and above a regular P/N or red wine glass)?

Speaking as the owner of some basic Riedel red wine glasses and Riedel Bollinger champagne glasses. Bolly tastes just as nice in the cheap flutes I own as well - and other champagnes taste very nice in the Bollinger Riedels!

Malcolm

malcolm wrote:
08.03.07 at 4:04 AM

Actually to be more precise the Riedels were bought cheap when I realised that I could not field more than two matching wine glasses at the dinner table when entertaining friends (and this is pretty much the only time they are used).

My day to day consumption of light wines is from bog standard ISO glasses (I'm embarassed to say these were probably brought home from tastings I've attended!) and the wine tastes perfectly fine from them.

However, I would say that the Riedel glasses are a more enjoyable tactile experience to drink from (particularly the champagne glasses) which I guess is part of the fun.

Malcolm

Alder wrote:
08.03.07 at 7:18 AM

Malcolm,

Here’s the rationale for the glass as far as I can tell.

Those who drink the glass marketing kool-aid _know_ that there is a specific glass shape which will best highlight the quality of every major varietal (I'm still waiting for the Refosco glass). A Pinot Noir glass is shaped differently from a Bordeaux glass because of the particular aromatic qualities and flavors of the grape that are better highlighted by a different glass shape(it certainly is clear that glass shapes DO make a big difference in the way a wine smells, at the very least). The subtext here is that drinking a Pinot out of a Bordeaux glass is not only gauche, it means that you are not getting the "full," "best," or "authentic" experience of the wine.

So the idea behind this Oregon Pinot Noir glass is implicitly offering consumers to draw the conclusion that Oregon Pinot Noir is distinctive enough in character that it warrants its own glass to best highlight its qualities. With the normal Riedel Pinot glass, you'd just be missing something.

For his part, even while suggesting that the need for a separate glass was suspect, Riedel suggested that in order to come up with the final glass design that he and his staff and a bunch of wine experts tried out hundreds of different shapes before settling on "the right one."

There you have it.

Alder

Eric wrote:
08.03.07 at 9:17 AM

The IPNC seemed to draw a particularly discerning crowd this year, don't you think? Alder, trust me, you ARE the in crowd.

Jerry D. Murray wrote:
08.03.07 at 3:51 PM

Alder,

I was hoping to stayout of the oregon glass discussion as being an oregonian my life may be threatened.
As far as a 'scientific basis' for varietals having there own glass I think we need to acknowledge that science doesn't have all of the answers. Science cannot tell us how bees fly or why sulfur prevents mildew in our vineyards but yet it still happens. The truth is that your nose is a much more fine tuned instrument than anything in a laboratory...at this point in time.
That said I can honestly say that I have enjoyed oregon pinot out of 'burgundy' glasses for years and if someone would rather not fork out the cash for yet another esoteric glass they should continue to to drink from the glass they prefer. However the glass does make a difference and if you are a hard core oregon pinot drinker ( of which there are far too few in the world ) maybe the expense is worth it. No body has a problem with Bordeaux or burgundy having thier own glass but once a glass is made for a region outside the new worlds center of the universe ( California ) everyone has a BIG problem. Oregon makes distinct wines unique to thier region, if CA came up with a Russian River Pinot glass would everyone be up in arms about it? Oregon is serious Pinot Noir country, you may prefer Burgundy or CA but that doesn't make us any less deserving of consideration as a serious wine region. It seems people are pointing out that this is some sort of 'marketing scheme' and they are right but so is Screaming Eagle, DRC, etc.

About Calpers: Oregons wine industry is about 40 years old now, with over 400 wineries we could still fit our entire production into Gallo's Sonoma facility. Oregon is still a small industry, average 'winery' is under 5000 cases. We have only recently began to see 'big' wineries investing in Oregon. Why? Because everybody knows that Pinot Noir is perhaps the least profitable red grape grown in america and that Oregon's climate is less than predictable. Calpers, taking peoples retirement money and comming here and planting vineyards ( and not making wine from them ) seems terribly risky. These vineyards have set themselves up for problems. The prices they charge prevent low end producers from buying the grapes yet thier management practices ( ie yields ) make the fruit less than appealing to producers who can afford them. Right now they are in the midst of a strong sellers market, I feel bad for California's public employees when the market for grapes goes the other way. Calpers could see here what they should of been seeing in CA if they looked, acres of vines with fruit left to rot because no one would buy the grapes.

Then there are the tables that seem to have armed guards and old burgundies. I would complain until the cows come home about how rude and in considerate that is. I don't because I am simply jelous of the people who get past the guards. If I would of followed my mothers advice and became a doctor instead of a winemaker I too could be sitting at one of those tables and I too would probably keep the low lifes, such as myself, away. I would probably also subscribe to trickle down economics and deny evolution ever happened. On second thought they can keep thier old burgundies, for me IPNC represents a cetain spirit that is special. It isn't about the trophies it is about the people you meet and thier generosity.

jean Louis Forcina wrote:
08.03.07 at 9:33 PM

Good tips, Alder. I noted thanks to your esteemed blog and that of Asimov that small scale Champagne producers are indeed popping their croks in Oregon at the IPNC. Your modesty does allow you to hint that Asimov gave you a nifty nod in his own blog. Maybe you should try and sell your wine goblet next year.

We went to Oregon ourselves but definitely the IPNC is the time and the place for a return trip.

Jean-Louis

Alder wrote:
08.06.07 at 9:46 AM

:-) As it was my first time to the event, I couldn't tell that they were more or less discerning than years before. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Eric.

Alder wrote:
08.06.07 at 10:57 AM

Jerry,

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, as usual. I actually don't think of Bordeaux or Burgundy glasses, I think of Cabernet varietal and Pinot varietal glasses.

The idea that a region needs its own glass is very strange to me. I would certainly be up in arms in exactly the same way if someone came up with a RRV Pinot glass. Seems like a useless exercise. But maybe we're wading into the shark infested waters of the Sea of Terroir, here, or the wine glass equivalent of one of my favorite Spinal Tap scenes:


Nigel Tufnel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and...

Marty DiBergi: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?

Nigel Tufnel: Exactly.

Marty DiBergi: Does that mean it's louder? Is it any louder?

Nigel Tufnel: Well, it's one louder, isn't it? It's not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You're on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you're on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?

Marty DiBergi: I don't know.

Nigel Tufnel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?

Marty DiBergi: Put it up to eleven.

Nigel Tufnel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.

Marty DiBergi: Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?

Nigel Tufnel: [pause] These go to eleven.

08.07.07 at 12:38 PM

Alder, nice write up of IPNC. Not being formally in the business, I can't afford the IPNC weekend. But I'll get there one of these years. I've heard a lot about the CalPERS projects up here. $9,000 a ton wasn't what I heard. Rather something slightly north of that per acre, based on a projected yield of 5 tons/acre. Yikes.

Nice comments Jerry, nice to see you posting here. Don't miss our burg tasting later this month boy. And though you're right about the risk of CalPERS investments in terms of the grape market and not making their own wine, I think the real estate alone will give them a nice return over time. As high as prices have gone here, they're nothing compared to what we'll see ten to twenty years on. If I had the money, I'd be buying land.

Vincent

Doug wrote:
08.08.07 at 1:30 PM

It should be clarified that Georg Riedel was not paid to create the Oregon Pinot glass- he responded to the requests of Oregon Winemakers to create a glass that highlighted the nuance and character of Oregon Pinot Noir. The glass was created after the winemakers decided upon a final shape, and it was their persistence and tenacity that served as the impetus for creating an Oregon Pinot specific glass.

Secondly, Riedel does not claim, as Alder Yarrow says, that "great wine glasses are capable of changing the flavors of wine." Riedel glasses don't change anything in the wine- they simply influence one's perception of the wine on the palate.

I invite anyone who "drinks the Kool-Aid" to participate in one of the many Riedel wine tasting seminars held worldwide. It is a fun, entertaining, and educational way to share and enjoy wine. After all- isn't that why we all drink wine?

Alder wrote:
08.08.07 at 1:54 PM

Doug,

Thanks for the comments, and for the clarification of the way the glasses change perception rather than reality.

As for being paid to create the glasses, I do beg your pardon, but are you suggesting that Riedel created the Oregon wine glass for free? I think not. You can argue about whether he was paid in advance (guaranteed a certain number of purchases) or after the fact (by the people who bought them), but in the end, my impression is that Georg did not wake up one day and simply decide the world needed an Oregon Pinot Noir glass and set about creating one out of the goodness of his heart. Please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

Doug wrote:
08.08.07 at 5:18 PM

Hi Alder,

I think we are getting sidetracked by semantics.

Perception is personal reality in wine tasting. If wine rolls from a particular Riedel glass to the tip of your tongue, or to the sides of your palate, that is a reality. Whether "scientifically" proven or not, the shape of a Riedel glass is the result of years of research with wine professionals and winemakers from all over the world; visual aesthetic has never been a factor in the ultimate creation. The Oregon Pinot Noir glass was born not as a marketing tool, rather, because Oregon winemakers and wine professionals thought a new shape should be created to best show the nuance of Oregon Pinot Noir.

Georg Riedel didn't wake up one day thinking the wine world needed an Oregon Pinot Noir glass just as he didn't wake up one day thinking Montrachet needed a glass. The truth is that these glasses are designed to best show styles/terroir of wine. Oregon winemakers insisted that Oregon Pinot tends toward the earthy end of the spectrum and regular (or even Riedel Burgundy) glasses don't allow enough fruit to balance out the earthiness and acidity.
As such, the ultimate design of the Oregon Pinot glass allows for the fruit to come forward as an equal partner to the earth and acidity.

As he stated, Georg Riedel was against the concept of a regional Pinot
glass- hence, he dubbed the OPN glass to be his "trouble-maker." He didn't like the idea that it would be construed as a marketing tool. Despite my entreaties to him at the 2006 IPNC, he told me he would not do it. However, he acquiesced because he conducted tastings with Oregon winemakers and found that in fact, Oregon Pinot in a Vinum Burgundy glass does overemphasize the earthiness to the fruit quality in the wine.

I have found that the Oregon Pinot glass is actually great for any Pinot that has an imbalance of earth over fruit, whether due to youth of the wine, or winemaking style resulting from terroir. I had a Carneros Pinot this past weekend that showed magnificently in the Oregon Pinot Noir glass- the wine was average, but the glass allowed for the fruit to rise up both aromatically and on the palate. Again, the glass did not change the makeup of the wine, simply my perception and enjoyment of it.

The bottom line is that the Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glass has proven to be an interesting and completely fun experiment. It is only a tiny drop in the Riedel revenue bucket, but Oregon winemakers have expressed sincere excitement and pleasure at the creation of the glass and the Oregon end consumer has overwhelmingly approved. Further, as a cork dork myself, I'm pleased that the glass is calling attention to the wonderful Pinots from fantastic appellations. Ultimately, I love that the Oregon Pinot Noir glass by Riedel is promoting the entire wine region.

Doug Nickle

08.09.07 at 8:31 AM

Thank you Alder for all of your IPNC observations. As you point out, the "C" in IPNC stands for Celebration, and that's exactly what we intend the event to be. We've made a lot of headway in the last 20 years helping people get past wine's pretensions and move towards a down to earth appreciation of wine as it should be enjoyed, with good food and friends. If any of us thought the Oregon Pinot glass would ultimately clash with this goal of "demystifying" wine, we would not have taken on the project.

Georg Riedel has been a good friend to IPNC (and other key events of course) for many years and we are very grateful for his company's support. But I can reiterate that in no way was Georg paid by us, or promised any kind of sales guarantee in return for designing the OPC glass. Anyone who knows Georg can testify that he most definitely makes his own decisions about everything he does, and the thought of me being able to cajole Georg Riedel into doing anything against his better judgment is oddly flattering but not a reality.

But more importantly, Alder, it was a pleasure having you with us this past IPNC and we hope to see you again soon!

Cheers from Oregon, Amy Wesselman
(Executive Director of IPNC and winemaker/owner for a small Oregon winery)

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