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Oregon's International Pinot Noir Celebration: Day One

Under the towering trees and across the sprawling green lawns of Linfield College in the little town of McMinnville, Oregon, several hundred people are plowing through the International Pinot Noir Celebration at the kind of pace you would expect for 80 degree days filled with Pinot Noir and good company.

My day began with breakfast on the lawn and a welcome by Master of Ceremonies Jancis Robinson. Jancis recounted her memories of past IPNC attendances, going back to the early years of the festival, which was pioneering in its singular focus on Pinot Noir.

Perhaps the most interesting moment in her welcome involved a brief note on how the wine world is changing and a request for a show of hands from the roughly 500 people in the audience. The tally as far as I could tell was:

People who twitter: 5
People who write about wine: 10
People who regularly visit wine web sites: 50

Now I'd chalk some depression in these numbers up to hesitation on the part of the audience, upon whom the poll was quickly sprung, but those numbers are definitely surprisingly low.

The welcome reception was followed shortly by a very interesting seminar that was referred to as "Hand or Land," which focused on an examination of the influence of winemaker vs. terroir in Oregon Pinot Noir. This seminar was based around the remarkable collaboration between five different winemakers that began several years ago. These five winemakers, Lynn Penner-Ash, Ken Wright, Laurent Montalieu, Steve Doerner, and Terry Casteel, decided to do an experiment where they would each make a wine from five different vineyards from around Oregon each year for several years to learn about the relationships between their winemaking styles, the vintage, and the soil. Holding the harvest date constant between all the wines, the winemakers were left to make the wines according to their own devices.

The seminar presented five wines from two different vineyards to be tasted blind, and then discussed by each of the winemakers, along with moderator Jancis Robinson. There were clear differences between the first and the second flights of wine, the first being thinner and more mineral, the second being fleshier and more ripe, and even more so, there were strong stylistic correlations between the two flights based on the winemaker.

Here were my favorites from that tasting:

2006 Penner-Ash "Leah's Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Chehalem, Willamette Valley, OR Medium garnet in the glass this wine has a rich bright nose of wet earth, raspberry, spices. In the mouth it is rich and spicy with gorgeous texture, sharp acids, sandalwood and hints of willow bark. Score: around 9.

2006 Cristom "Leahs Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Chehalem, Willamette Valley, OR
Light to Medium garnet in color, this wine has a nose of dried cherry and raspberry fruit. In the mouth it is smooth with hints of tannin that wrap around a core of dried herbs, raspberry, and dried cherry fruit that lingers with a little leathery quality into the finish. Score: between 8.5 and 9.

2006 Solena "Eilieen Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Eola Hills, Willamette Valley, OR
Light to medium garnet in color has a deep nose of cranberry and pomogranate. In the mouth it has light cola flavors with cedar cranberries and nice faint tannins that wrap around a nice fruit core that lingers into the finish. Score: between 8.5 and 9.

The second seminar of the day was led by David Schildknecht of the Wine Advocate, and it was an exploration of the Burgundy appellation Chambolle-Musigny through the wines of Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé. Unfortunately, winemaker Francois Millet was quite softspoken, and that combined with a focus heavily on the geology of the region (to the near exclusion of much talk about the actual wines we were tasting) made this seminar somewhat lackluster.

Millet did manage to convey something of his philosophy about making wine which was quite poetic at turns, in that he really relates to his wine like people ("the grape and site are the personality, the vintage is the mood"), with distinct personalities that need to be related to in much the same way as you might your children. In fact he related winemaking to having kids, saying "it's easy to make babies, it's hard to raise children," referring to the process of getting a wine from the point of fermentation to being ready to drink.

Despite the somewhat boring discussion, the wines were great. Here are my notes:

2006 Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé Chambolle-Musigny, Burgundy Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a lightly savory, but very clean/crisp nose of hibiscus and redcurrant. In the mouth it is tart and racy with redcurrant, a hint of green wood, and wet stone qualities that linger in a nice finish. Score: around 9. Cost: $140. Where to buy?

2006 Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru, Burgundy

Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of wet cedar boughs, wet earth, and spicy raspberry aromas. In the mouth it is bright and beautifully textured with velvety soft tannins that are very light in aspect. Excellent acidity makes this quite juicy, and a long finish brings in aromatic green herbs. Score: around 9. Cost: $190 Where to buy?

2006 Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru, Burgundy
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cranberry, plum, and crabapples. In the mouth it is silky smooth and bright with crabapple, redcurrant, and cranberry fruit with gorgeous acidity, and a floral quality (violets?) that lingers in the finish. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $399. Where to buy?

2006 Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé Musigny Vielles Vignes Grand Cru, Burgundy
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a tight nose of mineral, rose petals, and raspberries that is crystalline in quality. In the mouth it is satin smooth, with bright, approachable fruit, soft terrycloth tannins that linger in a finish that has a sour cherry note to it. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $480. Where to buy?

The day also included a lovely lunch (with me sandwiched between Jancis Robinson and David Schildknecht) accompanied by some excellent wines, and a session with Jancis on her life and career as a wine writer. Both of which I will cover in subsequent posts. Stay tuned....

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud