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Pinot Noir Draws A Crowd

By Stephen Eliot

I can still remember quite clearly the days when we simply did not talk about California Pinot Noir here in California. Outside of those made by Chalone and Mount Eden, and, perhaps, the occasional bottling from Beaulieu and Mondavi, the list of interesting wines back in the early 1970s was a short one at best. If the grape began to generate a little more interest when producers like Calera, Carneros Creek and Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards appeared and Acacia tossed its hat into the ring as the decade closed, Pinot was nonetheless relegated to also-ran status here in California for years to come. I confess to looking forward to Pinot Noir tastings in those days with something less than unbridled enthusiasm. Apprehension and dread might have better described my state of mind.

Well, we all know that things have changed mightily for the better in the last generation or so, and Pinot Noir is far from being the black sheep of California’s vinous flock. It is easy enough to make the case that no California wines have improved so much in the last twenty-five years as those made from Pinot.

While refined winemaking techniques and clonal selection have played a significant, the big reason for Pinot’s ascendancy hereabouts is that aspiring producers recognized that the grape’s needed to be grown in cooler, more hospitable regions, and wines from places like Carneros, Sonoma’s Russian River Valley and far western reaches, the Anderson Valley of Mendocino and the Santa Maria and Arroyo Grande Valleys further South have convincingly proved that world-class Pinot Noirs are no longer exclusive to the variety’s Burgundian home.

Pinot Noir has been on our minds and in our glasses a good deal this last month, and we are putting the final touches to our upcoming June issue that takes a look at a host of exciting new wines from the 2012 vintage. We are not done thinking about Pinot, however, and I am packing my bags to head off to two exciting celebrations over the next couple of week-ends, and both are very highly recommended events to any and all who have succumbed to Pinot fever.

The first is the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival. Now in its 17th year (how time flies!), the festival is hosted by the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association and runs from May 16 to May 18. It kicks off with a day-long technical conference followed by a Friday Night Barbecue, a comprehensive tasting and winemaker dinner the next day, with open-house winery visits along the Anderson Valley Wine Road slated for Sunday. Information about joining in the fun can be found at the Associations’s website,

Next up on the schedule is the Pinot Classic, this time hosted by Russian River Valley Winegrowers Association. Taking place over the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, this will be the first of what I am sure will be a much-anticipated yearly event that celebrates one of California’s most-renowned Pinot Noir appellations. Among the many events scheduled are a seminar on the neighborhoods of the Russian River Valley, a grand Paulée dinner where vintners will be showing off some of their very best bottles and barrel tastings at more than thirty wineries. I was lucky enough to attend last year’s Paulée dinner by way of a preview to this year’s inaugural Pinot Classic, and I confess to getting more than a little excited as this next one approaches. All of the events are open to public while tickets remain, and dyed-in-the-wool devotees of Russian River Pinot are encouraged to check in with the Pinot Classic at


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by TomHill
Posted on:5/14/2014 8:06:34 AM

Yup, Charlie...couldn't agree more that a large part of the ascendancy of Calif Pinot is the seeking out of colder growing areas.

   Another big factor, I contend, is our perception of what Calif Pinot could/should be. Many of those early pioneers (let us not forget DavidBruce & JoeSwan & JamesZellerbach/BradWebb) fell in love with RedBurg and felt that they could replicate those wines in Calif's superior growing conditions. To describe those early Calif Pinots as "Burgundian" was the ultimate accolade for them. But for folks who cut their teeth on RedBurg, those Calif Pinots were found wanting.

   But those folks (that be you & I, Charlie) who fell in love w/ Calif Zin & Cab, wines that spoke loud & clear of their Calif origins, we, for the most part, could care less if this Calif Pinot reminded us of was darned good Pinot in its own right. And gradually the rest of the world began to share that view of Calif Pinot and what a great Calif Pinot can be.

   Of course, there's a sizeable  contingent of folks who grew up loving RedBurg and cannot bring themselves to accept that Calif can make great Pinot in its own right (sorta like the Barolo/Barbaresco folks vis a vis Calif Nebb). Let them go off and spend 10X$  to get their Pinot fix..that be fine w/ me.

   But I think that the perception of what constitutes great Calif Pinot changing has also been a big factor.



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