My Pinot Days, when I was green in vintage…

By Jesse on January 30, 2010

The Winos were invited to cover the first annual “Pinot Days” of Southern California in Santa Monica earlier this month, and longtime members Jason Meltzer and Jordan Marks were on the beat.  I would’ve gone too, but it’s always really awkward being the only one in the group whose initials aren’t “JM.”  (I used to have a fake ID that said my name was “Joe Mama,” but it got confiscated by a dubious bouncer in Hermosa a few months ago).

“My Pinot Days” was written by Jason, with photos by Jordan.

A rainy January 17 did not stop throngs of wine lovers from showing up at the first annual Pinot Days event in Los Angeles. If you closed your eyes inside the gigantic hangar at the Santa Monica Airport, you might have imagined yourself on the banks of a mighty river or near a gushing waterfall — so loud was the noise from over a thousand attendees.

Who knew Pinot was so popular? Lisa and Steve Rigisich, that’s who! This dynamic duo first launched the Pinot Days event in San Francisco six years ago and has since expanded it to Chicago and Los Angeles. Why do they do it? For the love of Pinot, says Lisa. “It’s art” — and the winemakers are artisans, not corporate big-wigs producing tens of thousands of cases. She appreciates the care and passion put into the wines, and, at least since Sideways, the masses agree. Just look around this place! It’s swarming! Good thing, because over 75 producers from Oregon to Santa Barbara were there with more than 400 distinct wines to try. How much time did we have for this?

Wino stunt doubles Jordan and Jason attended the event armed with notepad, pen, camera, and umbrella. First stop: friend of the Winos Larry Schaffer, pouring for Fess Parker. We love Larry, but Jason had ulterior motives — he was looking for a place to stash his umbrella and secretly hoping Larry brought along some of his killer Rhone blends. No such luck, but he was serving up a long list of Santa Barbara Pinots from Fess. The 2007 Ashley’s Vineyard was smooth, well balanced, and bright, while the Clone 115 was full of body and much darker on the palate. In typical fashion, Larry brought along some barrel samples of soon-to-be-released ’08 Pinots. The ’08 Ashley’s was extremely well balanced, and the ’08 Bien Nacido screamed “big!” Alas, Larry was so swamped with customers we hardly had time to chat. Catch you next time!

Along the way, Jordan caught sight of one of his favorite producers, Sojourn Cellars from Sonoma Coast. Sojourn is a small producer, offering only four Pinots and three Cabs. They came with their four highly regarded 2008 Pinots: Gap’s Crown, Sangiacomo, Rodgers Creek, and Sonoma Coast. All were supremely drinkable with bright fruit, firm acidity, and excellent balance. Lovely drink-now Pinots!

Upon arrival, Lisa pointed us to some of her favorite under-the-radar pinots in the room. Her suggestions didn’t disappoint! Fred Scherrer from Scherrer Winery in Alexander Valley had two pinots on hand, 2006 Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley. The Sonoma Coast had some huge fruit on the palate with exceptional smoothness and a tart, tannic finish. The vintage from Russian River Valley was more subtle in flavor (Jason tasted currant) but provided more structure with bigger acid.

Perception Wines, another Sonoma producer from Russian River Valley, offered their 2007 Russian River Pinot and 2007 Orsi Vineyard Pinot. The former was surprisingly sweet and round, “like a pillow,” offered Jordan, and the Orsi had the most floral nose Jason detected all day. Not bad for $40-50 a bottle.

Windy Oaks Estate hails from a bit further south in the Santa Cruz Mountains. All their wines use only estate grown grapes, and they strive for a Burgundian style in their wines (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). Jordan and Jason tried two of these French-inspired Pinots.  The 2007 Henry’s Block had about as much territorial specificity as possible, derived from a single acre of vineyard! This big, chocolatey, rich taste really hit the spot. The 2007 Whole Cluster Pinot was equally big, juicy, and chocolatey. “Whole cluster” refers to the process of making the wine — instead of de-stemming and crushing the grapes first, whole cluster wines are fermented straight off the vine, stems and all intact. In this case, less really is more!

For a fun interlude, we tried Clos Pepe’s 2009 Rosé of Pinot. This was intense! Floral nose, nice tart palate, and a beautiful “princess pink” color. Yummy rose that provided a much-needed break from the onslaught of pinots in the room.

At a certain point, taking notes gets harder for even the most experienced Wino. Out of the 75 producers, we hit up 5 more and enjoyed them all. Paraiso Vineyard from Monterrey served up some SIP certified wines, which means that they are sustainably produced — good for the environment and the palate. Two others from Sonoma we enjoyed were Merry Edwards and J Vineyard, the latter of which is better know for its sparkling wines. Finally, returning to Santa Barbara, we finished off our grand tour of California Pinot with Melville and Ken Brown.

The Young Winos of LA — edutoxicating Los Angeles since 2005.

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