Pinot Days Are Gone, But the Pinot Lingers On

Courtesy Lisa Rigisich

We had a great day at the Pinot Days grand tasting in Santa Monica. We caught up with a couple old Faves (big shout out to Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe, who gave us a really great interview).

Boy, were there a lot of different pinot noirs and a lot of very passionate, very intelligent folks out there pouring. And a lot of people were tasting. We don’t have the final numbers, but it sure looked like everyone pretty much poured everything they had. We left relatively early and there were several wineries whose wine was gone.

This was a slightly different tasting for us – we ended up helping to pour for Amalie Robert Estate winery, since their owners/winemakers had to leave to go back to Oregon early. Turns out we weren’t that needed – we poured out just as co-owner Dena Drews was ready to call her taxi to the airport (her partner in life and in winemaking Ernie Pink had already left). But it was an interesting experience.

Aside from the fabulous wine that Pink and Drews make, it was fun talking about how the wine is all estate grown, produced and bottled – and why we needed to mention all three. Wines can be fermented other places than where the grapes are grown – which we well know, since we buy all our grapes for our own humble home winemaking efforts. So if a wine is estate-grown, you know the grapes all came from the owner’s vineyards. But that doesn’t mean the owner didn’t ship them elsewhere to be fermented or bottled. So the fact that Amalie Robert Estate wine is all three means that Pink and Drews are pretty much doing everything.

More on them later, but some other fun things we did included a quick tasting of several New Zealand pinot noirs. Alas, we were not impressed, but it was fun to try.

One sad note, it’s entirely possible that the Barker Hangar, in Santa Monica, where the event was held, may not be there next year. There’s a serious movement afoot to do away with the Santa Monica Airport, which may or may not include the hangar. Lisa Rigisich told Anne last week that they have looked at a couple other sites for the festival, but we do hope the hangar, uh, hangs in there.

Finally, major kudos to Lisa and Steve Rigisich for pulling off another great event. Pinot Days has become a career for them, but it’s also a passion project, and it shows. Things appeared to go really smoothly. Michael, who volunteered with set up the day before, noted that things went really well that day.  All in all, a fun day and well worth going.

Pinot Days, They are Almost Here! (And There’s a Coupon)

Courtesy Lisa Rigisich

According to Lisa Rigisich, who with her husband Steve, founded the Pinot Days wine festival, there is nothing worse that a pundit spouting off about what a pinot noir wine should and shouldn’t be.

“I think it’s dangerous when pundits do that,” Rigisich said. “Then the winemaker’s not saying what’s best for the grapes in this year on this land.”

The Los Angeles Pinot Days festival starts on Thursday, Jan. 26, with some smaller events around town. But the big one is the Grand Tasting on Saturday, Jan. 28, from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica.

Rigisich wants to make it very clear that just because the festival is all about the pinot noir grape, which comes in for some serious snootiness, the festival is anything but snooty. Geeky, perhaps, but it’s about the joy and the fun of wine.

“Pinot noir has gotten this reputation as being sophisticated and people have gotten intimidated,” Rigisich said. “The wines are very sophisticated… But we’re not about the fancy room and wearing an ascot.”

The whole point of the festival is bring every day people out to try and find which pinot noirs they like and to meet the winemakers, most of whom will be pouring.

The Grand Tasting is $60 per person, but when you consider how much you might spend on tastings, driving all over the Carneros Valley or even the Santa Rita Hills, it’s not so bad, especially considering how many wineries you’ll be able to connect with. Also, you’ll have the rare chance to actually talk to a lot of the winemakers, themselves, which is insanely cool.

If you’ve never done a tasting event like this, or even if you have, here are some things you may want to keep in mind:

  • Dress comfortably – you’ll be on your feet for a long time, and this is not a fancy dress affair. You may want to wear dark clothes, though. Red wine stains are a pain to get out.
  • There will be bread and cheese and water at the event – consume those liberally. In fact, you may want to eat a hearty lunch before you even get there.
  • This is a great opportunity to try something new. If you think you only like red wines and there’s a rosé there, give it a whirl. It’s not going to cost you any more and you might find something you really, really like.
  • It’s okay to spit the wine out after you taste it. In fact, it’s encouraged. The winemakers are not going to think you don’t like their wine. We promise. If you grimace and go blech as you spit, that’s different. But if you’re going to maximize your tasting, you’ll have to spit just to stay standing. There are usually plastic cups around for just this purpose. Nor should you feel obligated to taste all the wine that’s in your glass – that’s what the dump buckets are for. Use them.
  • Have fun. Yes, there’s a lot of geeky talk about clones going on. You can either listen to it and expand your knowledge or blow it off. It’s all about the wine and how it tastes to you.

Seriously, Rigisich doesn’t want people put off by all the fancy schmancy talk. Nor should you be. An event like this is about educating yourself – exploring what you like and don’t like. So give it a whirl.

Better yet, Rigisich gave us a coupon code you can use when you go to the site to order tickets: GRAPESC12. This will get you a 10 percent discount on your tickets to the Grand Tasting, and we’d love it if you used it.

Pinot Days Means Lots and Lots of Pinot

Courtesy Pinot Days

Tasting events are an amazingly cool way to find out about a lot of wine at one time. Most feature a region or even a single grape, such as Pinot Days, dedicated to the heartbreak grape that is Pinot Noir. Based in San Francisco, the organizers have also taken the show to Chicago and, for the last two years, Santa Monica, California. Michael was lucky enough to get involved as a volunteer for the recent Santa Monica show, which also allowed him to attend the event and mingle with the winemakers.

Imagine a beehive of four thousand people inside a large metal airplane hangar. Tablecloth draped tables with signs for each label present. Most are staffed by the winemakers themselves, sometimes the marketing staff. One ounce pours of as many as three hundred pinot noirs by seventy-five producers from California, Oregon, Washington and one from Tasmania this year.

Sustenance in the form of bread and cheese made the task of tasting every pinot almost manageable. Okay, not even close to manageable. Don’t even try tasting everything. It’s physically impossible. Some of the lines for one or two cult labels can take a half-hour and the entire tasting is only 4 hours. Besides, how much fun is it when you can’t taste the flavors of  a great glass of wine because you’ve already tried 30 others? Moderation, please.

Pinot fans are given to superlatives and plenty of rhetoric. But the winemakers themselves are not. They’re more interested  in telling the wine’s story and sharing its’ history, which you’ll read about in the weeks ahead.

Unknown Winemaker pouring, courtesy Pinot Days

Any wine event where the winemaker is there is worth the experience and the crowds. Winemakers seldom staff tasting rooms because they’re too busy making wine. And, trust us, having the person who made the wine pour you a sample and tell you about it is a blast. You can ask them anything from the most basic beginner question to the most obscure geek stuff, and they love it.

And if the high price of a tasting event like Pinot Days is beyond your budget, try volunteering. It’s a great way to support the program and you can almost always get in plenty of tasting time. Michael had an entire convention of great wine and fascinating winemakers at elbow’s distance for the price of a few hours of sweat equity. Nothing but the best for the readers of OBG!