Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival 2009: Day 1 by valleyfog
BOONVILLE, CA — May 15, 2009. As we’ve mentioned before, Jennifer and I have been attending the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir festival for a number of years now. We have such an affinity for the valley because of the remoteness, the tight-knit community and of course, for the amazing wines, specifically Pinot Noir, made there. Now that we’re making Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley, it is a thrill for us to actually pour our wines for the first time at the festival’s Grand Tasting this year.

Mendocino County Fairgrounds, home of the AV Pinot Fest Technical Conference

Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville, home of the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Technical Conference

There are many events at the festival, which runs from May 15 – May 17. Day one kicks off with a technical conference at the Mendocino Fairgrounds for winemakers, grapegrowers, industry folk and the wine geek in all of us consumers. It is something we attended years ago as a lark (okay, we’re kind of geeky that way), and we really enjoyed it, even though we may not understand everything being discussed. The agenda is usually a selection of presentations on oenology and viticulture, some wine tasting and a presentation on marketing to consumers. This year, the growing and winemaking themes were on water use, native fermentations and native microflora and clonal selections in Burgundy. The tastings focused on different appellations and vineyards in and around Anderson Valley.


The first tasting of the day - a clean tasting mat!

The first tasting was focused on Greenwood Ridge. Greenwood Ridge actually overlaps between the Anderson Valley appellation and the Mendocino Ridge appellation. The Mendocino Ridge appellation is further west and runs along the coast. To be appellation-designate, vineyards must be above 1200 feet, which is necessary to stay above the fogline and get enough sunlight and warmth for the grapes to gain full ripeness. The conditions are probably similar to the true Sonoma Coast vineyards like Hirsch Vineyard. While it would seem that the temperature would be cooler closer to the coast, the grapes in Mendocino Ridge get more hours of sunshine because they are above the fogline, while the valley floor gets fog rolling in early in the evening, making for shorter days of sun. I tried two Pinot Noirs from Greenwood Ridge and one from Ferrari-Carano and they all had good structure – medium tannins, with the F-C exhibiting darker fruit characteristics than the Greenwood Ridge wines.

We broke for “A Very Good Lunch,” which was indeed very good: huge lamb burgers on delicious ciabatta bread. This paired well with the BYOB selection of Pinot Noirs available at the gazebo on the grounds. I brought two bottles of our 2007 Wentzel Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley to share with any takers and both were quickly consumed with lots of nice compliments like “great depth and complexity,” “long finish,” and “great mouthfeel.” Remember, this is a tough crowd – local growers and winemakers.

My lunchmate Colin and local winemaker Mary Elke holding forth over lamb burgers

My lunchmate Colin and local winemaker Mary Elke holding forth over lamb burgers

Lunch was followed by a flight of Goldeneye vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs from up and down the valley. Winemaker Zach Rasmussen walked us through the climate variations that along the valley, from Boonville to the “deep end”, the area adjacent to the redwoods that separate it from the coast.  The group tasted Goldeneye wines from the Confluence, Gowan Creek and Narrows vineyards. They were all lush, yet showing good structure and owner Dan Duckhorn made no apologies for the more forward (yet restrained by California standards) style of Pinot Noir they make.

Later in the afternoon, photographers Andrea Johnson and Bob Holmes walked through some of their photos from their recently released book, Passion for Pinot, co-authored by Jordan Mackay. Jennifer actually poured our wines at a Passion for Pinot book event at Omnivore in San Francisco, an event which I was unable to attend. So it was nice to introduce myself to Bob and Andrea and hear their stories about traversing the West coast and meeting the growers and winemakers behind some of the best Pinot Noirs in America.

The last tasting of the day was led by a Master Sommelier from the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Joe Phillips led a tasting of three different Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs to demonstrate how a sommelier will describe these to customers at restaurants like Michael Mina in the Bellagio. Phillips noted that the Bellagio has 11 fine dining establishments, in addition to 20 other food and beverage outposts and buys over $40 million of wine every year. As he described it, “the Bellagio is like a village.” In the tasting, he pointed out the distinct elements of Claudia Springs, Handley and Foursight wines. He described the Foursight wine as “Flintstones Vitamins” and that apparently was a good thing. The wine showed different fruit flavors that you would find in those vitamins (cherry, lime, orange, etc.) and had the minerality you would get such daily supplements. After hearing that description, I could totally see the parallel. When I was a child, I almost had to get my stomach pumped from eating too many Flintstones vitamins in one sitting, so that description may not be the most positive one for me.

Copious tasting notes for copious amounts of wine...

Copious tasting notes for copious amounts of wine...

After consuming copious amounts of information and wine, I wrapped the day with the BBQ social at Husch Winery. Jennifer and I had never been to this event in the past, so it was fun to hang out with the locals and visitors and down some good pulled pork sandwiches and Pinot Noir. At a certain point, a few of us were ready to diverge from Pinot and try some of the other wines at the BYOB table. I had a glass of the Cole Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon from Esterlina and it was excellent: lush, rich blackberry and blueberry fruit with wonderful toasty vanilla and cocoa. Finally, the few of us hanging at the outdoor bar decided it was time to go and rest our palates for the big grand tasting the next day.


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[…] Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival 2009: Day 1 […]

Pingback by Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival: Day 3 « ValleyFogBlog

[…] The Technical Conference has always been a highlight for us, as we learned more and more every year about the science of winemaking and grape growing, wine marketing, and food pairing. You can see Brian’s recap of the 2009 Technical Conference here. […]

Pingback by 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Festival Recap: Part 1- Technical Conference and BBQ « ValleyFogBlog

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