2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Recap: Part 4 – Winery Open Houses by valleyfog

The welcoming committee at the Londer Vineyards Open House. Photo by Jennifer Waits

The one part of the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival that we have participated in consistently year after year is the winery open houses at the festival’s conclusion. This year’s event took place on Sunday, May16th at various wineries throughout Anderson Valley .

Since Waits-Mast doesn’t have a tasting room in the valley (or anywhere), we take the opportunity to enjoy the day and visit with our friends at the wineries.

Wineries don’t charge tasting fees that day, they open up library selections and always roll out special food pairings to enhance the enjoyment of all that great wine. Some wineries that don’t have a formal tasting room will open up their doors just for the day, so it can be a rare opportunity to visit the winery and meet with the winemaker and their staff (which often includes family members).

After fortifying ourselves with breakfast at the Boonville General Store (tip: get there early when it’s a busy weekend and be prepared to wait), we felt it was appropriate to start our Sunday with sparkling wine. So off to Roederer we went, where they poured a variety of sparkling and still wines. They always pour a standard bottle and a magnum of the same wine side-by-side so that tasters can compare the two; this year we were able to compare and contrast their sparkling rose NV. After getting all weak in the knees about the 2002 L’Ermitage that was poured the night before, we had to try that again, and of course acquire a bottle for the cellar (filled w/pinots, but not so many sparklers).

Londer Vineyards. Photo by Jennifer Waits

After Roederer, we went to Londer’s open house at “The Barn,” which is on their property off Monte Bloyd Road. The Londers just opened up a tasting room last Fall, but also wanted to continue with their Pinot Festival tradition of doing an intimate tasting in the barn.

There was a bit of a lull when we arrived, so we were able to chat with owners Larry and Shirlee Londer as well as their winemaker Rick Davis while enjoying their wines. Shirlee had the usual delectable array of cheeses, fruits and crackers laid out for us (and for their hovering dogs, when food fell to the floor) to enjoy.

The two Londer chardonnays from Corby and Kent Ritchie (RRV) vineyards were excellent, the Ritchie showing more tropical fruit flavors and more balance despite a slightly higher oak percentage. All of their pinot noirs were incredible, with the 2007 Estate being one of our favorites. It is just being released and is dominated by darker fruits – blackberry, dark cherry – and has firm tannins, an earthy nose and a balanced finish.

Foggy afternoon view from Baxter. Photo by Jennifer Waits

One of Brian’s favorite open houses from last year’s festival was at Baxter Winery, so he was excited to take Jennifer and his sister there this year. So after Londer, we continued on up Elk-Greenwood Road to drive up to the Baxter property, which is typically not open to the public. Winemaker Phil Baxter was ready and waiting with a long lineup of wines to taste. We focused on the pinots, which included four from 2006 and three from 2007.

Since it was nearing lunchtime, we were pleased to find a delicious meal waiting for us on tables set with Provencal-like linens, overlooking the hills. While we enjoyed lamb sliders and orzo salad, Phil’s wife Claire joined us and shared one of her favorite poems, Heaven, by Rupert Brooke. She had seen one of our poetry selections at our table during the grand tasting, and loved the connection of wine and poetry.

Jennifer along with Brian's sister Cece enjoy the afternoon at Baxter Winery. Photo by Brian Mast

The day was beautiful and we just lingered with the wonderful wine, food and company at Baxter for the rest of the afternoon.

All of their single vineyard pinots are amazing. Each one is different, representing the terroir of the vineyards they are sourcing from in Anderson Valley and Comptche.

Baxter is actually where we first heard of and tasted a wine from Oppenlander vineyard, a site in Comptche from which we later sourced fruit for one of our 2009 Waits-Mast Pinot Noirs. Located in Mendocino County outside of Anderson Valley, Comptche is situated between the valley and the coast.  Both of Baxter’s 2006 and 2007 Pinots from Oppenlander vineyard had great length, a mix of red and dark fruit, a nice earthy nose and a hint of cocoa on the finish.

While we wanted to explore other open houses — Elke, Esterlina and Foursight were tempting, among others — the visit to Baxter was so satisfying that we decided to quit while we were ahead and head back to San Francisco before nightfall.

We’ll look forward to next year’s festival and will definitely be up in Anderson Valley again this year as we source fruit for our 2010 vintage.

To catch up on the rest of the weekend, see our posts on Part 1 (Technical Conference and BBQ), Part 2 (Grand Tasting), and Part 3 (Winemaker Dinner).


2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Recap: Part 3 – Winemaker Dinner by valleyfog

Digging into Handley Cellars' Rose and Pinot Noir

After a day of pouring pinot noir for the thirsty masses at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival, you’d think that all we’d want to do is collapse, but the pull of the winemaker dinners on Saturday night is too strong. It’s an opportunity for us to go back to the other side of the table and have someone pour great wine for us. But at the same time, it can be a little daunting for us fledgling winemakers to be sitting next to some of greats of this industry.

The first year we attended the festival in 2002, we went to the winemaker dinner at Handley Cellars. Pouring wine in addition to Handley that year were Claudia Springs and Raye’s Hill, and the thing that struck us about this dinner was its intimacy.

The winemaker dinners at this festival are designed to have one winemaker at each small table (usually an 8-top), so you really get a chance to hear from and talk to the people behind the great wines of Anderson Valley. At our first winemaker dinner we were thrilled to get the chance to talk to so many friendly and down-to-earth winemakers and that experience also got us thinking and dreaming about making wine some day.

This year, we returned to Handley (this is the third winemaker dinner that we’ve been to at Handley Cellars) for a dinner co-hosted by Roederer Estate and MacPhail. Brian’s sister Cece was in town for the festival, so she was able to join us as well. The dinner was small, with only about 40 people in attendance, and we were given seats at James MacPhail’s table.

We started in the courtyard of the winery by partaking in a magnum of Roederer Estate NV sparkling wine and fava bean crostini, as we basked in the dramatic views of the valley from owner Milla Handley’s property and made new friends. We then were summoned into the cellar for the sit-down dinner. The menu was as follows:

Braised Baby Roman Artichokes, with harissa, preserved lemon aioli & nasturtium oil

Roederer Estate Brut Rose NV

Handley Cellars 2009 Pinot Noir Rose, Anderson Valley Estate

Loin of Lamb on Polenta, with caramelized red onion sauce & gremolata

Handley Cellars 2006 Pinot Noir, Holmes Ranch

Handley Cellars 2007 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley

Beef Bourguignon

MacPhail Family Wines 2007 Pinot Noir, Ferrington Vineyard

MacPhail Family Wines 2007 Pinot Noir, Toulouse Vineyard

Spring Greens & Flowers, with champagne vinaigrette and Jezebel Goat Camembert & Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam with artisan bread toasts

Roederer Estate L’Ermitage, Vintage 2002

Rhubarb Custard Tart with Dark Chocolate Crust

Roederer winemaker Arnaud Weyrich waxes on about dosage and disgorgement

All of the wines were incredible. The Handley Holmes Ranch pinot had a hint of incense on the nose, which took Brian back to his altar boy days! And we were almost ready for breakfast after listening to Roederer winemaker Arnaud Weyrich’s vivid preamble about the 2002 vintage L’Ermitage, describing its yeasty and croissant aromas (he had Jennifer at “croissant”). We’re big fans of sparkling wine for breakfast here in the Waits-Mast household, so it was fun to be at a dinner that began and ended with such delicious sparkling wines.

The MacPhail pinot noirs showed a great purity of fruit and hinted at lushness while still showing restraint. The benefit of sitting at the table with the winemaker is that it takes little coaxing to get him to pull out more wine. James happened to have another Anderson Valley pinot noir with him, his Wightman House Pinot Noir from 2006. He generously shared this extra bottle just for our table. Its earthy and deep red cherry flavors were striking, even after a long day of pouring and drinking pinot noir. It was a perfect finish on the palate and for the day.

2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Recap: Part 2 – The Grand Tasting by valleyfog

The calm before the storm at the Grand Tasting

On the second day of the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival, a Grand Tasting is held under a big tent plopped down in the middle of Goldeneye Winery in Philo. This is the second year that Waits-Mast Family Cellars has joined a small group of 40 other producers and poured its Anderson Valley pinots at the Grand Tasting. It really is one of the best organized events for pinot lovers.

The tasting is organized by Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association and its members/volunteers, including all of the great staff at Goldeneye that hosted us for the day this year. With a limited attendance of around 650 people, the goal of the Grand Tasting is to keep it small and intimate.

The size and scope of the event allows attendees to stroll about the tent and talk with as many different winemakers as possible. As is the case in most tastings like this, certain tables get a crowd going about 4 or 5 people deep, but the pace still feels relaxed (the wine, alluring food, and music certainly helped!).

This year’s festival (Jennifer’s first time at the grand tasting) was held on Saturday, May 15th on an absolutely gorgeous and temperate day (as opposed to last year’s heatwave) amid the vineyards at Goldeneye. One of the highlights for us was that food was actually delivered to our table. We got one plate (can we talk about the salmon and capers pizza?) just before the tasting opened, and another halfway through the tasting. That reminded me of our wedding reception, where appetizers and champagne were presented upon our arrival to the reception hall. In other words – a smart move.

Jennifer samples the wares as we set up for the day

Another focus for this tasting is that only Anderson Valley pinot noir can be poured. Sorry Russian River and Sta. Rita Hills.

This year we poured our current release, the Waits-Mast 2008 Hein Vineyard Pinot Noir along with its distant cousin, the 2006 Hein Vineyard Pinot Noir.

Despite their sameness of place, each of these wines was very different from the other and garnered equal amounts of smiles and an always-rewarding collection of descriptive approbation.

Of the 2006, we heard from one taster that there was “great purity” in the wine. The 2008 was described as having “more spice,” and as “darker,” with a “different texture” than the 2006. One person who stopped by simply said that the 2008 was the best wine she’d had at the entire tasting.

Without a doubt, though, the buzz of the event was the talk of smoke. Mendocino forest fires in September 2008 blew a lot of smoke into Anderson Valley, affecting the grapes. There have been a number of articles written on the topic and many of the wineries based in Anderson Valley have been very up front about how they’ve had to deal with the overly smoky aromas or taste that resulted from this vintage.

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Location at Goldeneye

As you may recall from our blog post in 2008 during harvest/crush, we addressed any possibility of smoke effect on the grapes by doing a 100% free run into barrels and foregoing pressing the skins.

We found that after a few months in barrel, there was still some residual smokiness and used a filtration technique call reverse osmosis (which was used by most of the wineries pouring 2008s from Anderson Valley). While this is not a technique we would normally use, it was an extreme vintage that required extra work with the wines.

The smoke was a reality of the vintage, but it was unfortunate that so many attendees seemed to be looking for the smokiness on the wines. If you go into a sensory experience like wine tasting expected to sense something, well, then you’re more likely to smell or taste it.

We’re pleased with the result of our 2008 Anderson Valley wine, and apparently, so were the judges of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, who gave it a gold medal for its category. And at the Grand Tasting in Anderson Valley, we took the opportunity to try other wines from our colleagues and were very impressed with the majority of the 2008s (and other vintages, too).

Capping off the day was a silent auction filled with many rarities, including one of the last bottles of our SF Chronicle Top 100 2007 Wentzel Vineyard Pinot Noir. All of the proceeds went to benefit the Anderson Valley Health Center, a not-for-profit community health center providing important services to the valley.

Once again, the crowd was a great collection of passionate, discerning and curious wine drinkers. We’ve been going to this festival for so many years that it has become like a reunion when we return each year. We can’t wait for next year’s festival, where we’ll be able to pour our 2009s…until then, we’ll savor the past weekend and what little is left of our 2008 vintage.

2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Recap: Part 1- Technical Conference and BBQ by Jennifer

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival 2010 Begins

Wow. What a great weekend we had in Anderson Valley for the 13th Annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival.

We’ve been going to the festival off and on since 2002. The first three years that we went, we attended the Technical Conference, winemaker dinners, and the Sunday winery Open Houses.

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.

This year, for the first time since 2005, both of us were able to attend not only the Technical conference, but also a winemaker dinner, the grand tasting, and open houses. It was an amazing immersion into the world of Pinot Noir and it’s always fun to see friends at the festival, both winemakers and wine drinkers.

The 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Technical Conference on Friday, May 14, was organized a bit differently, as they opened up the afternoon sessions to consumers, with a line-up of speakers that was less technical than in the morning. The entire event was MC’d by wine writer Jordan Mackay, author of Passion for Pinot.

Getting Technical in the A.M.

Held at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville, the conference began early in the morning with a presentation by Tony Linegar of the Mendocino County Agricultural Commission about the European Grapevine Moth.

Tony provided the attendees with breaking news about this damaging, grape eating pest, which was found just a few weeks prior in North Ukiah Valley near a winery. He said that more than 1200 traps have been placed throughout Mendocino County and said that he was confident that the traps work. He expressed concern about Anderson Valley, but stated that so far no months have been found and that the county is not part of any quarantine yet.

Tony speculated that the moth may have arrived in Ukiah on fruit from Napa County and warned that any fruit and vineyard equipment coming from outside of Mendocino County should be scrutinized for evidence of the moth or larvae. Although he said that he was worried about Anderson Valley, he pointed out that “your strength is your isolation.” He also addressed rumors about how the grapevine moth came into the United States (it was first detected in September 2009) and said that there’s no answer yet, although there is an ongoing investigation, with rumors pointing to equipment from Italy or illegally imported cuttings brought in by a grower in Napa. He said that because of the arrival of this moth, every vineyard in the state of California is being trapped and quarantines are in effect for fruit leaving affected areas. Vineyards are advised to inspect fruit coming in from outside of their regions and are asked to power wash or steam clean harvesting equipment to remove all plant material.

The remaining morning presentations focused on the physiology of fruit maturation and on how terroir, clones and winery techniques work to affect mouthfeel in a wine. Things got pretty technical in both presentations, but I appreciated winemaker Greg LaFolette’s insertion of humor into his talk, with quips about “scrotal berries,” “Samsonite selections,” and his remark on disease prevention: “We just don’t want to be bringing the clap into our neck of the woods.”

2009 Barrel Samples

Before lunch we tasted some Pinot Noir barrel samples from the 2009 vintage in order to discuss some of the concepts that we covered in the final presentation before lunch.

Then, the assembled participants (as well as consumers arriving for the afternoon) were invited outside for a lunch of pulled pork sandwiches and accompaniments. It’s the tradition to bring along a bottle of wine to share at lunch and this year people were encouraged to share Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from 2008. We brought a bottle of our 2008 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Hein Vineyard and plopped it in the Gazebo along with the other offerings.

After lunch Jim Klein of Navarro Vineyards led a tasting of older wines, including Navarro Pinot Noir from 1991, 1994, and 2000. Although the crowd seemed to enjoy these older wines, Jim said that he tends to be more focused on what he’s currently working on as opposed to wines of the past, saying that to him older wines are “like an octogenarian actress” trotted out and propped up at an awards show. He added, “Most of us don’t age gracefully…it’s sort of like elder porn.” The wines from Navarro, as well as the next set of wines were also matched with an appropriate food pairing.

Pulled Pork Lunch with Gazebo Action in Background

Up next was a tasting focused on the wines made from Rich Savoy’s famed Savoy Vineyard. Along with Rich Savoy, panelists included Eric Sussman from Radio-Coteau, Mike Sullivan from Benovia and Scott Shapley (our former winemaker!) from Roessler.

As we tasting through 2006 and 2007 Pinot Noirs from Savoy Vineyards, the panelists talked about the characteristics of the vineyard and the resulting wines.

Eric said that he appreciated that the vineyard has “a lot of different clonal material to work with” and Scott pointed out that it’s “the most complex site” that he’s worked with when making wines for Roessler, since there are a variety of blocks with different characteristics.

Rich also spoke a little about his other vineyard, Deer Meadows, which is one of the vineyards that we sourced from in 2009. Located up at 1600 feet (compared with the Savoy Vineyard located just off highway 128), Deer Meadows will be used in a few vineyard designate wines this year.

What's in Those Glasses?

The next presentation featured Dan Sogg (formerly of The Wine Spectator) talking about the merits and drawbacks of the 100 point scale for wine ratings.

He pointed out that even though he has some “ambivalence” about the scale, it is “THE industry standard” and “everyone understands it.” He explained that the 100 point system is “brilliant wine marketing” in that it “touches our desire for control.”

He also suggested that everyone participate in a blind wine tasting in which wines are scored and then bottles are rearranged and scored again. Dan explained that the order in which we taste can have a profound effect on how we rate a wine and demonstrated by having the audience taste 2 juices. Half of the room tried orange juice first and the other half tried grapefruit first. In this unscientific test, we saw that those who tried grapefruit juice first were more likely to prefer it and those who tried orange juice first were more likely to prefer the orange juice. He argued that a wine’s position in a tasting matters, just as the position of the fruit juice had an effect on the conference attendees.

Dan also argued that since people are “hard-wired” to notice “change,” bigger, richer wines tend to stand out more in tastings and that subtle wines don’t tend to do as well. The downside of this is that high scoring wines aren’t always the best wines for the long haul. Dan said that these wines often age badly and that “Many of the highest scoring wines don’t play well with others…and hog the table” due to their bold style.

Small Bottles from DeLoach

He added that that trying 70 different wines in one day and judging them isn’t “very useful” and argued that very few people can “make consistent judgments” when trying that many wines in a day. Dan also said that when wines are judged by a group panel (vs. by a single taster), the ensuing ratings are flawed like a “horse designed by committee.”

The final session of the day was an overview of a new service that launched on May 3rd called Through this company, small 50ml sample bottles of wine can be produced as both a marketing tool and a method for sharing samples with potential customers. These small bottles can also be bundled into boxed tasting kits containing a handful of bottles. Interestingly, this is quite similar to the previously launched Crushpad service TinyBottles.

After a full day of information and imbibing, we headed over to Standish for the post-conference BBQ. We caught up with some friends who we see every year at the festival, ate some delicious food, and again sampled from the bottles brought to the event by the attendees. It was a great start to the festival.

Jennifer soaks up the sun at the BBQ after a day of geeking out at the technical conference