Filed under: Events, Wine travel, Winemaking | Tags: 100 point wine scale, Anderson Valley, Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival, blind tasting, Dan Sogg, Deer Meadows Vineyard, european grapevine moth, Greg LaFolette, Jim Klein, Jordan Mackay, Navarro Winery, Passion for Pinot, Pinot Noir, Rich Savoy, Savoy Vineyard, TastingRoom.com, Tiny Bottles, Wine, Winemaking
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 TastingRoom.com. 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.
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