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.


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