2011 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Recap: Part 3 – The Food by valleyfog

One of the best things about the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival is the food. The options at the technical conference lunch (pulled pork sandwiches), BBQ (paella) and the Grand Tasting (grilled lamb chops) were all good, but the real treats are at the winemaker dinners on Saturday night and during winery open houses on Sunday.

Drew and Greenwood Ridge wines at the Apple Farm, Philo, CA (photo by B. Mast)

After a day of being on our feet pouring, talking and serving others at the Grand Tasting, we always enjoy sitting down and getting served at a winemaker dinner.

Of the three or four different winemaker dinners scheduled for the festival, we bought our tickets early for the dinner at the Apple Farm, with Drew Wines and Greenwood Ridge Vineyards. The dinner started with appetizers and white wines in the courtyard at the Apple Farm, a relaxed haven for slow food. Here’s the menu in full from the evening:

Olive oil tart with sweet onion and thyme

First local salmon tartare

Greenwood Ridge 2008 Riesling

Drew 2010 Albarino, Wentzel Vineyard

A soup of two peas with mint

Greenwood Ridge 2009 Sauvignon Blanc

Drew 2009 Pinot Noir, Morning Dew

Grilled & roasted leg of lamb in a coffee chile rub, creamy braised leeks and favas

Drew 2008 Ornbaun Syrah

Greenwood Ridge 2007 Merlot

A simple salad with Meyer lemon

Cheese plate

Drew 2002 Vogelzang Cabernet Franc

Citrus almond torte with kumquats and cream

Greenwood 2006 late harvest Riesling

The dinner was as delicious as the menu reads and both winemakers, Jason Drew from Drew and Allan Green from Greenwood Ridge, devoted a lot of time to visiting each table to talk about the wines.

It’s hard to imagine that we would have any room left for all the food at the open houses on Sunday, but we were up for the challenge. At the open houses being held at the different wineries in Anderson Valley, library releases and magnums (1.5L bottles) are poured alongside a tempting array of pinot-friendly foods. And since we don’t have a tasting room in the valley, and frankly had too few wines in our inventory to pour at anyone else’s open house, Sunday is a day for us to relax and enjoy being a wine consumer.

After a quick fuel-up of coffee and pastries, we hit the trail, starting at Mary Elke’s. We were excited to see a sparkling wine open, as that is Jennifer’s favorite way to start a day of wine-tasting. The Mary Elke Brut (NV) was a perfect pairing with the savory chicken tacos being served from a taco stand from Alicia’s Restaurant that Mary had arranged. We also sniffed, swirled and spat our way through her chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot noir selections – all incredible wines.

We motored down to the Madrones, a new complex of tasting rooms, shops and lodging in Philo and made our way through Berridge Wines, Lula and Drew. Each were pouring wines from some vineyards and AVAs that are off the beaten path – places like Comptche (where we get fruit from Oppenlander Vineyard), Mendocino Ridge and Manchester Ridge.

Have tacos, will travel, at Elke Vineyards (photo by B. Mast)

Sundays at the open houses wouldn’t be the same without a stop at the “Barn” at Londer Vineyards. We’re making pinot noir with fruit from Londer Vineyards, so it was great to stop by and say hi to Larry and Shirlee, enjoy their wines and get a warm greeting from their dogs. David Rossi of Fulcrum Wines was also pouring at the barn as he is also purchasing fruit from the Londers. We took a detour up the hill to check on the vines and it looks like they are doing well, despite the threat of frost in early April.

We wrapped up our day of wine tasting at one of our favorite open houses up at Baxter Winery. After the long, winding drive up the hill to their homestead, we were greeted with smiles and glasses of pinot noir by Phil Baxter and his wife Claire. Other friends and family were there helping out as well, serving up the always tasty lamb sliders.

Phil Baxter in Baxter's Barrel Room (Photo: J. Waits)

After tucking in to the fine lunch and trying a few of the current releases, we escaped the somewhat blustery day by heading into the barrel room to taste some of the 2009s still finishing barrel aging. Phil ages all of his pinot noirs in neutral (no new barrels) oak and therefore the wine can (and usually needs) to stay in barrel longer. This, and other winemaking techniques, were the topic of discussion as we drifted into “shop talk” towards the end of our visit. The friendly atmosphere of Baxter was typical of what we love so much about Anderson Valley and was a great way to end the weekend before our trip back to San Francisco.

For part 1 of our pinot fest recap, focusing on the technical conference, click here. For part 2 on the Grand Tasting, click here. And keep an eye out for an upcoming post on our visit to Wentzel Vineyard.

2011 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Recap: Part 2 – The Grand Tasting by Jennifer

Glasses at the entrance to the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival (Photo: J. Waits)

Although billboards across the land had warned of impending doom on May 21, 2011; what was utmost in our minds on that date was the 14th Annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival’s Grand Tasting at Goldeneye Vineyards.

This was our 3rd year pouring at the grand tasting and we couldn’t have been happier to be there on a breezy May day. Around 40 wineries offered samples of Pinot Noir made from Anderson Valley fruit to the crowd of eager tasters.

Although we’d hoped to be previewing our 2009 vintage at the tasting (which is still aging will be available in a few months), we ended up offering tastes of the nearly sold-out 2008 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Hein Vineyard and of the 2006 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Hein Vineyard (a library selection).

Jennifer and Brian at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

Just like last year, people were able to compare and contrast the vintages. We ran across fans of both wines, with tasters saying that our ’06 was “the best wine we’ve tasted today by far” and that our ’08 was “our favorite today” and had a “nice, earthy component” with “nutmeg and cinnamon.”

We also pulled out one bottle of our prized 2007 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Wentzel Vineyard from our personal collection (as it’s completely sold out) and were told that “it sneaks up on you” and paired well with the peanut butter cookies that were being served at the festival. We couldn’t be more excited to be producing more wine from Wentzel Vineyard in 2010 and 2011 (in a future post we’ll share photos from our recent visit to the vineyard).

Following the grand tasting we headed over to Roederer Estate to refresh our palates by sampling their line-up of sparkling and still wines before heading out to a winemaker dinner at The Apple Farm. In our next posts we’ll recap that dinner as well as our travels to various winery Open Houses on the closing day of the festival. And, if you missed it, our summary of the Technical Conference on Friday, May 20 can be found here.

2011 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Recap: Part 1 – Technical Conference and BBQ by Jennifer

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Technical Conference May 20, 2011 (Photo: J. Waits)

I clearly remember being at a wine event back in 2005, several months before we starting making wine, and snickering when during a Q&A session someone inquired about the name of the particular forest in France that a barrel was crafted from. To me, it seemed to be an extreme example of wine geekery and it reminded me of arcane conversations about stereo equipment or car parts. I also felt it was kind of a showy comment, perhaps meant to reveal the extreme wine knowledge of the questioner.

Well, now it’s 6 years later and Brian and I have become that geeky wine guy. As I sat through the Technical Conference at this year’s 14th Annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival last Friday, I was amazed to think about how far we’ve come. I can now understand why forests might matter to some winemakers, as there are so many factors that can influence the taste of a glass of wine, from the grape clone to the soil type (and numerous other farming practices including canopy management, watering, and pest management) to one’s philosophy about organic to the date that the grape was picked to sorting practices (hand sorting, whole cluster, etc.), to pressing strategies (free run? how hard of a press?), to fermentation practices (time, yeast strain or native yeast, cold soak, etc.), to the barrel type (forest, cooper, percentage new oak, type of toast, etc.), to the amount of time in barrel, to blending the wine, to the amount of time in bottle, and on and on.

This year’s Technical Conference featured presentations on “Fertility Management Strategies” (which dissected the types of soils in Anderson Valley and how that relates to winemaking practices and Pinot Noir), “Fermentation Issues and Strategies” (which looked at the science of color and fermentation issues that arise from “chasing color”), “Winemaking Techniques and Color Enhancement,” as well as a panel discussion about the use of whole grape clusters in making Pinot Noir.

A View of the Technical Conference (Photo: J. Waits)

I was particularly interested in the panel about whole clusters, as that’s something we’ve only done once in our winemaking career.

In our first vintage, when we made a pinot noir from the Amber Ridge Vineyard in Russian River Valley in 2005, we decided to throw in about 20% whole clusters of grapes (grapes with the stems attached) to see what kind of effect that would have. Since then we haven’t used any whole clusters, in part because we were under the impression that green stems were a “no no.” We’d assumed that green stems would lead to a more herbal or vegetal flavor. During the panel Jeff Brinkman of Rhys Vineyards said that he actually uses “neon green stems” in his winemaking practices and explained that what’s more important than stem color is the dryness of the stem and whether or not it is still running sap. He said that he will use whole clusters of grapes if the stems are dry when chewed on and have a walnut quality to them.

Examining the Clusters (Our Oppenlander Vineyard sort in Fall 2010. Photo: J. Waits)

Jeff also pointed out that doing 100% whole cluster wine is dependent upon vineyard practices and that the types of grape clones used (he said that the Swan clone works well for whole cluster Pinot Noir) can have an impact. Additionally, he said that picking the grapes early is best when doing whole clusters and added that hand sorting of the fruit after picking is also critical.

He explained that it can take him 3 to 5 hours to sort through a ton of fruit because they are doing it so methodically. There have been years when they have thrown away 50% of the fruit because they are searching for the ideal clusters to use and they are not picking off berries from a cluster. If part of a cluster looks bad, they will toss the entire cluster. Jeff said that the care taken with sorting also gets extended into the processing of the fruit.

When fermenting the wine, Jeff does punchdowns by foot because he is doing 100% whole cluster fermentation. He said that it’s impossible to use a punchdown tool because during fermentation the fruit is like concrete. He admitted that making 100% whole cluster Pinot Noir is “hard to do casually.”

Joe Webb, the winemaker at Foursight Wines, also talked about using whole clusters in his winemaking practices. He said that it’s really important to use gentler techniques during fermentation and he does hand punchdowns in order to take care with the stems. He said that he starts out with whole clusters on the bottom of the bin and never lets the punchdown tool touch the bottom of the bin.

View of Navarro Vineyards as Dusk Fell on the BBQ (Photo: J. Waits)

As was the case last year, the conference featured a more consumer-oriented series of sessions in the afternoon. Author and wine educator Karen MacNeil rhapsodized about the appeal of Pinot Noir, another session provided a comparison among wines crafted from fruit from Ferrington Vineyards, and the last session including a tasting of rose style Pinot Noir from Roederer and Toulouse.

Throughout the day some memorable statements were made about Pinot Noir, beginning with UC Cooperative Extension viticulture and plant science advisor Glenn McGourty’s comment that pinot noir is “kind of like a princess.” Karen MacNeil dissected Pinot Noir even further, suggesting that there’s a “non-obviousness about great Pinot Noir,” explaining that it is not someone with a “big fur coat.” She added that Pinot Noir is “essentially unknowable in one sip” and that in fact its texture may be more important than its flavor. Karen described the essential character of Pinot Noir as being “more primordial than other grape varieties” with its “good corruption of rotting leaves and sweaty men.”

Wine Options at the BBQ (Photo: B. Mast)

Following the technical conference we headed over to Navarro Vineyards for the official after-party BBQ. On a chilly May evening in Anderson Valley, we noshed on empanadas, paella, and a variety of donated Pinot Noir options, while chatting with wine writer Greg Walter, the man behind PinotReport (and also the MC for this year’s Technical Conference).

A band played classic rock tunes while winemakers and wine lovers danced, ate, and drank. At the end of the evening, with a warm cup of coffee in hand, we said goodnight to the winery sheep and turned in for some rest before the big day ahead at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting.