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2013 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Part 1 – Tech Conference Delves into Suitcase Clones, Pinot Noir Blanc and Fringe Vineyards by Jennifer

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We had a wonderful time at the 16th Annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival last week in Boonville. The event took place between May 17th and May 19th and featured a technical conference, BBQ, grand tasting event, winemaker dinners and winery open houses. We arrived on Thursday evening in time to attend the press welcome dinner. Typically only open to press and volunteers, this year the organizers made some additional tickets available to participating winemakers. It was fun getting to mix and mingle at the casual dinner on the grounds of Foursight Winery. We sampled delicious wines from a number of wineries (including the first of many pinot noir blancs of the weekend), had scrumptious food from the newish Anderson valley eatery Aquarelle, and met some interesting folks. We turned in soon after the sun set in order to reserve our energy for the technical conference the following day.

Balo Pinot Noir Blanc

Sampling a Balo Pinot Noir Blanc (Photo: J. Waits)

We arrived at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds on Friday morning for the technical conference held in the Apple Hall. It was early and we were hungry, so we dived into the breakfast spread. Featuring Navarro‘s fantastic Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer grape juices, coffee cake, and a hearty savory egg custard, it was certainly not the typical conference fare. After hearing presentations about the state of viticulture in Mendocino County and about agricultural water use in Anderson Valley, we launched into the first tasting panel of the day just after 10am.

I was anticipating the Pinot Noir Blanc session, as we’d been intrigued by this wine after trying a fantastic one at Domaine Carneros. During the panel we learned that white Pinot Noir is certainly not a new concept, as it’s been made historically in Italy, France, and Germany. Balo Vineyards‘ Assistant Winemaker Alex Crangle was interested in making some Pinot Noir Blanc and started the process by sampling some of the wines available in the marketplace, including a few from Oregon.

Tasting Pinot Noir Blanc

Tasting Angel Camp, Balo, and Alta Pinot Noir Blanc (Photo: J. Waits)

Balo ended up making three barrels of Pinot Noir Blanc from various vineyards, largely because of a surplus of fruit in 2012. Balo pressed whole clusters of Pinot Noir for its wine. John Keyes from Angel Camp Vineyard shared another Pinot Noir Blanc. Angel Camp’s wine came from whole cluster pressed Pinot Noir grapes, with a total production of 18 cases of wine. Winemaker Jessica Tomei from Alta Wines also did a barrel this year and we were able to taste a barrel sample of the wine which was still finishing malolactic fermentation. The wines were all quite different, but were interesting examples of Pinot Noir Blanc.

Ever since our first exposure to the wine, we’d heard lots of chatter about how it’s not economical to craft these white wines out of expensive Pinot Noir grapes since there may not be many customers who are willing to spend $40+ on a largely unknown white wine. During the question and answer session, the panelists were quizzed about this very topic. Crangle said that Balo wanted to have some white wine for its tasting room and even though he agreed that in the long-run the numbers might not add up, he said that he was interested in exploring “establishing a style” for Pinot Noir Blanc and finding a market for that style of wine. He mentioned that there are some $50+ bottles from Oregon wineries, but said that there still isn’t much of a “defined style” for the wine. Tomei pointed out that Domaine Carneros has been able to sell out of its Pinot Noir Blanc through its wine club.

Learning about Faux 828

Learning about Faux 828 (photo: J. Waits)

Following the Pinot Noir Blanc panel, Rusty Gaffney gave a fascinating presentation about Pinot Noir Suitcase Clone “828.” Gaffney worked tirelessly to uncover the history of this mysterious clone, which he chronicled in an article last fall on his PinotFile website. He said that all Pinot Noir clones in the United States originated from France, with undocumented vines making their way into the country since the mid-1800s. Many of the imported vines had viruses, so tighter restrictions were put in place in order to prevent disease. Despite this, California winemakers illegally brought in cuttings of numerous clones, including those dubbed Mt. Eden, Swan, Chalone, Calera, Hanzell, and David Bruce. These so-called “suitcase clones,” are said to have been smuggled into the country hidden in luggage. Gaffney said that it’s “impossible to verify the lineage of suitcase clones,” but he undertook a project to investigate the lineage of the clone dubbed “suitcase clone 828.”

The “real 828” is a Dijon clone, which was registered in 1985. Although it was imported, it was not legally released from quarantine until 2012 due to the Red Globe virus. Despite this, numerous vineyards have plantings dubbed “828.” Gaffney’s presentation delved into the origin of these “fake 828” plantings. He told us that many people refused to talk to him on the record about the origin of fake 828, although signs point to Gary Andrus of Archery Summit. Various people have reported that he traveled to Burgundy in 1992-1993 and brought back cuttings sewn into a London Fog trench coat. Apparently unsure of the clone that he brought back, the cuttings were planted at Archery Summit and dubbed ASW2.

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Technical Conference

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Technical Conference (photo: J. Waits)

According to Gaffney, around 1997 these cuttings made their way into other vineyards in Oregon and California and at some point ASW2 took on the name clone 828. Around this time the real 828 was in quarantine, so this could be part of the reason why there was interest in the clone. Although the true provenance of fake 828 (also referred to has upright 828, the Don King clone, and the Viagra clone due to its upright growth pattern) is still unknown, testing has verified that it is a pinot noir grape. Some nurseries speculate that it could be the clone ENTAV-INRA® 583.

Mel Knox gave the next presentation, which covered barrel selection for Pinot Noir. A long-time barrel salesperson, Knox said that although the geographic origin of a barrel is important (including the species of oak tree, the location where that tree was grown, and the corresponding soil type), he also pointed out that how the oak is seasoned and where the barrel is dried are also extremely important factors in the resulting wine. He said that studies have shown that the longer that a barrel is air-dried, the less toasty and the less astringent are the resulting wines. He also explained that alcohol extracts compounds from oak and the alcohol level of a wine can lead to different results in the flavor. Higher alcohol can result in the extraction of more toasting compounds.

Lunch at the Tech Conference

Lunch at the Tech Conference (photo: J. Waits)

After trying a few chardonnays from barrels air dried for varying lengths of time, it was time for the lunch break. We all congregated at picnic tables in the grassy area behind the fairgrounds building and chowed down on buffalo burgers, salad, tasty chips, and cookies. Although I made a bee-line for the food, many others raced to the wine table first. As tradition holds, attendees bring bottles of wine to share. The variety of offerings was staggering and it was difficult to choose among all of the options (including some wines made with faux 828). I grabbed a taste of an older vintage (perhaps 2006) of the Shandel’s Pinot Noir from Oppenlander Vineyard, which paired nicely with my lunch.

Wines at Tech Conference lunch

A few of the wines at the Tech Conference lunch (Photo: J. Waits)

In the afternoon, we had another tasting panel, focusing on the fringes of Anderson Valley. This panel replaced an earlier scheduled panel. A comparative tasting featuring Riedel Glass had to be cancelled when some special Sommeliers series wine glasses got stuck in a shipping container in the ocean. Although that would have been a fun tasting, I was certainly satisfied with the session featuring samples of wine from Baxter, Knez, and Goldeneye.

AV Pinot Fest Hash Tag

AV Pinot Fest Gets Wired (photo: J. Waits)

Baxter’s wine was a 2010 Pinot Noir from the Valenti Vineyard. Winemaker Phil Baxter explained that it’s a “fringe” vineyard in that it’s in the section of Anderson Valley that intersects with the Mendocino Ridge appellation. Of all the wines on the panel, it came from the furthest north, from the highest elevation (1200-1600 feet), and from the vineyard closest to the ocean (4 and a half miles away). The Knez wine was a 2010 Pinot Noir from Cerise Vineyard. Winemaker Ryan McAllister said that the vineyard goes up to 1150 feet in elevation and is quite wind-exposed. Goldeneye’s wine was also from 2010 and hailed from the Gowan Vineyard. Goldeneye’s Michael Fay said that the vineyard is mid-valley and pointed out that although the vineyard isn’t in an extreme location, the winemaking and picking decisions could be characterized as on the fringes. Whereas Baxter used all neutral oak and Knez used 33% new oak for their wines, Goldeneye’s used 70% new oak aged for 16 months on fruit picked at 25 brix.

For the final panel of the day, we were treated to a presentation by pioneering Anderson Valley grape grower Brad Wiley. A resident since 1971, Wiley planted his first vines at Wiley Vineyard in the north end of Anderson Valley in 1972. One of the coolest sites in Anderson Valley, the west end of the vineyard is 10 miles from the ocean. Wiley joked that when he arrived in the valley in the 1970s, he was “broken down gentry.” He got a job in a local saw mill and eventually planted his first Pinot Noir vineyard in 1982.

Brian Mast and Zac Robinson

Brian tastes some wine with Husch’s Zac Robinson at dusk (photo: J. Waits)

After the conference concluded in the late afternoon, we got a bit of rest before making our way to Scharffenberger Cellars for the post-tech conference BBQ. We caught up with old friends and shared a table with Rusty Gaffney and a fun group of folks who we’d never met before. As the sunset approached and the chill in the air became unbearable, we walked back to our nearby lodging for a good night’s rest before the Grand Tasting on Saturday.

Recycling bin full of wine bottles after the BBQ (photo: J. Waits)

Recycling bin full of wine bottles after the BBQ (photo: J. Waits)

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