ValleyFogBlog


2017 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival and an Early Peek into the Vineyards by Jennifer

One of our favorite wine events is the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival. Brian and I started going to the festival probably around the year 2001 and began pouring Waits-Mast Family Cellars wine at the event’s Grand Tasting in 2009, so it’s always a great opportunity to see many friends and fans and meet other Pinot Noir lovers.

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The big tent at Goldeneye Winery during set up for the 2017 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting. Photo: J. Waits

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2013 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Part 2 – A Beautiful Day for the Grand Tasting by Jennifer
AV Pinot Fest Tent at Goldeneye Vineyard

The 2013 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Gets Underway at Goldeneye (Photo: J. Waits)

Looking back on the 10+ years that we’ve been attending the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival, it’s hard to believe that we skipped the grand tasting event for so many years. In fact, we’ve never attended the grand tasting as consumers and only started to go when we began pouring our wines at the festival back in 2009. We’d imagined it to be a crazed swarm of wine drinkers, when in fact it’s a lovely, small event featuring some incredible producers.

This year’s 16th annual grand tasting took place on Saturday, May 18 in a tent in the vineyard behind Goldeneye Winery in Philo, California. We poured two wines, our 2010 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Wentzel Vineyard and our 2010 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Londer Vineyard. Both wines have special significance for us. Our very first commercial release was a 2007 Pinot Noir from Wentzel Vineyard. It’s a delicious wine and we couldn’t be happier to be sourcing from the vineyard again.

As far as Londer Vineyard goes, we were excited to get fruit from this vineyard that we’ve had a long relationship with as fans. Brian and I got acquainted with Larry and Shirlee Londer soon after they moved to Anderson Valley and we have fond memories of attending their very first winemaker dinner in the barn on their property. Sadly, they’ve now moved away and are in the process of shutting down their winery. They poured at their final Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival this year and it was great to see them and to showcase a wine that we made from their fruit.

Pouring wine at the AV Pinot Fest

Brian pours at the 2013 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival (photo: J. Waits)

Only wines from Anderson Valley can be poured at the grand tasting event, so we kept it simple by pouring two of our Pinot Noirs from 2010. Here’s some of the feedback that we heard from tasters:

2010 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Wentzel Vineyard, Anderson Valley:

“my favorite”

“love the smell”

“a lot of structure”

“liquorice”

“cherry”

2010 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Londer Vineyard, Anderson Valley:

“great fruit, great spice, my kind of wine”

“it’s a wow”

“very Burgundian”

“spiciness on the finish”

“very elegant”

“love the nose”

“favorite”

View from the table at the AV Pinot Fest Grand Tasting

A view from our table at the grand tasting (photo: J. Waits)

Interestingly, we overheard someone critique one of our wines (we’re not sure which), saying,  “I don’t like it, it’s too Burgundian.” This immediately prompted someone else to come to our table because she said that she’s a fan of that style of wine. It’s always fun to hear comments like this, as it makes it quite clear that taste is subjective.



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. Continue reading



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 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.

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



2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Preview by valleyfog

Wentzel Vineyard in Philo, CA, Anderson Valley

The 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival, taking place the weekend of May 14 – 16, 2010, is less than a month away and we can’t wait. This relatively small and intimate event is one of the highlights of our year.

Over the years, our many trips to Anderson Valley and this festival in particular greatly influenced our desire to make pinot noir. And after going for so many years, we enjoy running into old friends and making new ones.

Tickets to many of the events are still available but will likely sell out soon. Here is a preview of some of the events throughout the weekend, including inside scoop on what Waits-Mast Family Cellars will be pouring at the festival and an exclusive silent auction item that you can’t get anywhere else.

  • Technical conference: designed primarily for growers, winemakers and winery folks, this conference, happening on Friday, May 14, also appeals to the wine enthusiast. If you are passionate about pinot noir and want to learn more, the conference lets you jump in feet first into the world of growing, making and selling pinot noir. Wine writer Jordan MacKay will MC the event, which in the morning features more in-depth sessions on growing techniques, terroir and clones and a discussion of the 2008 vintage. The lunch at this conference is always amazing. It’s held behind the fairground building and everybody brings a bottle of their pinot noir, filling up the gazebo with an incredible variety of wines to sample. When you sit down for lunch at a picnic table, you’ll likely be sitting next to a winemaker or grower, so it’s a great opportunity to get to know people in the business first-hand.
  • Technical conference, part 2 & consumer tasting seminar: In the afternoon session, which is also sold as a separate consumer-friendly session at a lower price, featured tastings will include Savoy Vineyard wines from Roessler, Benovia and Radio-Coteau. Winemaker Jim Klein of Navarro will also pour a vertical of Navarro magnums from older vintages.
  • Social BBQ: If you haven’t had enough pinot noir on Friday, after the technical conference there is a social BBQ being held over at Standish Wine Co. It’s a great way to unwind in the warm valley atmosphere after all that talk of clones, microbes and yeast strains. And like lunch, everybody brings extra bottles and leaves them at a table for all to sample. If you’re a pinot noir lover, you’ll be like a pig in mud.
  • Grand Tasting: Speaking of pig in mud, over 40 producers will be pouring only Anderson Valley Pinot Noir at the Grand Tasting on Saturday, May 15, from 11am – 3pm. Waits-Mast Family Cellars will be pouring our 2006 and 2008 Hein Vineyard Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley. In addition, we’ll bring a small amount of barrel samples of our 2009 Pinot Noir from Rich Savoy’s Deer Meadows vineyard. For more info about this wine, check out our blog post on it from last harvest. Also featured during the Grand Tasting is a silent auction benefiting the Anderson Valley Health Center. Waits-Mast is donating a two-pack of Anderson Valley wines which will include the last available bottle of our 2007 Wentzel Vineyard Pinot Noir, which was named to the San Francisco Chronicle Top 100 Wines of 2009. If you’ve been aching to get your hands on this wine after it sold out in December, now’s your chance.
  • Winemaker dinners: if you can still get tickets to one of these, they are well worth it. Now, after the Grand Tasting your palate may be a bit tired out. But if you pace yourself, you’ll enjoy the rare wines and up-close interaction with winemakers at these dinners. Check out the lineup of dinners still available at the festival website.
  • Open House: on Sunday, March 16, fill yourself up with a hearty breakfast at the Boonville General Store and chart your course for the open house portion of the weekend. Wineries always pour something special and have great wine and food pairings.

As you can see, there’s a ton of stuff going on and no shortage of amazing wines to try and buy. We hope you’re able to make the drive to Anderson Valley and join us for the festival next month.



2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Tickets Now on Sale by valleyfog

May 14-16, 2010

Tickets for the 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival go on sale today. The festival runs Friday, May 14 through Sunday May 16, 2010 in Mendocino County, with most of the events happening in Boonville and Philo and all along Highway 128. Waits-Mast Family Cellars will be pouring its Anderson Valley pinot noirs, including our 2008 Hein Vineyard Pinot Noir, at the Grand Tasting on Saturday, May 15 from 11am – 3pm at Goldeneye Winery.

One of our favorite parts of the festival is the technical conference, which runs most of the day on Friday. It is a great opportunity to “geek out” on winegrowing and winemaking and also taste some great wines. This year the festival is adding a Consumer Tasting Seminar to the technical conference in the afternoon. This is ideal for attendees not interested in the more technical sessions or those unable to make it up for the 8am start of the conference.

There are also four winemaker dinners worth checking out, featuring wineries like Handley, Phillips Hill, Roederer Estate, MacPhail, Goldeneye and others. These are a real treat because they are small, intimate and often feature library wines. At every table there is a winemaker that you can chat with, so it’s a great way to get to know the people that make these wonderful wines.

Hein Family Vineyard in Anderson Valley, near Philo, CA.

Get your tickets earlier than later because many of the events, especially the technical conference and the winemaker dinners, sell out early.

The Grand Tasting usually limits the number of attendees to around 650 or so, to keep it from getting too crazy. Also plan to spend most of the day on Sunday in the valley because the open houses, which are free, are fantastic. They often feature library wines and great food and wine pairings. Some of our favorite stops include Londer, Mary Elke, Baxter and Esterlina. In other words, take Monday off to recover! We’ll see you up there in May!