Pinot Noir double-entendres have long abounded. Any day now, I half-expect Fred Franzia (or one of his relatives) to come out with a low-end “expression” of the varietal and call it SubPinot. If there were clever marketers in South America, they might come out with Pinot Che, a joint Bolivian-Chilean (shades of Vin Mariani?) effort. Pinot Envy might be a tad facile, but has been used numerous times over the years, so I’m not sure who can lay claim to originating it. The clever folks at Paul Mathew Vineyards push the envelope a bit further—maybe quite a bit further—with their slogan Let Me Put My Pinot in Your Mouth! I am more than happy to pay homage to such deft mastery.
Still, I cannot extricate myself from this thread before extolling my own foray into the esoteric and alliterative practice of Pinot punning. Not long after ATF withheld label approval for my George Herbert Walker Blush—A Kinder, Gentler Wine, I again approached Pat Paulsen with a surefire way to save his winery from being padlocked by the IRS. The concept was utterly straightforward. After 25 years of futilely pursuing the White House, Pat was to hold a news conference announcing that he was giving up politics and assuming the mantle of junk bond king from disgraced financier Mike Milken, who had just pled guilty to six charges of securities fraud and reporting violations (out of an indictment of 98 charges of fraud and racketeering). Following his announcement, he would open an office on Wilshire Blvd. called Paulsen Burnem Baad, which would offer the most worthless junk bonds ever issued. However, foreshadowing the emergence of Wine Clubs that nearly every winery now offers, these bonds would yield their bearers four shipments a year of wine from Château Lompoc, also known as The Wine Served Behind the Finest Bars in America. Each of our four wines would feature a series of twelve scenic labels: Pat playing tennis with the warden at Club Fed, etc. We planned to offer two generics: White Collar Crime and Caught Red Handed, as well as a pair of evocatively-named varietals: Chino Pardonnay, and, of course, Penal Noir.
Pat’s business sensibilities were not as acute as his comic timing. By the time he finally decided to move forward on this idea, the IRS had seized his winery and taken the keys to Asti’s City Hall (having purchased the entire town, Paulsen had declared himself mayor by sheer fiat). Alas, Château Lompoc turned out to be the last direct foray into the wine industry Your West Coast Oenophile attempted until launching Sostevinobile.
I suppose there might be a moral to this story, but, for now, it eludes me. And so it was with great pleasure that I managed, for yet another year, to elude the Gomorrahist gala known as the Pride Parade to undertake the formidable task of handicapping the Pinot Days Grand Tasting last Sunday. With the Ginkgo Girl off on some personal quest, I managed to rise well in advance of the noontime whistle and headed straight from my coffee and morning ablutions to the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason. Though focused on but a single varietal (albeit surreptitiously joined by its Burgundian cohort, as well as a handful of Syrahs), the Tasting managed to exude a distinctly heterogeneous feel, with a panoply of over 200 wineries pouring Pinot Noir and sparkling derivatives from California and Oregon.
Judging by the turnout, the promoters of this annual event had every reason to feel gay—I mean, elated. Unlike the noticeably sparser attendance at Rhône Ranger and ZAP this past year, the crowd flocked to Pinot Days in full force. If only this were a harbinger for the economy as a whole! Their fortuitousness, however, became my challenge, and within moments of my arrival, I realized there was no possible way to cover every one of the wineries on hand.
Of course, I might have visited more of the attendees, had I not gotten caught up in a handful of conversations with long-standing acquaintances in the trade (my apologies to the promoters of Pinot Days, but if these talks turn into much-needed funding for Sostevinobile, we’ll all be better off for it). Bill Canihan, arguably the leading vintner in San Francisco’s Marina District, sampled his wonderful 2006 Canihan Wines Pinot Noir and snuck in a taste of his highly regarded 2006 Exuberance Syrah while we caught up on a wide range of wine happenings. Across the aisle, I reacquainted myself with the folks from Olson Ogden, whose 2007 Russian River Pinot Noir matched the show-stopping Pinot with which I was introduced to them three years ago. To their left, another old familiar, Orsi Papale featured a rich 2006 Russian River Pinot Noir. On their other side, I met Joe and Mary Toboni, the husband-wife team behind Oakwild Ranch, as well as their eponymous vineyard that supplies Pinot Grapes to several other Sonoma ventures. A sample of their 2007 Russian River Pinot Noir showed why their grapes are so highly prized by others.
Oakwild Ranch is listed as a San Francisco-based venture with a decidedly Sonoma name; Russian Hill Estate is a Sonoma venture with an ambiguously San Francisco name. I found no confusion, however, in delighting in their 2007 Russian River Pinot Noir and its compatriot 2007 Russian Hill Estate Pinot Noir. Also from Sonoma, acclaimed winemaker Don Van Staaveren showed his considerable prowess with the 2005 Sand Hill Pinot Noir, Durell Vineyard that made me wish I had had enough time to retaste his Three Sticks wines
This time, I did not miss his Eighth Street East neighbor Talisman Cellars, with their splendid 2005 Hawk Hill Vineyard Russian River Pinot Noir. Equally pleasing was the 2007 Longbow Pinot Noir from Arista Winery. Nearby in Santa Rosa, BATON Wines produced a formidable 2007 Laguna Ridge Pinot Noir while Benovia Winery produced a more modestly named 2007 Sonoma Pinot Noir. Normally, I’d have been a bit wary of a winery that lists, as its address, that capital of colorless conformity, but San Jose’s Coterie Cellars came through admirably with both their 2007 Fairview Pinot Noir and 2007 Saralee’s Vineyard Pinot Noir. Also hailing from an urban locale, Furthermore Vineyards offer a 2006 Pinot Noir, Bohemian Vineyard, Russian River Valley that attracted considerable fanfare.
Once again, I became entangled in a long conversation with fellow Dartmouth alum Andy Peay while sampling his always remarkable 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast. This mired me for quite a while amid the P’s, where the aforementioned Paul Mathew Vineyards showed their wine pedigree with their 2006 Paul Mathew Pinot Noir TnT Vineyard. From Carmel Valley, Pelerin Wines may have lacked business cards but more than compensated with a trio of Pinots: 2006 Cuvée St. Vincent, 2007 Rosella’s, and a wonderful 2007 Santa Lucia Highlands. I’m debating whether Sostevinobile can properly included the geographic anomaly of Périple, an Idaho winery that sources its grapes from California and ferments them here before bottling in Boise (talk about a carbon footprint!), but 2007 Russian River Valley-Pinot Noir Inman Olivet showed little ill effect from the long journey through the Grand Tetons. A more environmentally-friendly trek brought Point Concepcion’s 2007 Cargasacchi Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills to Fort Mason, and it proved a fortuitous discovery.
The sweltering heat of the afternoon made the 2008 Ramona Rosé of Pinot Noir from Nicholson Ranch a refreshing relief; its companion 2007 Pinot Noir Sonoma Valley Estate proved no slackard, either. I suspect that Kastania Vineyards derived its name from an Anglicized version of the original, and I suggested that a castagna (chestnut) might be a more fitting emblem than the gufo (owl) they currently employ. Nonetheless, their 2006 Kastania Pinot Noir, Estate Proprietor’s Reserve proved overwhelmingly true to its name. Nearby, the 2007 Pinot Noir Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands from hope & grace displayed as big a wine as its gargantuan name. Sadly, I had time for just one more winery, but I closed out the tasting on a definite high note with Hirsch Vineyard, whose 2007 M Pinot Noir and justly acclaimed 2006 Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir proved well worth the wait.
If there was any downside to this year’s Pinot Days, it was the relative paucity of Oregon wineries in attendance. Of course, it is always welcome to see Domaine Serene at any gathering, but with only 5 or 6 other wineries making the trek from north of our state border, one still must surmise that the weakened economy is taking its toll. Notably absent on this day was Styring Vineyards, who nonetheless furnished the event with an evocatively sensual video. The all-too-oft-quoted Miles Raymond could not have put it to word any better, nor could my own alliterative phraseology and innuendos have composed such an ultimate paean to heterosexuality as The Passion of Pinot.