Bambi & Thumper

1991. The Year of the Palindrome (as was 2002). Too long past now to attribute as a “few years back.” It was a cold, drizzly November evening, with the sun setting by 5 p.m. The perfect kind of evening for drinks inside the fireplace at the Pelican Inn. The perfect kind of first date setting that ends in “how do you take your coffee?”
My date had moved West from Indiana only a few weeks before. I think this may have been her first trip to Marin. As we began the climb up Panoramic towards Muir Beach, she took my hand in a premature but not unappreciated sign of affection. It all seemed to be going swimmingly until—WHACK! A young deer darted out in front of my Tercel and went sprawling across the highway. By the time I stopped the car and got out to look, the deer had picked itself up and had darted off, easily as shaken as I was. After inspecting the grill and finding no appreciable damage, save an infusion of deer hairs it took a month to fully clear out, I returned to the wheel and headed back toward our destination. Around the next bend, a sizable jackrabbit ran out in front of my car, again forcing me to jam on the brakes and nearly swerve off the road. “Great,” I thought to myself. “I’ve been with this girl for less than an hour and already I’ve very nearly killed both Bambi and Thumper!”

Fast-forward to June 2009. This past weekend, I found myself once again pedaling from San Francisco to Larkspur for a return to the 2009 Marin County Pinot Noir Celebration. This annual tasting benefits the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), a most worthy preservation project that has safeguarded over 40,000 acres of West Marin farmland for perpetuity, and features the growing roster of wineries producing Pinot Noir below Sonoma County. As it has been every year, the array of Pinots has been wide and consistently quite

good, from well-regarded stalwarts like Dutton-Goldfield and Pey-Marin to boutique operations like Precedent Wines and Miller Wine Works. But the star of this event has to be its succulent barbecue, generously supplied by the Point Reyes Vineyard Inn and Devil’s Gulch Ranch, featuring our

aforementioned Disney friends in the guise of Rabbit Sausage and Barbecued Venison! Let it be known that Your West Coast Oenophile is generally not long on sentimentality!

The 15-mile trek from Pacific Heights to the Historic Escalle Winery in Larkspur does much to stimulate one’s appetite, and let’s be honest, a heaping helping of savory grilled forest fare demands that a good Pinot Noir be lustily imbibed, not tepidly swilled and spat. But with the tasting running uncommonly until 7 p.m., there seemed plenty of time to work through the 16 wineries pouring their expression of the fickle Pinot grape.
In general, I was a bit surprised in the contrast between these wines and the Pinots I had recently tasted at Larkspur’s Sideways tasting. At the May event, each of the wineries showed decidedly better with their 2007 vintage than with their 2006. Here, the converse held true for those wineries who had comparable selections. An interesting anomaly I have yet to fathom.
Being an inveterate Classicist, I beelined over to the far corner where Sean Thackrey was pouring his 2006 Andromeda, a pure expression of Pinot Noir that contrasts with the intricate, esoteric blends like his noted Pleiades XVIa mélange of Syrah, Sangiovese, Mourvèdre, Barbera, Carignane, Petite Sirah and Viognier, among myriad others. A man who culls many of his winemaking techniques from ancient Hellenic transcripts, he and I will have to discuss Aristophanes’ peroration from Πλάτωνος Συμποσίον the next time we encounter.
The winemaking community in Marin being a small, tight circle, it was not unexpected that I would encounter several of the producers I had met at previous festivals. David Vergari continues to refine his style, as exemplified in both the 2006 Marin County Pinot Noir and its 2007 successor that he poured. That ever-ebullient raconteur Mac McDonald, disappointingly, was off at another engagement, but the  2007 Chileno Valley Marin County Pinot Noir from his Vision Cellars was still splendid despite his absence.
Even though angioplasty’s efficacy is currently being challenged in some medical circles, the wines of patent-holder Dr. Thomas Fogarty (and, presumedly, his residuals) remain undiminished; his 2006 Corda Family Vineyards, Marin County Pinot Noir easily testified too this endurance. His assistant winemaker, Nathan Kindler, also debuted his own venture, Precedent Vineyards, with a noteworthy 2006 Pinot Noir, Chileno Valley Vineyard. And the Corda Winery, who produces Fogarty’s Pinot grapes, brought forth their own moderately-priced 2006 Marin County Pinot Noir.
The two revelations of this event included Brookside Cellars, with a 2006/2007 duet of their Pinot Noir Marin County, grown at Nicasio’s Moon Hill Vineyard. Even more memorable was the erotophonic Orogeny Vineyards, whose justly-priced 2006 Pinot Noir Redding Vineyards was close to orgasmic (I can’t wait to try their various expressions of Chardonnay).
One slight limitation to events such as this gathering is that only one varietal is served. Such was the case Saturday, although Gary Miller of Miller Wine Works did slip me an illicit taste of his Syrah. The one official exception to the afternoon was Point Reyes Vineyards, whose sparkling NV Blanc de Noir, Marin County, made solely from Pinot Noir, provided a refreshing contrast to the still wines of the afternoon.
I’d be remiss in not mentioning the very forthright 2006 Kendric Vineyards Marin Pinot Noir. Stewart Johnson’s Kendric Vineyard in Northern Marin also supplies the grapes for Miller Wine Works. Remiss, however, is a term I’m tempted to apply to both Stubbs Vineyards and Moon Hill Vineyards, who departed well before the 7 p.m, closing and prevented me from making further acknowledgment of their wines. They may want to stay on for their full commitment in 2010.
Having sampled all the available wines, I hopped back on my bicycle and wobbled over to the Bay Club Marin, where I had pre-arranged to rendezvous with The Ginkgo Girl. Still spinning from the tequila-infused Ginger Cake I had lovingly crafted for her very significant birthday the night before, she had declined to join me at the tasting but drove up so we could attend Marin Theatre Company’s presentation of What the Butler Saw. Joe Orton’s posthumous masterpiece, a scabrous satire with Aristophanic overtones, had nothing to do with Pinot Noir, but then the allusive title has no bearing whatsoever on the play. Somehow, a very apt symmetry to close the day with.

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