The International Pinot Noir Celebration event I attended a couple weeks ago was a marvelous exploration of Oregon wine, the region’s wonderfully fresh produce and the various meats and seafood harvested from the area’s woods and waters.
The event was held at Linfield College – a small institution located in an idyllic setting in McMinnville, Ore., which was wine central for Oregon pinot noir that weekend and hosted the many alfresco lunches, tastings and dinners. My wife and I stayed at the lovely and romantic Mattey House B&B (503-434-5058) situated on a seven-acre farm and vineyard outside McMinnville. We were hosted by Jack and Denise Seeds, the wonderfully accommodating owners, who demonstrated an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the Willamette Valley’s wines, wineries and people.
Here’s the agenda for a typical day at the IPNC: alfresco breakfast with fresh berries, croissants/breads, mini-omelets, juices and espresso/coffee/tea; visit to a winery with an extensive tasting of pinot noirs from Oregon and the world and a Q&A with winemakers; lunch in the winery prepared by a chef from the region and paired with that winery’s wines; back to Linfield for afternoon seminars on such topics as “pinot lab” (learn how the stuff is made and play winemaker for a day) and “old vines vs. young vines” (how does vine age make a difference?); and a two-hour tasting of dozens of pinot noirs before an outdoor dinner.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking: how can any normal human being survive all this food and wine for two and one-half days without either (a) exploding or (b) calling “Ralph or Buiiiick”? Well, it wasn’t easy (particularly for yours truly) but the key was moderation and a willingness to spit out the wine after rolling it around in your mouth for a quick taste impression.
Yes, the same activity that is normally viewed as uncouth and barbaric in polite society (and even where I am domiciled) is totally acceptable and, indeed, necessary if one is to attempt to taste and evaluate hundreds of wines. So, I was able to get through the days by eating lightly (the hardest thing to do) and expectorating into cups.
The two evening meal events were nothing short of exquisite! On the first night, four chefs from some of the best Oregon and Washington restaurants prepared this feast: Oregon albacore tuna tartare with Provencal flavors; roasted squab with morel confit, millas cake and corn-sweet onion relish; Cascade natural whole roasted filet mignon with summer vegetable ratatouille and arugula oil; and a pinot noir parfait consisting of pinot noir chocolate mousse layered with vanilla custard, chocolate pound cake and topped with orange and chocolate diamond gelees (I think these were “sprinkles”).
What did we drink with this gourmet extravaganza? Well, just about every kind of pinot noir, but also Champagne and White Burgundy (we tasted three different ones at our table including a Puligny Montrachet, Mersault and Chassagne Montrachet).
The next day those participants who visited a winery the previous day stayed on campus for a morning seminar on pinot noir’s role in sparkling wine and Champagne. This was an excellent program and featured a discussion among wine makers from Champagne and Oregon along with other’s in the wine trade and New York Times wine columnist/blogger Eric Asimov. You can find his excellent musings on wine at: http://thepour.blogs.nytimes.com/.
Later, the group had a tasting of pinot noir rose’s and then enjoyed a multi-course alfresco luncheon with guess what ….. more wine. The afternoon was filled with seminars and then another early evening two-hour tasting which was followed by a traditional Northwest salmon bake (see photo of wild salmon roasting on alder wood) with about 20 mouth-watering side dishes again all prepared by a crew of gourmet chefs. More wines with dinner and then an outdoor dance under the Oregon stars. The next day’s brunch (with sparkling pinot noir rose) was a gourmand’s delight and ended a truly memorable event. For the superhuman, there was an afternoon tasting of all the wines poured at the entire IPNC event. I demurred.
What truly made this weekend even more special was the informal approach of the hosts to what can be a very technical subject and the exceedingly genuine and friendly attitude of everyone including our fellow IPNC participants. If you love wine and particularly pinot noir, you should check out the IPNC website (http://www.ipnc.org/) or call them (800-775-4762). It’s not too early to book reservations for next year’s celebration to be held July 25-27, 2008.
So which were my favorite pinot noirs of the weekend? I can honestly say there was only a handful with which I found serious fault. Of those I particularly enjoyed, here are ones which I’m pretty sure are available in the state: Argyle, Archery Summit, Domaine Serene, Willakenzie, Patricia Green, St. Innocent, King Estate, Ponzi, Panther Creek, Erath, Cristom, Eyrie, Golden Eye, Sokol Blosser and Chehalem.