The Wide World of Pinot Noir

When was the last time you went wine tasting and only sipped one varietal all day: the same grape in every glass? After several years of plotting to attend the World of Pinot Noir, a professional wine tasting event in Shell Beach focused on all aspects of this singular varietal, the stars aligned in 2010. As I headed to my first day of WOPN, I wondered how well this single varietal would hold my attention over the course of the weekend. This grape has a capacity for nuance that quickly put to rest any concerns of palate fatigue.

Pinot Noir tastes great with so many foods, especially cheese

The lessons in the seminars at the World of Pinot Noir are well crafted and thoughtfully conceived for participants to learn experientially and deeply. The “professional” facet of events like WOPN and Hospice du Rhône links directly to the well-chosen participants in the events of the weekend who have so much to offer foodies. Winemakers, vineyard managers, sommeliers, chefs, and other proponents of Pinot present seminars for most of the day (with tastings). In the afternoons and evenings, the wider world of Pinots opens on the lawn of the nicely situated Cliffs Resort for the grand tastings.

If you love wine or are even just getting into wine, attending WOPN will seriously rock your food and wine world. The experiences conceived for the in-depth seminars expand your mind while they expand your palate whether they focus on farming, winemaking, food and wine pairing, global techniques, current technologies, and other facets of Pinot.

an engaged audience at the Iron Sommelier Challenge

WOPN Whirlwind Weekend

One of the reasons I moved to the Central Coast from the midwest was to live and work closer with the wine industry. It’s been an extra bonus to discover that many of the people involved with wine in this area are not only very talented but also quite friendly and funny. This was on full display at both seminars I attended last year.

Foxen vineyards

The first day of WOPN 2010 began with a quick tour of the vineyards at Foxen followed by an entertaining and illuminating tasting-discussion of the multiple vineyards, winemakers, and vintages of Pisoni wines. From the start, this seminar on the unique personalities, geography, climate and j’ne sais quoi of the Pisoni Vineyards was delightfully in danger of becoming a wine-fueled comedy skit.The panel participants included Gary and Jeff Pisoni, Adam Lee of Siduri, James Hall of Patz & Hall Wine Co., Rob Jensen of Testarossa Vineyards, Jeff Fink of Tantara Vineyards, Gary Franscioni of ROAR, and author John Haeger who moderated this very funny event.


“We are all Pisoni!”

When someone on the panel would mention a character in the industry, the panelists would look at each other and laugh. Holding Gary Pisoni masks in front of their faces, these winemakers who have the good fortune to use Pisoni fruit for their wines as well as be friends with the greater Pisoni family, declared “We are all Pisoni!”  Clearly, the organic goodness of healthy family bonds among relatives and friends contributes much to the quality of these wines where everyone gets the best fruit because, as Gary assures all his winemakers, “You got the best spots, man!” This seminar demonstrated the close connection and integral link between wine and the heart.

youth and maturity

And then the wines: what a unique opportunity to taste through two wines from each winemaker, one from the 1990s and one from the 2000s, all using Pisoni fruit. These comparative tastings are a great value for what you learn and all the places around the world that you can travel to with a wine glass. More on Pisoni Vineyards here and here.

At the Saturday seminar, the Iron Sommelier Challenge, we turned from wineries and vineyards to the kitchen, one of the most powerful rooms in any home. Sommeliers love to talk about food, as this session made deliciously clear. The panelists included Randy Caparoso of Sommelier Journal, Benito Martinez of Botero, Thamin Saleh of Bacara Resort, moderator William Sherer of Aureole, and Christie Dufault of RN74 who declared: “Food is our greatest wine teacher.” These food and wine experts discussed how wines lay under the food and support the flavors, textures, and essences of each taste. The audience was invited to think like sommeliers who are really just “jealous chefs” said Christie. The well-chosen panelists seemed to really enjoy interacting in this novel way with such a gastronomically educated audience.

Iron Sommelier Challenge

This delicious and thoughtful session of the Iron Sommelier Challenge encouraged everyone in the room and on the panel to discover and discuss how each bite—produced perfectly by Chef Evan Treadwell of Lido—paired best with which wine. Those audience members who correctly determined which Pinot out of the eight before them best paired with the particular dishes the sommeliers had developed and submitted for this contest-event would win a magnum of the correctly identified Pinot Noir. Everyone enjoyed this thoughtful food and wine pairing event.

As fulfilling and interesting as these seminars were, WOPN offered a complete additional set of seminars and tastings that occupied other participants during the weekend. The icing on the cake of this weekend of celestial alignment: I won a bottle of Hitching Post Pinot Noir with fruit from Bien Nacido Vineyards. This thoughtfully-organized weekend genuinely opened my horizons and welcomed me to explore Pinot Noir, an approachable, diverse wine.

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