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The Buzz at WOPN

*Lane Tanner, the Lady Gaga of Pinot Noir producers in California, is retiring. The 2009 vintage will be the last for the Pinot Czarzina. Lane launched her label, Lane Tanner Winery, in 1984, at a time when women winemakers in California were a rarity. She made the house wine for the Hitching Post restaurant for many years. She was known for crafting Pinot Noir with elegance and moderate alcohol and had a faithful following. Lane told me that she still has a good stock of library wines, including cases of magnums. Contact her through www.lanetanner.com.

*George Bursick, who gained fame for the wines he crafted for many years at Ferraro-Carano, and who most recently transformed J Vineyards & Winery into an ultra-premium Pinot Noir producer, has chosen to strike out on his own as an independent winery consultant. In addition, he is starting his own label, George Bursick Wines, which focuses on single-vineyard white wines. Visit www.bursickwineconsulting.com. He will remain a consultant for J Vineyards & Winery.

*Buena Vista Winery has concluded its lease on its winery facility in Carneros. Ascentia is consolidating its production to it’s Geyser Peak facility in Geyrserville. Buena Vista will no longer be made exclusively from Carneros grapes, but will include fruit from throughout Sonoma County. Winemaker Jeff Stewart seemed saddened when we talked. He had put his heart and soul in the turn around at Buena Vista and the wines had become world class. Business is business, and the Buena Vista Winery under its current organization was not profitable. The Buena Vista tasting room will remain open to the public and the future plans for Buena Vista wines remain unclear, although reportedly they will become a “super-premium” brand. The future of talented winemaker Jeff Stewart is still up in the air.

*Enthusiasm for Burgundy remains high as evidenced by the sold-out attendance at the Burgundian Seminar on Saturday morning. Moderator Allen Meadows (aka Burghound) was in top form and presented a captivating session on the history of Burgundy, using some excerpts from his new book, The Pearl of the Côte - The Great Wines of Vosne-Romanee. Young Turk winemakers Alexandrine Roy of Domaine Marc Roy and Thomas Bouley of Domaine Jean-Marc Bouley presented their 2007 and 2008 red Burgundies, primarily 1er Cru level wines. The wines of Roy come from Gevrey-Chambertain, and although the region’s wines are known for their rusticity and animale characters, Roy has put her own feminine stamp on the wines and they are very seductive and approachable, as well as offering good value. Bouley’s wines are more intense, but not lacking in charm and were superb. In 2007, the growing season was moderately warm, harvest was declared early, and the resultant wines are riper and more approachable early. 2008 was more challenging due to a very cool growing season. For those producers such as Bouley and Roy, who achieved phenolic ripeness and limited yields, the 2008 vintage produced fabulous wines, albeit with firm tannins and lively acidity that will take years to integrate. Allen feels that 2008 has transparency, showing individual terroirs, and enthusiasts should look to the reputation of the domaine in making purchasing decisions for that vintage.

*There continues to be a cantankerous debate about high alcohol and balance with some claiming that no wine over 14.0% alcohol is balanced, and others willing to offer many examples of Pinot Noir with over 15.0% alcohol that are in balance. A Seminar at WOPN on alcohol and balance offered a panel of noted winemakers including Jim Clendenen (Au Bon Climat), Adam Tolmach (The Ojai Vineyard), Josh Jensen (Calera Wine Company), Adam Lee (Siduri Wines) and Michael Browne (Kosta Browne), but no definitive answers. I expected a more contentious panel discussion, but the specter of respect among the panelists prevented any such thing. The wines presented offered impressive drinking at low alcohols (2001 Au Bon Climat Mount Carmel Vineyard “Larmes de Grappe” Sta. Rita Hills - 13.2% alc. and 2006 Calera Mills Vineyard Mount Harlan - 13.5% alc.) and high alcohols (2008 Kosta Browne Keefer Ranch Russian River Valley - 14.7% alc. and 2008 Siduri Wines Keefer Vineyard Russian River Valley - 15.2% alc.). Moderator Eric Asimov summarized the discussion by saying that producers should not be criticized for the style of Pinot Noir they choose to make with consumers being the final arbitrators of style. Note: Siduri's Adam Lee presented two wines: 2008 Keefer Vineyard Pinot Noir (15.2%) and 2008 Cargassachi Vineyard Pinot Noir (13.6%). He switched the labels without telling the panel or audience. Rajat Parr (Wine Director for Michael Mina Restaurants), who was on the panel, asked Adam if he could buy a case of the "Cargassachi" Pinot Noir which was, in fact, the Keefer Vineyard Pinot Noir. Rajat has been an outspoken opponent of Pinot Noir above 14.0% alcohol, and features no wines on the RN74 (San Francisco) wine list that exceed this level of alcohol. Adam made a point, and although embarrassed, but to his credit, Rajat allowed Adam to announce this switch to the audience who were, of course, tickled.

*We tend to think that all good Pinot Noir comes from either California, Oregon or Burgundy but the International Roundtable at the WOPN proved otherwise. There were some very impressive Pinot Noirs offered by producers from Switzerland (Moehr-Niggli), Austria (Weingut Johanneshof Reinisch), Germany (Weingut Dr. Heger), Chile (Kingston Family Vineyards), Australia (Yabby Lake), and New Zealand (Quartz Reef). The top wines from these countries are imported in minuscule amounts, but they are definitely worth a search.

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