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Pinot Noir Summit

The 6th Annual Pinot Noir Summit was held at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco on Sunday, March 2,2008. I had participated in some of the preliminary judging sessions back in early January. Judging at this event is unique in that the number of wines tasted is kept to 32 each day. This allows reasonable time to thoroughly evaluate each wine. Approximately 270 Pinot Noirs were entered from all over the world, with the majority from California. The final 40 wines were presented to the public at this event in a walk-around blind tasting format. The consumers were asked to rank their favorites and the results were compared with the judging panel preferences. After unveiling the wines, additional tastes were offered by the winemakers and winery reps. A unique added feature is that the men and women judging results are kept separate. Organizer and hostess of the event, Barbara Drady (photo right), of Affairs of the Vine, likes to search for gender differences in stylistic preferences of Pinot Noir.



Winners - Men Judging Panel

    1st Place: Tie, 2005 Adobe Road Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir,

    2005 Heart O’ The Mountain Estate Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

    2nd Place: 2005 David Bruce Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

    3rd Place: 2004 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Winners - Women Judging Panel

    1st Place: 2005 David Bruce Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

    2nd Place: 2005 TR Elliott Three Plumes Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

    3rd Place: 2006 Ardiri Napa Carneros Pinot Noir

Winners - Men Consumers

    1st Place: 2005 Adobe Road Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

    2nd Place: 2004 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

    3rd Place: 2005 Bianchi Garey Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

Winners - Women Consumers

    1st Place: 2004 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

    2nd Place: 2005 Gryphon California Pinot Noir

    3rd Place: 2005 Bianchi Garey Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

I tasted through all 40 finalists blind at the event rather quickly and amidst much distraction. For what its worth, my favorites are listed below.

Most Outstanding

    2005 Bianchi Garey Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir $25. Note: I recommended this wine in a recent issue of the PinotFile and was happy to see my tasting abilities verifiable and vindicated both in a non-blind (for the newsletter) and blind (at the Summit) situation. This was my favorite Pinot Noir of the final 40.

    2005 David Bruce Winery Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

    2005 Gryphon California Pinot Noir

    2005 LaZarre Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

    2006 Paraiso Vineyards Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

    2005 RN Estate Fiddlestix Vineyard Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir

    2005 Robledo Family Winery Rancho Rincon Carneros Pinot Noir

    2006 Vision Cellars Garys’ Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

Excellent

    2005 Adobe Road Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

    2006 Ardiri Napa Carneros Pinot Noir (Best Dressed - see below)

    2005 Cakebread Cellars Napa Carneros Pinot Noir

    2004 Clouds Rest Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

    2005 David Bruce Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

    2005 Robert Stemmler Nugent Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

    2006 San Saba Monterey Pinot Noir

    2004 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Good

    2005 Cima Collina Chula Vina Vineyard Monterey Pinot Noir

    2005 Davis Family Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

    2005 Handley Cellars RSM Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

    2005 Jekel Vineyards Monterey County Pinot Noir

    2005 Kenneth Volk Vineyards Santa Maria Cuvee Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

    2006 Longboard Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

    2005 Signorello Las Amigas Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir

    2005 Stephen’s Cellar Encell Vineyard San Luis Obispo Pinot Noir

    2005 TR Elliott Three Plumes Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

    2006 Twin Oaks Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

Other Finalists

    2006 Amity Vineyards Sunnyside Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

    2006 Amphora Windsor Oaks Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

    2006 Bernardus Winery Monterey County Pinot Noir

    2006 Claiborne & Churchill Edna Valley Pinot Noir

    2005 Heart O’ The Mountain Estate Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

    2006 Laetitia Vineyard & Winery Reserve Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir

    2006 Laetitia Vineyard & Winery La Colline Vineyard Arroyo Grande Pinot Noir

    2005 Mahoney Vineyards Mahoney Ranch Pinot Noir

    2005 Mark West Winery Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

    2006 Phillips Hill Estates Oppenlander Vineyard Mendocino County Pinot Noir

    2005 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Branciforte Creek Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

    2005 Savannah Chanelle Tina Marie Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

    2005 Three Sticks Durrell Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

    2005 Willowbrook Cellars Kastania Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

The complete list of entrants for the Pinot Noir Shootout leading to the Pinot Noir Summit event will be available later this month on the Affairs of the Vine website at www.affairsofthevine.com. Case production and prices will be listed as well as some pertinent judge’s comments on the wines.

As part of the Pinot Noir Summit, I moderated a panel on Discovering New Stars Along the Pinot Trail. Four wineries were featured: B Vineyards & Habitat, Russian River Valley (represented by owners Gerald and Shaun Bybee), Kutch Wines (represented by owner Jamie Kutch, below left)), RN Estate (represented by owner Roger Nicolas, below right), and Three Sticks Wines (represented by winemaker Tracey Bledsoe, below right)). A podcast of this seminar will be posted on my website later this summer.




Every wine enthusiast is searching for the next great star producer of Pinot Noir. This is not surprising for many of these pinotphiles are interested in getting the latest news and what do the first three letters of “news” spell? Who is going to be the “new” Sea Smoke or Kosta Browne? Finding and identifying new Pinot Noir producers is a challenge because most of them are small, boutique operations with little or no marketing budget. Their total production is often less than 1,000 cases, and samples may not be sent to major wine publications for review. In addition, winemakers by nature tend to be shy and unassuming and promotion is not their long suit.

Not a week goes by that I don’t discover a new producer of Pinot Noir. How do I find new stars? Sometimes the new producer contacts me, sends me samples, and invites me to visit and taste. In other cases, I meet the producer at a Pinot Noir Festival (at least a dozen such events are held yearly now in California and Oregon) or a wine tasting event. Retailers, the wine press, and wine blogs can also be valuable sources of introduction.

What do I look for in a new winery? There are many factors to consider, but most importantly, I look at the vineyard sources and vineyard management, the winemaker’s background and experience ( a caveat here is that many accomplished winemakers have learned more by experience than by classroom study), the owner’s (if she or he is not the winemaker) commitment, and the approachability and availability of the winery principals to the consumer. Most of all, though, what differentiates a potential new star is the quality of the juice in the bottle.

I met Roger Nicolas of RN Estate at a Wine & Fire event in Santa Rita Hills last year, Jamie Kutch was a reader of the PinotFile who related his story and aspirations to me. Gerald and Shaun Bybee contacted me and invited me to taste and visit. I read about Three Sticks Wines in the wine press and was alerted by Barbara Drady, the organizer of this event. RN Estate, Kutch Wines and B Vineyards & Habitat have been profiled in previous issues of the PinotFile (search Back Issues at www.princeofpinot.com). Three Sticks Wines was Founded in 2002 by Bill Price who is also the owner of Durell Vineyards in Sonoma Valley and thus has the enviable position of having Durell Vineyards as his estate vineyard. The first three vintages of Three Sticks were produced at custom crush facilities. In 2005, a new facility was initiated on the east side of Sonoma which contains state-of-the-art winemaking equipment and a unique design that utilizes moveable tanks, crush equipment and basket press in order to most efficiently utilize winery space. The winemaker is Don Van Staaveren who brings to Three Sticks years of experience. He directed the conversion of Artesa Vineyards & Winery from sparkling to still wine production and crafted many notable Cabernet Sauvignons at Chateau St. Jean during the last decade. Assistant winemaker Tracey Bledsoe was also at Artesa where she worked for five years. She holds a Master’s degree in Microbiology from University of California Davis. Three Sticks plans to produce small lots of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the estate vineyard and a Cabernet Sauvignon from two vineyards in Sonoma Valley. 1,000 cases will be released with the 2005 vintage. The 2005 Three Sticks Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is a blend of Dijon clones 115, 667 and 777 from 8-year-old vines yielding 1.75 tons per acre. Winemaking is Burgundian with minimal handling and the wine is aged 14 months in 50% new French oak. A website will be developed soon for wine purchases. The current phone is 707-935-1863 and the address is 21692 Eighth Street East, Suite 280, Sonoma 95476. This is a new producer to keep tabs on.
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