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Pinot Noir From the Front Lines

Each year the Pinot Noir festival season on the Pacific Coast kicks off in early March with the World of Pinot Noir in Shell Beach, California and ends in November with the ¡Salud! Oregon Wine Auction in the Willamette Valley. Pinot geeks can revel in thirteen major celebrations in succession including Pinot Paradise in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Pigs and Pinot in Healdsburg, Pinot Summit in Northern California, Petaluma Spring Pinot Noir Spectacular, Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival, Carneros Heritage Fest, Pinot & Paella in Paso Robles, Marin County Pinot Noir Festival, Pinot Days in San Francisco and Chicago, International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, Oregon, and Pinot on the River in the Russian River Valley. There are numerous other smaller-scaled events in California and Oregon as well. No other wine variety has more than one big event in its honor and varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc have none.

To really feel the pulse of Pinot Noir and become indoctrinated into the Pinot Noir fraternity, you must participate in the joy and conviviality of at least one of these annual Pinot Noir festivals. These events are a unique opportunity to rub shoulders with the passionate men and women who daily toil to produce the world’s most sensual wine. The harsh reality is that growing and crafting Pinot Noir is expensive and profits are small. The majority of producers are not in it for the money. As Oregon winemaker Rob Stuart has said, “Pinot Noir is all about a passion and a lifestyle. It’s not about money.” At one Pinot Noir festival I saw a tee shirt with the inscription across the front, “It’s all about the money.” The word money had been crossed out and the word Pinot inserted.

I attend nearly all the major celebrations annually and recently returned from three such events: World of Pinot Noir, Pinot Paradise and Pinot Summit. In the following pages I report my impressions and discoveries. These events are generally raucous affairs and enthusiastic throngs prevent any serious geeky Pinot Noir tasting. However, general impressions are obtained, new ideas and trends are identified, old friendships are renewed and new friendships blossom from the spirit of camaraderie. At the end of the day, staring at your purple- stained fingers, you can feel perfectly content, grinning as you savor the dreamy wines from the recesses of your day’s memory.

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