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Pinot Briefs —Newsletter 9.4

Santa Barbara County Vintner’s Association Vintner’s Festival The 2012 Festival will be held April 21 at The “Carranza” in Los Olivos. More than 100 Santa Barbara County wineries will be pouring all varietals along with local foods. Tickets are $75 at The weekend is also highlighted by winemaker’s dinners, library tastings and barrel tastings. A Vintner’s Visa gives wine enthusiasts a passport to twelve winery tastings.

Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance Tasting A focused tasting of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA is available to the trade (12-3) and public (4:30-7:30) at RN74 in San Francisco on April 2, 2012. 20 participating wineries. Tickets at

Shanghai Winexpo 2012 The 9th Shanghai International Wine & Spirits Exibition 2012 will be held on November 28-30 in Shanghai, China. The aim is to assist overseas wine and liquor producers and distributors to enter the Chinese market and for the foreign alcohol industry to establish their brand image in China. There will be 2800 wine wholesalers and 58,000 distributors in Shanghai. For information visit

Four Celebrated Pinot Noir Vintners in Hawaii The Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea hosts Webster Marquez of Anthill Farms, Donald Patz of Patz & Hall, Steve Clifton of Brewer-Clifton and Gary Burk of Costa de Oro for wine dinners, tastings, seminars and a charity golf tournament. The Saturday golf tournament will honor the Kimberly Project, a vineyard planted in honor of vintner Greg Brewer’s cousin, who lost her life at a young age. All proceeds from the vineyard’s production each year, and from tournaments like this one, benefit the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center of Santa Barbara County. The three-day event will be held June 7-9, 2012, culminating in a gala oceanfront wine dinner created by the resort’s Master Executive Chef Roger Stettler featuring 32 selected Pinot Noirs and 8 Chardonnays paired with local Maui produce and seafood. For information visit or call 808-874-2201.

Pinot Noir NZ 2013 With the opening of registrations for the event, Chairman of the Board, Alastair Maling MW, announced that Sam Neill, winemaker, movie actor and raconteur will open Pinot Noir NZ 2012 in Wellington, January 28-31, 2013. The first Pinot Noir NZ was held in 2001 and is now organized every three years. Speakers confirmed for the event include Jasper Morris MW, Matt Kramer, Lisa Perotti Brown MW and Australia’s Mike Bennie. More than 100 New Zealand Pinot Noir producers will participate. Four days of Pinot Noir workshops are planned. For more information visit, and for registration inquiries contact

West of West Wine Festival The second West of West (WOW) Wine Festival will again be held in Occidental, California, August 3-5, 2012. The event features the wines of west Sonoma County with the opportunity to sample small production, limited release wines in the place they are grown. More than 40 producers and growers will participate. Guest speakers include Ted Lemon of Littorai and New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov. A Whole Hog Feast is hosted by association vintners. For tickets, visit

Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance Wine and Fire Event The Sta. Rita Hills AVA Celebration, “Wine and Fire,” will be held August 18-19, 2012. Save the date! Information forthcoming at

Minerality Many wines are described as having minerality but no one can explain exactly what it means. Some associate minerality only with terroir-driven wines. The word is appearing more often in wine reviews. In a recent issue of La Vigne (No. 239), tasting notes from Wine Spectator were surveyed and it was found that 10% of the comments contained the word “minerality.” It occurs more often in the tasting notes than the words “oaky,” “fruity,” and “floral.” Similar results were found in the English magazine Decanter. Many wine critics believe minerality is a quality of freshness conferred on a wine by acidity and is a positive feature in wines such as Pinot Noir. I use it sparingly in my reviews because I do not have an adequate handle on the term.

Opening Wine Without a Corkscrew Videos of five creative ways to open wine without a corkscrew including using a shoe, a tree, and a screw, screwdriver and hammer. Visit

Alta Maria Tasting Room Winemaker Paul Wilkins and winegrower James Ontiveros have opened their first tasting room in the small town of Los Olivos, California at 2933 Grand Avenue. Available for tasting are latest releases of Alta Maria Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and tasting room exclusive Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. In addition, you can find James Ontiveros’ small lot Native9 Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard Pinot Noirs and Paul Wilkins’ Syrah and Rhone cuvées from his label, Autonom. The tasting room is open daily from 11:00-5:00. Visit

Old Vintages of Williams Selyem Pinot Noir K&L Wines in California is offering a large number of Williams Selyem Pinot Noirs from the Burt Williams era (vintages offered include 1992-1996). Assuming the wines have been properly stored, they should drink nicely. I have heard a number of positive reports from family members who have drank Williams Selyem wines from these vintages in the last year and raved about them. Unfortunately, many bottles will have been sold by the time this reaches you. Visit

Outstanding in the Field Posts 2012 Schedule 2012 season details are posted and events in California between May and August will go on sale the first day of Spring, March 20, 2012. Pay particular attention to the two dinners at Mark Pasternak’s Devil’s Gulch Ranch in Nicasio, California. Mark farms practically all the Pinot Noir in Marin County as well as raising rabbits, pigs and produce for restaurants. Visit

Endomorphins Make Alcohol Enjoyable Research published in Science Translational Medicine (January 11, 2012) confirmed previous studies in animals that suggested ethanol causes the release of endomorphins from the brain. Endomorphins act like opioids such as morphine. The study measured the displacement of a radio labeled opioid receptor agonist, before and immediately after alcohol consumption in heavy drinkers and control subjects. Drinking alcohol induced opioid release in areas of the brain involved in pleasure and reward (the orbitofrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens). The brains of the heavy drinkers appeared to be changed in such a way as to make them experience more pleasure and reward from alcohol. The results suggest a possible mechanism by which opioid antagonists such as naltrexone work to treat alcohol abuse.

Silicon Valley Bank State of Wine Industry 2011-2012 The predicted growth in the fine wine segment is in the range of 11-15% for 2012, albeit with only marginally improving profitability. Boomers and GenX (ages 35-54) will support most of the fine wine recovery. Affluents make up a small percentage of wine consumption by number but have a far greater impact on retail spending. 20% of U.S. households account for 80% of all premium wine sales. The 55 and over crowd is responsible for 44.1% of fine wine purchases, more than double that of Millenials. The most important question wineries can ask is, “Who are your customers and what do they want?”

The Finest Wines of California: A Regional Guide to the Best Producers and Their Wines A new book published by University of California Press in 2011 written by UK-based wine writer Stephen Brook. An excellent review of the book by John W. Haeger appears in the Journal of Wine Economics (Vol 6, Number 2, 2011, pp 282-284). The book is part of a series of guides developed by the English magazine, The World of Fine Wine. 110 pages are devoted to illustrations including photographs and label facsimiles. The book leans heavy on Napa wineries with minimal coverage of Pino-centric regions like Mendocino, the Sonoma Coast and the Santa Cruz Mountains. One caveat is that any book touting the best producers is purely a subjective choice by the author. Haeger points out that the book includes a detailed profile of Kistler which is probably reason enough to acquire the book if you have enjoyed Kistler wines through the years since few have been privileged to an insightful look of this winery.

Chatter About Wine Critics Tasting Abilities Unrelated to Consumer Preferences There has been considerable cyber chat following the release of a study that surveyed winemakers and critics in Canada and found them as a rule to be genetically hypertasters, that is, very sensitive to propylthiouracil (hypertasters are repulsed by a strong bitter sensation). The researchers suggested that consumers may not be able to appreciate the flavors wine critics describe and may not benefit from drinking highly rated wine. I say hogwash.

Hypertasters are sometimes referred to as “supertasters,” a term that should be avoided as it connotes a certain superiority over regular tasters which is not true. Genetically there are three separate types of tasters in the population: hypertasters possess two dominant genes, are hypersensitive to basic tastes, and have more taste buds including fungiform papillae on the tip of their tongue; regular tasters have a moderate response to sensual pleasures and possess one dominate gene and one recessive gene; non-tasters are blind to the intensity of many sweet, sour and salty foods and have two recessive genes. About 25% of the population are hypertasters, 25% are non-tasters, and 50% are regular tasters. More women and Asians are hypertasters. Interestingly, every week taste buds wear out and are replaced, but after the age of 45, they are replaced less frequently, causing more people to gradually become regular or non-tasters.

The taste genes determine how many taste bud receptors a person has for sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness. The number of taste buds can vary from a few hundred to tens of thousands. The defining tests to determine the class of taster is either to count the number of papillae on the tongue or record the sensitivity to 6-n-propylthiouracil or PROP (a tablet used to treat hyperthyroidism). Non-tasters will taste nothing when the table touches the tip of the tongue, regular tasters will taste a small amount of bitterness, and hypertasters will experience a strong bitter sensation.

Hypertasters do not like the strong tastes of many fruits and vegetables and when tasting wine, they would not be expected to like strong tannins and heavy alcohol and would be more sensitive to sweetness. Regular tasters presumably prefer “average” flavors and find sugar more palatable, high alcohol less bitter, and tannins less repulsive. The non-tasters might enjoy sweet wines more and be more forgiving of strong tannins and alcohol.

Since 75% of the population are regular tasters or non-tasters, there is a good chance that some wine critics fall into those two categories, but it is highly unlikely that wine critics will come forward and reveal the type of genetic taster they are. Certainly critics who are hypertasters (who probably would prefer the term supertasters because of the implications) might want to announce their “superior” genetic heritage. If critics did reveal their genetic tasting category, consumers could align themselves with a critic in the same category.

A significant point regarding wine tasting has been emphasized by writer Steve Heimoff and others. Experience is more important than heredity in tasting wine. One is not born to taste wine. Ann Noble, wine quality expert at University of California at Davis has said, “None of this is relevant for wine tasting. People learn to taste (wine); they are not born that way.” Hypertasters are not better wine tasters, only more sensitive to tannins, alcohol and sweetness. In a 1997 report in Wine Business Monthly it was noted, “Researchers privately have joked that hypertasters might even prefer the industrial winemaking process, with its heavy fining and racking procedures which have long been known for stripping out flavonoids and other chemical compounds that make up the unique taste of wines.”

In the end, the wine drinker’s seasoned palate and learned preferences is most relevant. Regardless of genetic predisposition for tasting sensitivity, it is the drinker’s experience, his proclivity, and his love of the grape that dictate his ultimate drinking experience. If he can align himself with a wine critic who shares similar preferences, he can obtain additional benefits.

I don’t consider myself a wine critic, for I have an aversion to disparaging wines, and I prefer to be thought of as a wine writer. For what it is worth, I am a regular taster, but a hyperlover of Pinot Noir.

Program for International Pinot Noir Celebration Announced The 26th International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) will be held July 27-29, 2012 on the campus of Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon. Tickets for the full Weekend, Salmon Bake and Sunday Walkabout events are sold on a first come, first serve basis. IPNC keynote speaker will be Kyle MacLachlan, an American movie and television actor who is a dedicated oenophile. The Grand Seminar will feature Allen Meadows and is titled “Travel Abroad in Burgundy,” a tour of the vineyards of Burgundy. Several notable Burgundian vignerons will join in and offer their wines for tasting. A list of featured wineries and featured chefs is available on the website at Sign up for Seasonal Posts on the latest IPNC news and announcements via e-newsletter.

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