The International Pinot Noir Celebration occurs every year right at the end of July. You may have missed this year’s festivities but August 18th is National Pinot Noir day, so you too can celebrate the versatility and beauty of this delicate varietal
Hailed by Bon Appetit Magazine as “unquestionably the greatest (festival) for lovers of Pinot Noir”, the 31st International Pinot Noir Celebration brought together Sommeliers, chefs, winemakers and lovers of cuisine paired with Pinot from around the world for a decadent celebration. The delicate, dark, tightly-clustered grape was feted with wineries from North America, Europe and the Southern Hemisphere on the campus of Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon and in the vineyards of several noted regional AVA’s.
The convocation of luminaries included brilliant examples of the varietal from around the world, including domestic wineries from Oregon, California, Canada, Michigan, Virginia and Washington; European wines from France and Germany along with wines from the Southern Hemisphere – Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.
The first wave of Oregon grape growers in the 1970’s weren’t quite cosmopolitan, but they did have foresight in spades: they envisioned that the rich, red, volcanic Jory soil dotted with hazelnut groves would be the perfect location to grow burgundian varietals.
“Papa Pinot”, the late David Lett, was instrumental in putting these once quiet hills of Oregon on the wine map. Lett tested the burgundian mettle of Oregonian Pinot by entering the 1979 Gault-Millau Wine Olympiad in Paris, with his 1975 Eyrie Vineyards South Block Reserve–and shocked the Euro-centric judges by placing third in the blind-tasing. Robert Drouhin Jr., scion of the French wine house Maison Joseph Drouhin, demanded another competition, and put in his own finest wines to show his seriousness. In the second blind tasting, Eyrie edged up a spot to place second.
Drouhin was so intrigued he came to Oregon to taste more of the wines in the fledgling wine industry and in 1987, he purchased 279 acres in the Red Hills, appointing his daughter Veronique to make wine for his new Oregon designate, Domaine Drouhin, Oregon.
Papa Pinot didn’t just let his wines do the talking–he lectured frequently on the merits of Oregon’s terroir and was one of the founding members of the informal group of commercial grape growers, wine-lovers, winemakers that helped to establish this festival held in the heart of Oregon wine country. In 1985, the group launched the inaugural International Pinot Noir Celebration, uniting international Pinot noir producers, journalists, Pinot noir devotees, northwest chefs, and food lovers for a weekend of tasting, dining, learning, and celebrating together.
As much for the varietal it celebrates, the IPNC has served as a culinary showcase for the luminaries of the restaurant universe. Oregonian chefs and restaurants highlight the northwest’s famed farm-to-table cuisine, creating inspired courses based upon local produce. Internationally renowned chefs have graced the program as well, including Minoru Odashima of Kappo Odashima in Tokyo, Japan, Alister Brown of Logan Brown in Wellington, New Zealand, and Michael Wild of BayWolf Restaurant in Oakland, California.
IPNC was a frenetic and exciting blend of all things Pinot in a three-day, 24/7 whirlwind of tastings, seminars, vineyard tours, and meals, spanning lectures from the “University of Pinot”, to a Sparkling Brunch, to the Salmon Bake in the historic Oak Grove.
Guest chefs teamed up with Northwest farmers to transform locally sourced, sustainable ingredients into edible art vineyard dinners throughout the weekend, which included menu items like foie gras sausage sauteed with Pinot Noir, huckleberries and local, salted hazelnuts.
Master Sommelier Vajra Stratigos, Director of Food and Beverage Standards at Fifth Group Restaurants in Atlanta, Georgia, led a tasting seminar comparing current release vintages of Pinot noir from Burgundy, California, and Oregon alongside older library vintages.
The University of Pinot staged a symposium “Is it nature, or is it nurture?” led by a diverse set of winemakers representing as diverse terroir: second generation Elk Cove winemaker Adam Campbell, the irrepressible Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, and Antoine Gouges of Domaine Henri Gouges.
Antoine Gouges, whose family’s 80 year-old holdings in Nuits-Saint-Georges represent some of the most beautiful selections from the Côte d’Or, noted that terroir lies at the fundament of great wines, “it is whilst still on the vine that a fine wine matures.” While terroir surely measures the potential greatness of a wine, we personally feel that it’s the skill and artistry of the winemaker that can assist or detract from that potential to manifest into greatness. What we can entirely agree upon, however, is that Pinot Noir is truly one of the great varietals of the world and sipping magnificent examples of it is one of life’s great pleasures.
If you missed IPNC this year, fret not: as a cap to the summer’s festivities, August 18th is National Pinot Noir Day. Pop your favorite bottle, cook up a storm and celebrate!