This guest-post comes to us from Mira Advani Honeycutt, author of California’s Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles. She frequently contributes wine and travel pieces to the Good Food Blog.
Two kings, a prince and a posse of Pinot Noir fans all converged recently on the cavernous Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica Airport to taste and celebrate this elegant, sexy varietal at a wine tasting known as Pinot Days.
Now, there are many talented winemakers crafting Pinot Noir in California and Oregon. But for me, the anointed ones are Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe Vineyards and Peter Cargasacchi of Cargasacchi Wines, both in the Santa Rita Hills appellation located in the modest region of Lompoc. From farming to vinification, these winemakers are purists to the point of fanaticism. They are also credited for establishing the Santa Rita Hills appellation in 1998. And the prince? None other than their Lompoc neighbor Brian Loring of Loring Wine Company, who’s been given this title by one of the Pinot princes of Paso Robles, Marc Goldberg of Windward Vineyards.
And here’s how sought-after these skilled Pinot geeks are – while the lines for such prestigious names as Domaine Serene, Sojourn Cellars and Hitching Post were three-deep, Clos Pepe and Cargasacchi were five-deep.
This one-day tasting event was a good education. Four hundred Pinots were poured by wineries representing the appellations of Willamette Valley (Oregon), Russian River (Sonoma), Santa Lucia Highlands and Santa Cruz Mountains (Monterey County), Anderson Valley (Mendocino County) and Santa Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County).
It was a heady experience tasting the diverse characters of Pinots from various appellations under one roof. The Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from wineries such as Sokol Blosser, Le Cadeau and Winderlea are a riot of gamey and earthy aromas. Russian River appellation wines are humming with strawberry and cherry scents while the neighboring and cool Sonoma Coast Pinot offered an added layer of acidity. Although Santa Rita Hills Pinot is know for its bright fruit, wines crafted by Clos Pepe and Cargasacchi from this region are luscious with fruit yet restrained with notes of spice and earth.
This was the first time I tasted a Pinot from Santa Cruz Mountains appellation: Big Basin Vineyard’s wines from this cool region not only had bright fruit but there was a layer of minerality and spice to this Pinot.
I came across a wide selection of amazing Pinots from Roessler Wines, a Sonoma-based winery that crafts small lots sourced from pretty much all the revered Pinot appellations — from Willamette and Anderson valleys to Carneros and Santa Rita Hills. Another discovery was Monterey’s Wrath wines, very distinctive of the cool Santa Lucia Highlands region.
While most wines poured at this event were from 2009 and 2008 vintages, Wes Hagen from Clos Pepe proudly poured his 2000 vintage — a Pinot with a wonderful gamey, barnyard aroma — my kind of Pinot.