Pinot Days, Fort Mason, June 2006

A sincere congratulations to France on the stunning upset over Brazil in this year’s World Cup quarter finals. Lord knows America’s team didn’t stand a chance this year. But it’s only a small shock to know that California is kicking France’s ass in the Pinot Noir department when you’re a true fan of both regions’ products. The Pinot Days Wine Festival this year in San Francisco was a burgundy cavalcade of tongue-curling delight, and I’ve got the purple-stained socks to prove it. In our own backyard, on a beautiful day heralding the triumphant bloom of summer, inbody and I took to the pier, where we met with California’s luminary vintners and proprietors, drinking everything they could possibly throw at us and more.

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It was a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and I was surprised at how many people attended the show, filling up a great deal of the cavernous Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason. While a bit overwhelming at first, I floated in my veteran host’s contrail, and we quickly staked our mouth-watering claims on the wine makers with which we were most familiar. I efficiently learned how to navigate throngs of tipsy revelers, radio interviewers, and posh Marina folk, in no time at all doing the meet, greet, pour, and swill in one clean, smooth action. Holding a wine glass, notebook, pen, and jacket was a feat of octopoid-proportions, but I’m pleased to say that the only spilling I did was straight down my gullet.

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Our sample list was three pages long, and I somehow managed to record every sip I took, repeated here for convenience and memory. The first round, as I’d mentioned, consisted of winemakers we knew, regardless of new vintages or plots they had to offer. After an hour of hitting the best and the brightest, we tried a few Pinots that were new to us and that looked compelling. Of course, it would have been impossible to try them all, but we did our damn near best. Ryan was the old salt, comfortable and familiar with spitting into evenly spaced buckets and garbage cans throughout the pavilion. Me, I don’t like to be wasteful. It took me only fifteen minutes before I started weaving, but I managed to swallow most of the samples before I thought better of my health and eventually followed suit. The wines below were sampled from 1:30 to 3:30 pm on June 25th, and, of course, they are all of the Northern and Central California Pinot Noir grape varietal.

Martinelli ‘04 Zio Tony Ranch (Russian River) [made and poured by Helen Turley]
Papapietro Perry ‘04 Peter’s Vineyard (Sonoma Coast)
Copain Cellars ‘04 Hein Vineyard (Philo)
Chausseur ‘04 Dutton Ranch (Russian River)
Chausseur ‘04 Freestone Station (Russian River)
Brogan Cellars ‘04 (Russian River)
Martin Alfaro ‘04 Garys’ Vineyard
Martin Alfaro ‘A’ Estate Cuvée
Martin Alfaro ‘04 Central Coast
Kosta Browne ‘05 Garys’ Vineyard (Barrel Sample) [poured out in a half-hour]
Kosta Browne ‘05 Keefer Ranch (Barrel Sample)
Kosta Browne ‘05 Koplen Vineyard (Barrel Sample)
Londer ‘04 Anderson Valley
Windy Oaks ‘04 Estate Cuvée (Santa Cruz) [should be as good as the ‘03]
Windy Oaks ‘04 Reserve
Windy Oaks ‘04 Diane’s Vineyard
Tandem ‘04 Silver Pines (Sonoma Mountains) [holy shit]
Tandem ‘04 Keefer Ranch (Russian River)
Tandem ‘03 Sangiacamo Vineyard
Tandem ‘03 Auction Block
Sea Smoke Cellars ‘04 Southing (Santa Barbara) [unknown, but not for long!]
ROAR ‘04 Garys’ Vineyard (Santa Lucia Highlands) [poured by Gary Franscioni]
Robert Stemmler ‘03 Donum Estate (Carneros)
Dutton Estate ‘04 Dutton Ranch (Russian River)
Dutton Estate ‘04 Jewell Block (Russian River)
Failla ‘04 Hirsch Vineyard (Sonoma Coast)
Failla ‘04 Keefer Ranch (Russian River)
Patz & Hall ‘03 Alder Springs (Mendocino)
Nicholson Ranch ‘03 Sonoma Valley Estate
Nicholson Ranch ‘05 Rose Pinot
Miner ‘04 Rosella’s Vineyard (Santa Lucia Highlands)
Miner ‘04 Garys’ Vineyard
Handley Cellars ‘04 Anderson Valley
Goldeneye ‘03 Anderson Valley [starting to lose its lustre; I like the less expensive Migration better]
Hirsch ‘04 Sonoma Coast
Hitching Post ‘04 (Santa Rita Hills) [not as good as Sideways would make you believe]
J. Wilkes ‘03 Bien Nacido (Santa Maria Valley)
Keller ‘03 La Cruz (Sonoma Coast)
Laetitia ‘04 La Colline Reserve (Arroyo Grande Valley)
Siduri ‘04 Clos Pepe (Santa Rita Hills) [really lovely]
Siduri ‘04 Garys’ Vineyard
Bernardus ‘04 Rosella’s Vineyard
Bernardus ‘04 Ingrid’s Estate Vineyard (Carmel Valley)
Bernardus ‘04 Bien Nacido Vineyard (Santa Maria Valley)

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There were a few spectacular pours at the event, some of which were pleasant surprises to us both. Of special note was the entire stable of Kosta Browne ‘05 barrel samples, Sea Smoke Cellars, Nicholson Ranch, Windy Oaks, Siduri, and my pick of the show, the Tandem ‘04 Silver Pines. It was an absolute stand-out on the palate, and the folks pouring were really friendly and humble. My time at the table felt special due to the fact that no one was crowding around with rooting lips and tongue, and it gave us time to offer feedback and praise on the selection of pours available at the booth. Of course, it’s no wonder I’d pick Tandem as a favorite, as winemaker Greg LaFollette is also the man responsible for Londer’s phenomenal taste – another one of my sure loves.

From the Tandem website, on the ‘04 Silver Pines Pinot:
“Unmistakable Sonoma Mountain mark of smoked venison, blackstrap molasses and forest floor duff/truffle, this wine speaks clearly of its origin. The woodsy aromas nicely frame dark berry and cocoa notes. On the palate, one is presented with rich, almost creamy tannins that are finely balanced by firm acidity. Flavors echo aromas with a tip more to berry and even guava. With a long, fruit-driven finish, this wine will provide enjoyment now and age well for the next several years.”

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The inimitable Larry Londer, the man in charge of large amounts of my happiness.

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Papapietro Perry had a gorgeous spread, a perfect fit for their gorgeous wines.

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The view on the east side of the pavilion, looking out toward Coit Tower and the Bay Bridge.

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Well, okay. And we didn’t try for quite a while.

It’s a pleasure to be so near to so many California wine greats, and the thrill of discovering new ones all the time makes events like these all the more exciting and enticing. The mood at Fort Mason was that of general splendor, with happy faces all around, firm pats on backs of strangers sharing a fine flavor here and there, and many harmless flirtations fluttering up through the steel rafters of the Festival Pavilion. Wine makes us happy, and after a couple of hours, I took a walk along the pier and sat on a bench in the sun, watching the crowd emerge from a day spent in bliss – unsteady sea legs on land-bound saturnalians, weaving along the planks toward the Bay. I wasn’t the only one enjoying the post-Pinot glow, however, though I, at least, made it out of the building before napping.

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5 Responses to “Pinot Days, Fort Mason, June 2006”

  1. eskimolimon Says:
    July 3rd, 2006 at 9:54 am

    Sounds amazing, though I'm a Burgundy fan and I'd like to think France can still give you guys a run for your money in that department.
    I wonder where I can get Silver Pines Pinot in France? The price on Tandem's site is good but I suspect we wouldn't get the benefit of the low dollar in France. It's not showing up on Wine-Searcher.com.
    Perhaps if you're ever in France, bring some bottles and get some Burgundy Pinots and we can have a head-to-head!

  2. FunkyPlaid Says:
    July 3rd, 2006 at 3:55 pm

    I can hardly think of a more tempting challenge. Truth is, I also like Pinot done in the Burgundy style, but in a different context, perhaps that of a flavorful meal or dessert. Some recent California Pinots have just had such richness and layers of flavor, it's hard to choose a favorite, but I've definitely got a 'type'. My close winey friends know my palate by heart, now, so I must be getting predictable. 🙂
    Don't know where we can get you Tandem over there; my Scottish friends are having the same trouble. If I thought it would be worth your money, I'd offer to send some over, but I fear the shipping would be painful. I'd be happy to look into it, of course.

  3. eskimolimon Says:
    July 3rd, 2006 at 11:00 pm

    No, don't worry about shipping. Very kind of you to offer though!
    I'll keep looking and perhaps look out for a bottle or two when I'm in the US.
    I like California Pinot too, though my European Wino (Winot?) friends give me a difficult time for it, mostly because Burgundy is seen as the holy grail of wine. So much Burgundy is racing beyond what I'm willing to pay for wine these days, though.

  4. dichroicynosure Says:
    July 5th, 2006 at 5:18 am

    Good Lord, would you look at that list!! No wonder they didn't want you to leave…(was hoping there'd be a drunk stained Darren in those photos slumped over on a chair). I have to get a good wine education from you at some point. Need some refinement in that area. You sure seem to know your stuff! You could set up a side business taking wine dummies like me on tours : ) Ever considered having your own vineyard? Now, there's a tasty plan for the late middle aged you…(forget the corvette and the blondie)

  5. FunkyPlaid Says:
    July 6th, 2006 at 6:27 pm

    Seeing a drunk, stained Darren in the wild can only happen in person, I'm afraid. I wouldn't give you the pleasure from so far away. 🙂 Depending on when you arrive, I have a few choice wine adventures planned that I know you'll love, though, so you might get your chance.
    It's funny, no matter how much wine knowledge one has, it really doesn't amount to much, because there's so much to learn and to try. And really, the best wine is the wine that you enjoy the most.
    Haven't considered owning a vineyard, but a few of my friends have. I have a feeling I'll be plenty booked up by the time (and if!) I hit middle age. But really, are fast cars and blondes really my thing?

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