I’ve still got pinot noir on the brain, and, what with Hegui’s charming niece, Juliana, coming into town for a long weekend, what a better opportunity to explore my passion and have fun at the same time than at the 7th Annual Pinot Days pinot noir festival.
Held at Fort Mason, parking for the grand tasting event was a horror show, but everything else, including the notoriously difficult San Francisco weather, was perfect.
Have you ever been to a wine tasting festival? We really like them, as they’re a great opportunity to try a large selection of wines in a fairly short time. Of course, you can never taste them all. Plus we Americans for some reason seem to find spitting distasteful behavior, so after a while your palate gets ruined from all the swallowing. Oh well, it does make it lively. We ended up trying wines from about 20 producers, which I think is quite respectable, despite the aforementioned limitations.
Some of the producers that we’d hope to see weren’t here: Kosta Browne had a booth but it wasn’t manned; Williams Selyem had a special, $100 tasting dinner the night before, so I suppose that they thought it enough; Kutch, Rochioli and Calera didn’t make a showing. Some wineries that we’re familiar with and admire, like Eric Kent and Papapietro Perry, we skipped because they’re already on our A-list.
What’s remarkable about a tasting like this is the wide range of styles for pinot noir. You always hear about this in wine publications but it takes being confronted with hundreds of bottles of the stuff before it really starts to click. I can totally see now how dedicated pinotfiles get a little nutty with their taste descriptors. There really is a huge range. We enjoyed everything from light delicate diaphanous wines to fruit bombs and ones that tasted and smelled like new car leather with every conceivable permutation in between. Flavors and aromas ran the gamut between cherries and raspberries, plums, smoke, horse piss, cow manure, tobacco, iron, cream, acid, barbecue and more.
This tasting wasn’t mobbed like some others that we’ve attended. That was super since it allowed you to spend a brief moment or two speaking with the person serving, often, their own wine. Talking directly with the winemaker(s) was especially cool. I wish that we had more time with some of them, particularly this fascinating pair, Jennifer Waits and Brian Mast, from Waits-Mast Family Cellars. They said that they only made a single barrel of the wine that they poured us. That’s incredibly small and somehow seems heroic to me. I wonder if they’d be willing to do an online interview for weirdcombinations?
With the exception of the French Burgundies, which seemed confusing and we really don’t know enough about them yet to make useful recommendations, I’ll list the wineries that we tasted into two groups: those that we want to learn more about for sure, and the rest, the ones that we liked. Notice there aren’t any that we’d suggest skipping here. If I took down the name, I indicate with whom we spoke that represented the winery in each case, though I’ll skip naming the wines themselves, as that’s too complex and exhausting. If you really want to know, contact us or better, contact or go to the winery yourselves. This list in each group will be alphabetical, so the order does not mean anything. If they’re not from California, I’ll indicate that.
Pinot noir producers that we want to know more about:
Bien Nacido Vineyards: we spoke with Nicholas Miller.
Goldeneye Winery: we spoke with two lovely folks but I didn’t catch their names.
Manzoni Estate Vineyard: We talked with the charming Mark Manzoni.
Pelerin Wines: Chris Weidmann.
Sandole Wines: Cliff and Sandée Sandole.
Scheid Vineyards: “Stefani.”
Waits-Mast Family Cellars: Jennifer Waits and Brian Mast.
Winderlea Vineyard and Winery, Dundee, OR: Donna Morris and Patrick Harkins.
Pinot noir producers that we enjoyed:
Hirsch Vineyard and Winery.
Kokomo Wines: Robin and Randy Peters.
Manu, Marlborough, New Zealand: represented by their California importers.
Pey-Marin Vineyards and Pey-Lucia Vineyards: Susan Pey.
Siduri Wines: Actually Juliana hated the wine that we tried but the rest though it was ok.
Thorne Wine: Alexander Muntean—he didn’t actually talk much.
It is a bit sad looking at this list as it’s so short! There were many more exciting pinot producers and we simply couldn’t go on. Well, there’s always next year…