With the sun glistening down on the Pacific, warm coastal breezes blew in the the 12th Annual World of Pinot Noir (WOPN). Guests were treated to an array of informative seminars, tours, dinners, and tastings of Pinot Noirs at the Cliffs Resort, a stone’s throw from Pismo Beach. Known for some of the best Pinot Noir in the world, the California Central Coast is a region that has idealistic growing conditions for Pinot Noir, and this event did nothing short of showcasing not only the wine, but the region as well.
Heading to the event, a drive South down California Highway 101 dips you into the Salinas Valley. Once there, it becomes clear why Pinot Noir grapes do so well on the Coast of California. On the West side are the Coastal Mountain ranges that block the cold marine layer from getting sucked into the Salinas valley floor, but still allowing cool ocean breezes to slip in and cool down the hot valley in the summertime . This give-and-take creates warmth for the grapes during the day, and cooling during the night. The sandy loamy soils provide excellent drainage for the finicky grapes, as well as 3-4 inch stones that dot the valley and store and radiate heat back to the grapes for ripening. Closer to Santa Barbara country, Pinot Noir thrives with its nearness to the ocean, some wineries only a few blocks away from the beach, but still protected by the coastal mountains.
WOPN highlights other regions also known to grown Pinot Noir well. Carneros, Washington, Oregon, New York, Chile, Australia, and New Zealand all poured and it was interesting to taste them side-by-side. Of course, a Pinot Noir festival wouldn’t be complete without paying homage to Burgundy, the origin of Pinot Noir. A Burgundy wine vintage tasting dinner was offered, as well a class called “Burgandy from the ground up.” At the Grand Tasting, Espirt Du Vin, showed off and tasted its pièce de résistance, the 2008 Domaine Antonin, La Justice, Gevry-Chambertin with earthy flavors of truffles, and a nose of a pine forest just after a good rain. This wine had all the old world funkiness that keeps people intrigued by a great Burgundian Pinot Noir.
At the Grand Tasting, guests were shuffled towards two tents filled with many Pinot Noirs to taste and plenty of food to nosh on. The food, quite good, was overshadowed by some fantastic food vendors like The Cheese Shop. Located in Carmel, they brought many samples of some of the finest cheeses in the world to pair with Pinot Noir. The favorite was a French cow’s milk cheese called Epoisses that was smooth and creamy and happened to use Pinot Noir grapes in the processing
Some notable wines tasted were the 2009 Bouchaine Pinot Noir, Carneros with flavors of bright cherry, rich chocolate, dark ripe plum, and sweet spices. The Assistant Winemaker, Andrew Brooks, and the tasting room manager, Tony Bradshaw, were a friendly duo. They were more than happy to tell you all about their winery in Carneros. Both quipped that Carneros is the place to go because it is the “real deal.” In fact, they said, Carneros is used for many movie locations because it still maintains a non-touristy feel, unlike its neighbor to the North up route 29. The other impressive wine was Deloach Vineyards Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley a winery that is part of the Boisset Family Estates. Asked what OFS means on the label, and host Eric Pooler joked, “You have to use your imagination, but the first word is Outstanding!” Whatever the other two words could be, he was right, it was outstanding. Another notable wine was 2008 Cadre Pinot Noir, The Architects, San Luis Obispo. A blend of four vineyards, clearly visible on the label, shows how each vineyard attributes to the other. It had notes of charred wood, cranberry, strawberry, and a little blackcurrant leaf. After all the luscious richness of tasting Pinot Noirs, it is an understatement that palate fatigue sets in. The final palate cleansing sip was left to 2011 La Rochelle’s Pinot Noir Rosé, Santa Lucia Highlands. With glass full of gleaming, salmon colored wine, you get a sense of not only what perfection in a glass tastes like, but what it can to do to create a perfect ending to the day. It was heard over and over that the event has been prone to rain and cold weather. Every year, organizers must cross their fingers, hoping for the best. Luckily, this year, they got what they wished for.