The scene at Pinot Days, Ft. Mason

Pinot Days 2011: So Many Pinots …


Despite an estimated 1,000 attendees and 220 pinot noir wineries at the June 18 event, the space at  Ft. Mason center was large enough that we didn’t feel cramped or rushed during our tasting.  This year the organizers rented the Festival Pavilion.    (The 2010 event was at the Herbst Pavilion, a mere 30,000 square feet compared to 50,000 for the Festival Pavilion.)

Good Pinot Noirs – Talisman, Couloir, Donum, Foursight, Hahn, Hillard Bruce

Happily, there were a number of wineries doing a respectable job with pinot noir.  Talisman offered two 2007 vintages from the Red Dog Vineyard (Sonoma Mountain).  One was a Pommard clone, the other from Dijon.  Both are priced fairly at $46.  We preferred the richness of the Pommard clone with its nice mouth feel to the lighter Dijon variant, but we wouldn’t kick either one off the dinner table.

Couloir wines offered the 2009 Monument Tree Vineyard from the Anderson Valley.  Very nice, but get it quick — only 149 cases were made.  At $38 a bottle, this is not a bargain, but it’s still a pretty good deal.  Winemaker Jon Grant was quite entertaining in his exposition of his winemaking, including one interesting detail.  After the grapes are picked, he leaves them in cold storage for 24 hours to allow the cut stems to seal.  That way he can do whole-cluster crushing without worrying about contamination from the stems.

The Donum Estate had two 2007 vintages available, both very nice.  The Russian River estate grown and Carneros estate grown are both quite respectable, but priced way too high at $65.

Foursight Wines (Anderson Valley, “just south of Boonville”) has been growing grapes for four generations. As owner Bill Charles told us, “We took an IQ test and failed so we started making wine.”  Their 2009 “Zero New Oak” has a hint of tangerine and is a nice bargain at $38.

But the real bargain was the  Hahn Family Wines 2010 pinot noir.  At $12, this is an outstanding value…it will probably be under their Cycles Gladiator label.

But the real bargain was the Hahn Family 2010 pinot noir.  At $12, this Monterey AVA wine is an outstanding value.  Unfortunately, I neglected to take adequate notes and Hahn Family website lists eight different labels.  And none of them include a 2010 pinot.  My recording (from my Livescribe pen) has the Hahn representative saying they released the 2010 when they ran out of the 2009.  Here’s a navigation tip: when you get to the Hahn Family website, click the Shop button then look at the left frame.  A link there takes you to Varietals and will eventually list all their pinot noirs under any label.  You can also shop by vintage or label.  Nice setup that other wineries with multiple labels could profitably emulate.  (My guess is that the 2010 we tasted will be under the Cycles Gladiator label, but I’m pretty sure the bottle we saw had no label at all. Update– it turned out to be the regular Hahn Family label though.)

On the deck at Hahn Winery, Monterey County

Hilliard Bruce offered two pinots. The 2008 Santa Rita Hills “Moon” was very nice.  We liked the 2009 “Sun” a little less.  According to an e-mail from John Hilliard, we were lucky.  The 2008 is sold out.  The 2009 retails for $55.  Fairly priced.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment was Copain Cellars.  A few years ago winemaker Wells Guthrie announced he was abandoning the traditional high-tannin lots of oak approach to wines in favor of more modern techniques that produce wine that we might actually be able to drink during our lifetimes.  The Copain offerings were thin, high acid, and had no detectable pinot character.


As always there were numerous wineries offering pinots that ran the gamut from mediocre to awful. Mediocre included Zotovich. Adastra, Keller Estate, Westwood, Orendeno, Wrath (what did we expect?), and too many others to mention. It has occurred to us that the 2008 and 2009 vintages being poured might be just not as good as usual.

We would be remiss if we did not mention Furthermore Wines (although we won’t link to their site for reasons that will be immediately apparent.) Their 2008 Bohemian Vineyards Russian River ($40) claims to have won a “Gold Medal 2010 SFIWC.” We assume that refers to the San Francisco International Wine competition. And we don’t believe it. Even the host at the Furthermore table described it as “barnyard.” That’s a nice description of the foul aroma and the flavor was no better. How a winery can turn dreck into a virtue is a mystery. Our guess is that the wine they were pouring was not the Bohemian wine — Furthermore was having a little fun. Sadly, they failed to let their potential customers in on the joke.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment was Copain Cellars. That’s because they usually make wines we enjoy. We’ve purchased from them in the past. A few years ago winemaker Wells Guthrie announced he was abandoning the traditional high-tannin lots of oak approach to wines in favor of more modern techniques that produce wine that we might actually be drinkable during our lifetimes. We approve of that direction. Unfortunately the particular wine being offered at Pinot Days was The Copain was thin, high acid, and had no detectable pinot character. We expect this wine was an aberation.

Marketing French Pinots to Californians

New gadgets and marketing ideas were also on display. The Benchmark Wine Group buys wines from estate sales worldwide and sells them online.  They claim to offer over 5,000 labels.  A quick glance at their website does nothing to invalidate this claim.  We tried a Colin Deleger Volnay Les Brouillards 2002.  Nice, light, inoffensive, but overpriced at $55.  Those who enjoy wines imported from most countries are victims of the weak U.S. dollar.

Encore Wine Imports is following a similar business model, but with a more commercial twist.  Encore’s website is currently a gateway to a number of wineries in France, Oregon, Washington, and a lone representative from California. They seem to be combining the co-op model with a high-end distributorship. Interesting business model.  We’ll watch to see whether they can pull it off.

Ft. Mason – a Difficult Venue for Car-owners

One final note about the venue: wine events need to start moving out of San Francisco.  Over the past few years we’ve attended tastings in Palo Alto, Danville (Blackhawk Country Club, highly recommended), and several other venues.  What we avoided at those locations was San Francisco’s notorious hatred of automobiles.  Our 46 mile trip from the south peninsula to Ft. Mason took a full 1 hour 40 minutes.  Of that time, about 45 minutes was spent getting from the south boundary of San Francisco to Ft. Mason (north end of the city on the bay, a distance of 9 miles).  An additional fifteen minutes looking for parking didn’t exactly put us in a good mood for winetasting.

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