Pinot Days 2012: Not So Many Pinots


Pinot Days 2012 held their Grand Tasting on Saturday, June 16.  As always, the event was held in the Festival Hall, Ft. Mason Center, San Francisco.  More on that in a minute.

Attendance looked to be down some compared to 20111, both in the number of wineries and tasters.  We guesstimate about 200 wineries and 500 tasters this time.  Almost all the wines were very good. Only two pinots we sampled had noticeable flaws. We conclude that apparently winemakers have learned the recipe.

Large-scale wine tasting events like Pinot Days 2012 are always something of a game of chance.  With over 200 wineries pouring between one and five wines each, it was impossible to visit them all.  We usually try to visit a few old favorites to see what they’re up to, but we like to concentrate on new wineries, often those that we’ve never heard of before.  (With 3,540 bonded wineries in California alone, it’s impossible for even devoted workers like us to keep track of them all.)

The implications are stark: some years we are lucky, others we are not.  This year we found only one new gem.  That was Bruliam, a winery that released their first wine in 2008.  These folks were pouring three excellent, home-run, hit-out-of-the-park pinot noirs. A full review will be forthcoming in a few days.##PUTLINK HERE.

So pinot-making competence is the rule.  Assuming our sample of wineries is somewhat representative, it appears that many are avoiding risk by sticking to the standard recipe for pinot.  The good news is that there are few bad wines.  The bad news: without taking risks, winemakers miss the opportunity for a home run.

Ft. Mason – Still a Tough Place to Visit

There’s no parking.  We felt lucky to get a space that Google maps assured us was 0.6 mile from Ft. Mason.  And San Francisco traffic is horrible.  San Francisco hates cars and it shows.  And the Festival Hall was noisy, at least 100 decibels. Conversation was nearly impossible  We had to step outside a couple of times just to give our eardrums a break. Fortunately beautiful views of the bay are just outside the building. But signs said stepping out was technically verboten. But many attendees besides us did step out anyway – check out the video to get a humorous flavor of the event inside and out. We urge the organizers to find another venue, possibly over in the Presidio National Park. For close in San Francisco city dwellers, Pinot Days is still a convenient way to sample a lot of high quality pinot at low cost without driving.

Below are excerpts from our review of last year’s Pinot Days 2011.  The headline immediately below links to the full review or that prior event.

Pinot Days 2011

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.)

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.

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.

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