A worldly celebration of Pinot Noir

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Wine lovers: Fans of Pinot Noir gathered in July on the campus of Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, for the International Pinot Noir Celebration. Part of it included an al fresco lunch. | Supplied photo

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There are few locations in the world where you can fully immerse yourself in the culture and attitude of finely crafted Pinot Noir. In the United States this sweet spot is Willamette Valley, Oregon.

On July 26-28 the 27th International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) commenced in the heart of picturesque Willamette Valley on the Linfield College campus in McMinnville, Oregon. A yearly pilgrimage for Pinot Noir enthusiasts, the 2013 IPNC attracted 550 participants along with many of the most well-respected winemakers and pioneers of Pinot Noir in the world. Seventy-four producers represented winegrowing regions in Burgundy, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and Austria, as well as Oregon and California. Producers and their wines were carefully chosen along the guiding principles of this venue emphasizing that this be a celebration and not a competition.

This year’s forum included world recognized author and importer Terry Theise and New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov. Keynote speaker Theise initiated this year’s ceremony by professing, ”We talk about Cabernet as we talk about sports, but we talk about Pinot Noir as we talk about religion.” His comments resonated among this year’s gathering of the most devote followers of Pinot Noir in the country. Seminars covered dynamic topics including discussions and tastings on the “Architecture of Pinot Noir.”

Owners dissected the unique characteristics and discussed the subtleties of Pinot Noir grown in their countries. Theise commented about the markers of greatness in a wine and referenced common terms such as terroir. Alexandrine Roy from Domaine Marc Roy in Burgundy remarked, “terroir is the personality of place,” which most agreed was the influence of soil and vineyard microclimates in defining the flavors of wine. Ehren Jordon, of Failla Vineyards, suggested that in the end our “ultimate goal is to drink it, not deconstruct it.”

Afternoons focused on the America Viticultural Areas (AVAs) or the wine-growing regions of Pinot Noir in Oregon and California, and the influence of oak and barrel toast in reflecting the personality of the wine. Some winemakers presented a tasting of sleeper vintages, giving a glimpse of vintages of Pinot Noir from their cellars, which far exceeded their early expectations. Theise took command of a passionate subject matter in presenting a tasting of small grower Blanc de Noir Champagnes from France. He discussed the importance of the aromatic qualities offered by the Pinot grape in these sparkling wines.

Those in attendance were also allowed the opportunity to experience first hand how the character of the vineyard shapes the quality of Pinot Noir. Within vineyard settings, participants were given an overview of the soils and grape clones that influence this varietal while tasting through examples of how these elements transform the grape. Afterwards, winemakers shared their hospitality with luncheon presentations paired with their wines.

At days end, a courtyard setting served as the backdrop for an early evening tasting of the 2010 and 2011 vintage of Pinot Noirs from recognized winegrowing regions of the world. This tasting revealed the stunning success of the 2010 vintage with notable examples being the 2010 Soter Vineyards Mineral Springs Ranch Pinot Noir, 2010 Pegasus Bay “Prima Donna” Pinot Noir, 2010 Saintsbury “Lee Vineyard” Pinot Noir and the 2010 Domaine Marc Roy Gevrey–Chambertin Clos Prieur.

Joining again in this year’s celebration were acclaimed chefs from the Pacific Northwest who paired their cuisine with the nuances of this captivating varietal during dinner and luncheon presentations. The Friday night “Grand Dinner” enlisted the talents of four local chefs who prepared a collection of seasonal ingredients paired with Pinot Noir from the IPNC wine library. Saturday evening focused on the much-anticipated “Salmon Bake,” where Columbia River King Salmon was posted on large wooden stakes and slowly roasted over alder woods. Over 1,500 attended this evening’s feast under the stars, which was complimented by older cherished vintages of Pinot Noir and white wines from the vintners “Vault.” Jazz played in the background as everyone savored Pinot Noir’s affinity for food and its ability to age gracefully.

The International Pinot Noir Celebration showcased Pinot Noir’s worldly personality and broad range of compelling aromas, textural qualities and expansive flavors in a global context. While Willamette Valley remains a young and evolving region, it has achieved respect for its ability to express the unique personality that is the essence of Pinot Noir. The 28th Annual IPNC will be held July 25-27, 2014, in McMinnville, Oregon. Information about this wine weekend for Pinot Noir lovers is available at www.ipnc.org or by calling (800) 775-4762.