World of Pinot Noir 2011 , a detailed look ( and taste ) from the Media Room

The World of Pinot Noir. over the last 11 years has earned the reputation as one of the foremost Wine Focus Events in the country with Growers , Winemakers and Master Sommeliers from all over the world converging on the Cliffs Resort in Shell Beach California every March. Each year  fine , young , upcoming stars producing very nice Pinot Noirs and we visit with Icons of the industry and sample their time tested works of art. Each Day was different for us. The First day was full of pleasant surprises from some future winemaking stars. The second day we revisited many of the legends that have been at the fore front of winemaking in ,many cases for over 30 years and right up to the last day , pleasant , palate pleasing surprises kept coming .

The World of Pinot Noir provides journalists a media room where we have the opportunity to do a focus tasting of every wine being pouring on that day. This is a wonderful chance to really look for those “special” producers and really take long look at their wines.

Ryan Zotovich
ZOTOVICH CELLARS: Sta Rita HillsThe Zotovich Family Cellars was probably the nicest surprise we had over the whole weekend. After tasting the Zotovich Family Cellars Estate Pinot Noir Sta Rita Hills 2008 in the media room we had to go “in search “ of these wines at the Grand Tasting by The Sea. Walking up to the table we saw a 20’s something young man pouring the Pinot Noir. After speaking with him , he was non oher than winemaker Ryan Zoltovich who explained his background. He stated he is a Cal Poly Grad and for the last three years has been the cellar master for the legendary Sea Smoke Cellars.  He left in July to work for his family in their estate vineyard. In a word , we were impressed with Ryan and his Estate Pinot Noir 08 which was one of the best we had all weekend. Ryan has the potential to be a new and rising star in the Sta Rita Hills

Sea Smoke Winery needs no introduction to any wine lover. They don’t have a tasting room , and only offer periodic, by appointment, Vineyard tours and have an allocation list ! Having the opportunity to visit with winemaker Don Schroder and taste these very special wines is always a treat. For years, vintners have coveted a stretch of land in the western end of Santa Barbara’s Santa Rita Hills AVA known to have the perfect microclimate, soils, and exposure to grow world-class Pinot Noir. In 1999, fulfilling a long-held dream of owner Bob Davids, this sought-after stretch of land became Sea Smoke Vineyard. We enjoyed the Southing 2008 Sea Smoke Sta Rita Hills and all we can say is that it lives up to the long history and reputation of this legendary vineyard . If you are looking for a true “standard” in Pinot Noir , Sea Smoke is a must !

Cheri La Valle-Sinor and Mike Sinor

Founded in 1997 by Winemaker Mike Sinor and his wife Cheri LaValee-Sinor , this winery is making some very nice Pinot Noir and got our attention . The 2008 Pinot Noir Talley-Rincon Vineyard a classic example of a Pinot Noir from Arroyo Grande . It scored an amazing 93 points last year has a production of only 73 cases This husband and wife team are well on their way and you can taste the dedication to growing a producing high quality hand crafted Pinot Noir with every sip.

Ken Brown

When you talk about a true pioneer in winemaking one name that always comes up is Ken Brown and rightfully so. His first experience with Pinot Noir in what is now known as the Sta. Rita Hills came in 1976 when he met fellow pioneers Richard Sanford and Michael Benedict and tasted one of the first Pinot Noirs from the Sanford and Benedict Vineyard. Most of his career has been spent pursuing the elusive traits that make great Pinot Noir. From the early days at Zaca Mesa Winery and 20-year tenure at Byron Vineyard he has continued to experiment with clones, rootstocks, soils and winemaking techniques, exploring the tremendous potential for Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara County He launched Ken Brown label in 2003 and became excited about the vineyards and the wines that brought him to Santa Barbara County in the first place 30 years ago. His Ken Brown 2008 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills was a classic Pinot Noir from one of premier Pinot Noir AVAs in the US. And what else would you expect from a real pioneer but only the best that the last 30 years have taught him.

Rebecca and Peter Work


Great wines have a great story and one of the greatest is Peter and Rebecca Work owners of Ampelos Cellars. A cancelled meeting in New York on September 11th 2001 changed their lives and sent them to Lompoc, California. They bought 82 acres in 1999 and moved to “ The Ranch” in 2002. The first 15 acres were planted in 2001 and in 2005 expanded with another 10 acres. Coming from the corporate world , they spent the first four years learning how to farm the land, prune the vines and coax them onto the trellis. They also learned to nurture the soil and prepare it for the first harvest. Ampelos is truly a small boutique winery producing about 3500 cases a year and doing very well at it. Their lovely 2007 Lambda is their “focus “ estate Pinot Noir. A very classic blend of six clones: 115, 667, 777, 828, Pommard4 and 2A and represents their second year of organic and biodynamic farming.  The Lambda is has all the signature notes of the Sta Rita hills and has scored 91 points Tanzer IWC 93 + gold medal 90-93 points Wine Spectator. Ampelos is all about love and passion for the land and should not be missed.

John and Steve Draginette , Brandon Sparks-Gillis

A winery we have been watching literally from their inception is Dragontte Cellars. John and Steve Dragonette and close friend Brandon Sparks-Gillis formed Dragonette Cellars in order to pursue a long-held dream to produce wines of the utmost quality and purity from the finest vineyards in Santa Barbara County and the Central Coast. It looks like to us they have achieved it. Their 2008 Pinot Noir from the Iconic Fiddlesticks vineyard Sta Rita Hills is a Pinot Noir that speaks to you about the AVA. Pinot Noirs from the Sta Rita Hills have a special signature and Dragonette has done an excellent job in winemaking and staying true to the Sta Rita Hills signature flavors.

Greg La Follette
La Follette is a winery that we found on the last day and are very glad we did. Launched in 2010 They source wines from many of the North Coast’s finest vineyards and it shows. Winemaker Greg La Follette could not have said it better when he said “being a winemaker means forgetting about ego” he added that “The key is listening closely to what the vineyard wants to express and trusting that you can help to gently guide that process”. After visiting a speaking with winemakers from all over the country that is one lesson that we learned many years ago. Great wines and made in the vineyard! We placed a very big star in our notes on the 2008 La Follette Pinot Noir Manchester Ridge Vineyard Mendocino Ridge. Using Dijon clones of 777, 115 and 114 aged 10 months in French Oak they produced only 214 cases of this palate pleasing Pinot Noir.

Simone Sequeria

Assistnat winemaker Simone Sequeria was on hand and took us through their Pinot Noirs . She explained that she is a California native and has spent a decade in the wine industry, working in virtually every aspect of the business, including hospitality, distribution, lab analysis and cellar production. She’s also worked abroad, picking Pinot in the Cotes de Beaune for the excellent 2002 vintage of Burgundy and making Malbec at Vina Cobos in Mendoza, Argentina in 2006. With Greg and Simone working in the winery, La Follette has a great future if what we tasted at WOPN is any indication.

The World of Pinot Noir features some of the finest Pinot Noir in the world. This event puts legendary winemakers side by side with the young all sharing their skill and love for this very special varietal. We sampled literally hundreds of Pinot Noir and all represented their AVA and country well. A few wineries stood out for us over the three day period for a variety of reasons. But the end result is that these wines stood out for us in their quality and what we feel a Pinot Noir should be and they best represented that. We look forward to the 12th World of Pinot Noir next March and look to find some more ‘special’ finds among the best of the best.

No comments:

The 35th Las Vegas Epicurean Affair To Shine Brightly, Poolside At The Red Rock Resort.

It's that time of year again to enjoy an evening poolside at The Las Vegas Epicurean Affair. This year the extravagant event wi...

Blog Archive