If you love Pinot Noir wine, or just want to learn more about this finicky grape varietal, there is no better event than the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC). The event takes place at the Linfield University campus in McMinnville Oregon.
In 2022 we made our third visit to attend IPNC. Our first time was in 2014, followed by 2018. We planned to return in 2000, which was rescheduled for and then canceled for 2021. But as covid loosened its grip and things opened up, IPNC finally happened in July 2022.
The event was structured in the same way as in previous years:
- Buffet breakfasts;
- Touring a winery;
- Grand Seminar on an identified subject around wine;
- Attending a selected “The University of Pinot” seminar;
- Alfresco wine tastings;
- Time to socialize with winemakers and fellow Pinot Noir lovers as well as rest;
- Dinner under the stars;
- Annual salmon bake where hundreds of vintners and attendees bring their own special wines to share with others; and
- A celebratory Sunday sparkling wine brunch.
Rather than repeat our descriptions of past years, this post briefly summarizes the primary learning opportunities, some of the particularly interesting wineries and wines that we discovered during the tastings, and menu highlights of the more interesting meals.
IPNC Educational and Tasting Experiences
This year’s Grand Seminar was on “Through Rose Colored Glasses”. Moderators took us through tastings of 12 sparkling Pinot Noirs (spread across three wine flights) from the U.S. (Oregon and California), Europe (France and Germany), Australia, and South Africa. Each winemaker discussed their region’s and vineyard’s terroirs, the treatments of their wines, and any factors that make their wines distinctive and answered questions from the audience.
The discussion of the terroir and the tastings were particularly interesting. And in spite that we are not fans of sparkling wines, we found several wines from each flight to rise above the others. These were”
- Champagne Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rose Brut;
- Champagne Charles Heidsieck Rose Reserve;
- RMS Brut Rose 2019 (Willamette Valey)
- Argyle Brut Rose (Willamette Valley).
The most interesting comparison, however, was between wines from Roederer where we compared its Champagne Louis Roederer Brut Rose 2015 and its Anderson Valley’s Roederer Estate Brut Rose. By comparing wines that use the same varietals, process, and technique one could directly compare how different terroirs affect the finished product. Both were very good with subtle differences in nose and taste.
University of Pinot Semaine
We chose to attend the “Hidden Terroir Gems” seminar. As we tasted, the winemakers discussed five still Pinot Noirs from very different terroirs.
- 2020 from Theopolis Vineyards and 2019 Wayfarer “Mother Rock” were from very different Northern California locations. One came from the warm hilltop of Yorkville Highlands and the second from Fort Ross, some 70 miles to the north.
- 2018 Bethel Heights “Flat Block” Pinot Noir from Willamette’s Eola-Amity.
- Europe was represented by a 2017 Benjamin Leroux “La Place sous le Bois” Blagny 1er Cru from Burgundy’s Cotes de Beaune and Italy by a 2015 Tenuta J. Hofstatter Barthenau Vigna S. Urbano from Trentino-Alto Adige in the foothills of the Dolomites.
The winemakers discussed their wines, the terroir, and the year’s weather to highlight the similarities and the differences. This being said, the comparisons would probably have been more meaningful if comparing the same vintages and clones.
Vineyard Tour Seminar
The vineyard tour consists of splitting people into small groups to visit a local winery for an educational event and lunch. You don’t know which winery you will visit until you get on the bus.
This year we were fortunate to be assigned to one of our favorite wineries, Archery Summit for a seminar on “Ripening Pinot to Perfection”. The seminar included presentations, Q&A, and tastings guided by winemakers from three Oregon winemakers:
- Archery Summit from Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills AVA;
- Van Duzer Vineyards from Willamette Valley’s Van Duzer Corridor AVA; and
- Brandborg Vineyard from Southern Oregon’s Umpqua Valley.
Each winemaker provided an overview of each of their estate vineyards and their AVA’s terroir. Although most Oregon (and especially Willamette Valley) Pinot Noirs are planted on south and southeast-facing slopes of hillsides where the vines are stressed (rather than in the deep, fertile soils of the valley) each of the AVAs has different soils, winds, and weather patterns. For Example:
- Dundee Hills is known primarily for its soils: silty clay-based volcanic Jory soils that are somewhat acidic and rich in iron and other minerals. It has a cool climate that is sheltered from winds by surrounding mountains and typically produces light, reddish fruit.
- The Van Duzer Corridor has primarily well-draining sedimentary soils and faces west (to capture morning vs afternoon sun). Its wines, however, are shaped more by the “corridor” than its soil. This so-called corridor is a gap in coastal mountains that draws afternoon winds from the Pacific that moderates temperature extremes during the days and cools the vineyards in the late afternoon. As a result, the berries are smaller, ripen earlier, and produce darker fruits.
- Umpqua Valley was formed by three mountain ranges. Each range contains multiple types of deep, generally alkaline soils and has relatively moderate temperatures that result in very different conditions in different parts of the valley. The Northern end, where Pinot Noir is grown, has a cool, marine-influenced climate and more rain. The more arid southern sections are better suited to varietals such as Syrah and Merlot.
We then sat down to a tasting where each winemaker discussed the techniques he uses in the winery and specifically about the wines from each that we tasted. Much of the discussion and several questions dealt with global, or at least wine-country warming, and how to alleviate its effects, both in the near term and the long-term.
They discussed some of the near-term changing climate adjustments they are making:
- Canopy management, such as larger, more sheltering canopies;
- Beginning (in the case of dry farming) or increasing irrigation,;
- Minimizing tilling to reduce the disruption of fungus and other organic micronutrients;
- Altering the use of whole-cluster fermentation;
- Extending or reducing maceration times; and
- Changing between pump-over and punch-down.
Longer-term solutions can include the introduction of new, slower, and later-ripening clones (such as California heritage clones, Calera, Bieze, Schoolhouse, and proprietary clones), and reorienting wines to reduce direct exposure. A more dramatic solution is to replace vines with more drought-resistant rootstock or, most dramatic of all, by moving to new varietals (with which some wineries have already begun to experiment).
Al Fresco Walk-Around Tastings
Each afternoon from 5:00 – 7:00, attendees walked around amongst tables set up outside where winemakers poured and discussed their wines. The wineries were different each day which exposed attendees to about 60 different producers. Although we knew several of the wineries and wines, several were completely new. The tastings provide not only a chance to sample specific wines but also to learn about wineries with which we were not previously familiar and allow us to arrange for more personalized appointments at the winery.
Among the more interesting of this year’s wine and winery discoveries were:
- Domaine Chanson with its 2019 Clos des Feves Beaune 1er Cru;
- Brickhouse Vineyards with its 2018 Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir;
- Montinore Estate’s 2018 Parson’s Ridge Pinot Noir;
- Adea Fisher Family’s 2019 Estate Pinot Noir;
- Trisaetum’s 2019 Ribbon Ridge Estate Pinot Noir;
- La Rue’s 2018 Thorn Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast.
And in the spirit of follow-up, we already arranged to sit with one of these winemakers for dinner and made arrangements with him and two others to schedule visits during a forthcoming trip to Burgundy.
In addition to all the fresh fruit, pastries, and less than exciting eggs, bacon, and sausages that are offered at the daily breakfast buffet, and daily afternoon snacks including artisan cheeses, popcorn and other treats, the celebration serves a number of three- and four-course meals prepared by local chefs. Not surprisingly, wine is part of the meals. Winemakers sit at each table and offer and discuss their wines. Other wines are also available from sommiers who try to match your tastes to what they have available to pour.
Other than one uncharacteristically disappointing lunch (a nice Dungeness crab salad followed by an overcooked smoked pork chop with ratatouille and dessert), the food was enjoyable.
Winery Lunch, at our Winery Tour seminar at Archery Summit
Our winery tour at Archery Summit included a wonderful lunch. We began with mussel escabeche, pickled quail eggs wrapped in bacon, and scallops with vegetables and seaweed. It was followed by roast duck breast with beets, grains, and foie gras. The dessert was a creative ice cream sandwich with egg yolk, caramel, and almonds. Each course was accompanied by two of the winery’s Chardonnays (2020 Dundee Hills and Summit Vineyard) and several of Archery Summit’s premium Pinot Noirs, including its 2019 Archer’s Edge, Archer’s Crest, Arcus Vineyard, and Summit Vineyard).
Grand Dinner (Friday evening)
The Grand Dinner was out under the stars. The courses included Dungeness crab salad, chicken pate, beef short ribs, and a berry turnover with whipped goat cheese. The winemaker from our table’s host winery Domain Chanson was pouring three Pinot Noirs. and more than a dozen other wines from other vineyards that came so quickly that we had to decide which of our three wines to dump to accommodate the new wine. And, as at all meals, if someone was not getting sufficient numbers of wines with the flavor profile he or she prefers, she had only to ask the table’s sommelier who would search for and bring more suitable alternatives.
Northwest Salmon Bake (Saturday evening)
The Salmon Bake is a buffet-style tradition at which hundreds of huge Chinook salmon are speared onto wood skewers and smoke grilled over a huge open-pit fire. Grilled New York striploin steak and lamb sausage are also available along with a wide range of salads, vegetables, potatoes, and greens. The salmon and streak are carved to order to accommodate individual taste and are followed by dozens of dessert stations from which you can select whichever and as many sweets as you can handle. Then there’s the wine! While premium wines are poured throughout the evening, hundreds of attendees also raid their cellars for select bottles (usually large-format bottles including one that held nine liters!) that they bring from table to table to share with hundreds of their new friends. Among the evening’s special treats were two library Lingua Franca single-vineyard wines (2017 “The Plow” and “Mini’s Mind”), 2015 Archery Summit Arcus, 2018 Domaine Serene “Fleur de Lis” and several vintage Burgundies.
Sparkling Brunch Finale (Sunday)
The ritual Sunday closing buffet meal of the Celebration included a selection of freshly-shucked, Nacar Merroir y Terroir Hama Hama oysters, chawanmushi (a Japanese custard with pickled beech mushrooms, trout roe, and edamame), Albacore tuna poke, salmon sashimi, Dungeness crab roll, local ham, biscuits with sausage gravy and a wide range of fresh fruits, salads, pastries, and bagels. All throughout the brunch, servers come around with one of five sparkling wines: Argyle Blanc de Blanc 2019, J Vineyards Cuvee 2020, Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rose, and Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut Rose.
A Great Event With A Few Caveats
Most of the activities were held outside on the college campus. Normally this is refreshing but in 2022, McMinnville was having a heat wave. Temperatures hovered around 100 each day which is much too hot for us. Fortunately, the Grand Seminar and the University of Pinot events were in air-conditioned buildings. And it did cool down a little bit for the outdoor evening meals. But if the heat becomes the new normal, we may rethink attending.
And, in 2022, it was obvious that the pandemic was still affecting the event. Staffing and volunteers were in short supply. We felt that there were fewer non-US-based wineries in attendance than in the past. And it felt that there were fewer attendees than in previous years.
Still, if you like Pinot Noir, it is well worth considering attending a future event.
Previous IPNC Blogs