Vail Wine Ink column: The Pinot Posse will soon make its rounds | VailDaily.com

Vail Wine Ink column: The Pinot Posse will soon make its rounds

What began as a notion has evolved into a tradition. It is a winter rite, as each January a collection of the most accomplished pinot noir winemakers from the Left Coast of America, gather to bring their significant viniferous charms to the Rocky Mountains.

Next week, The Pinot Posse, featuring winemakers from Bonaccorsi, JK Carriere, Cargassachi, Camlow-Keefer, Owen Roe, August West and, for the very first time, Sea Smoke, will wing their way east to Colorado. Then, in rapid-fire succession, they will host pinot noir-driven dinners in Colorado Springs, Denver, Keystone, Aspen and Steamboat Springs. These dinners are as good as it gets for pinot-philes who want to break bread, sip elegant wines and geek out with winemakers asking everything they always wanted to ask about clones, diurnal shifts and clay composition.

'Twas 12 years ago when John and Penny Salamanski, the owners of CS Wines, a Colorado-based wine import and distribution company, conjured up a concept. They represented a number of high-end, small-production, limited-allocation wineries in California, Oregon and Washington, each helmed by interesting, quirky winemakers. What if they gathered them all in a van and made the rounds in the high country, introducing themselves and their wines at a series of group dinners? The idea has proven successful, and now the group looks forward to its Colorado sojourn as much as those fortunate enough to experience the dinners.

PINOT LOVE

As people around the world worship different deities, people in the wine world often have devotion to different grapes. And for many, the supreme experience can be found in pinot noir. It is versatile, feminine and finicky. It can, on different lands, produce a multitude of flavors and textures. It can, in different hands, be manipulated to distraction or perfection. It is always a challenge, always a conundrum, but that is what makes it so charming.

Ed Kurtzman, who makes pinot noir under the August West label (Dead fans, you get the reference) and is a dedicated servant to the grape, puts it this way: "They say all roads lead to Burgundy, or at least all palates do. It didn't take me long to realize the seduction of pinot noir, not just the complexities of the wine, but how an entire year's worth of weather can make or break a crop and a vintage. They say pinot is the most transparent of all red grapes, and you can tell where it's grown just by smelling the wine."

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And for Sonoma's Craig Strehlow, of Camlow Cellars, pinot is personal. "

Pinot reminds me of the relationship you have with your spouse or significant other," he said. "Most of the time, it's a steady state of content, with your day-to-day relationship secure and comfortable. At times, there are moments of great passion and love, like when you barrel taste a young pinot and realize the potential and can see the fulfillment of the passion you've put into it."

Jenne Lee Bonaccorsi, who left a career working with Wolfgang Puck to make eponymous wines with her late husband, Michael, in the Central Coast AVA of California nearly a generation of vintages ago, remembers that pinot picked them.

"There was never a doubt, never a question that we would make pinot noir," she said. "The question was, would we make anything else? Chardonnay for sure, but Syrah came later. Our reach was high, we wanted to make what we loved: Burgundy."

THE NEW GUY

This year's lineup includes a new member, as Victor Gallegos, the winemaker from Sea Smoke, a wine from the Santa Rita Hills in California with a fanatical following, joins the group for the first time.

"I only get out twice a year to show the love," Gallegos said, laughing, when asked why he is making the trip. "We have been with John and Penny since the beginning, and they're great friends."

Sea Smoke has been a sensation since it premiered earlier this century. Three-quarters of its production is spoken for by members of its wine club, leaving just a tiny amount for the rest of the world. Sea Smoke makes highly collectible wines from its estate vineyard, including The Southing and Ten"

Gallegos is looking forward to connecting with the other winemakers.

"It's funny how you have to travel to just hang out with other winemakers," he said, again laughing. "It's great to swap stories and get to know folks who love to do what you do in an offline, late-night environment."

And, also, to drink the sacred pinot noir.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at malibukj@aol.com.

THE PINOT POSSE EVENTS

For more information go pinotposse.com

• Sunday, Jan. 8 at Till Kitchen, 9633 Prominent Point, Colorado Springs, 719-282-8004

• Monday, Jan. 9 at Table 6, 609 Corona, Denver, 303-831-8800

• Tuesday, Jan. 10 at Ski Tip Lodge, 764 Montezuma Road, Keystone, 970-496-4950

• Wednesday, Jan. 11 at Cooking School of Aspen, 305 E. Hopkins Ave., Aspen, 970-920-2002

• Thursday, Jan. 12, The Baby Posse Dinner at Café Diva, 1855 Ski Time Square Drive, Steamboat Springs, 970-871-0508

UNDER THE INFLUENCE

2014 Sea Smoke “Southing” Pinot Noir — This is a tough find but one to try if you can get it. “This is the favorite of our winemaking team,” said Victor Gallegos about this elegantly balanced pinot noir that is grown on the Sea Smoke estate vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills. “It is probably the most unlikely place on the planet to grow great pinot,” he said, laughing. “If everything were not exactly right, the geography (the valley runs east-west), the mesoclimate and the microclimates, we wouldn’t be talking about this wine now.” Of course everything is right. Perfectly so.