A grape pinnacle – Pinot Noir
There’s nothing for it: Kevin Furtado has pinot on the brain. Describing it as the Holy Grail of wines, the Larkspur sommelier can barely contain himself as he excitedly talks about this wine of epiphany. “I think people who believe in pinot understand,” Furtado says. “I’m just trying to spread the word.”The word happens to be a Pinot Forum at Vail’s Larkspur, and includes six pinot makers from California’s Russian River Valley, Santa Barbara and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The Pinot Posse, as Furtado refers to them, will be discussing the state of pinot noir today. The group includes J.K. Carriere’s Jim Prosser, Loring Wine Company’s Brian Loring, Kosta Browne Wines’ Dan Kosta, Point Concepción Wines’ Peter Cargasacchi, Owen Roe’s David O’Reilly and AP Vin’s Andrew Vingiello.The winemakers will form a panel which will be moderated by Mickey Werner, managing partner of Alpine Wine and Spirits in West Vail. Furtado envisions it as an interactive forum about the pinot experience. This classroom-style question and answer portion will include a flight of pinots from the winemakers, in order to better illustrate their points. And since pinot noir is best as part of a food-and-wine experience, Pollyanna Forster of Eat! Drink! in Edwards will provide pinot-friendly cheeses. Following a short break, everyone will sit down at tables of eight for lunch. Each table will include a winemaker, so attendees can get to know the man behind the vine. Two pinot flights will be paired with the Larkspur cuisine. Because there are only six winemakers, less than 50 people will be able to attend. “It’s an incredible opportunity,” Furtado says. “Most of the wines that these guys make are already sold out, so it’s not about driving sales. It has to do with this incredible wine, and what makes one so different from another. It has to do with why people are driven to make it, and why we can’t get enough. Really, it’s pinot for pinot’s sake.”
The winemakers’ own stories nurture the romance of pinot. Brian Loring was a computer programmer who decided to chuck it all and bought a vineyard in Santa Barbara. On his Web site, he begins his story like this: “My name is Brian Loring and my obsession is Pinot Noir.” Peter Cargasacchi is primarily a grape grower, since he believes wine is made in the vineyard. His goal is not to create a uniform wine every year, but to let the grapes reveal their story – what was the weather like? the soil? the rain? “When people speak of his grapes, it’s always with a sense of reverence,” Furtado says.Owen Roe winery is named for the 17th Century Irish Patriot, and David O’Reilly makes their wine. One of 12 children born in Belfast, Ireland, the Willamette winemaker is known as a meticulous and mischievous man. Peace Corps alum and mountaineer Jim Prosser also hales from Oregon, but he grew up in Steamboat Springs. His wines are about seduction.Dan Kosta and his partner Michael Browne met at John Ash & Co., a Sonoma restaurant. They both pooled $10 daily from their tips. When they raised $1,300 they bought half a ton of pinot noir grapes, a hand-crank crusher and a barrel. Shazam – a winery is born. Andrew Vingiello’s day job was on Wall Street, but after the bell he mentored with Loring. It turned into a full-time job, and now he’s pure winemaker. His wines are ripe and lively. According to Werner, pinot noir sales are up 38 percent from last year. “In the trade we’ve been calling it the ‘Sideways’ effect because of the movie,” Werner says. “And it’s true – merlot sales are down 8 percent.”
The movie has incited a romance with the grape, but there’s a limited supply. Not only can it only grow well in certain areas, it’s also sensitive.” Unlike merlot, cabernet or chardonnay grapes which grow well in anything, pinot does not,” Werner explains. “It’s susceptible to sunburn, bunch rot, mildew and many other vineyard maladies. It’s not a hearty grape.”Which only adds to its elite status among winemakers and consumers alike.Because of the limited seating, early reservations are advised. For more information or to secure a seat at Larkspur’s 2006 Pinot Forum, call the Pinot Forum Hotline – also the restaurant’s main line – at 479-8050.