Pinot Camp in Oregon gives Vail sommelier something better than campfires, mosquito bites |

Pinot Camp in Oregon gives Vail sommelier something better than campfires, mosquito bites

Wren Wertin
Vail Daily/Bret HartmanKevin Furtado in the wine room at Larkspur Tuesday in Vail.

“Pinot is the Holy Grail wine for me,” said Kevin Furtado, beverage director and sommelier for Larkspur restaurant in Vail.

He’s recently returned from camp – Oregon Pinot Camp. The group of 150 campers traded in sleeping bags and campfires for vineyard strolls and seminars. And lots and lots of wine: pinot gris, noir, blanc – all the bases were covered.

Furtado is excited about wine. Really excited. There’s no stuffiness or haughtiness when he talks about it, only passion. Using both hands, he gestures as he speaks, and a special glint comes into his eyes.

“I want people to come in and try wines,” he said. “It shouldn’t be intimidating. My job is to make it make sense for people.”

In honor of his excursion to Oregon, the restaurant is hosting what amounts to a summer of “pinot awareness.” A revolving pinot flight, or sampler of five wines, will be offered nightly. They will be chosen to complement the weekly tasting menu Larkspur already offers. Though Oregon-centric, the flights won’t be exclusively Oregonian.

“It’s not about Oregon having the best wines in the world,” said Furtado. “It’s about putting them up there as a great option.”

This week, the pinot flight of five focuses on the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and includes wines from Van Duzer, Carabella and St. Innocent for $20. (Writer’s note: Van Duzer’s pinot is truly exceptional, and should be sampled often.) The tasting menu will include some foods from the Oregon area, always with a Larkspur spin.

“Certainly the food and wines of a region go together,” he said.

The summer of pinot will culminate in a winemaker dinner Aug. 29 with Mike Hollack. Formerly a geologist, Hollack is now the owner-winemaker for Carabella Wines in Oregon. He used to live in Denver, and because of Furtado’s support of Oregon wines on the Larkspur wine list, he helped Furtado get into Pinot Camp.

Carabella Wines is a relatively new winery. Furtado estimates that in five to 10 years, their wines will be positively out of this world, though he’s still figuring out the perfect blend of pinot strains. During the dinner, Hollack will speak to the room about pinots in general and his specifically. He will bring five barrels of five types of pinot noirs, and folks will be able to sample each one and compare it to the others. At the end of the evening, diners will get to play winemaker, mixing the wines together in proportions of their own desire. This is what Hollack does, on a larger, more artfully scientific, scale.

“These guys spend their days walking around their vineyards, cutting leaves and studying how much sun they get,” said Furtado. “And Mike, he’s so passionate about it.”

Most of the Oregon winemakers aren’t originally from Oregon – they moved there after making their fortunes in other arenas such as pharmaceuticals and real estate. But they all chased a dream out there, to grow grapes and make wines that would rival the rest of the world’s.

For Furtado, what stands out about his camp experience was the people he got to meet and speak with. The French Laundry and Spago both had representatives there.

“We spoke the same language,” he said. “It was an opportunity for us all to get together out of our elements, and ask each other questions. And the winemakers, they’re so passionate.”

Just as Furtado is. He halted the photographer on this story with the phrase, “Oh wait. I just got another one in. Hold on and I’ll get it,” as he disappeared into Larkspur’s filled-to-the-brim wine room. Never mind that there were more than 20 bottles already laid out – you have to be alert, or you just might miss the Holy Grail.

Pinot awareness summer

Pinot flights by Kevin Furtado, all summer

Carabella winemaker dinner, Aug. 29

Larkspur Restaurant, Vail

more information: 479-8050


The pinot trilogy explained by Kevin Furtado

Pinot noir: When I think of a pinot noir, elusive descriptions such as seductive, brooding and mysterious come to mind. I often find ones that I enjoy have ripe red fruit tones in the nose, with earth tones and less ripe fruit on the palate. Tannins should be subtle but present, and the wood needs to be well integrated into the wine. The best will have a finish that lasts over 45 seconds. I wake up thinking about this glass of pinot noir every day.

Pinot blanc: For a pinot blanc to be successful it must have wonderful acidity. The nose will have light stone-fruit characteristics with a touch of wet rock or minerality. The palate can be full with hints of apple and pear-Some winemakers-will even leave a touch of RS (residual sugar)-in the wine that can be very refreshing. Because of the great acidity, these wines are naturals with all types of seafood, especially shellfish. Great pinto blancs can be found in Germany, Alsace,-California and Oregon.-

Pinot gris: The pinot gris has a good acidity and a hefty palate weight – you should be able to sense it on your palate. There’s a richness to it, and it should always be served cold. It has a beautiful balance, and a lingering finish. It’s not for all seasons, but it’s truly a great summer wine.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at or phone at 949-0555, ext. 618.

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