VAIL – Pinot-topia. Pinot nirvana. A grape experience.These are the words out of Kevin Furtado’s mouth. He and the rest of the staff at Larkspur are preparing for their second annual Pinot Summit, which kicks off Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. Seven winemakers from Oregon and California will be participating in the interactive seminar, which will include discussion about their winemaking philosophies, terroir and the current business climate. After the panel discussion – which got quite heated last year – the oenophiles will join the attendees in a pinot-paired lunch created by executive chef Mike Regrut. Larkspur has earned a reputation for being a destination restaurant amongst pinot-philes.The Pinot Posse includes Brian Loring (Loring Wine Company), Dan Kosta (Kosta Browne) David O’Reilly (Owen Roe and Sineann), Peter Cargasacchi (Point Conception and Cargasacchi), Andrew Vingiello (AP Vin), Jim Prosser (J.K. Carriere) and Ed Kurtzman (August West). “These guys are all hands-on winemakers,” Furtado said. “They’re on a pinot adventure. For four days they’ll be packed in a bus, driving around Colorado to talk about pinot and hold tastings.”They’ll be driven by John Salamanski of CS Wine Imports, who happens to distribute their vinos. When asked if such an endeavor was dangerous, Salamanski offered insight into the inner workings of the group.”With the motto, ‘It’s all about Pinot … and we don’t need no stinkin’ Cabs!,’ Some people would think yes, it is dangerous,” he said. “However, the sheer strength of the posse – seven of them – and its unlimited provisions of pinot noir, allow us to drive through Colorado with no fear. Though by the fourth day, they do tend to get ornery and start to drink champagne (pinot noir-based) throughout the day. By the end of the Posse tour, it devolves into something between an episode of ‘Keystone Cops’ and ‘Animal House.'”To blend or not to blendMickey Werner of Alpine Wine and Spirits will mediate again this year. There are two “hot button” topics attendees can expect to hear about this year: Should California and Oregon pinots be compared to French Burgundies? and single-vineyard wines versus blends. Though all of the winemakers have blended wines out there, some sell as many as a dozen single-vineyard vintages, too. “When you start working with fruit from multiple vineyards, the first thing that strikes you is how different the wines taste,” Loring said. “Even when we get fruit from vineyards that are only a few miles apart, the differences can often be extreme.”Blending wines from different vineyards can result in a great product, but from Loring’s perspective it loses the distinctiveness that he finds so compelling. “It’s not that single-vineyard wines are better – they’re just different. It’s like mixing colors. Sometimes a beautiful shade of orange is great, but other times you want a bright red or a bright yellow. We’re the bright red or bright yellow of the pinot world.” Vingiello shares similar sentiments with Loring in regards to blending. The San Francisco winemaker used to work on Wall Street, until he got bitten by the grape bug. Part of the attraction is the “story” of wine, so he particularly enjoys making single-vineyard vintages.”That way when I ‘build’ my wine with the same general formula, in the end the vineyard is what really stands out and not anything special I did,” Vingiello said. “I owe it all to the fantastic vineyards I work with. They deserve all the credit.”For Sonoma-based Kosta, it’s about the final product more than sticking with one philosophy over another.
“Single-vineyard projects allow us to focus on the character of the vineyard,” Kosta said. “But we believe we can have our cake and eat it too. In other words, while we focus on vineyard character for the single-vineyard bottlings, that doesn’t mean we can’t make the best blends we can, without the constraints of a single vineyard. I like to drink all wines, regardless of the nature of the blend. If the wine is good, it is good.” Kurtzman echoed the same sentiment. Yet the winemaker from Santa Maria Valley in California makes only single-vineyard wines under the August West label. The grapes come from vineyards owned by his partners, Gary Fanscioni and Howard Graham.”If a single-vineyard pinot noir stands out as uniquely complex and of high-quality, it should be vineyard-designated,” Kurtzman said. “If a single-vineyard pinot noir is one-dimensional, but of decent quality, maybe it would end up helping a blend of vineyards in an appellation wine.”It’s all about balanceCargasacchi is both a farmer and a winemaker. Grapes from his vineyards are much sought after. Wine has always been a part of his life; he remembers putting red wine in his risotto to cool it down when he was 4. “In our family there has always been wine on the table,” Cargasacchi said. “We make bread and eat it, we make wine and drink it.”Part of making wine is deciding if a grape stands alone, or if it should be a component of a blend. It comes down to being in balance.”Some winemaking is focused on producing such blends by maximizing acidity or ripeness of different lots then blending,” he said. “It is a little harder to make great single vineyard wine because everything needs to be in balance.”Wine of the soilO’Reilly, who lives in Newberg, Oregon, also had wine on his childhood table. Part of an enormous Irish family, his grandfather imported wine in a barrel from the ’20s to the ’50s. As a kid, his father had to bottle the wine in Ireland once the barrels arrived from France. “My father was a teacher and we moved to Canada when I was 13 years old,” O’Reilly said. “He wanted us to have wine frequently during the week to have a comfortable attitude towards alcohol.”Obviously it worked. O’Reilly feels comfortable enough with alcohol to earn his living from the vine. He specializes in blends. “However, not as a chef with a coterie of spices and flavors – rather I like to make wine from one area or specific soil type that reflects the location,” he said. “For example, I make three different pinot noirs. One is Yamhill-Carlton District (old ocean bottom), and the other two are from volcanic Jory soils.”So goes the thought process of a oenophile.The Pinot Summit is meant to celebrate the wine and jump-start a dialogue amongst drinkers. Not only was last year’s panel lively, it fueled many a cocktail party-conversation. “It’s really all about our thin-skinned friend,” said Furtado.”The Posse dedicates itself to crossing borders and meeting with those who have discovered the treasures of pinot noir,” exclaimed Salamanski.