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Pinot Posse corrals Vail-area wine lovers

Brian Loring
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Rick Colomitz put it best: Much like the Wild West, the pinot noir grape is one of the most unpredictable – you can never hope to tie it down or break its spirit.

Such a finicky grape attracts larger-than-life personalities, and a few of them will be in Vail Tuesday with the Pinot Posse, an annual event that’s evolved from all-day seminar to a choose-your-own-adventure of tastings. The winemakers come from California, Oregon and Washington. Though pinot noir put them all “on the map,” they all dabble in other varietals, too.

I spend a lot of time in California and other countries, learning about wine,” Sweet Basil sommelier Wade Vizena said. “People talk about Burgundy being the Holy Grail. But anyone will tell you when they talk about the pinot grape, they talk about ‘that little bitch.’ It’s so fickle, so hard to take care of.”



Some of the winemakers create only single-vineyard wines, others are passionate blenders. They have different winemaking styles and methods – even bottling practices. But they have in common two important things: First, they all like each other, which is important when you’re a bunch of men driving around in a van for five days. Second, they all share a Colorado distributor, John Salamanski of CS Wine Imports, which specializes in small-production wines. The posse is eight men strong, in addition to their fearless leader – or at least their chauffeur – Salamanski. The winemakers include Ed Kurtzman (August West, Sandler Wine Company and ROAR), Peter Cargassachi (Point Concepcion Wines), Craig Strehelow (Keefer Ranch), Brian Loring (Loring Wine Company), Andrew Vingiello (A.P. VIN), David O’Reilly (Owen Roe Winery and O’Reilly’s), Jim Prosser (J.K. Carriere), Dan Kosta (Kosta Browne

This year, locals can visit with the winemakers up at The Timber Hearth at Cordillera, where all of them will be pouring a wine, or they can meet up with them at one of three Vail restaurants over the course of the evening: Kelly Liken, Sweet Basil and the Sonnenalp’s King’s Club. Various flights from specific winemakers will be available at the restaurants.



“This isn’t just about the wine itself, but about the winemakers,” Vizena said. Unfortunately, though Vizena has plenty of stories about said winemakers, none of them are “fit to print.”

In addition to the public events, the posse usually hosts an industry tasting earlier in the day that allows local sommeliers, wine buyers and other vino professionals to hobnob with the winemakers and try their newest releases.

“You walk into the trade tasting, and Jim Prosser’s got a margarita in his and, and Ed Kurtzman is pounding a beer,” Vizena said. “And you sit there long enough with them, and you can hear a lot of stories.”



Which just goes to show that seasoned wine veterans have as much to learn from the event as casual fans.

“It doesn’t matter how educated you are or how many years you have with wine, there is no comparison for an experience like this,” said Colomitz, the wine director and co-owner of Restaurant Kelly Liken. “You don’t get the chance to try these wines side by side every day.”

Peter “Hamster Wrangler” Cargasacchi

Farmer and winemaker Peter Cargasacchi comes from an Italian family that’s been making their own wine for generations. He planted his first vineyard, Cargasacchi Vineyard, in California’s Santa Rita Hills in 1992. He now has three vineyards and makes wine under his label Point Concepcion Wines. Questions by Derek George.

What makes Sta. Rita Hills a unique area to grow Pinot Noir?

It has the coldest summer daytime temperatures because it is a maritime throat. This last summer during July, most days the temperature did not reach above 60 F. until after 12 noon. The onshore marine air is channeled inland through the narrow Santa Rita Hills before the Santa Ynez valley widens to create the cold region. As a result, the fruit ripens very slowly and develops greater flavor and color. Contrary to what many believe, the warmer a region is, the less color pinot noir tends to produce. Pinot noir only shows good color in cool climates that have a long growing season.

What are the differences between New World and Old World wines, and

what factors contribute to those differences?

The pinot noir growing regions of California are in arid climates with no summer rainfall, whereas the new world typically has significant summer rainfall. As a result there is very little or no mold on fruit from California. The flavors of mold, even in low amounts, mask the flavor of fruit. Because of the absence of mold, and due to the arid climate, fruit flavors prevail in our pinot noirs.

What is your perfect pinot pairing?

For me, the perfect pinot pairing is an evening drinking a bottle with my beautiful girlfriend, or with the special person in your life. For food, I would have to say a medium-rare grilled ribeye steak, covered with a half inch of caramelized onions, alongside fingerling potatoes that have been roasted with duck fat, chopped onions and minced rosemary.

Jim “Engineered for Age” Prosser

In 1999, former Peace Corps business adviser, Christmas tree seller and commercial real estate agent Jim Prosser took his experience of working for eight wineries on four continents and began making his J.K. Carriere wines in an old hazelnut-drying barn in Oregon. In 2007 he bought 40 acres of grape-growing land, and has his own estate vineyard. Questions by Vanessa Cinti.

What is the meaning behind the Pinot Posse name and who came up with it?

Our distributor John came up with the name and I believe it stems from his time spent as a double in the axe-handle scene from “Pale Rider.”

What wine would you drink watching “Star Wars Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back”?

Ed’s “Millenium Falcon” Armangac or Andrew’s “Chewbacca Dan’s” Balzac. Little known fact: The California contingent of the Pinot Posse and their wines can be seen in the Star Wars bar scene from the previous “Episode IV: A New Hope.”

Your winery is located in Oregon, but some say your wines are more Burgundian. What do you say to that?

Thanks, I had hoped to one day fit in…6,000 miles away. For me Burgundy is the reference and the benchmark for the style of pinot that I’m trying to build and age. But the fruit, she is from Oregon.

Dan “The Man” Kosta

After saving tip money from the restaurant they worked at, Dan Kosta and Michael Browne bought a half-ton of grapes and made their first wine in the summer of 1997. Thus, Kosta Browne Winery was born. They create wines from pinot noir grown in the Russian River, Sonoma Coast and Santa Lucia Highlands areas of California. Questions by Vanessa Cinti.

What’s the most interesting wine Kosta Browne has released (or at least made) thus far?

No one really knows that we made it, but back in 1997 we produced a couple of cases of late-harvest French Colombard. It was big, thick, sweet and delicious. I wish we still had a bottle of that. It was very impressive!

Valentine’s day is coming up, what will you and your lady be drinking?

Champagne!

What has been the best food and wine combination for you so far?

While I like drinking vodka with good caviar, it is hard to beat great Champagne. I had a vintage bottle of Krug recently on New Year’s Eve with some Osetra caviar. Delicious!

What wine would you drink watching Star Wars Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back?

Never had this question before! If there was some kind of grape that grows well in the Degoba System, that would be it.Hhowever, I suspect they have yet to realize their wine-growing potential. That said, I would have to curl up with a nice bottle of bubbles. You can see the stars! By the way, do you see a theme here?

Andrew “The Prisoner” Vingiello

After encountering a bottle of 1998 pinot noir that rocked his world, successful financial-industry trader Andrew Vingiello started dabbling in the idea of winemaking. By 2002, he decided to try his hand at both careers, and 3 years later jumped into winemaking whole hog. In 2009, San Francisco-based A.P. VIN released eight single-vineyard pinot noirs. Questions by Greg Eynon.

If you could drink wine from only one region for the rest of your life where would it be?

CA…was that a question!?

What is best thing about having an urban winery? The most challenging thing?

I’m centralized for my vineyards, and it’s sort of a hub for people to always visit, plus the food and having San Francisco terroir! The bad part…trucking. Why do they have to make them so big?

What has a difficult vintage like 2010 taught you about winemaking?

Patience and really waiting for the optimum time to pick!

Who is the best skier in the Pinot Posse?

Dan “bomber” Kosta…when he’s drunk of course!

Favorite beer?

Guinness…again…was that a question!?

Ed “The Legend” Kurtzman

Ed Kurtzman has loads of winemaking projects. The winemaker-partner of August West Wines (a label with a passionate fan base), he’s also the owner-winemaker for Sandler wines and consulting winemaker for Freeman and ROAR wines. When not at work in the San Francisco winery or nearby vineyards, he roams the world as an unofficial ambassador for good living in general and great wine in specific. Questions by Kevin Furtado.

What is your favorite vineyard to work with?

Rosella’s Vineyard. It was one of the first vineyards I worked with when I first became the winemaker at Testarossa in 1999. Gary Franscioni owns the vineyard, and we work well together. We’re now partners in August West, and I make his ROAR wine. But Rosella’s is the perfect vineyard for me in that it combines cool-climate terroir with perfectly ripe fruit.

Looking back, what wine are you most proud of making?

1999 Bien Nacido PN for Testarossa. From the minute it started fermenting, the fragrance I got off that fruit was special. It was always a very light-colored, delicate wine, but the aromas are incredible. The balance is perfect in it, too. I have one bottle left.

What are the challenges involved with working at an urban winery?

Being 1 to 2 hours from the vineyards is the biggest challenge, so during harvest, it’s at least half a day away from the winery to go check the fruit. All in all, it’s not so far. Otherwise, the urban winery is perfect – no other challenges I can think of.

Are you ever inclined to drink a whole bottle of wine by yourself, and if so, when?

Usually at the end of a long day with my Pinot Posse colleagues, I need at least an hour of down time during which I’ll take a bottle either of Loring, Kosta Browne or AP VIN, and drink the whole thing. Then the next morning I wake up feeling ready to go, and I’ll start with a bottle of JK Carriere, O’Reilly, Cargasacchi or Keefer. It’s the best way to start the day. No one even notices that I had a head start. I guess I hide it well.

Other than on the Posse, I’d say it’s always fun to impress the wait staff in most restaurants if I’m eating by myself, and they suggest wines by the glass. I look at them as though they’re nuts and I ask them for the bottle list.

Brian “Launch my Missile” Loring

Though he also makes chardonnay, Brian Loring is a pinot noir fanatic. He made his first two barrels of wine during the ’97 crush, when he volunteered as a jack of all trades at harvest. Hooked, he created Loring Wine Company, which releases several singe-vineyard pinots annually. Questions by Kevin Furtado.

What is your favorite vineyard to work with?

I could be “political” and say Cargasacchi or Keefer Ranch because they’re my Pinot Posse Pals. Or I could be wishy-washy and say they’re all my favorites. But the truth is that each vintage presents opportunities and challenges, which make working with fruit from each vineyard easier or harder. The one constant is that we work with great growers, and even in difficult years it’s nice to know we can count on them to get us the best fruit possible.

What is up with the different labels every year?

Since we make so many different single-vineyard wines, I wanted to represent the individual vineyards by more than just a line of text on the label. That’s why we use a different, vineyard-specific photo on the label each year. Over the years, we’ve had photos of the vineyard, owners, pets, tractors, and picking crews. Hopefully, that helps people connect more with the vineyard, since they’ve seen the people, place, equipment, and other things that make each vineyard special.

Why just pinot noir?

Pinot has always been the love, the passion. Initially, it never even occurred to me to make anything else. Recently, we’ve expanded our line-up a bit to include a few other things. I’m a fan of big, oaky, buttery chardonnays – and since those seem to be harder and harder to find these days, we’ve decided to make some. Champagne is another love, so we’re trying our hand at making sparkling wine. And I can’t seem to get enough of the newer style, big reds from Spain, so we’re doing a cabernet / mourvedre blend from Paso Robles to see if we can do something similar in California. But pinot will always remain the focus, and core of what we do.

Craig “The Graduate” Strehlow

The newest member of the Pinot Posse, winemaker Craig Strehlow’s wines are lean and elegant. His mother has owned the 50 wine-growing acres of Sonoma County’s Keefer Ranch since 1985, selling the fruit to local boutique wineries. In 2006, they decided to create their own wine. His 2008 pinot release was only 241 cases.

What part of the winemaking process do you find the most intriguing?

The most intriguing part of winemaking is the influence of new oak on the wine. Barrels can significantly change the flavor of the wine, which is why most winemakers use new oak judiciously. Each type of barrel has distinct flavor characteristics and it gets really fun when you start combining them. It’s almost like having a spice rack available for the wine.

What has been the biggest “tragedy” you have had to overcome in the vineyard?

The biggest tragedy I’ve had to overcome in the vineyard was killing frost in April, 2001. We had a week of hard frosts and the shoots were on third leaf, about 4 inches. Even with our sprinklers running all night, everything fried. It was heartbreaking, you would touch one of the burned shoots and it would crumble in your fingers. But the vines would not be held down! The secondary buds pushed but there was uneven growth and bloom, so all the fruit wasn’t on the same ripening cycle. At harvest this means more picks and more time.

What was the most difficult part of transitioning from wine grower to winemaker?

The most difficult transition for me was getting used to the sensory analysis aspect of winemaking. So much of what we do depends on smell and taste that you really have to learn to recognize the bad stuff from the good stuff. Often, decisions about pressing and sulfuring are made based on the smell of the wine at that point.

What is your idea of a perfect Sunday afternoon?

20-mile mountain bike ride at Annadel, then come home play on the trampoline with my boys. Make applewood-smoked pork products for dinner (gotta have zin with this!).

David “Sinister Hand” O’Reilly

Born in Ireland, David O’Reilly immigrated to Canada as a teenager. After majoring in philosophy in California, he discovered his passion – and talent – for all things wine-related when he worked at a small winery. He’s gone one to be involved in many wines, both as winemaker and consultant. At his own Owen Roe Winery, he makes wines from fruit grown in both Washington and Oregon. Questions by Jamie Garrett.

On many of the Owen Roe labels we find castles – what is their significance?

Owen Roe is not only an Irish hero and a relative – his environs were intertwined with historical castles and abbeys founded by the O’Reilly clan in County Cavan were I am from. Each image represents a story of Owen Roe O’Neil’s struggle for Irish independence along with an historical effort by my family to establish culture and protection in this gorgeous part of Ireland.

2. I know that you are very much a family man… what role has family played in the development of your wineries?

My wife and I have been blessed with a lifestyle in the countrysides of the Willamette Valley of Oregon and the Yakima Valley of Washington. We farm cherries along with the Right Bank varieties of merlot and cabernet franc in Yakima Valley and at our home in Oregon, where we farm pinot noir in the Chehalem Mountains. This is hwere we have raised and continue to raise our eight children. Our oldest son is in his fifth harvest and working very successfully with Adam Tolmach at Ojai Vineyards. His cellar palate has been honed over the years that he has worked for us and I expect that he will enjoy a good career in the industry – his 21st birthday is next May. We believe in indulging the children in the work as much as they like!

3. Owen Roe is much more than a pinot noir producing winery

Yes. I take delight with the cooler Bordelais varieties in Yakima Valley – and I also make fragrant Syrah-based wines from higher elevation vineyards in eastern Washington.

**The inquisitors

Derek George is a local sommelier and wine consultant who has worked at several of the valley’s finest restaurants. He currently lives in Avon with his beautiful wife and two “Arctic Gatos.” derek@perkyjerky.com. Master sommelier candidate and “super hot wine lover” Vanessa Cinti is the beverage director of the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch/Spago. Vanessa.Cinti@ritzcarlton.com. Rick Colomitz is the wine director and owner, with his wife Kelly, of Restaurant Kelly Liken. He is passionate about sourcing small, family-owned and operated wines for his list at the restaurant. rick@kellyliken.com. Winemaker of k. furtado wines, Larkspur Restaurant beverage director and server at Restaurant Kelly Liken, Kevin Furtado has three jobs and is livin’ the dream. He divides his time between California and Vail. kevin@kfurtadowines.com. Greg Eynon is the sommelier and co-owner of Avon wine bar Vin 48. Thanks to a case of oenophile wanderlust, his constantly changing wine menus showcase diverse varietals, styles and regions. greg@vin48.com. Certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers and acknowledged by the Society of Wine Educators, Jamie currently teaches several in depth education programs and is the brainchild behind many of the Sonnenalp’s most successful culinary events. jgarrett@sonnenalp.com.


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