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The mystery of the grape

Cassie Pence
Shane Macomber/Vail DailyLarkspur sommelier Kevin Furtado in the wine cellar.
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If quickness of speech is any indication of admiration, then there is no doubt Larkspur sommelier Kevin Furtado loves pinot noir. When the man talks about wine, especially pinot noir, he gushes at great speeds. His wine knowledge spills out in volumes. Furtado just has so much he wants to share about wine.Furtado recently returned from a pinot noir forum in the Russian River Valley, a subsection of Sonoma Valley, Calif. The two-day seminar featured 20 wineries and invited only 60 industry people. Furtado was sponsored by Dutton Goldfield, winegrowers that have 25 years of experience producing wine in the Russian River Valley.He met Dan Goldfield at the Taste of Vail dinner. The two wine aficionados bonded instantly, and Furtado sealed the invitation to the forum.”Dan is the only person that talks faster about pinot than I do,” Furtado said.During the two days, Furtado went to seminars, toured private wineries and dined with families that have a deep-rooted history in running vineyards in the Russian River Valley.

The Russian River ValleyThe Russian River Valley has a sense of micro-climate, which is characterized by warm days, cool nights and a fog that creeps in during the growing season. Its appellation was formally established in 1983.”Fog is a huge factor with the creation of pinot noir in the Russian River Valley,” Furtado said.The fog slows the maturation of local wine grapes. Harvest in the Russian River Valley is typically 10 days to 2 weeks later than in neighboring appellations. The longer hang time for the grapes allows the fruit to develop its mature character while maintaining its natural acidity. This, in turn, creates balanced grapes, Furtado said.The soil drains well, resulting in root development and less vigorous vine growth. The vines then concentrate flavor in the grapes. The soil of the area is extremely diverse, as well, differing in composition and depth from vineyard to vineyard. This creates subtle different qualities to the wines in each vineyard.”Pinot noir is very site specific,” Furtado said. “You can recognize a Russian River style. The area’s influences is why the taste is so unique.”

Pinot, my lovePinot is typically high in acid, bright with fruit and medium to high in alcohol, Furtado said. But each pinot is very diverse in taste, which is why Furtado chooses it as his favorite.”Pinot speaks its own voice,” Furtado said. “The nuances produced in pinot noir are most interesting to me because of my palate. The subtleties in pinot are absolutely wonderful.”What he learned at the forum is there is no recipe to making good pinot. There are too many variables to consider – weather, temperature, precipitation, soil and slope of the vineyard – that it is impossible to create a fool-proof plan. “It’s part of the mystery of the grape. I thought there would be more of a formula, but there isn’t,” Furtado said. “I have a lot of respect for the winegrowers in the Russian River Valley.”

Larkspur’s wine listLocated in Golden Peak, Larkspur’s wine cellar lines an entire wall of the restaurant and can be seen through six large rectangular windows. When full, the cellar stores up to 4,800 bottles of wine. Furtado boasts 80 pinot noirs on the restaurant’s list, 60 from California and 20 from Oregon.”Pinot noir is a better food wine for the cuisine we’re preparing at Larkspur,” Furtado said. “Pinot has a relatively low alcohol content, and alcohol gets in the way of food pairings because it effects your taste buds.”Furtado takes great pride in the wine list he has created for Larkspur. He works with the chef to choose wines that pair well with the food. He considers the restaurant growing into more of a wine destination for guests who enjoy discussing the nuts and bolts of fine wine, which he encourages them to do.”Keep your mind and palate open. Your palate is a Rolodex of tastes you have encountered before hand. There is no right answer when tasting wine,” Furtado said. Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 618, or cpence@vaildaily.com


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