Winemakers dish on grapes
GOLDEN PEAK – The secrets of pinot production were finally revealed at Larkspur’s Pinot Summit Wednesday. “I want to make it very clear that it takes a lot of tequila to make good wine,” proclaimed Dan Kosta.Kosta, of Kosta Browne Winery, was one of seven winemakers who participated in the interactive discussion about the state of pinot . The group, dubbed the Pinot Posse, has been traveling through Colorado on a oenophiles’ odyssey. For almost a week, the crew has shared a car (and perhaps some tequila) on their Rocky Mountain adventure, stopping in one wine-drinking town after another. In Vail, they talked about their winemaking philosophies, tackled audience questions and invited attendees to taste their way through the wines. Kosta was joined by his peers Jim Prosser of J.K. Carriere, Ed Kurtzman of August West, Peter Cargasacchi of Point Concepcion, Brian Loring of Loring Wine Company, Andrew Vingiello of AP Vin and David O’Reilly of Owen Roe. The group hails from Oregon and California, from the Willamette Valley to the hills of Santa Barbara County. They’re unified in their love of the vine, and in their modest production quantities. They might only bring eight barrels of a single wine to market; once it’s gone, it’s gone. So why would they trek through Colorado, when most of their stock is already allocated to particular restaurants, liquor stores and their own wine clubs?”I’m not here selling wines,” said Kosta. “I’m sharing them.” Colorado is often the first market to get these wines. It’s a good time to be making pinots. Americans love an underdog, and the movie ‘Sideways’ jump-started a romance with the pinot grape, an underdog if ever there was one. Thin skinned and temperamental, it needs coaxing and care. Demand for pinot on the table is at a high. People are becoming comfortable with it.
“People aren’t afraid to say, ‘pinot noir’ anymore,” said Cargasacchi, who is both a grower and a winemaker. A lot of new pinot vines have been planted in the last few years.”But the established vineyards like Cargassachi aren’t getting any bigger,” Loring said. Older vines usually offer preferred fruit for wines. Mickey Werner of Alpine Wine and Spirits mediated the program, steering the discussion through many topics. As expected, there was much said about single-vineyard wines versus blends. All the winemakers agreed: single-vineyard wines honor the terroir of a particular vineyard, while blends are simply the best wines they can make from a group of vineyards. But where they fell in terms of which they preferred was a little different. Loring sells over a dozen single-vineyard wines, while O’Reilly specializes in blends. “I make single-vineyard wines to represent that vineyard, the whole vineyard,” Vingiello said.
And even if he’d like to leave a particular barrel of wine out of the whole, he wants to tell the vineyard’s whole story. To do that, every barrel (unless it’s gone bad) is included.California and Oregon pinot makers used to follow in the footsteps of France’s Burgundy region. After all, they’re using the same grape. “They had a 600 year head start on making wine in Burgundy,” Prosser said. “We used to try to emulate them.”But New World wines are carving out their own niche.”In the last 10 years, both Oregon and California have figured out they’re not Burgundy,” Loring said. On the West Coast, grape growers are still sussing out which areas are fit for particular grapes. There’s a lot of freedom to the process, which encourages a creative outlook.
And just as America’s wines are breaking ranks with France, as seen by the tasting, Oregonian wines are different than Californian. A question was posed about the general styles of the two states. Is Oregon pinot leaner, almost French-like? And is California pinot fruitier?As O’Reilly pointed out, it’s difficult to generalize wines, especially when the appellations are so small. The only way to know what a wine tastes like is to, well, taste it. “And though we might be near each other, we’re all getting different clones of grapes,” Kurtzman said. But Loring took pity on those folks who wander into a liquor store or a restaurant and are confronted with wines they’ve never experienced.”I don’t think Oregon wines are leaner, but the fruit is deeper,” he said. “It wants to pull you into the glass. California fruit wants to jump out of the glass, lick you in the face and say, ‘Love me! Love me!'”Aging makes a difference to the wine’s flavor. Aging a wine isn’t always better; some wines are meant to be drunk while they’re quite young. According to Prosser, a person’s own palate should dictate when a wine is consumed.
“Don’t give your palate away to prognosticators,” Prosser said. “When they’re young, the wines have more of a fruit flavor. When they’re older, there’s more of an esoteric funk. Where you like to drink it in the specturm is entirely up to you.”As for Prosser, he’s more esoteric. But Loring? He like ’em young.After the discussion, the group broke up into tables, and a pinot-paired lunch was served. The winemakers mixed in with the crowd. Larkspur chef-owner Thomas Salamunovich and executive chef Mark Regrut prepared the perfectly paired meal. Standouts included the duck confit salad with Peter Cargasacchi’s 2005 Point Concepcion Celestina pinot grigio – a pink pinot grigio – and the truffled sliders with Andrew Vingiello’s 2005 Rosella’s Vineyard pinot noir. “Pinot is a great solution for a family who eats different things and wants to share a wine,” said Amos Kaminski, a part-time resident who attended the seminar. “The first glass of pinot noir is good, but the second is even better.”