Think of it as the Cliffs Notes version of the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC). Passport to Pinot, known only in 2012 as Walkabout, is the four hour abridgment of the two and a half day wine and food extravaganza held annually since 1987 in the groves of Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon.
The 2013 edition on 28 July featured recent bottlings from wineries in Australia, Austria, California, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, and, of course, Oregon. Some 70 Pinot Noirs, about half from the host state, were accompanied by nibbles from fifteen Portland area restaurants and vendors of artisan victuals.
I sampled just under half of the wines being poured. One impression I had was that many of the 2010 wines from Oregon, while well-balanced and typical of cool climate Pinot, seem to be entering a closed phase.
Notable exceptions included the bright fruity-floral Tendril White Label and the feminine Matzinger Davies. Most of the 2011s, on the other hand, were still nascent with tannins quick to dominate the palate and finish. For example, Antica Terra “Ceras” promises great complexity, while Brick House Dijonnaise hints at elegant spice and fruit. More approachable though still age worthy was the intriguing Big Table Farm Wirtz Vineyard.
Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars in Okanagan Falls, British Columbia, was the sole representative from the Northwest outside of Oregon. Its 2010 Reserve displayed a lovely spice and fruit nose and a soft, graceful floral palate.
California wineries comprised the second largest delegation. Flowers Vineyard & Winery 2010 Sea View Ridge Estate Vineyard offered fruit and spice but still needs time. Cakebread Cellars, better known for Cabernet Sauvignon, shared a 2011 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir that displayed funk, fruit and flowers on the nose and finished with silky tannins.
The contingent from Burgundy was the third largest in attendance. Tragically, many suffered losses of up to 100 percent in some vineyards less than a week earlier due to ravaging hailstorms that pummeled the Côte de Beaune. Maison Ambrose poured a dark fruited, nicely balanced 2010 Nuits-Saint George Vielles Vignes. Domaine Champy, which will have nothing to harvest this year in its Savigny-lés-Beaune vineyard, dispensed a well-integrated 2010 Beaune Ler Cru Les Champs Pimont. Domaine Cyrot-Buthiau’s 2011 Pommard Ler Cru Les Arvelets presented a bright nose of dark fruit, lavender and spice with rough tannins signaling the need for more time.
The Southern Hemisphere was represented by Australia and New Zealand. The former’s single delegate, Ten Minutes by Tractor, treated tasters to a mature 2009 Estate from high elevation sites on the Mornington Peninsula. Nautilus Estate from the latter land presented its 2011 Marlborough which though immature had an elegant nose of red fruit and citrus.
But the Passport to Pinot “experience,” to use a term that is perhaps too fashionable at the moment, is not just about the wine. After all, Pinot pairs effortlessly with so many foods. A subtitle for the event might even be Fanfare to Fine Fare. Coquine Supper Club of Portland served up cornbread with pickled pig’s tongue, green beans and basil. Briar Rose Creamery, headquartered in Dundee, offered its complete selection of aged goat cheeses, one of which, Brigid’s Bender soaked in Ponzi Vineyard’s 2010 Tavola Pinot Noir lees, was particularly appropriate for the event. McMinnville’s Walnut City Kitchen ladled an inspired chilled watermelon and hazelnut soup. Levant, another Portland restaurant, grilled Bharat spiced lamb leg kebobs and served them on a smoky eggplant relish.
Attendees also got their “just desserts.” Ken’s Artisan Bakery in the Nob Hill section of the Rose City delivered flawless cannelés, a memorable contrast to the forgettable sad soggy interpretation I had had in Paris in June. Salt & Straw, also in Portland, scooped up Grandma Malek’s chunky Almond Brittle with Salted Ganache and surprisingly subtle and delicious Arbequina Olive Oil ice cream.
For the first time ever during intermission at this event when the wines being poured were changed, a jolt was administered to the revelers, particularly helpful to those who forgot to spit. A bit of Portland weirdness in the guise of the spacey silver and white garbed
LoveBomb Go-Go Marching Band invaded. Music most raucous yet undeniably infectious ruptured the growing lethargy offering a palate cleanser for the spirit. I simply couldn’t stop giggling as skimpily clad females slinked and squirmed to the blasts of brass and the beat of drums. The musicians stopped in front of the assembled winemakers who were equally enthralled and to whom renewing energy was passed. Brilliant it was, and invigorating.
This was my third Passport to Pinot and I’ll likely never tire of attending. While it would be nice to taste more mature wines, practical considerations prevented more than just a few from being offered. The oldest I noticed was from 2008, an Oregon vintage that is still regarded as immature. It would also be nice to encourage the food vendor to match the wines with more care. While a shrimp salad is quite refreshing, and exotic but strong spices enliven many dishes, these are not the most appropriate for pairing with Pinot. A wonderful addition to the menu would be a classic pairing with wild Northwest salmon. Locally foraged mushrooms would also be great.
Near Pinot perfect weather with temperatures just under 80 degrees enveloped the stately yet comfortable Linfield Oak Grove, Nature’s gift to the experience. But alas, despite its half day duration, 2013 Passport to Pinot concluded all too quickly. Happily it will return in just one short year.
The 28th Annual IPNC will be held July, 25-27, 2014 followed by Passport to Pinot in the afternoon of the last day. Details and tickets are available at http://www.ipnc.org/.
--Neal Hulkower is a mathematician and an oenophile living in McMinnville. His writing has appeared in a wide range of academic and popular publications. He can occasionally be found pouring Pinot Noir at a Dundee Hills winery.