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Sip and Savor: The 2017 World of Pinot Noir draws Central Coast Vintners 

Molly Bohlman, Andy Niner and Eric Hickey, winemaker of Laetitia Vineyards and Winery Photos by Mira Honeycutt

Molly Bohlman, Andy Niner and Eric Hickey, winemaker of Laetitia Vineyards and Winery
Photos by Mira Honeycutt

20 San Luis Obispo County winemakers showcase top-notch wines

–The heady, beguiling and poetic World of Pinot Noir came to Santa Barbara as Bacara Resort and Spa transformed itself into Pinot-ville. Some 3,000 pinot aficionados descended on this beachfront resort to sip and savor world class wines over the weekend of March 3 and 4.

mira-sip-and-savor The two-day event offered six dinners, two lunches and four seminars plus two grand tastings featuring more than 200 international wineries and a silent auction.

“Pinot is the wine of kings,” said David Coventry, head winemaker at Talbott Vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands. “There’s red wine, there’s white wine and then there’s pinot noir.”

Yes, there were pinots from Chile, Spain Italy, Austria, New Zealand and France, but very limited offerings. As usual there was heavy representation of California wines; in fact, this year there were close to 100 wineries from the Central Coast and over 50 from Sonoma Valley.

San Luis Obispo County was well represented by some 20 wineries of which seven were from Paso Robles, a region not known for pinot noir.

Marc Goldberg and Maggie D'Ambrosia of Windward Vineyards and Winery

Marc Goldberg and Maggie D’Ambrosia of Windward Vineyards and Winery

Among the handful of wineries growing this varietal locally are Adelaida Vineyards and Winery, Asuncion Ridge, Jack Creek and Windward Vineyards. Most others source fruit from Edna Valley, Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley and Santa Rita Hills and Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands — cool regions noted for top-notch pinot noir.

From the exclusively pinot house of Windward, proprietors Marc Goldberg and Maggie D’Ambrosia poured the 2014 Monopole, a double Gold Winner at the San Francisco International Competition and a 2015 Vin Gris de Pinot Noir.

I found winemakers such as San Luis Obispo-based winemaker Ryan Deovelet of his eponymous label producing pinot from several Santa Barbara County vineyards, as well as David Hunt of Hunt Cellars who offered a cherry-flecked wine sourced from Santa Rita Hills and Tooth and Nail Winery’s 2014 Amor Fati wine from Santa Maria Valley.

Known for his Cabernet Sauvignon wines, RN Estate’s Roger Nicholas has been on the pinot bandwagon for a few years. He is very much hands on, to the point that some of the fruit sourced from Santa Maria Valley is grown according to his specifications.

“We are so into pinot,” said Nicholas’ partner Claire Westaway pouring the 2013 Fiddlestix from the noted Santa Rita Hills vineyard.

Harmony and Brian Collins of Ember restaurant, Brian Talley and Christian Roguenant

Harmony and Brian Collins of Ember restaurant, Brian Talley and Christian Roguenant

Jennifer Hogue, co-proprietor of TH Estates was a first-timer at WOPN this year. She offered the Decroux, a small 500-case production made from Santa Rita Hills and from Talley’s noted Rosemary Vineyard in Edna Valley.

Niner Wine Estate’s team of Andy Niner and the pinot project winemaker Molly Bohlman poured the wine from Edna Valley’s Jasperson Ranch vineyard that was purchased by the Niner family in 2011.

The Edna Valley appellation was front and center at its namesake Collective dinner featuring chef Brian Collins, owner of the hot new restaurant Ember in Arroyo Grande.

Collins admitted that this dinner posed a challenge. “Most dinners start with a white wine,” he said. “This is trickier with all pinots.”

The elaborate six-course dinner showcased his culinary artistry. However, it was a gourmet overkill, with so much food — starting with fennel-rubbed pork, followed by pan roasted sea scallops continuing with braised octopus, cauliflower and egg flan, grilled quail and finishing with smoked beef cheeks. No wonder there was no dessert on the menu.

The stellar wines paired with Ember dinner included Claiborne & Churchill, Niner Estate, Stephen Ross, Center of Effort, Tolosa and Baileyana.

Cheese and charcuterie from Fromagerie Sophie at the Pinot and Paté panel

Cheese and charcuterie from Sophie Fromagerie at the Pinot and Paté panel

A native of Burgundy, Baileyana’s winemaker Christian Roguenant introduced his 2014 S-Bar pinot noir served with the quail course. “The S-Bar stands for super bad ass reserve,” explained Roguenant of the French-inspired wine. Crafted from three different clones, the small production is limited to club members only.

From San Luis Obispo, Sophie Boban-Doering, owner of Fromagerie Sophie, created artistic platters of imported cheeses and charcuterie for the Pinot and Paté panel and paired them with six wines —from Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, Santa Rita Hills and Santa Lucia Highlands.

The Santa Barbara County offered a plethora of wines, so it was a tough call to go through them all. I started with Richard Sanford, regarded as the region’s pioneer when he planted pinot vineyards at his eponymous winery in the 1970s in the now famous Santa Rita Hills appellation. He sold the winery in the early 2000, then started Alma Rosa Winery in Buellton.

“It’s interesting that enough vineyards are coming from distinctive regions to develop regional identity,” said Sanford, one of the original participants of WOPN.

And how are they distinctive?

Elliott Dolin of Malibu-based Dolin Estate with his winemaker Kirby Anderson.

Elliott Dolin of Malibu-based Dolin Estate with his winemaker Kirby Anderson.

“The Russian River Valley is cherry-like while both Santa Lucia Highlands and Santa Maria are jammy, Santa Rita Hills has raspberry character and Oregon is savage,” Sanford noted. “It’s a great time to be a pinot lover.”

Other wines of interest from Santa Barbara County included the highly sought after Sea Smoke; Native, a small 250-case production of biodynamic wine made by James Ontiveros from his family’s Rancho Ontiveros vineyard in Santa Maria; and Kita Wines crafted by Tara Gomez, the first Native American female winemaker producing wines for the Chumash Indian-owned winery in Santa Ynez Valley.

Sonoma’s seductive pinots were offered from wineries like Chateau St. Jean, Flowers Paul Hobbs, Davis Bynum Gary Farrell,Patz and Hall and McMurray Estate.

Oregon wineries included Erath, Argyle, Archery Summit, Lachini and King Estate. From Mendocino we savored wines from Goldeneye, Domaine Anderson, Waits-Mast Family Cellars and Maggy Hawk Vineyard.

There was a touch of pink with a selection of dozen wines at the Rosé kick-off lunch: among them a delightful rosé of pinot gris from Oregon’s Anne Aime; sizzling with bracing acidity, Alta Langa rosé from Banfi Piemonti; and a fragrant one crafted by Kathy Joseph, owner of Santa Rita Hills’ famed Fiddlestix vineyard.

“These wines are meant to be easy and approachable, but we take them seriously,” mused Joseph, raising her glass to “pink power.”

The Saturday sparkling brunch offered comfort food menu of chicken and waffles along with baked oysters, washed down with pinot-based bubblies from Bollinger, Argyle, Riverbench and Flying Goat Cellars.

At $450 per head, Grand Cru Burgundies were served at the pricey Vintage Burgundy with the Guild of Sommeliers soiree while Premier Cru wines starred at the $350 per person Louis Latour dinner.

On a more affordable note ($120 per head), the Hitching Post Retrospective dinner with chef and winemaker Frank Ostini and his partner Gray Hartley featured 11 vintages of the Hitching Post pinot noir collection dating back to 1991.

The owners of the winery and its namesake iconic Buellton barbecue restaurant featured prominently in the multi-award winning film, “Sideways,” revealed they started their wine project in a hippie van carting merlot grapes and crushing in whiskey barrels.

“But we don’t want to talk about merlot tonight,” mused Ostini, now a pure pinot man.

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About the author: Columnist Mira Honeycutt

Honeycutt has more than 20 years of experience as a wine consultant and wine journalist. Currently, she is the California contributor to Sommelier India Wine Magazine. Her wine and food coverage has been published in the Harper’s Bazar India, the Asian Wall Street Journal, Hong Kong Tatler, The Hollywood Reporter, USA Today, Los Angeles Magazine, Los Angeles Times and www.zesterdaily.com. She was a contributing wine blogger on the highly popular Los Angeles radio station KCRW’s Good Food blog. Honeycutt is also the author of “California’s Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles,” as well as the curator of the soon to be published book, The Winemakers of Paso Robles.

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