story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 3/10/16
Each year, World of Pinot Noir spotlights the overarching appeal of Burgundy’s favorite red grape. For winemakers, pinot can be pernickety and challenging. But the sense of place it delivers in the bottle – nuances imparted by the nature that surrounds it as it grows – makes mastering its expression the ultimate payout. And for consumers, the inimitable elegance it delivers in the glass is little less than addictive.
I sipped a bevy of really good pinots at this past weekend’s WOPN, the annual powwow of the world’s best pinot makers that features, among star-studded seminars and dinners, two days of wall-to-wall tasting. The experience, hosted by Bacara Resort, was intimate and informational, especially on day one, which is always limited to about 100 producers and draws a smaller consumer crowd. Here are five local pinot projects that really stood out.
|Dolin Malibu's Kirby Anderson & Elliott Dolin|
Dolin Malibu Estate Vineyards: This was the Dolin label’s first showing at WOPN, and if they came to impress, they succeeded. Entrepreneur Elliott Dolin established his label when he planted a one-acre chardonnay vineyard in the backyard of his Malibu home. The label has since expanded to also feature four pinots, each carefully sourced by winemaker Kirby Anderson. “We’re all about the expression of each vineyard,” Anderson told me. The Bien Nacido, the Solomon Hills and the Talley-Rincon Arroyo Grande pinots, all vintage 2012 (and all $45), expressed remarkable texture and richness, each with a luscious mouth feel and their distinct balance of fruit and spice. Santa Barbara restaurateur Tom Dolan, who came to discover bottles for the wine list at his popular Toma Restaurant, seemed especially impressed by the John Sebastiano Vineyard pinot from Sta. Rita Hills ($32), with beautiful cherry and berry character.
|Lumen's Lane Tanner & Will Henry|
Lumen: She’s back! Well, I guess celebrated winemaker Lane Tanner never really went away, at least not for long. Although she attempted to shift professional gears and leave wine behind in 2010, her knack for making pinot brought her right back. Tanner now makes Lumen Wines with Will Henry, whose family owns the Henry Wine Group distribution company. Their 2013 Sierra Madre Vineyard pinot ($49) is wonderfully complex, with a pretty perfume and a palate experience driven by dark berry flavors and a lengthy finish. It’s lovely now, with great aging potential. The label is one to keep an eye on, with a portfolio that also includes chardonnay and grenache. (Tanner also treated early visitors to a magnum of a Sierra Madre pinot dating back to 1990, “the first vintage I made wine totally on my own,” she told me. Even 26 years later, the wine’s fruit and balance were inescapable.)
Brewer-Clifton: A two-fisted Greg Brewer had no problem drawing a crowd. From the famous eponymous label that he mans with co-winemaker Steve Clifton, Brewer poured both the 2011 3-D pinot ($80), delightfully perfumed and spice rack-driven, and the 2013 Machado pinot ($90), an exuberant, bouncy, textured wine. The Brewer-Clifton wines, with a vineyard-specific and super-small production focus, always impress.
|Pinot phenoms Greg Brewer (Brewer-Clifton) & Bob Cabral (Sonoma's Three Sticks)|
|Kita's Tymani LoRe & winemaker Tara Gomez|
Kitá Wines: I’ve really enjoyed watching Tara Gomez’s label grow; I’d sipped on her whites and cabs before, but WOPN was my introduction to a wonderful lineup of pinots. They all come from the Hilliard Brice vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills, a celebrated site where “the soil bring out freshness” in the Kita pinots, according to the winemaker. There’s delicious commonality to the 2011, 2012 and 2013 pinot noirs poured by Gomez and assistant winemaker Tymani LoRe: vibrancy, minerality and lusciousness. The ’12 rendition ($55) spent 18 months in mostly neutral French oak. They also shared sips of the yet-to-be-bottled 2014 pinot, which also exhibited a fresh, floral, Old World style. Gomez is a member of the Chumash tribe and the fruit source for her other wines – a portfolio that also includes syrah, grenache and sauvignon blanc – is the famous Camp 4 Vineyard, which the Chumash own.
Alta Maria: James Ontiveros, the man behind the Alta Maria and Native 9 labels, had just touched down at the Santa Barbara airport when I stepped up to the tasting table, so it was up to the vivacious Stephanie Varner to pour a few treasures for me. The Native 9 wines are sourced from a vineyard Ontiveros planted himself. It’s on land that was once part of an 8900-acre land grant once bestowed upon Ontiveros’ ancestors, some nine generations ago; Ontiveros bought back a slice of it and planted vines on it a couple of decades ago. The pinots it yields, the product of meticulous low-yield farming and crafted by winemaker Paul Wilkins, are consistently complex, high-acid and fruit-driven; the 2012 pinot I tasted ($64, $130 for magnum) was aged in 40% new oak and was deliciously fleshy, nuanced and layered. And the 2014 Alta Maria Carbonic Pinot ($24), which employs a Beaujolais-inspired, carbon dioxide-driven fermentation technique, was fresh and animated!
|Santa Barbara's C'est Cheese offered up an outstanding spread|
|The tasting on Day 1 of WOPN offers lots of elbow room and plenty of winemaker one-on-ones|
|Napa's Ancien Wines was one of my favorite beyond-Santa Barbara finds|
The 17th World of Pinot Noir will be held at Bacara Resort & Spa on March 3rd and 4th, 2017. For info, check out WOPN's website.