Serious Drinking

The International Pinot Noir Celebration: 300 Wines, 75 Producers, 700 Participants + A Movie

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Thu, Aug 2, 2012 at 9:00 AM
click to enlarge A vineyard in the Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon - PATRICK COMISKEY
  • Patrick Comiskey
  • A vineyard in the Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon

While most of the city's denizens of drink were in NOLA celebrating Tales of the Cocktail and learning indelible lessons on what to drink when, and where, and in what century, I was in Oregon's Willamette Valley at the International Pinot Noir Celebration, an annual event now 26 years strong, which does as advertised, celebrating the vicissitudes of the world's most peripatetic and beguiling grape variety. This year more than 300 wines, from about 75 producers, were poured for 700 participants. Cocktail, schmocktail: When it comes to a party, Oregon's wine producers know how to bring the bacchanal.

The event, held at Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore., gathers pinot noir enthusiasts from all over the world to taste, learn, compare. But one of its unstated goals is to get participants to appreciate the Willamette Valley -- one of the more beautiful wine regions in the country, vineyards set in perfect serried repose upon gently rolling hills, demarcated by swaths of old pine and framed by the Cascades just to the east. On good days, as you dip your nose into the glass, you can stare dreamily out upon Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson looming on the horizon like great dripping snow-capped mounds of custard.

This year there were several highlights: The 2010 and 2011 Oregon vintages, both very cool and attenuated, were stars, but so were the extraordinary retinue of Burgundy producers in attendance, including winemakers from Maison Ambroise, Domaine Pavelot, Domaine Henri Gouges and Domaine Charles Audoin. It was an occasion to celebrate the career of the great Jacques Lardière, winemaker at the negociant house Maison Louis Jadot, who will be retiring at the end of the year. He brought with him some of the domaine's more graceful Premier Cru and Grand Cru bottlings from vintages going back to 1991.

Indeed, more than usual, Burgundy was a persistent theme at this year's IPNC. The award-winning documentary film director David Kennard was on hand to debut a working cut of A Year in Burgundy, which is just that, a luxurious and quite beautifully shot chronicle of a single vintage, 2011. It follows six producers as they tend to their vineyards, from bud break to harvest, encountering many hair-raising events -- make-or-break pruning decisions, harrowing weather events, narrow logistical windows -- many uneasy moments through which they winnow on their way to harvest. Short of growing the stuff yourself, it was a good occasion to experience firsthand the growth cycle, in its entirety, of one of the world's great wines, in one of the most marginal regions on Earth -- coming soon to a PBS station near you.

Patrick Comiskey, our drinks columnist, blogs at patrickcomiskey.com and tweets at @patcisco. Have a spirits question for a future column? Ask him. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.

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