In Pinot the Planet Trusts
By Mark Stock
The idea came first, as is the case with most things. And at the time, one can only imagine how silly it seemed: a festival devoted entirely to Pinot Noir set in the quiet, blue-collar agricultural town of McMinnville - population then roughly 18,000.
But there was something special to that initial 1985 conversation, most likely born of several glasses of prophetic and promising resident red wine. Two years later, the International Pinot Noir Celebration was created. Now in its 24th year, IPNC is widely considered the premier single-varietal gathering on the planet, drawing the attention of producers and tasters from as far away as Argentina and Israel.
This year, IPNC will attract some 700 die-hard fans of Oregon's leading grape, from internationally acclaimed vintners to rising culinary wizards. Some 60 producers will participate, alongside 50 Northwest chefs, for a long weekend of extensive tastings, pairings and educational seminars.
International wineries of note represented this year include Domaine Marc Roy of Burgundy, led by talented young winemaker Alexandrine Roy. The fourth-generation craftswoman has been working with Phelps Creek Vineyards in Hood River for the last few vintages, trying out her traditional winemaking approach on Oregon fruit.
From Patagonia, Bodega Chacra, a small producer in the Rio Negra Valley with estate vines dating back to 1936, will represent South America. The remote operation began much like the story of David Lett, "Papa Pinot," in untested, uncharted territory and against the advice of those in the know. Fortunately for us, Bodega Chacra held on and is now responsible for some of the most dynamic Pinot Noir in the Southern Hemisphere.
Food, Pinot's closest ally, will make its presence felt courtesy of wine country eateries like Tina's, The Painted Lady and Jory. Quite expectedly, many of the chefs on hand this year hail from Portland restaurants representing all food genres. Some of the most tantalizing include the meat-curing magicians of Olympic Provisions and the fine French-style sweets prepared by Pix Patisserie. Because all the chefs are based in the Pacific Northwest, it is virtually guaranteed that everything edible will not only be fresh, but also pair harmoniously with Pinot Noir.
Not to be missed is the famed Salmon Bake, held Saturday evening. The wild-caught fish is roasted on flavorful alder stakes over a massive, custom-created fire pit. The acclaimed event has spread as far as Pennsylvania Avenue, where the White House recently hosted local talent Jason Stoller Smith to re-create the salmon bake for a Congressional picnic. The former Dundee Bistro chef - now heading to the executive chef position at Timberline Lodge - recently described the event to the News Register as "crazy," referring to the fire pit he helped build on the White House lawn, just outside of the Oval Office.
The stories that spill from IPNC's signature event can be the stuff of tall tales. Writers often describe certain tables as "wine mosh pits," full of exquisite Pinots that many believed were only rumors.
While the wine tends to be great regardless, there are those special instances in which two winemakers will be seated side by side and begin a cordial and wine-soaked duel for table superiority. Bystanders get to savor the fruits of the battle, often tasting wines they'd never dream of, otherwise.
This year's Master of Ceremonies is Ray Isle, the food editor of Food & Wine magazine. Master Sommelier and renowned author Evan Goldstein will moderate a session on chefs - specifically pairings - while Isle will do the same for a session on winemakers. Vineyard tours and interactive courses on the art of blending will help round out the festive summer weekend.
An estimated 250 wines will be poured between July 23 and 25 at IPNC this year. They will crowd long tables and be passed around like the special - and in some cases extremely rare - artifacts they are.
In a single little city in the heart of the Willamette Valley, the infinite depth of Pinot Noir will be addressed. All voices will be heard, and the toast will undoubtedly be to its everlasting continuation as not only the region's, but also the globe's most mysterious and magnificent wine. ◊
Mark Stock, a Gonzaga grad, is a Portland-based freelance writer and photographer with a knack for all things Oregon.
International Pinot Noir Celebration
Location: Linfield College, McMinnville
Date/Time: July 23-25 (see web for times)
Tickets: $975 (full weekend);
$125 (Passport to Pinot); $150 (Salmon Bake); $125 (Sparkling Finale Brunch).
Information: 800-775-4762; www.ipnc.org