Lone Star State of Wine
Pinot in the City creates stellar Texas tasting
As I boarded my plane to Dallas on Jan. 23, I suddenly realized I’d be flying to Pinot in the City with half the event’s delegation. I noticed Florent-Pierre Merlier of Van Duzer Vineyards, Brian Marcy and Clare Carver from Big Table Farm, Scott and Denise Flora from Native Flora and Jim Prosser from J.K Carriere, to name a few.
In total, a team of more than 60 Willamette Valley wineries traveled to the Lone Star State to relate the story of Oregon Pinot Noir. In its sixth year, Pinot in the City (PITC) continues its mission to educate the consumer with a personal approach.
“This is purely us getting together in a really classically Oregon way,” explained Jason Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards. “We’re number five in the U.S. for wine production, but we get so much press because we’re known for getting together. Pinot in the City is to give them the sense of excitement that we feel making wine here. We’re doing it to raise awareness of why Pinot Noir is so great here.”
Since everything’s bigger in Texas, to accommodate the anticipated interest, the group broke from their typical format of an intimate space accommodating 200 to 300 attendees. Instead, the tasting was hosted at The Westin in downtown Dallas on Jan. 24, followed by the JW Marriott in Austin on Jan. 26. Consumer tickets sold out at both locations.
In addition to the winegrape that put the Willamette Valley on the map, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc were poured, and not just by sales directors or regional managers. One of the event’s singular features is the impressive participation of owners and vintners.
“That [aspect] really sets the events apart,” said Emily Nelson, associate director at Willamette Valley Wineries Association (WVWA), the group that organizes and owns the event. “We market them heavily so that you’ll be able to meet the face behind the label. People are kind of star-struck a little bit sometimes, and we love that. It’s so compelling to hear that story.”
The wineries consider PITC an investment. After purchasing airfare and donating time and wine, producers seize the opportunity to market to the areas chosen each year. Tastings and meetings outside the main events are scheduled, local distributors are called upon and restaurants unable to attend the trade portions might be visited, as well.
David Adelsheim, founder and president of Adelsheim Vineyard, said, “We have a large number of wine club members from Texas, a huge following. It’s possible we’ve never done a trade tasting of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir [in Texas] before. The consumer portion [of PITC] helps us keep the customers we already have.”
Organizers and winery personnel view PITC in three parts. Beyond connecting with consumers, Nelson explained how each city visit creates the opportunity to reach out to new faces in the wine industry and solidify relationships made with trade members from past Oregon Pinot Camps, for example. Connecting with other possible distribution sources is foremost for many producers. Media rounds out the tasting trifecta with some buzz generated before each city stop with more expected to follow after writers enjoyed their own personal introduction, or revisit, of the romancing nuances of Willamette Valley wines.
New for 2017 was a master class hosted by The Guild of Sommeliers. Held at the Austin venue, more than 30 wine professionals — all Guild somms — gained a deeper insight into the Willamette Valley. The WVWA plans to partner with The Guild to offer this class three more times throughout the year at future venues.
After traversing the U.S., with stops from Seattle to New York, San Francisco to Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles to Chicago, efforts are paying off.
“We’ve seen renewed vigor and interest from national press and sommeliers, and members of the trade about Willamette Valley Pinot, which means [PITC] has been a wonderful success,” Lett said.
Nelson reinforced his sentiment, “The consumers at these events were some of the most engaged and enthusiastic that we’ve encountered in any city with our events. They were knowledgeable about the wines but also eager to learn more. Many are planning visits to Oregon in the coming year, so this was a fantastic way to whet their appetites. We’re excited to welcome them here to experience it all first hand. Pinot in the City is just the first taste!”
Viki Eierdam is the wine columnist for The Columbian and a freelance writer. She lives in Battle Ground, Washington.