Master of Ceremonies
Steven Spurrier addresses the IPNC crowd at Linfield College in McMinnville. ##Photo by Carolyn Wells-Kramer
Tom Champine pours a glass of wine for a table of IPNC guests. ##Photo by Carolyn Wells-Kramer
A volunteer positions the salmon in
the burning embers during the popular Salmon Bake. ##Photo by Carolyn Wells-Kramer

A Brilliant IPNC

Spurrier adds British flair to annual Pinot celebration

By Michael Alberty

Today’s International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) is much larger and more expensive than when it debuted in 1987. Three aspects, however, remain constant: its location on the Linfield College campus, an enduring love affair with Pinot Noir and a sense of unity transcending borders.

Tickets for the inaugural IPNC were $195, with 40 wineries from California, France, Oregon and Washington participating. Slightly more than 400 people attended the event, with the opportunity to taste approximately 100 wines that weekend. 

This year’s tickets cost more than $1,000 for the full weekend, showcasing 81 wineries from California, Oregon and seven countries. More than 1,300 people descended on Linfield’s campus for various IPNC events. Guests for the entire weekend had the opportunity to taste approximately 250 wines. 

The size of the modern IPNC was evidenced by the hosting of the Grand Seminar in Linfield College’s vast gymnasium. Hundreds took their seats beneath an assortment of championship sports banners as wine’s leading Renaissance man, Steven Spurrier, led a discussion of Burgundy’s Côte Chalonnaise region.

Spurrier warmed the audience with a rousing smackdown of the 2008 movie “Bottle Shock.” The film chronicles the infamous France vs. California “Judgement of Paris” wine tasting Spurrier organized at his Paris store in 1976. The movie, riddled with inaccuracies, portrays Spurrier in an unflattering fashion. To be honest, despite Alan Rickman’s best efforts, I’ve watched better wine movies on the Lifetime Channel. Spurrier revealed when wine writer Caro Feely asked for a brief review of the movie, he responded: “More bullshit than Bottle Shock.”

IPNC’s Grand Seminar featured wines from Domaine de Villaine, Antonin Rodet, Maison Louis Jadot, Domaine de la Ferté and Château de Chamirey. They were all well received and their quality and reasonable prices — by Burgundy standards — were impressive. Spurrier and the wines made a compelling case for paying closer attention to Côte Chalonnaise. “The region provides a good ratio of value for pleasure,” he concluded.

After a short break, a lucky few sat in on a discussion between Spurrier and David Millman, managing director of Domaine Drouhin Oregon. Millman led Spurrier on a journey through his upper-class British upbringing and how he began his life in wine as a London wine clerk in 1964. Spurrier eventually moved to Paris and took ownership of a small retail wine store, Les Caves de la Madeleine. That venture led to the opening of his private wine school Académie du Vin, which Spurrier says to this day is the accomplishment that fills him with the most pride.

Amid the Millman-Spurrier conversation, sommeliers poured samples of the Bride Valley sparkling wine and Pinot Noir Spurrier makes at his estate in Dorset, England. The bubbly was brilliant, while the tank sample of Pinot Noir was filled with tart red fruit and electric acidity.

During afternoons, IPNC guests investigated outdoor tents where vendors offered samples of everything from goat cheese and cocktails, to beer and Jamón ibérico. It presented a perfect way to relax and meet Pinot lovers from around the world. My biggest surprise of the various afternoon tastings was the number of great Pinot Noirs from Canada.

Afternoons were also spent visiting nearby wineries for tasting seminars and vineyard tours. I attended a review of the 2016 vintage at Gran Moraine led by winemakers from Domaine Serene, Gran Moraine, Calera and DANCIN Vineyards. An interesting take-away was Domaine Serene winemaker Michael Fay discussing a small block of phylloxera-ridden vines he refuses to pull because the grapes they produce are so good.   

Those in need of revival after the days’ activities found comfort in the oasis that is the espresso cart located next to the cooling waters of Linfield’s outdoor fountain. It made for a very la dolce vita scene.

The first evening was marked by the Grand Dinner, where dozens of top Pacific Northwest chefs orchestrated dishes al fresco under white lights and summer stars. The service was as impressive as the food and wine. This year, 44 sommeliers — from as far away as Nashville, Tennessee, to Wailea, Hawaii — made sure every guest felt pampered and at ease. Without this black-tied army, the IPNC wouldn’t be the same.

After a long two days, I finally wandered into the Oak Grove for the IPNC salmon bake. There, I bumped into Robert and Monika Potter from Canberra, Australia. This was their third straight IPNC, so I asked what kept bringing them back.

“Just look around,” Robert said. “Everybody is sharing special bottles they brought with them, and the winemakers are so friendly with one another. This is what it is all about: camaraderie and sharing.”

Potter’s words kindled a memory: At the very first IPNC, Robert Drouhin told an S.F. Examiner reporter: “I love the approach of the Oregon winemakers. They are so open, so modest. Many of them are good friends. We have the same philosophy toward wine.”

Some things simply never change at the IPNC.

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