A Whoppin’ Good Time

Exploring the World of Pinot Noir

A bicycling DJ spins tunes for wine tasters on the Bacara lawn overlooking the beach and Pacific Ocean.##Photo provided by World of Pinot Noir
The beautifully manicured Ritz-Carlton Bacara hotel hosts the World of Pinot Noir each year.##Photo provided by World of Pinot Noir
Tiquette Bramlett, founder of nonprofit Our Legacy Harvested, pours wine while raising awareness of her organization s mission to educate, advance and empower the BIPOC community in the wine industry.##Photo provided by World of Pinot Noir

By Michele Francisco

“It’s noice. It’s different. It’s unusual.” Fans of the popular Australian television series, Kath & Kim, will recognize this phrase frequently spoken by the show’s two main characters. A persistent earworm… this expression repeatedly ran through my head during my weekend spent at the World of Pinot Noir.
On my flight to Santa Barbara, I shared a row with Danell and Kipp Myers, owners of Anacréon Winery in the Willamette Valley. The couple proved delightful company and were the first of several Oregon wineries to mention how they hoped their wines would stand out.

After the weekend, Danell elaborated, “Because the majority of participating wineries were from California, wines from our state stood out as a unique offering at the event. Many guests told me they were specifically searching for Oregon producers. It was a pleasure for us to be among the handful of incredible Oregon wineries in attendance.”

Held annually at the impressive Ritz-Carlton Bacara hotel, situated on a coastal bluff north of Santa Barbara, the World of Pinot Noir is commonly referred to as WOPN by most attendees. Affectionately pronounced “whoppin’,” the event is a genuine celebration of the much-loved wine variety. In early March, Pinot fans from near and far filled the expansive, manicured grounds overlooking the Pacific.

A former Santa Barbarian, I was nonetheless a WOPN neophyte and found it thrilling to be surrounded by so many Pinot Noir enthusiasts. As a media guest, my goals were two-fold: Learn how people beyond Oregon perceive our wines and why local producers participated. My discoveries are compelling, valuable and worth sharing.

Soter Vineyards’ winemaker, Chris Fladwood, responded enthusiastically. “My initial interest started when the WOPN team invited me to be on the panel of the ‘Translating Terroir through Bubbles’ educational session. I hadn’t been to the event before and thought this would be a nice opportunity to spread the good word of the Willamette Valley in foreign territory.”

Another winemaker, Ian Burch of Archery Summit, said, “Initially hearing that a few Willamette Valley producers attended pre-pandemic, the winery saw it as a great chance to participate. My predecessors at Archery Summit have attended in the past and always had wonderful things to say about the venue and how the event was run.”

While Archery Summit and Soter Vineyards have name recognition beyond our state line, smaller, lesser-known wineries also found the event worthy. Elaina Spring, co-owner of Covey Ridge Vineyard and Woven WineWorks, with a tasting room in Southwest Portland, explained, “Attending WOPN was a bucket list experience, both personally and professionally. I was first drawn to attend based on its reputation for delivering a world-class, wine-centric weekend in a luxurious location. As a teeny-tiny producer, it was an incredible honor to pour my wine alongside some of the finest Pinot Noir on the planet.”

Danell concurred. “We saw this as a wonderful opportunity to share our wines with Pinot Noir enthusiasts, especially from the California region. Because we are a very small, 100-percent direct-to-consumer winery, we forged connections with consumers we would otherwise not have encountered. I hope our new friends will visit us at our property for a more personalized wine tasting experience.”

Interested in how other Pinot lovers rated Oregon wines, I posed questions to many people over the weekend. I did learn that some found our wines too light for their liking; one woman called them “too watery.” (I believe that’s to be expected from individuals accustomed to drinking more robust, California Pinot Noir.) Others told me they discovered and appreciated the pleasant “earthiness” of our wines. The words “unique,” “different” and “unusual” were often repeated.
During lunch, hosted by the Willamette Valley Wineries Association, I sat with an engaging couple, Amy Reinholds and Caleb Roberts, who had walked along the beach to the Baraca from their home. Roberts, who recently moved from Colorado, shared his experience with Oregon wines from Oregon. “I think I became aware of and interested in Willamette Valley Pinot Noir about a dozen years ago. I can’t say that I really pay much attention to names and years, but there’s a particular flavor profile that seemed fairly consistent among the few brands I found in Colorado. Since relocating here, I find there’s a bigger selection of Oregon wines.” He continued, “We will hold on to the lunch menu with the names of the wines. We even added a few notes about our favorites. I’m sure we’ll look for them at some point.”

Fellow WOPN newbie, James Robinson, a charismatic wine lover from San Diego, told me, “I have only recently (within the last year) become very slightly familiar with Oregon Pinot Noir, thanks to a friend from Washington, who is a big fan of the area. My knowledge of Oregon Pinot prior to WOPN 2023 was extremely limited.” Robinson elaborated on some of what he learned over the weekend. “The cooler climate creates an elegance to the Oregon Pinots I tasted– opening my mind to the freshness and medium-acid combination that gives them their own style. Based on conversations I had with folks from the region, you all have such a strong sense of community. That helps support and optimize the confidence of the wines from the region, which is attractive for a wine enthusiast!” (Read Pinot Heaven, an account of his World of Pinot Noir experience, on page 24.)

I spoke with some Oregon producers after they poured wine during one of two Grand Tastings. When asked him impression, Burch replied, “Luckily, I saw no one wincing as they sampled my wines. In fact, there were quite a few people with a twinkle in their eye after sipping from their glasses. As much as I love to think everyone knows what sort of wines can be made in the Willamette Valley, engaging with people while they discover it is always uplifting.” He continued, “I enjoy explaining to them the intrinsic savory, fresh, textural and persistent wines that comes from this cool-climate AVA. Separately, I love when people connect with our wine. It makes these types of events so worthwhile.”

“This event is a highly regarded gathering of Pinot Noir winemakers and consumers. The Saturday Grand Tasting hosted over 500 attendees, all there to explore new and beloved wines,” said Danell. “What better place to spend a weekend pouring our wines? We were thrilled that people had an enthusiastic response to our offerings. Guests enjoyed the opportunity to sample wine from over 70 wineries, comparing regional differences and finding new favorites.”

Fladwood observed, “I was pleased at the consumers’ reactions to the overall quality of wines coming from Soter Vineyards and the Willamette Valley. I got the feeling this was the first time many people had tasted Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.”

Spring, also happy to describe her perspectives, both as a producer and Pinot enthusiast, said, “My wines were extremely well received. I had several consumers express interest in ordering bottles for delivery. Equally as exciting, however, was the genuine enthusiasm I received as a small, family-owned producer committed to sustainable winegrowing.”

Continued Spring, “Donning my participant hat, I was fortunate to attend Saturday’s Grand Tasting. I enjoyed trying wines from around the globe. Pinot never ceases to amaze me– it is a true chameleon among wines. While the grape creates delicious wines in every growing region, the Willamette Valley wins me over every time. It simply tastes like home.”

While the entire weekend proved educational, WOPN hosted several seminars, including one titled “Blurring Boundaries: Burgundy and the New World.” I relished the opportunity to participate in the conversation exploring the similarities and differences between Burgundian Pinots and those grown in other regions of the world. The Willamette Valley was well-represented. The six-person panel included three Oregon wineries; French native Guillaume Large, Résonance Wines’ winemaker; Ian Burch, winemaker at Archery Summit; and Jay Boberg, founder (with Burgundian winemaker Jean-Nicolas Méo) of Nicolas-Jay.

The premise? To examine the French connection between each new world winery. Robinson and I found the subsequent tasting and discussion quite enlightening. Here is a list of the Oregon/France matchup and wines poured: Archery Summit + Domaine des Comtes Lafon: Archery Summit 2018 Arcus and Domaine des Comtes Lafon 2019 Volnay-Santenots du Milieu, 1er Cru. Résonance + Louis Jadot: Résonance 2017 Estate Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton and Louis Jadot Domaine des Héritiers, 2017 Beaune, Clos des Ursules, 1'er Cru. Nicolas-Jay + Méo-Camuzet: Nicolas-Jay 2019 L’Ensemble and Domaine Méo-Camuzet 2020 Clos de Vougeot, Grand Cru.

I was curious to hear Burch’s thoughts, considering he was on the seminar panel. He said, “I felt like the session went really well. The room was mostly sold out, and I believe that each panelist really considered the producers that inspired their style in the Willamette, New Zealand and California. Tasting these regions, alongside varying producers and parcels in Burgundy, was a lot of fun as we explored our individual influences. It wasn’t hard to draw similarities from the wine pairs. It was also compelling that Archery Summit, Résonance and Nicolas Jay comprised half of the folks on the panel.”

Robinson described his impression of the seminar, saying, “I learned more than I expected about Oregon wines from the Saturday morning seminar. I really enjoyed Archery Summit and Nicolas-Jay.”

While I adored each Willamette Valley wine, and immensely enjoyed tasting all the glasses side-by-side, the Domaine des Comtes Lafon 2019 Volnay-Santenots du Milieu, 1er Cru was most memorable.

Burch also referenced an observation from the weekend that I, too, noticed. “There may be a general trend toward producers making less muscular wines and perhaps moving toward elegant Pinot Noirs. With the twist and turns that Mother Nature has put us through the past few years (fire, lack of water, heat, etc.), I found most producers had balanced and healthy wines.”

Danell added, “We were honored to be among the select producers in attendance and felt WOPN offered an elevated consumer experience while showcasing beautiful Pinot Noir wines. The energy was tangible, and guests were delighted to be there. Like our own Oregon IPNC, it drew serious wine buyers and participants, all gathered to network, connect, learn and enjoy our beloved Pinot Noir.”

“My overall impression of the event was extremely positive,” noted Spring. “The weekend was jam-packed with enlightening educational sessions, delicious dining and breathtaking views, all thoughtfully woven into an immersive exploration of the world of Pinot.”

All Oregon wineries I spoke with felt their participation worthwhile. Burch said, “Besides being in such a beautiful part of the state, I would have to characterize this WOPN as very well put together, with an extremely interested consumer base and equally curious industry folks. I also heard quite a few stories about the ‘olden days’ at Archery Summit. We will gladly participate in years to come.”

Beyond offering value for each winery, I heard the importance of a collaborative effort. Displaying a larger presence is sure to be noticed. More Oregon producers present will certainly boost awareness and grab the attention of both consumers and media.

Spring offered her opinion, “I would highly recommend Oregon wineries participate in the event. The more the merrier! Together, we share an important perspective, rooted in our collective commitment to provide an honest and wholesome representation of the Pinot grape in its many magnificent shapes and forms.”

Fladwood agreed. “Overall, it was really good event– I would definitely attend again. In fact, we need to keep the ball rolling and continue to make a meaningful presence. This can only be done when a critical mass of Oregon producers attends and together educate consumers.”

Robinson was influenced by what he tasted and learned, along with the Oregonians he met. “With an understanding of the climate and general philosophy of the Oregon Pinots, I am definitely intrigued in learning more about the area, along with some of the wineries I was introduced to here and others you and Elaina mentioned.” He concluded, “I also want to plan a trip to the region to explore the beauty of the landscape and enjoy the great wines I now know exist there.”

Hallie Whyte, general manager at Soter Vineyards, has attended WOPN frequently over the years. She said, “Soter feels like anywhere Pinot Noir is the focus, then the Willamette Valley needs a presence. While sparkling, Chardonnay and other wines have become popular here, Pinot is still King… or perhaps, in this day and age, we should instead call her Queen.”

Next year's World of Pinot Noir is scheduled for is Feb. 29 – Mar. 3, 2024 and is again being hosted at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara hotel. Visit for more details.

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