Guests at the 2017 International Pinot Noir Celebration gather in the Oak Grove at Linfield College for another successful event. ##Photo by Andrea Johnson
Lunches were hosted at several wineries, including Alexana in the Dundee Hills. ##Photo by Andrea Johnson

Le Véritable Voyage

IPNC toasts Oregon, France and much more

By Tamara Belgard

If I were to sum up the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) in just one word, it would be “resplendent.” And if you’re a wine geek like me, you can relate to how attending the event was a dream come true. Like a kid let loose in a candy store, my mouth drooled, eager to taste absolutely everything. Glass after glass of the world’s finest Pinot Noir. Plate after plate of the season’s tastiest and perfectly prepared gourmet morsels.

Infectious energy filled the air, as consumers, industry members, prominent speakers — including The New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov and IPNC master of ceremonies Allen Meadows of Burghound — and celebrities of the food and wine world gathered July 28–30 on the picturesque and historic Linfield College campus in McMinnville to toast Pinot Noir, and a few others, too.

This year drew 72 of the world’s top Pinot producers, more than 60 of the Northwest’s finest chefs and 800-plus guests from near and far. The theme, “The French Adventurers: Burgundians Making Pinot Noir in Oregon,” felt timely, as this sector of the state’s industry has grown significantly in recent years.

Jon McNamara, owner of bin41 in Seattle, captured the ardor of IPNC when he leaned in and said, “I feel like I’m in heaven.” With producers from Alsace, Burgundy, California, Canada, Champagne, Italy, New Zealand and Oregon pouring more than 250 wines over three days, it’s, perhaps, more accurately a Pinot Noir mecca.

Camaraderie has been key to the event’s longevity. Annual ticketholders — some have attended every one since its start in 1987 — look forward to what they describe as a yearly homecoming. Many regulars have forged lifelong friendships and even more become IPNC evangelists — I now understand how attending might become addictive, how it’s a secret too fabulous to keep to yourself and why the event sells out year after year.

Each day offered a variety of wine-related activities, including covert trips to wineries in fleet buses, each to a different locale. Ours traveled to Ponzi Vineyards for an interactive and informative blending seminar with winemaker Luisa Ponzi. We enjoyed a tasting of wines from visiting dignitaries and an elegant lunch prepared by Newberg’s Ruddick/Wood. The food paired with a flight of Ponzi wines, plus the winery’s breathtaking views were delightful.

Afternoons featured tastings under the tent with Alsatian-style wines and Chardonnay on the agenda. Additional options included author receptions with book signings, tea tastings and boozy popsicles to beat the heat. Additional late afternoon alfresco tastings provided opportunities to taste and mingle with all the esteemed Pinot producers — approximately 36 of them poured each day.

The Grand Seminar included an informative tasting and panel discussion of ‘Oregundian’ winemakers, featuring Burgundian vintners Veronique Drouhin (Domaine Drouhin Oregon) and Alexandrine Roy (Phelps Creek) who make wines in both Old and New Worlds. After an alfresco lunch, a “University of Pinot” class showcased wine tastings ranging from “New Zealand Regional Study of Central Otago” to “Sensory Evaluation of Pinot Noir,” offering insight and tips on wine assessment.

Other detailed lectures included: “Vegetables, Vinegar and Vino: How to Make Impossible Pairings Possible,” “Decoding Coffee” and “Palate Cross-Training,” a close examination of the flavors of flowers, roots, barks, herbs, seeds, peels and tea leaves.

Dining alongside winemakers at the Grand Dinner, we all celebrated together under the stars. Seven Northwest chefs, including Vitaly Paley (Paley’s Place, Imperial, Headwaters,); Aaron Adams (Farm Spirit); John Gorham (Toro Bravo, Tasty n Sons, Tasty n Alder); Matt Christianson (Urban Farmer); Andrew Biggs (Hunt & Gather) and Cheryl Wakerhauser (Pix Patisserie) partnered to create the stunning regionally focused menu.

Sommeliers poured selections from the IPNC wine library, but the pièce de résistance was the winemakers walking around with their best bottles, eager to pour a glass. How shocking to witness how much mind-blowing wine was poured on the lawn to make room for another; it was also tough to refuse — you can only drink so much.

A tradition of IPNC, the Salmon Bake, was the second night’s dinner, showcasing wild salmon dramatically speared and roasted on alder stakes. Guests basked in the moonlit glow, dining in the magical lantern-lit Oak Grove, where wines from around the world accompanied an extravagant outdoor buffet.

Ending the enchanted weekend appropriately — and with panache — the Sparkling Brunch Finale permitted guests one final chance to raise their glasses in a festive toast and bid farewell to IPNC.

Tickets are already available for 2018 at Pro tip: Secure them early.

Tamara Belgard is a freelance writer who explores the Oregon wine scene from her home in S.W. Portland.

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