There are few destinations in the world where you can fully immerse yourself in the culture and community of finely crafted Pinot Noir. In the United States this sweet spot is Willamette Valley, Oregon. On July 26-28 the 33rd International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) commenced in the heart of Willamette Valley on the Linfield College campus in McMinnville, Oregon. A yearly pilgrimage for Pinot Noir enthusiasts, the 2019 IPNC attracted 830 participants along with many of the most well respected winemakers and pioneers of Pinot Noir in the world.Since its inception in 1987, IPNC has attracted over 17,535 wine enthusiasts to this acclaimed wine-growing region. Seventy-eight featured wineries representing Burgundy, Austria, Alsace, Champagne, Germany, New Zealand, Canada and Chile along with Oregon and California, participated in this three-day venue.
The master of ceremonies for this year’s forum was Decanter Magazine’s consulting editor and wine writer Steven Spurrier, who is well-versed in the foundation of the wines from Burgundy, France.
In his opening comments Spurrier professed, “the point of Pinot Noir is to have a sense of place and Oregon wines have a definitive sense of place.” His comments resonated among this year’s gathering of devoted followers of Pinot Noir. Among the discussions and tastings at the University of Pinot Noir were in-depth discussions on the pairing of Pinot Noir with food. In some instances, the effects of global climate change have increased alcohol levels in Pinot Noir with a corresponding amount of ripe, dense fruit, making them more challenging wines for food pairings. There were sensory evaluations of Pinot Noir from Chile, Germany and Santa Rita Hills in California. Owners dissected the unique characteristics and subtleties of Pinot Noir grown in their country.
This year’s Grand Seminar focused on what is referred to as Burgundy’s 3rd Côte, Côte Chalonnaise. The wines from this Côte can resemble the acclaimed wines of Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune, but at friendlier price points. The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grown here originate from the villages of Rully, Mercurey and Givry.
They possess personality characteristics of bright minerality and freshly focused red fruits similar to those from more well-known regions. Spurrier described them as “value for pleasure.”
At day’s end, a courtyard setting served as the backdrop for an early evening tasting of the 2015-2017 vintages of Pinot Noirs from recognized winegrowing regions of the world. Notable examples from these successful vintages included the aromatic elegance of the 2015 St. Innocent “Momtazi Vineyard” Pinot Noir, a well-constructed 2015 Lange Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2017 Chehalem Mountains Pinot Noir and the mature, earthy-scented 2015 Chateau De Chamirey Mercurey 1er Cru “Les Cinq.”
Joining again in this year’s celebration were acclaimed chefs from the Pacific Northwest who paired their cuisine with the nuances of this captivating varietal during dinner and luncheon presentations. The Friday night “Grand Dinner” enlisted the talents of seven local chefs who prepared a collection of seasonal ingredients paired with Pinot Noir from the IPNC library.
Saturday evening focused on the much-anticipated “Northwest Salmon Bake” where Columbia River King Salmon was posted on large wooden stakes and slowly roasted over alder wood. This evening feast under the stars was complemented by cherished vintages of Pinot Noir and white wines from the vintners. Being proud of their heritage, Domaine Drouhin’s assistant winemaker Arron Bell poured older vintages side by side from Burgundy and Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from Drouhin’s cellars. Jazz played in the background as everyone savored Pinot Noir’s affinity for food and its ability to age gracefully.
The International Pinot Noir Celebration showcased Pinot Noir’s worldly personality and broad range of compelling aromas, textural qualities and expansive flavors in a global context. While Willamette Valley remains a young and evolving region, it has achieved respect for its ability to express the unique personality that is the essence of Pinot Noir. The 34th Annual IPNC will be held July 24-26, 2020 in McMinnville, Oregon. Dorothy Gaiter, formerly co-author of the Wall Street Journal’s wine column, will be the master of ceremonies. Information about this wine weekend for Pinot Noir lovers is available at www.ipnc.org.