International Pinot Noir Celebration
remarkable annual wine event in Oregon
Every year since 1987, the gently sleepy Oregon town of
McMinnville has been host to one of the most remarkable events in
the wine calendar Ė the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC).
Bringing together winemakers and wine lovers from across the world,
itís a joyful occasion where wine is put in its proper context:
rather than just being a mega-tasting where the wine is sniffed,
slurped and spat, the delegates actually get to drink some stuff,
paired with some very good food.
Indeed, the food is a serious focus of the event, too.
Some 40 prominent northwest chefs are involved, and the creativity
and execution of the catering is incredible, considering the scale
of the even Ė and the fact that it is held outdoors.
I attended for the first time this July (2008) and was
blown away by the way that the Oregon wineries, international
winemakers, trade representatives and wine lovers fused so well in
their celebration of this most remarkable of grape varieties: Pinot
Noir. The program combined elements of eating, tasting, learning and
socializing in a seamless and enjoyable whole. The Ďcampusí
setting, where most people were staying within easy walking distance
or a short shuttle bus ride away from all the events helped, because
you feel you are all in it together. That collegiate spirit works
I arrived into Portland airport a little late, early
afternoon on the first day of the IPNC, and after picking up a hire
car, a Sat Nav and driving for a couple of hours, I checked into my
hotel and walked the short distance to the campus of Linfield
College for the early evening tasting (above).
The delegates are split into two groups, whose daytime
activities on Friday and Saturday mirror each other: the fact that Iíd
missed the first part of the day didnít matter much, because my
group had spent Friday doing a vineyard visit with lunch at a winery
Ė and because I was due to spend a few days touring wine country
after the IPNC, missing this wasnít a problem. That day the second
group were doing the seminars which I was to catch on the
The walk-around al
fresco tasting mixed together Oregon producers with Pinot Noir
producers from California, Canada, Burgundy, Austria, Australia and
New Zealand. Like the other main events here it was held outdoors in
very comfortable temperatures of the low 70s. The IPNC did well with
the weather this year; the risk can be that mid-summer temperatures
get a little high, putting stress on the wines and punters alike. It
was a jolly affair, with enough space for everyone to taste at
leisure. Each winery represented showed just one or two wines, which
helped keep things manageable: it made it possible for people to try
everything without having to work too hard. (Notes to follow.)
This was followed by the Friday night grand
dinner, held outdoors (below) - a cracking affair with
frequent small pours of a huge range of wines, served by a team of
sommeliers, and really, really good food. I was sitting with fellow
journos Tyler Colman of Dr Vino (www.drvino.com),
Elin McCoy (Bloomberg) and Patrick Comiskey (Wine
& Spirits magazine), and a small crowd from the
Oregon Wine Board.
I got caught out by the diurnal temperature differential
which is of Mendoza proportions: 80 degrees by day, 50 by night.
Consequently, I froze as the dinner progressed and I was wearing
just shirt sleeves. It didnít outweigh the enjoyment of the food
and wine, though.
Saturday began with a substantial buffet breakfast. As
with all the events, this is free seating, and if you are alone, as
I was, you find yourself mixed up with a range of people from
different backgrounds, almost all of whom are fun and interesting. I
ended up chatting to a couple of winemakers and a PR person from one
of the Oregon wineries.
Then it was time for those of us in group 'A' to attend
the seminar, focusing this year on sustainability. We began with the
Jasper (Morris) and Dominique (Lafon) show, which Jasper chaired
fantastically. We tasted Dominique's red wines (would have been nice
to try his whites!) as he told us about his journey to biodynamie.
We were about two thirds of the way through when one of the audience
asked whether Dom could explain more about how he uses Vitamin E in
his winemaking. It was a wonderful moment.
This was followed by a panel with five Pinot Noir
producers from around the world talking about their interest in
sustainability. Ted Lemon, of leading California Pinot producer
Littorai outlined his four definitions of biodynamics, which were
quite controversial and rather unusual (for those with a scientific
farm should be seen as a self-contained individuality, with the
goal that it should be entirely self-sustaining
material world is nothing more than condensed spirit, so we are
farming the spirit rather than material.
idea of using preparations is that by putting them on the ground
it enhances the spirit dimension of your farm.
enhanced wine and food grown using biodynamics gives us the
force to confront the challenges of our lives.
other panellists were Nigel Greening of Felton Road, who explained
why Felton Road had pulled out of the NZ winegrowers sustainability
program (it was toothless, setting the bar too low); Ted Casteel of
Bethel Heights in Oregon; and Michael Dillon of Bindi in
Following the seminar there was a really nice lunch
including some great wines, and also one of the most remarkable
gastronomic experiences I've had. It was a suite of three bacon
desserts. Yes, bacon. And they worked amazingly well. These were
made by Cheryl Wakerhauser from Pix Patisserie in Portland. This
typifies whatís fantastic about the IPNC: itís not just about
tasting wines, but thereís great creativity across the board. Itís
a complete, culturally rich, enjoyable weekend.
After lunch, I hit downtown McMinnville looking for some
warmer clothing options. The only shop selling clothes, as far as I
could tell, was a surf/skate dude shop. I chose a chocolate brown
hoodie with a blue alien on the front, which made me look like a
wannabe 19 year old skateboarder. It was the best I could do.
returned to Linfield for the second phase of the tasting: a new set
Then, in the evening, it was time for the event that is
seen by many as the highlight of the weekend: the Salmon bake, held
the Linfield College Oak Grove. The wild salmon is baked on Alder
stakes over an open fire (pictured), which is a traditional method,
and looks pretty spectacular. The salmon is served with a sumptuous
buffet, and sommeliers go round distributing wines to the tables so
you get to try quite an assortment of things.
Lots of collectors use this as a chance to bring out some
serious Pinot Noir (as well as a few others), and so if you are
lucky you get to try quite a few really nice wines. I reported on
the wines I tried on my blog (here).
Sunday morning was the Sparkling wine brunch, which
consisted of an amazing buffet prepared by five different chefs
matched with sparkling wines. I sat with Philippe Pacalet, a natural
winemaker from Burgundy who had some really interesting things to
say. It was a nice way to finish off a remarkable weekend, and I
then hit the road for my first appointment in wine country, which
I'll be reporting on in depth on this site.
is open for the 2009 event: see www.ipnc.org
for more information.
Wines tasted 07/08
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com