The first weekend in March should mean one thing, and one thing only to "pinot-philes" and wine lovers worldwide: The World of Pinot Noir grand tasting event.
For years we have marked this weekend in our calendar as a permanent event, just as if it were a birthday or holiday. Heading down California's famed Pacific Coast Highway with the smell of the Pacific Ocean in the air, excitement washes over as you pull finally into the Cliffs Resort and Spa, the epicenter of the celebration of this very special varietal.
At this year's 11th annual event, no time was wasted getting guests involved. The first morning began with three seminars, including an "International Round Table" where winemakers from Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, and Chile conducted a panel discussion. In presenting their wines, they discussed the unique challenges of working with the varietal in their respective part of the world. Guests that chose to get technical had the option of attending a seminar on the controversial subject of alcohol and balance. Winemaker and sommelier panelists, including Rajat Parr and Ojai Vineyard's Adam Tolmach to name a few, sparred in a lively discussion that argued both sides of the issue. And for yet another treat, guests could enjoy a vintage Burgundy tasting with the legendary master sommelier Fred Dame at the beautiful Edna Valley Vineyard.
Most of the wine events we have attended over the years feature some sort of "grand tasting," but the World of Pinot Noir actually offers two with a different line-up of exceptional wines each night. In addition, there was a new event included on the Friday night program this year: the "Dine Local, Drink Global" Dinner Extravaganza hosted by Chamisal Vineyards. Guests enjoyed a night of great dishes from several central coast chefs, including featured chef Jeff Olsson, as well as fantastic wines, and dancing among fermentation tanks.
The pace picked up the second day with several events for guests to choose from. One of them was the very interesting Burgundian "Young Turks" tasting and lunch featuring young and up-and-coming winemakers from Burgundy. For those who were in the mood to spend some time outdoors, there was the opportunity to go a vineyard hike and have lunch at Edna Ranch.
A long-standing WOPN tradition is the Saturday night Santa Barbara-style Paulée dinner. This year's event was no exception, hosted by winemaker Jim Clendenen. In the spirit of Paulée, guests bring a bottle of pinot noir to share with the group and enjoy over a fantastic dinner created by a host of talented chefs.
Another sure-to-become-favorite new event was the Sunday brunch and walk-around tasting by the sea. This lovely, low-key event featured over 50 wineries and was the perfect exclamation point on a very special weekend.
Suffice it to say we know where we'll be the first weekend in March 2012!