Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The perils of cheap Pinot Noir: notes from PinotFest

Ross Cobb makes some of the most elegant Pinots in California
PinotFest is one of the best annual wine tastings in San Francisco, with current-release Pinots Noir from throughout the West Coast, but usually I don't take a lot of notes. I'm too easily distracted: too many people I want to talk to. Usually I taste some Pinots I'm interested in, chat with a few folks, eat some duck gizzards (?? every year they serve these) and go on my way.

This year, after I had tasted about a half-dozen Pinots, I was thinking, wow, the West Coast is really doing great things with this grape. These are outstanding, terroir-driven, lively, pretty, not overdone wines that I wish I could spend an entire evening with.

Then I ran into a sommelier and wine instructor I have known for years, and she was shaking her head. "These wines are depressing," she said. "So much oak. So over the top."

How could we differ so completely?

It turns out to be a class issue, and a conundrum in talking about California and Oregon Pinot Noir.

Friday, December 1, 2017

NIMBY wine wars erupt over a funeral at a California winery

The Disunited States sucks right now. I'm saying this as a guy who wrote my Thanksgiving wine column for Palate Press about how we should all just get along.

Then I took a look at the comments on this story about a winemaker's funeral in Santa Barbara County. There's something really wrong with this country, and this story and the comments encapsulate it.

First, the setup. Winemaker Seth Kunin died unexpectedly last month of a heart attack at age 50. Patrick Comiskey wrote a nice obit of Kunin for the LA Times. Kunin was a beloved guy in the chummy Santa Barbara winemaking scene.

Naturally, people who worked with him wanted to hold a memorial service. Larner Vineyard offered to host it. This was a great location because Larner Vineyard has for years sold its grapes to young winemakers just starting out, thus helping to foster that community.

Larner Vineyard had fought with neighbors when it wanted to open a winery and tasting room. I am not taking a position on this. Santa Barbara County can be very NIMBY*, but I have driven on Ballard Canyon Road to Larner Vineyard and it does require attentiveness. That said, the permit was issued; the vineyard and winery are open (albeit not for drop-in tasting). And earlier this month, more than a year after the zoning decision, the memorial service was scheduled.

(* Not In My Back Yard; people who don't generally oppose development but don't want it next to them)

Knowing how popular Kunin was, the Larners hired traffic attendants to staff the memorial service. The service was popular enough that the parking lot filled and about a dozen cars had to park out on the road. Not an ideal situation on Ballard Canyon Road, but there were parking attendants, and it was not exactly a wine-release party.

Someone anonymously filed a complaint with the county, claiming the Larners violated their winery permit by hosting a big event that caused traffic disruptions. The Larners counter that it wasn't an event for commercial purposes. The county will investigate.

Why I'm writing this blog post: the aggressive, nasty tone of the comments from one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. People who live in Santa Ynez Valley, in or around Ballard Canyon, they live in paradise. And they're in California: they should be doing yoga, smoking soon-to-be legal weed and coexisting.

Instead, here are a few snippets:

"I am disgusted that this HAG would stoop so low."