Monday, August 19, 2013

Pinot Days

Pinot Days Grand Festival Tasting VIP @ Fort Mason 
June 30th 12-5pm 

This was the 9th annual Pinot Days and I crashed it to check out the different styles of Pinots, because this year they continued with their official (and unofficial) theme to celebrate Pinot's diversity. Pinot Days was created out of the love for the "noble grape" and is now the largest gathering of Pinot Noir producers in the world. I learned that the best way to promote Pinot Noir is to create opportunities for wine lovers to taste in a setting where the wines are accessible, the offering is stylistically and regionally broad, and the winemakers are able to share their passions and vision. Look, swirl, smell, sip, swallow /spit -to maximize the amount of wine tasted they told me not to be afraid of using the dump buckets. I'm not afraid, it's just spitting into a dump bucket always makes me feel weird when it's not past 2 a.m. and in my own bathroom. They told me to acknowledge the fact that there was no way I was going to taste all 170 booths -although I did walk away feeling like I covered most of them, these were the three producers that stood out for me.
Mahoney Vineyards - Ken Foster, Winemaker (left), Francis Mahoney, Founder (right)

Mahoney Vineyards: Francis Mahoney founded his vineyard in the 1970s with the aim of growing grapes that would rival those of Burgundy, and he was one of the first to recognize the Carneros appellation as an ideal climate for Pinot Noir -where it's notoriously difficult for grapes to cultivate. Mahoney Vineyards is the culmination of over 40 years of experience growing and producing wines in the Carneros region over their two estate Vineyards- Las Brisas and Mahoney Ranch. With very limited production bottlings, Francis and his wife Kathy carefully craft wines in small quantities from their 160 acres releasing four specially made Pinot Noirs from Mahoney Vineyards. Francis believes wines should be made to match the vineyards soil and climate and he's quick to credit winemaker Ken Foster, a veteran hand at Pinot Noir, with playing a critical role in his success story, "Ken keeps the winery working and when there is something to do, he does it" -and with that, everyone could benefit from a Ken in their life.

Carter Raff, Owner of Raff Distillerie
Raff Distillerie: I first spotted them at the Craft Spirits Carnival and they were by far the most potent thing on the palate at Pinot Days -which made me curious, what was Absinthe doing at a wine event? My theory as to why they were there stems back to the late 1800's when Absinthe became popular. Emperor Norton Absinthe is an herbal spirit made from wormwood, anise & fennel seed. It starts with 189.9 proof neutral brandy from the finest California grapes and once it's distilled, it's naturally colored with herbs. As Absinthe gained in popularity, the wine makers became jealous and spread lies about absinthe saying it caused hallucinations and could even make you go insane. We know this to be untrue, as bottles over 120 years old have been tested and were found to contain no hallucinogens of any kind. These rumors became legend though and by 1915 absinthe was banned all over the world, and that's why I think Raff Distillerie was there -to make up for lost time. Raff Distillerie is a small batch distillery situated on Treasure Island taking over the old navy brig. Locating the distillerie in a prison adds character as the maximum security cells have been converted into bottling areas and the old guard room has been turned into their lab. Here are some percentages that stuck out for me about Raff Distillerie...
  • Carter fabricated 90% of the equipment he uses from scratch, which provides him an intimate knowledge of exactly every part in the machines, being able to subtly adjust to affect flavor and personally fix parts.  
  • Made from 100% California grapes, it comes out as a beautiful blueish-green-gold with a bold taste of black licorice and slight woodiness. 
  • The most important fact here (from personal experience) is that the absinthe is bottled at 68% alcohol, 136 proof.
Chris Bickel Owner of Monterey Chocolate Company
Monterey Chocolate Company: In 2010, Chris Bickel began Monterey Chocolate Company -an organic, artisan chocolate company located in Monterey CA. All his chocolates are hand crafted using fresh, organic, seasonal fruits, herbs and nuts from local farmers, infused into organic and fair trade chocolate. The idea of creating this company came from the crowds. Chris would give his experiments (chocolates) as gifts, and as the requests came in and the chocolates popularity rose, it inevitably became a business. He told me, "being able to bring joy to someone with chocolates is an amazing feeling" -and I'm sure many women would support that. Partnering up with the farmers that grow the fresh berries they put into their chocolates, they feature wine, season fruit and spice infused chocolates and here a couple of them The Port Chocolate: An organic dark chocolate infused with Port wine and covered in ground cacao. This chocolate is for Port lover's. An intense chocolate beginning with a caramel, spiced raisin finish. Cherry Noir Chocolate: An organic dark chocolate infused with fresh cherries, vanilla beans and covered in ground cacao. The most chill chocolate guy I've ever met, he told me his motivations behind it all, "To have the ability to take people from the world's distractions, even it for only an instant" -brings him a sense of accomplishment and success.

Cheers... To all of the styles and forms of Pinot, and the wonderful makers who create it!

#72 Pinot Days