Sunday, July 24, 2011

Taste of Mendocino 2011

I started writing this post almost a month ago but it kept getting shelved. In the world of higher education, July is not a slow month for me and my wine writing had to take a back seat, so I apologize for the long overdue report on Taste of Mendocino. Nonetheless, I was so impressed by this event and the wines of this region that you all still should read on.

Prior to this event, if you asked me to describe Mendocino County I would bring up things like Redwood trees, Lake Mendocino where I took trips as a kid, and it was the first county in the United States to decriminalize marijuana. After getting the opportunity to attend Taste of Mendocino last month, I would still mention all of those things, but I would also tell you that it is a hidden gem in the wine world and that the people behind the wine are some of the friendliest and most down-to-earth folks you’ll meet.

Hosted in the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, Taste of Mendocino gathered over 100 wineries, breweries, food establishments, and vendors from Mendocino County and brought them all together in San Francisco. The Fort Mason Center is a collection of old historic buildings and piers that previously served the American military headed to the Pacific. Now it serves as an ideal venue for hundreds of events throughout the year. Picture a big airplane hangar and that is what the Festival Pavilion is like. For Taste of Mendocino there were rows and rows of tables, organized into AVA’s and many times the winemaker was on the other side pouring.

Before I jump into the wine highlights of the day, I think it is really important to note a few other things about Taste of Mendocino.
First, their use of social media was great and put me in blogger heaven. Becoming more and more prevalent is the use of Twitter at events like this. With their own hashtag of #TOM11, it was not uncommon to see people with their Blackberry’s and iPhones, tweeting their thoughts on the wine while standing with the winemaker. Even cooler was that Taste of Mendocino had a booth set up and was projecting their TweetDeck on to the wall so you could watch and read what everyone was doing and thinking in real time. Not only did it give us a chance to share our thoughts, it also gave some pretty raw feedback to both the event organizers and the winemakers.
Second highlight was the chance to purchase wine directly at the event. Far too often these events take place and there are wines you discover and love with no chance to buy it without making another trip to the winery. Don’t get me wrong, I am never opposed to trips to my favorite wineries, but the convenience factor went way up being able to purchase directly from the event. Many places were also equipped to handle credit or debit cards. With all of this going on, it was easy to fill my reusable wine tote.
One winery I knew I needed to visit was Pacific Star Winery. I learned of them one evening while watching an episode of “In Wine Country.” They were profiling Pacific Star because of how close they are to the coast and what impact that has on the wine. Since hearing about them, I wanted to visit and was happy to get the chance to meet winemaker Sally Ottoson at the event. Along with some commonly found varietals, I thought the real find was the 2007 Charbono. I felt fortunate to try this rare varietal and found it to be full bodied with notes of plum and spice. I found it difficult to describe this one....guess I’ll just have to keep drinking more of it.

I also had the opportunity to speak extensively with Kelly of Paul Dolan Vineyards. A producer of organic and biodynamic wines, Paul Dolan Vineyards believes that their wines “express the ego of place – the unique expression of a carefully nurtured piece of land, made manifest in each bottle.” The organically certified 2009 Chardonnay was a great combination of citrus flavors on the front and I found the finish to be really smooth as the pear flavors joined the party. Aged primarily in stainless steel with just a little in new oak, I really enjoyed the balance of this Chardonnay. This combination gave it a very crisp feel without being overly tart. Selling for under $20 this is a well-balanced Chardonnay that is super easy to drink.

The final highlight of the day came from Couloir & Straight Line Wines. Proving the power of social media, I stopped by this table because I noticed several other wine bloggers commenting on the Pinot Noir. As I approached the table, winemaker Jon Grant was chatting it up with some other visitors and as I started to listen in I got the feeling that this guy was saying everything we love at WestToast. Jon believes in front loading the work to produce the best grapes he can and then let them go to work to produce great wine.
A low interference approach to wine making, Jon believes in letting the terroir come through in his wines. Jon produces both the Couloir and the Straight Line labels, with Straight Line being great quality and great value wines. Straight Line is the “work horse” for Jon so that he can also produce exceptional single vineyard Couloir wines.
I know there is a lot of doubt that California can stand up against Oregon Pinot, and I’ll be the first to admit that I love me some Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley. But let me tell you, Jon is making some remarkable, lower alcohol Pinot Noir that tells a story about a place and time.
My next trip exploring this region will be for the Winesong! event, coming up in September.


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