At Cal Poly, the motto is “learn by doing,” but for students in the enology and viticulture programs, it’s more like “learn by tasting.” The students who study winemaking, wine growing, or wine marketing are fortunate, as the school has excellent connections with the local wine industry. Students are provided internships and the opportunity to volunteer at wine events where they can participate in some of the tastings.
- PHOTO COURTESY WOPN.ORG
No doubt about it: If you want to become a wine connoisseur, you need to taste a lot of wine. While that sounds laughable, it’s true. We pros are able to do it because we spit out rather than drink the wines we analyze. If you want an enlightening experience, you should taste the same variety made by numerous wineries side by side. That’s because Pinot Noir from two excellent producers like Talley Vineyards and Chamisal Vineyards don’t taste the same even though their vineyards are in close proximity.
Here on the Central Coast, we live in the heart of Pinot Noir country, and we have a wealth of exceptional brands to choose from. Still, there’s no better place to get to know our local Pinots and those of their peers from around the world than at the upcoming wine tasting, World of Pinot Noir, celebrating its 11th annual celebration March 3 and 4.
The first World of Pinot Noir (WOPN) began in March 2001 after a group of Central Coast Pinot specialists collaborated to create a wine-tasting event that would help them spread the gospel about this classic variety to the rest of the world. Frankly, it wasn’t a novel concept. ZAP, Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, has held a tasting that’s exclusively Zinfandel in San Francisco since 1991. I attended the first tasting and never dreamed it would still be going strong 22 years later. Like ZAP, WOPN offers such outstanding wine events, they continue to sell out annually.
One attraction that makes WOPN so popular is the fact that the two-day celebration always changes. That’s a very good thing, because it always offers something new that’s both educational and entertaining. I spoke with Buttonwood winemaker Karen Steinwachs in Santa Ynez Valley, chairperson of WOPN 2012.
“This year we’re offering two seminars at one venue, Chamisal Vineyard in Edna Valley,” she explained. “It had been difficult to find venues for the seminars and still be able to get people back in time for the Pinot Noir by the Sea tasting at the Cliffs Resort.”
The 2012 seminars include technique versus terroir and natural winemaking. Lunch will be prepared by Thomas Hill Organics of Paso Robles. Tickets cost $195 per person and include bus transportation from the Cliff’s Resort.
“The technique versus terroir seminar should be lively: We’ll taste three winemakers’ Pinot Noirs from the same appellations in two vintages in this unique experiment,” Steinwachs said. “Last year, the Edna Valley vineyard hike was very popular because of the one-on-one relationship with the winemaker. This year, we created three Pinot adventure camps with winemakers: kayaking in Morro Bay, hiking along Estero Bluffs, and a golf tournament at Avila Beach Golf Resort.”
The Morro Bay events end with lunch at Windows on the Water; in Avila Beach, lunch is at the resort. Adventure camp prices range from $125 to $150 per person. These events will end in time for guests to get back for the second Pinot Noir by the Sea tasting at the Cliffs Resort. Check out wopn.com for information about other great events: On Friday, there’s beginning with bubbles, a vintage Burgundy dinner; on Saturday, find a tasting and luncheon focused on vintage Burgundy Pinot Noirs, dinners at local restaurants with participating wineries, and the grand tasting.
The board of directors decided food must be a priority for WOPN 2012, and every food served with all of the great Pinot Noirs should be equally outstanding. To accomplish that task, they invited the best chefs in SLO and Santa Barbara counties to participate. WOPN brought in Erin du Fresne (formerly with Cass Winery, she’s married to winemaker Fin Du Fresne at Chamisal Vineyard) to coordinate with the chefs and food specialists.
The Paulee dinner at Au Bon Climat has ended, but in its place is the outstanding Seaside Fete on Avila Beach. It features a beach bonfire, live music, and fine cuisine by several talented local chefs, including superstars like Hitching Post of Buellton and Central City Market in Santa Maria. Tickets are $150 per person.
“We are so lucky to have so many talented local chefs,” du Fresne said, “and Avila Beach is one of the most serene settings. Unlike the Paulee, we don’t ask guests to bring wine—although they still can—but we’ll have a selection of Pinots from several wineries to enjoy during dinner.”
WOPN is an educational experience for everyone, whether you’re a longtime aficionado of wine or a novice. But those of you who aren’t wine savvy shouldn’t worry that it’s too technical; this event has the ability to teach you a lesson while you’re thinking about all the fun you’re having. One of the most widely respected wine tasting celebrations in the United States, it attracts winemakers and wine lovers from around the world. That’s what makes the wonderful World of Pinot Noir so popular among consumers.
Contact New Times’ Cuisine columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org.