BEST Wine Festival on the West Coast – PIWF!

PIWFbeautyWEB.jpgWine Festivals are a staple of the “wine industry”. Regions use them to promote their odd varietals which hopefully brings attention and sales to growers and wineries. Festivals are especially important when a region has the misfortune of being situated adjacent to Napa or Sonoma such as it is for the Anderson Valley where California’s best Pinot Noir is grown.

Oregon’s Willamette Valley does not have this problem having been branded as one of the superior regions in the world for growing Pinot Noir nearly 25 years ago when Domaine Drouhin set up shop in the Dundee Hills. n_will_mapWEB.jpgThese days only forgotten regions in Oregon such as Umpqua vie for recognition like “Oregon’s oldest wine growing region”.

In Oregon, to paraphrase a favorite tBoW Malibu winemaker, Pinot Noir is king.
The Portland Independent Wine Festival, aka the Portland Indie Wine Fest, or PIWF, is a relative newcomer to the Oregon wine scene. They held their 6th “festival” this year. We are reminded of the post-Sideways Wine Cask Santa Barbara Futures tastings which toiled for a decade before hitting the big time then folding within a quick three years as the region and the winemakers got BIG; too big for Doug Margerum’s little futures tasting. Even Doug Margerum who founded the Futures Tasting got BIG selling off his very popular and widely touted restaurant along with his tasting event. He started his own Margerum label.
Two occurrences brought about the final act: the hugely successful film Sideways (2005) and, the year before that, sideways-movieWEB.jpgrecognition by Robert Parker that great Pinot Noir was coming out of the Santa Rita Hills. Of course, time has taught us that all those BIG flavors associated with SRH tend to get buried a few years later by the high alcohol levels. But the film’s cachet will bring new interest and support to SRH for decades. Sideways made several other careers (along with about 100 winemakers in Santa Rita Hills) including Paul Giamatti and Sandra Oh as well as breathing new life into the careers of Virginia Madsen and Thomas Haden Church. Oh yeah…and the movie pushed Pinot Noir as a cult wine beyond Cabernet Sauvignon and almost killed off Merlot as a varietal. Bigger than Oscar!
The PIWF is still fresh. Unrecognized outside the region, and to an extent in the region, it is definitely under-valued. Like the old Wine Cask Futures gig once was, the PIWF is a great place to discover new winemakers as well as to track progress among a selection of small producers. In fact every producer is small since the PIWF limits wineries who are allowed to compete in the blind jury selection to those producingno more than 2500 cases annually. As a result many of the wines that win a spot in the room have less than 200 cases in total. Long as this criterion is in place you can be assured of making “discoveries” every year.
And the food is really good, too, with many of Portland’s best known and regarded restaurants showing off. Some of the most memorable food tastes were dished out by Beaker & Flask, Phresh Organic Catering, Wildwood Restaurant and Moonstruck Chocolates. [ed. photo of our favorite server at top].
The few years before the Wine Cask tasting folded the food quality dropped off and the winemakers stopped bringing their best wines to the show. Not here. Oh those Moonstruck chocolate truffles.
The tBoW tasting team made their second annual visit to PIWF, took photos and notes. The next day, May 9, we toured the Willamette Valley; this year focusing on the Carlton region (last year it was Ribbon Ridge).
A few words on the 2006, 2007 and 2008 vintages. We came to taste the 2008s. Last year the 2007s were featured. They are lighter in weight and color, more lean and with lots of funk aromas and forest floor flavors. The 2006s were very forward reminding us of California Pinot Noir wines. The ones we tasted last yea were far too familiar and not suited to the tBoW team palate. We bought one 2006 last year and that was the Dewey Kelly wine at $20. Which was less forward and a steal. It is also fading now. This year we came to taste the 2008s which have received great press – as did the 2006 vintage but NOT the 2007. The 2008 wines we purchased share the same characteristics: more fruit than 2007, darker color but can also show depth and deeper flavors. Less forest floor. On the whole we prefer the 2008 vintage and let our wallets do our talking.
Here is our report.
The venue moved in 2010 from a Northwest Portland location to the Bison Building across the river. All wineries and food stalls were located in one building unlike 2009 when a short walk between two rooms was required. Good move. This year they took about 40% (~70) of all wines submitted for blind judging. Fair enough.
maggieshoeWEB.jpg2008 Antica Terra $46: This is one of the higher priced wines. The statement that MUST accompany a big ticket wine is “I have to have it.” We did. Maggie Harrison is the winemaker. This is her first winery. She is the former Assistant Winemaker at Sine Qua Non, a highly regarded label that in terms of price/quality is absurdly overrated. The SoCal brand enjoys the cachet of being made by the former sommelier at Spago. Now we know he had very good help. The Antica Terra vineyard dates to 1989. It is a rocky 40 acres with 6 producing acres and 5 ready to come online next year. This was the first wine we tasted and it became our standard for measuring all other wines that day. Smoke, spine, darkish, great finish. This one to watch. Bought it. 13.5% [ed. winemaker’s very attractive foot and shoe signals very appealing wine].
2008 Domain Margelle $33: Cherry flavors, 15 year old vines. Juice used to be sold off by the grower family. Lean but flavorful. 300 cases. One reason to return in 2011. See below. 13.5%
CdTWEB.jpg2008 Couer de Terre Oregon Pinot Noir $20: This is what we hope to “discover”; a $20 bottle of hand crafted Pinot Noir that is true to the vintage and a great drink. We liked winemaker Scott Neal’s 2007s last year but not enough to buy. Not so this year. Smoke and pure Pinot fruit. Sinewy. Good finish. Bought it and will be back for more. 13.7%
2008 Carlton Cellars Seven Devils Pinot Noir $20: Entry level wine from a small producer in a very good area. Distinctive labels that we did not like but would care less if we liked the wine a bit more. carltoncellarsx3WEB.jpgThe wine is good and a fair price but not up to the Couer de Terre entry level. 13%
2008 Carlton Cellars Cape Lookout Oregon Pinot Noir $30: Higher end blend than the 7 Devils. In our judgment too much $$ for the quality. A bit rustic. 100% estate. 13%
2008 Carlton Cellars Roads End Estate Pinot Noir $42: This is where the price/quality ratio breaks down. The Antica Terra is $6 more but twice the wine. This effort is the most elegant of the three and we liked it. But…we will check in next year. 13%
DK10WEB.jpg2007 Ribbon Ridge Estate Pinot Noir $32: This is Dewey and Robin Kelley’s vineyard and winery. Dewey is winemaker who also has a full time job marketing software; something apparently he is quite successful at; enough to make the 2008 vintage wines his last. He did not tell us that but it is what we heard from a very reliable source. This is sad because Dewey makes very nice Pinot Noir that is full of Ribbon Ridge character and at these prices (see his eponymous label below) quite accessible. The Estate has lots of character, good length and strong color. This wine can be drunk now and for several years. 13.1%

2007 Dewey Kelly Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir
$20: He did it again! This is Dewey’s ready-to-drink Pinot Noir in the screw top. We can taste the difference between this and the 2006 which we bought last year. Surprisingly, not as lean as the 2006 DK, the 2007 is light and elegant. We cannot wait for the 2008 to be released. 13%
to be continued…
Los Angeles’ 400+ pot stores have to shut down by June. Should we be looking for closeout sales?

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