The alcohol farms of Highway 128 will be under siege by a battalion of Lexus and BMW wagons on May 18th through 20th as the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival returns to Philo. This year is a justifiable occasion to celebrate the phenomenal vintages of 2009 and 2010 around here which are the wines that will be most featured in the Saturday Grand Tasting in the tent out back of Goldeneye Winery from 11 to 3. 40 wineries will be pouring their pricey booze. For 105 bucks it's worth it, even for local hill muffins who should call up One Armed Andy in Albion and trim out a half pound of hydro for the cash admission.
If you're the type to really care about the work that goes into your foresty, cherry laced glass of wine, check out Friday's Technical Conference on the 18th in the Apple Hall at the Fairgrounds from 8am to 4pm. Goldeneye Vineyard Manager Nathan Miller, fresh off a Midwest tour supporting his Saxophone-laden soft jazz album with Michael Bolton and Kenny G, will be part of a spirited panel discussion about making wine in the Anderson Valley along with Joe Webb of Foursight Winery, Phil Baxter and plenty of colorful others. It's certainly not the easiest valley to get it right and you're guaranteed to learn why in a full day of seminars with winemakers and vineyard managers on hand and lunch for $95 a head.
Another related Friday hootenanny is the Husch Vineyards BBQ which welcomes BYOB action and features a feast of local fare and plenty of wines and the makers behind them getting twisted. A few tickets were left as of press time for $50 at www.avwines.com.
The real meat of the flank goes down on Saturday the 19th though. It's pretty amazing how many excellent wineries are a part of this year's Grand Tasting. Reading through the lineup you'll get the idea that we're living in a grower's valley still, though it's changing with folks like North Carolina's Balo putting in serious cheddar on mind-blowing production and tasting facilities. Some labels at this year's festival might be new to you, and being the investigative journalist that I am, I did my best to track down samps and press kits from them and got expectedly barred by all but a handful of producers.
The AVA ain't no Sunset Magazine. I will still give you the heads up on some of the lesser known labels who will be on the scene, like Waits-Mast out of San Francisco. I talked to co-owner Brian Mast who said it's their fourth year pouring their micro-fermented wines at the AV Pinot Fest. “We are probably under the radar for a lot of folks. We've been going to the festival for ten years and we couldn't wait to have our own wines there. We do four or five different pinots from Mendocino County, with two from Anderson valley. It's not our full time venture,” he laughed. Boonville Hotel and Enoteca in Ukiah have been backing the wines as of late. I tried his chocolaty, cherry-rich 2009 Deer Meadows Vineyard, with its hand-numbered bottle scribble on the back label. Two barrels produced of this wine and $47 bucks a bottle at waitsmast.com. MacPhail sent their Toulouse vineyard 2010 which they'll be pouring on Saturday. I always liked these wines and remembered when they were on the cover of Wine Spectator and given the Kosta-Browne celebrity treatment at tastings, pouring out well before the end time and fully mobbed all the while. The wines are made in Napa Valley now, which, lets face it, filters out some of the wild west liberalism on the fruit once it crosses 101 in a semi.
There's something inherently Republican about the Anderson Valley Pinots that are fermented in Mondaviland. Also trucked to Napa is the Walt Wines label, formerly known as Roessler. These cats were buying up all kinds of expensive fruit in the valley, from Savoy to Hein Family and even up into Alder Springs. I don't think they appreciated the ashtray that became of their 2008 wines here and a name change has just gone down, possibly accordingly, although marketing manager Jessica Koehnen mentioned to me that owners Kathryn Walt Hall and husband Craig wanted to pay more of a tribute to Kathryn's father who was a 1970's era grapegrower in Mendo. They've gone unfined and unfiltered too. The wines are made in the Hall winery in St. Helena and have been good in the past.
Must tastes for Saturday: Check out Balo's 2010 Pinot Noir. I stopped by for a tour of the joint with Alex Crangel while a crew was working their asses off in the dirt and good things are already on the way. There's an invite only party there after pinot fest worth inquiring about.
Direct from the golden ridge of Philo-Greenwood Road, I strongly suggest tasting Drew's 2010 Morning Dew Pinot Noir and whatever else he's bringing, plus Phil Baxter's wines. Baxter's 2007 Toulouse Vineyard is still one of the best reds I've had from around here. Copain is also highly recommended for their under 14% alcohol renditions from vineyards like Wentzel and Monument Tree. His 2010 Tous Ensemble Pinot Noir is the best deal for a solid bottle of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ever, and the Rosé they make looks and tastes as European as a pair of neon orange Nikes. Black Kite has a collection of 2009's out that are so dense and lifted that even Turkey Vulture would be slippin' out of his trench coat, and Twomey, aka Silver Oak is exhibiting a deft hand with their now-estate grown Monument Tree Vineyard fruit. Goldeneye will be packed for their rich 2009s that have credit cards swipin' and love handles poppin' coast to coast!
Where do 500 plus rosé-cheeked tasters go from there? Left to fend for themselves on a panda-car lined Highway 128 at the early hour of 3pm? I feel for the tasting room staff at Navarro who are open til 6pm. I can only hope the wiser pourers there and at Roederer have a collection of space cakes on hand to drop by 2:30 just to deal. The street smart types might want to take a kayak outta Goldeneye from the backside of the Confluence vineyard when the Grand Tasting fizzles out. Just an idea.
Tickets available at www.avwines.com.