Somm Jess Pierce Pouring a Magnum of '08 Marc Hébrart Special Club at IPNC
The look on Jess's face at IPNC 2016's Salmon Bake strikes me as pure joy...and I can understand that--for many reasons (beyond her warm, playful personality).
First, that's a spectacular bottle of wine she's holding. It's the sixth time I've had it (not that I'm counting). And the sixth time I've been blown away by it. It was a treat to share it with my friends.
Second, the Salmon Bake is just a fun party. The vibe is more casual than it is for the rest of IPNC. From the buffet tables groaning with food to the big band playing "adult music" it's a night to relax and to share great wine and great food. Many participants bring special bottles--in fact, we had so many on the table I'm not sure we even got to all of them.
But most of all, the Salmon Bake culminated another wonderful IPNC. I'm not sure how many more consecutive times I can go and not grow a little tired of it. Originally, I thought one time might be enough. And then two. And then three times. Now six...and I'm signed up for 2017. It's just a really good time. Every year I meet new people, discover new wines...and learn interesting new things. And this year, I got to share the experience with a bunch of friends.
The Grand Seminar is the focal point of the on-campus day at IPNC. The focus changes year to year. One year, Allen Meadows ("The Burghound") led a panel that took us through the history of Burgundy and how the top vineyards earned their status (with wines to illustrate, of course). Another year, the focus was on perception--the different ways we perceive and describe wine. I was fascinated by the diversity of perspectives. Who knew that some people tend to perceive wines in terms of shapes and symbols--for example, author Elaine Brown (of Hawk Wakawaka, among other things) likes to sketch her impression of wines in stick figures. I relate to the art analogy, but not in the same way--I often think of wines in terms of music. There were a variety of other approaches. I was intrigued to find that the only one that most people didn't find interesting was that of the wine critic from a well-known publication--the typical review-speak "explosive aromas of red plum and black cherry, yada, yada, yada...."
For 2016, the focus was Australian Pinot Noir. For those for whom Australia is synonymous with big, ripe shiraz, the 14 cool climate Aussie pinots were likely a revelation. They were generally from the regions around Melbourne--the Mornington Peninsula, Geelong and the Yarra Valley--and from Tasmania (with one from the Adelaide Hills). The distinguished panel included James Halliday, Australia's leading wine writer, and Michael Hill Smith, Australia's first Master of Wine (and a well-known winemaker) and Yabby Lake's respected winemaker, Tom Carson. My previous experience with Aussie pinots was limited to a couple of dinners in Melbourne a few years ago. I was impressed then...and after this broader exposure, I'm more impressed. They were fresh and balanced. I did not find degree of the depth and complexity that I find in the very best pinots--the top burgundies and the best west coast wines like Rhys and Antica Terra--but I would have happily drunk them with dinner anytime. And to have them presented by James, Michael and Tom was a treat. Availability is limited in the US--but I think this presentation was evidence that we could be seeing more of it soon.
Another highlight of IPNC is always the day spent visiting a winery. Interestingly, I keep expecting to be sent to a winery I've visited before--I've been to a lot of wineries in the Willamette Valley--but it's never happened. And it certainly didn't happen this year. In fact, I had not previously heard of this year's destination--Keeler Estate. It's small and relatively new. But it was charming. From the bus, we were escorted to a high point in the vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills, where we had a lovely view out over the valley and learned the story of how Gabi and Craig Keeler acquired the farm and launched the vineyard and winery--while sipping wine. Their enthusiasm was infectious. We went on to a seminar and tasting in the winery with the winemakers/wines of St. Innocent, Tendril, Flowers and Philippe Pacalet as well as Keeler. And the true highlight of the day was the lunch served at a single long table set in the vineyard. Wonderful food and wine, well served (Dallas somm Leah Moorhead particularly sparkled), in a lovely setting on a lovely day. It just doesn't get better than that!
As always, the more formal Lunch on the Lawn and Grand Dinner were excellent. And the two Al Fresco Tastings in the Quad offered more than 35 outstanding producers per evening. I've learned over time to identify the wineries I don't want to miss in advance and visit them first. With that many wineries--most pouring multiple wines--it's easy to get lost and miss out on some important ones if you don't plan a bit. That still leaves plenty of time to find an unknown hidden gem or two (this year it was Small Vines--an outstanding new producer from the Sonoma Coast). And I've learned (the hard way) to make sure to take time to socialize with friends--if you just race from tasting table to tasting table, it can start to feel like work!
An important part of what keeps IPNC fresh for me is the fact that I've met some wonderful people there. And this year I got to bring a number of my good friends along, which made it even more fun. Great people...great wines--some of them new discoveries, some old favorites...opportunities to learn...outstanding food...a lovely place. I guess it's not surprising I keep going back,