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Starting Early!

I'm used to visiting wine regions and to starting wine tastings in the morning. Around 10:00 is a typical time for a first visit. But even I was initially startled when Larry Stone suggested 8:00 for our visit to his new Lingua Franca winery in the Eola-Amity Hills of the Willamette Valley. Then again, this was Larry Stone. The Larry Stone who was the eighth American to become a Master Sommelier...the first American to win the World's Best title. The somm at the legendary Charlie Trotter's...the somm and GM at Rubicon. One of the founders of Evening Land. The one who other somms speak of with reverence. That Larry Stone. Yes, we could do 8:00.

We started early because it was an extraordinarily busy day for Larry. He had work to do at the winery. And he had work to do preparing for the major Pre-IPNC Dinner he was hosting at the winery. His favorite chef from San Francisco was flying in to cook. And food was arriving. I did mention the "new Lingua Franca winery" earlier, didn't I? It's so new, it didn't have any refrigerators. Larry had only a couple of hours to solve that problem before the food started arriving. And amidst all that, Larry made time for us. We were pleasantly surprised to be joined by Chloe Pahlmeyer and her husband (yes, that Pahlmeyer family) for the visit.

I thought Larry might be able to spend 30-45 minutes with us. I underestimated his passion for sharing his prodigious knowledge. About 10:15, i found myself apologizing to Larry--we had to go to make the next appointment. And perhaps that was a metaphor for our week. Marvelous winemakers, estate owners and general managers in great winery after great winery making generous amounts of time available during a very busy period.

Lingua Franca is arguably Oregon's hottest new winery. That's not a big surprise. The pedigrees of the principals are impeccable. Besides Larry, the senior winemaker is Burgundy's famous Dominique Lafon. And the resident winemaker is Thomas Savre--a rising young star who got his early education in iconic Burgundian cellars, including Domaine Romanée-Conti, before becoming assistant winemaker at Evening Land. In the words of another Oregon winemaker, "He's special!"

And special would describe the wines. I've ordered some. I wish I could have ordered more. But the urge to order pervaded every visit we made. I'm reminded of one of the great quotes of all time. After the Battle of Iwo Jima, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz said: "Uncommon valor was a common virtue." While I make no attempt to equate the two (I've walked every inch of Iwo Jima and view the heroism there with awe) special visits and special wines were a common occurrence on this trip.

And it wasn't just new wineries. Antica Terra is perhaps the established cult star of Oregon. Winemaker Maggie Harrison spent in the neighborhood of three hours with us Thursday afternoon--leaving a strategy meeting with her partners to do it. Our afternoon tasting finally ended when we spoke up. It wasn't because we had to leave--it was because we knew she did! She was to cook dinner for her partners in the vineyard (30 minutes away) and it was approaching 4:30. She served so many great wines. And the conversation was so good. And while that was perhaps the most enjoyable winery visit I can remember (of many hundreds) the visits with Janie at Brooks, Kelley at Kelley Fox, Clare at Big Table Farm, Ellen at Brittan, Kate at Division and David at Domaine Drouhin Oregon were also fabulous. As I said, special visits and special wines were a common occurrence on this trip.

One of the reasons I attend IPNC every year isn't IPNC. It's the chance to visit so many great wineries (and restaurants) in the week leading up to IPNC. The two--IPNC and pre-IPNC visits--fit together like hand-in-glove. And they leave me with a big smile on my face.

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