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IPNC--The Pre-Week

For the ninth or tenth consecutive year, late July saw us in Oregon for the International Pinot Noir Celebration. I went the first time, expecting that it would be an interesting one-time experience. It was interesting enough that I decided to try it again the next year...and the next. Now it's not even a question. We started planning for IPNC 2020 the day IPNC 2019 ended. It's that good. And over the years, I've learned how to maximize the enjoyment.

For us, IPNC week is divided into two halves--each can be enjoyed on its own (and, indeed, there are people who come for only the first half or the second half--though I certainly enjoy both). The first half consists of private tours of wineries and private tastings--hosted by winery owners and winemakers. In the evenings, we enjoy special dinners for our group. These--both day and night--are intimate events where we can really come to understand the passion and the place that go into Oregon's best wines.

We began this year's schedule with a visit to Lingua Franca--Larry Stone's new winery in the Eola-Amity Hills. Larry, a master sommelier and the first American ever to be named best sommelier in the world, is a fascinating man--so full of knowledge that it almost literally bursts out of him. And he has world-class winemakers working with him--the legendary Dominique Lafon from Burgundy and his protege, Thomas Savre, the resident winemaker who learned his craft at several of Burgundy's most prestigious estates. The wines were superb--and, as always, Larry was really interesting.

Our second visit was with Anna Matzinger of tiny Matzinger-Davies--the personal project of two well known winemakers...Anna, former winemaker of Archery Summit and Michael Davies, winemaker at Rex Hill and A-to-Z Wineworks. Both really interesting people--and so were their wines.

Continuing the tour of personal projects, we met with Grant Coulter and his wife Renee, at Hundred Suns. Grant is currently the winemaker at Flâneur (more about that later) and former winemaker at Beaux Freres. If Matzinger-Davies was tiny, Hundred Suns might be called minuscule! But on the way out, one of the group--a serious connoisseur--said "Today, virtually no one knows who they a few years, everyone will know." I believe that's right. Seriously good wines (and really nice, fun people).

But wait! We're not done. On our way to Brooks Winery for dinner, we stopped across the street at Clos Griotte--the new winery of Thibaud Mandet, longtime winemaker at WillaKenzie who decided to start his own project when WillaKenzie was sold. Wonderful man, good wines.

I got to know Janie Brooks in late-2004/early-2005 following the tragic death of her brother, Brooks founder Jimi Brooks. The beginning of the relationship was a silly letter I had written Jimi about the name we share...she answered for him in the wake of his death. And we have bonded. Not long before his death, Jimi had voiced a dream that someday he'd have a winery to leave to his young son. When he passed away, it was still a dream...otherwise, he left behind his old jeep--and an obligation to buy a whole bunch of grapes that were almost ripe. With the selfless assistance of about a dozen of Oregon's best winemakers who took those grapes and made wine in his style for Brooks, Janie kept Jimi's dream from dying with him...and over the15 years since, she has made it come true. Brooks is now a very successful--and lovely--winery. And his son, now a college graduate, is the owner of Brooks Wine.

Janie had a private dinner for us on the deck--preceded by bubbles and appetizers in the garden. It was a lovely night of good food, good wine and great friends.

The next morning began at Kelley Fox. I think Kelley is a brilliant winemaker as well as a wonderful human being. Of concern, she had recently fallen and was suffering significantly concussion symptoms. Fortunately, we had two emergency medicine physicians in the group--and before we drank wine, they made sure they were comfortable that she'd be okay. Everyone really enjoyed her wines...and she had an unexpected treat for us. Kelley loves champagne (as I do). She had her champagne sensei surprise us with a limited edition grower champagne from Bereche.

From there, we visited one of Oregon's most famous vineyards--Maresh. Martha Maresh's father, Jim, Sr., planted it ~50 years ago. She and her husband farm it and her son, Jim, Jr., makes the wine for their estate: Arterberry-Maresh. Martha is perhaps Kelley's best friend and we were very excited about meeting her... unfortunately, both her father and her grandson ("Little Jimmy") were under the weather so she was home serving as a nurse. But her husband was a gracious host and the wines were very good.

After a lovely lunch on the patio at The Allison Inn, we stopped by Andrew Turner's Valley Wine extraordinary shop. Andrew is totally plugged into the winemakers in the Valley. He knows a year or two ahead of any critics who the next superstars will be (keep your eye on 00 Chardonnay!). It was a fun visit.

That night, we had an extraordinary dinner. David Speer owns Ambonnay, one of America's best champagne bars. David, and his new bride Kristin, had a champagne dinner for us in the lovely backyard of their home. We had seven brilliant champagnes paired with a six-course dinner...topped with three magnums of grand cru Burgundy. It was quite a night.

Thursday started with a visit to Big Table Farm. As always, Clare was a great host...and the farm was fascinating. It is absolutely a working farm. Oh...and the wines were excellent. From there, we stopped by to see Brianne Day of Day Wines at her winery, known as Day Camp. She's a really interesting young woman who has found a way to make her dream come true. If you haven't heard of will.

Then to a superb multi-course lunch with a full tasting at Antica Terra. Despite the fact that Maggie was bottling that day, she made sure the event was memorable. Maggie's chef is just superb. Every dish was outstanding but the duck particularly stood out. It was, by some margin, the best duck I've ever tasted (and I've had a lot of duck). And, of course, Maggie's wines were superb. There's a reason they're nearly impossible to get (the mailing list is closed--you can sign up for.the waiting list, if you want). And she outdid herself recognizing our birthday boy--for his 66th, she finished the meal with a bottle of 1953 Madeira (his birth year).

That night concluded with dinner in Flâneur's La Belle Promenade Vineyard. As the photo shows, it was absolutely beautiful. The dinner--all grilled over an open fire--was excellent. The wines were very good. Flâneur is one of the Willamette Valley's new stars. But it was the stunning setting that most captured our attention--aided by the fact that we were sharing it with such good friends. And then it was time for IPNC to start.

The Pre-Week. Exceptional.

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