Thursday, July 7, 2005
What started out as an informal gathering of Pinot Noir producers has transformed into one of the most sought-after invites on the Pinot-making social circuit.
About four years ago, Brian Loring of the Southern California-based Loring Wine Company approached Gary Pisoni to arrange a visit to the famed Santa Lucia Highland vineyard for a handful of his friends. The self-proclaimed “Pinot freak” and friends have since made the pilgrimage to Pisoni’s an annual event. The entourage has grown substantially, with about 50 invitees this year, hailing from Atlanta to Hong Kong.
Pisoni hosts very few events, so when he does, people jump at the chance to visit. The result has been a most impressive gathering—primarily made up of winemakers who’ve used Pisoni’s grapes in their Pinot creations. His son Mark says it’s a rare opportunity.
“The event has given people a chance to drink two wines, side by side, made from the same grapes from the same vineyard and compare different people’s products,” he says.
This year’s weekend-long celebration included Gary Franscioni of Rosella’s and Garys’ Vineyard, Ed Kurtzman of August Moon and Freeman Winery, Tim Lesko and Ryan Zepaltas, both of Siduri Wines, Stephen Pessagno of Pessagno Winery, Andrew Vingiello of A.P. Vin, and recent West Coast transplant Jamie Kutch of Kutch Wines.
The gathering breaks all of the rules of wine snobbery. Sure, there was discussion of soils, microclimates and clones, but for all the exclusivity, the emphasis was on simply trying new wines and having a good time.
Ryan Zepaltas, whose Santa Rosa-based Siduri is responsible for outstanding Pinot Noirs from Oregon and California, says the light-hearted vibe is becoming more and more common.
“Pinot Noir enthusiasts seem to be rebelling against the extreme seriousness that the wine community sometimes puts off,” he says. “It’s less about snobbery than enjoying really good wine.
“With all of the wine events that take place at fancy restaurants and high-end resorts, it’s fun to just hang out and drink wine in non-pretentious surroundings and company.”
It was South County neighbor Stephen Pessagno’s first involvement in the annual event. Day two started out bright and early at his winery. Pessagno poured a selection of his bottlings, including a 2003 Chardonnay from Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, a 2003 Pinot Noir from Silacci Vineyard, and a 2003 Pinot Noir from Garys’ Vineyard, as well as barrel samples from Andrew Vingiello and Brian Loring.
The party was officially started and everyone was off for an unforgettable afternoon. After a short but windy ride through the backcountry of Gonzales, the two Garys themselves—Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni—greeted the entourage at Garys’ Vineyard. Next stop was the meticulously manicured Rosella’s Vineyard. Then the most anticipated stop—Pisoni’s vineyard—to be intoxicated with unfathomable merriment.
Guests were greeted by sizzling metal urns of carnitas being fried over open flames. Dozens of Pinots brought by the various winemakers were lined up.
“Unlike many events, this is an event where people are encouraged to drink wine versus taste it,” said Mark Pisoni. “When you are critiquing wine, you tend to look for flaws instead of simply enjoying it.”
With the Pinot flowing freely, Mark Pisoni worked a massive barbecue à la Bobby Flay—grilling just-picked-from-the-property asparagus, venison sausages made by grandma, and hefty chicken breasts.
After swilling several labels that would make any Pinot lover swoon, we piled into Gary Pisoni’s rugged 1969 Jeep for a ride though the 50-acre vineyard, riding at breakneck speeds up and down pastoral vine-lined hills, with intermittent stops to clink glasses of Siduri and hear snippets of fantastical stories.
Some hungry people piled food on their plates and explored a cave that was carved into the hillside. Gary Pisoni, a man of constant surprises—all of them insanely good—bequeathed diners with bottle after bottle of an unlabeled Syrah.
In perfect irreverent form, he pushed the corks into the dark red nectar before bringing each bottle to his mouth, allowing the elixir to dribble from his lips like a modern day Bacchus.
After feasting to capacity and briefly lounging by the fireplace, we gathered outside to soak up the remaining rays of afternoon sun. Then Gary stripped down to his skivvies, hauled himself down a pier and jumped into the lake. It was impossible to not follow suit, and an amused Mark Pisoni said it’s all part of the experience.
Accoring to reveller Jamie Kutch, the joy felt at the party can be tasted.
“The Pisoni event is a testament to how serious and dedicated some individuals are,” she said afterwards. “Back in New York when I drank a Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands I could actually taste the love, passion, and desire of every winemaker and every farmer in the bottle.”