On November 13th, the 4th Annual “Pinot Days” hits Chicago’s Navy Pier, bringing with it some of the top producers from around the globe. A lot of restaurants will be featuring pinot noir on their menus in the days leading up to the event, but I wanted to ask Lisa Rigisich how she and her husband got the idea to do this event in the first place. We’re also going to be giving away two tickets to the Trade Only tasting this year, so read on, and good luck…
1. How did this get started?
When we moved to California from New York seven years ago, my husband and I thought we’d create a tasting to celebrate our favorite red wine variety, pinot noir. There was a festival dedicated to zinfandel and one to Rhone varieties, but none to pinot noir, and we wanted to remedy that. Little did we know! A month before that first event the movie “Sideways” was released, and suddenly we were selling hundreds of tickets a day. We had to knock on doors to find more producers to pour - it was nuts. We’re not event producers by trade, so it was event-planning baptism by fire. Now we’ve more than doubled in size and we’re in three cities, which is not a testimony to “Sideways” nor to us, but to the wines themselves which are increasingly acclaimed, and to the committed, gifted and compelling people who make them. That’s the piece that some might miss; pinot’s winemakers are as interesting as their wines, and they actually show up to pour to you and to share their stories. Pinot noir is a difficult grape to grow, and it’s expensive; if you want to make big bucks in winemaking you choose a different grape (and good luck with that!).
2. Which types of producers are represented at Pinot Days? (how much variation in geography, style, etc.)
More than any other grape, pinot noir takes on the qualities of the place it’s from – its earth, soil, neighbors, seasons, the hands that shape it, the climate. Its thin skin allows the particulars of the region and vineyard to really affect and infuse the fruit. Pinot Days will feature pinots from regions like Santa Barbara, Willamette Valley, Germany, Sonoma Coast, Anderson Valley, the Santa Lucia Highlands, Carneros, the Santa Cruz Mountains – I can go on and on – New Zealand, the Russian River Valley…and even within regions there are micro-regions, like the Green Valley Appellation, which is within the Russian River Valley, but presents notable differences.
3. Chardonnay producers have slowly learned to stop over-oaking their wines; how has the pinot industry evolved?
Pinot is a wine of nuance, not power. Since oak enhances the power of a wine but crushes nuances, the pinot producer has never ventured into excessive oak. The few who thought it might be a good idea 20 years ago quickly discovered that an over-oaked pinot had no admirable qualities; the subtly and nuance were masked by oak, and its lighter-body and lower alcohol could not balance the heavy tannins and harsh flavors imparted by new oak. You find pinot producers limiting the use of new oak to anywhere for 20-40% of their barrel program.
4. Do you have certain styles/regions you’re particularly fond of?
We have the luxury of drinking from all regions and we discern good or bad not based on region or winemaker or vineyard or style, but on whether a wine is well-made or not. There is such diverse beauty offered up by this grape, depending on where it’s grown, and in skilled hands it becomes something totally unique. An elegant pinot from Carneros can be as lovely as a darker and heavier beauty from the Santa Maria Valley, but they are decidedly different.
5. Details for the weekend?
The big event is our Pinot Days Chicago Grand Festival on Saturday, November 13th. We’ll showcase over 70 celebrated producers of pinot noir and more than 300 wines. It’s a high-energy, casual event featuring delicious, sophisticated, acclaimed wines and the winemakers who create them. Pinot noir is the ultimate red grape variety to pair with food, so we’ll have bunch of local specialty food purveyors to serve samples, including the gentlemen from Baconfest Chicago and a number of their bacon producers, and Rick Bayless’ crew from Frontera Foods, who will be serving samples of Rick’s Smoky Chicken Tinga Tacos and pair them with any one of the pinots that are being poured. To warm up, we have sommelier Brian Duncan’s “Pinot 101” at Bin 36 on Friday afternoon, which will feature 16 of the most celebrated wine and memorable winemakers in the country.
You can warm up at other events around town at places like Uncommon Ground, Kafka Wine Company, eno Wine Room at the Fairmont Chicago Millenium Park, Just Grapes or Potash Brothers Market – they will all feature Pinot Days producers and their wines in various fashions. If you would like to win two tickets to the Trade Tasting, which opens at 11 a.m. on 11/13, just tell me why you want to drink pinot noir all day, and submit it in the comment section here. Extra points for creativity, rhyming and appropriate prose. I’ll pick a winner and announce it on Friday’s post. Good luck, and cheers!