We Came for the Wine and Left with an Experience

International Pinot Noir Celebration or IPNC. It’s the wine that first gets your attention and lures you in.  And why not? 70 Pinot Noir producers from all over the world, descending on McMinnville Oregon, in the heart of the Willamette Valley, Oregon. What pinot noir lover could resist that call? We had heard about it for years and decided that it was time to attend 3 days in July of wonderful pinot noir tasting and education. But if the wine is the lure, the food, the people and the professionalism of the event will keep us coming back.

Pinot noir is our favorite varietal. What’s not to like about a wine that goes with everything….well, almost everything. OK, true, it may not be the best wine with EVERY food, but it comes as close as it can get. Plus, we love the play of tastes that winemakers can make with this finicky grape. We have attended many exclusive pinot noir events, including Pinot Days in San Francisco and the World of Pinot Noir, in southern California. We also actively seek out pinot noirs in any region we travel to both in the US and worldwide.

While we always enjoyed exploring new labels and new vintages of this grape, the IPNC took it to an entirely new level. It starts with the attitude. Let’s face it, wine lovers can be snobs—but not here. This event drew out people who weren’t trying to show off how much they knew or who they knew, but people who wanted to enjoy and learn more. We were told that 50% of the people were first timers to the event and 50% have been coming to this event for multiple years. But no matter if this was your first time or multiple times, everyone was more than happy to share information and help others enjoy the event.

And, in spite of the abundance of alcohol that was continually available, I never saw anyone who exhibited bad behavior worse than needing a short nap under a shady tree after lunch Smile. People came to taste, not to over-indulge.

Then there is the management of the event. How do you smoothly orchestrate 3 days of events on a college campus and in wineries so efficiently? I have no idea but this group gives new meaning to coordination. Rarely have I seen such precision happen so seamlessly and transparently. And none of this would happen without the volunteers.…over 300 of them plus students from the college. These are not what you normally think of as volunteers with nothing else to do. These are the cream de la cream..people who were passionate about doing their role. Many are professionals that were chosen (yes, IPNC doesn’t take just anyone)  to volunteer for an event, or for the entire 3 days to be part of it.

  • Sommeliers from all over who put on their tuxedos and black dresses to pour wines at lunches and dinners (they did get to dress down for the sparkling wine brunch finale). They scout the available wines and match them up with your own tastes at meals
  • Chefs and food prep staffs, not only at the main events, but at the lunches at wineries, who created food masterpieces. Chefs are given a “budget” for the food, but they donate their time.
  • Servers (many of whom are students at Linfield College where the event was held) who bring your food and whisk away the dirty dishes These people are more efficient than the staff we see in many upscale restaurants.

The food is as big of a star of the event as the wine. Over 50 guest chefs from regional restaurants team up with local food producers to create delicious dish after dish. When we get home, it will be a major diet going on. And, of course, multiple appropriate wines were paired with each meal

  • Breakfast is a buffet where you can choose from a plethora of fresh fruit, cereal, different types of breads/rolls with wonderful jams, sausage, hard boiled eggs, etc. No wine at the standard breakfast, but we survived!
  • Lunch at a winery. Ours was at Durant Vineyards and consisted of appetizers (albacore tune, tamarind-fig vinegar glazed shrimp on a coconut corn cake); chilled beet soup, pork tenderloin with pickled cherries, carrot, chili and chocolate; green sponge cake dessert with strawberries, olive oil and guava sorbet
  • Friday night’s Grand Dames Dinner: Oregon Albacore Salade Nicoise (albacore, haricot verts, blistered cherry tomatoes, summary aioli, deviled quail egg, olive); roast hen and fontina cannelloni (yummy); pork cheeks with polenta, thyme and blackberries; and a chocolate desert. And, of course, appropriately paired wines
  • Lunch on the Lawn: smoked duck salad with blueberry jack cheese onion marmalade, quinoa and farro cake with smoked lam ragout, brown butter, wild mushrooms and toasted hazelnut cream; lemon posset with berries and corn crumble
  • Saturday night’s famous salmon bake where fresh salmon is roasted on alder stakes over a huge custom-built fire pit and ends with an incredible assortment of desserts. For the non-salmon eaters, pork and beef were also available. How the heck can one cook food to perfection for 1500 at the same time?
  • Sunday’s champagne brunch. Whew. Sushi, oysters, biscuits and gravy, meats, lox and bagels, and, of course, champagne. Oh My!

Joyce Tom Ken and JessicaSalmon Bake 2 So you are probably wondering…what about the wine? This is a wine event too, isn’t it? Absolutely. Pinot Noir producers from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South America all came together, bringing their wines. We had the opportunity for formal and informal tastings throughout the 3 days, where wines were discussed in large and small settings, as well informal settings where you could talk to the winemaker or winery owners about their wines. And, because you can’t drink pinot noir exclusively for 3 days, the organizers also had events with a rose tasting, a white wine tasting with ceviche and even beer. Oh yes, and plenty of water and even an ice tea event. And going back to the absence of wine snobs (thank goodness), this event drew some remarkable people, from around the world,  who shared a love of pinot noir. The diverse backgrounds of this group took the conversations way beyond food and wine. Many people were in the wine industry in one way or another, but many were ordinary people who just loved wine. This event far surpassed our expectation. As mentioned in my title, we came for the wine but we left with an incredible experience….one we plan to duplicate in subsequent years.

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