The International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) in McMinnville Oregon is a winelover’s dream vacation.
By Lou Marmon
Gazette Newspapers January 8, 2013
The answer to where a discerning wine lover should go on their next vacation has become extremely easy to answer. Plan a trip to Oregon, specifically during the last week of July, for the annual International Pinot Noir Celebration. Held in the picturesque Willamette Valley on the campus of Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore., IPNC is among the finest wine and food experiences anywhere in the world. In fact, before you read any further, go to their website (www.ipnc.org) and register for this year’s event before they sell out. Then come back to this article for some more specifics and look for next month’s article which will feature recommendations of special places to visit and extraordinary folks to meet. You can figure out your flights and accommodations later.
Oregon undisputedly produces some the world’s finest wines, especially their distinctive Pinot Noirs, but also some tasty whites including Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. However Pinot Noir remains supreme. It all began with David Lett who planted the area’s first Pinot Noir at the Eyrie Vineyards in 1966 and there are now over 12 million acres and 400 some wineries focusing on the varietal. Along with the astonishing growth in production has been the amazingly rapid rise in quality which is attributed, in large part, to the very collaborative spirit among Oregon’s winemakers. Another pioneer, Josh Bergstrom, noted that “Oregon really started out with a bunch of well-educated hippies sitting around in meadows passing bottles, critiquing each other. …That spirit is still very much alive today.”
There currently isn’t a lot of counterculture to be seen and yet you would be hard pressed to find a more friendly, enjoyable and intriguing group of people than those making Pinot Noir in Oregon. McMinnsville and the surrounding Willamette Valley have the look and feel of Sonoma about 30 years ago. Even the influx of several hundred IPNC attendees did not appear to disturb the quaint comfort of the town nor the low-key attitude of the locals.
Now in its 28th year, IPNC is truly a celebration of all things Pinot Noir. The main focus upon Oregon wines but there are ample opportunities to explore other Pinot iterations including those from Burgundy, California and New Zealand. The highlights include small group winery visits and guided vineyard tours led by featured winemakers who discuss topics such as Oregon AVA terroirs, planting strategies and techniques to achieve balance and accurate expression of the local environment. Sounds a bit geeky, but standing in the middle of a vineyard with Oregon winemaking pioneer Ken Wright while he points out the different geologic attributes and history of the Willamette Valley is both thought-provoking and entertaining. There is also a “University of Pinot” that offers a range of seminars led by such notables as Terry Thiese, Eric Asimov and Allen Meadows that focus on the intriguing ability of Pinot Noir to transcend into a “harmony of beauty, distinctiveness, personality and soul.”
But the heart of IPNC is the opportunity to taste literally hundreds of Pinot Noirs while speaking to the people responsible for crafting the wines. This includes wine-centered lunches catered by splendid local chefs and afternoon alfresco tastings that encourage attendees to discuss and compare wines from recent vintages produced around the world. These are followed by the exceptional “Grand Dinner” on Friday night and the legendary IPNC “Salmon Bake “dinner on Saturday which features wild salmon roasted on alder stakes. At each meal IPNC provides ample wines and even more are poured by many of the attendees who have brought their own bottles to share. IPNC is certainly a remarkable Pinot experience.