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July 25, 2012

The International Pinot Noir Celebration Kicks Off

By Marnie Hanel | Wine

The International Pinot Noir Celebration Kicks Off
Copyright: Andrea Johnson Photography

Pinot Noir grapes are notoriously finicky. Grown on the edge of a climatic region, they are challenged each year—too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry. In response, some winemakers are as thin-skinned as their grapes, carefully guarding their battle plan in hopes of sinking the competition. It’s different in Oregon, says International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) executive director Amy Wesselman. “Everybody up here gets on the phone and shares ideas.”

The camaraderie among Oregon winemakers creates superb Pinot Noir. (The famously awesome 2008 vintage buoyed the region as the recession hit.) It also makes for one heck of a party. The International Pinot Noir Celebration hosts its 26th annual festival July 27 to July 29 at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, just an hour’s drive from Portland. The festivities begin Thursday with pre-festival dinners at local vineyards, such as scenic Anne Amie’s Counter Culture shindig, which pairs “street food” from Portland restaurants with international wines. Over the course of the long weekend, 800 guests will taste Pinot Noir from 70 wineries throughout the world.

Keynote speaker Kyle MacLachlan kicks off the celebration formally on Friday morning. In 2005, the actor (Desperate Housewives, Twin Peaks) began a partnership with Washington’s Dunham Cellars to create his own wine, Pursued by Bear. His recent satirical stint as the mayor on Portlandia has Oregonians ready to be ribbed.

During daytime sessions, guests split into groups for a grand seminar on campus or a vineyard tour. (The groups swap itineraries on Saturday.) This year, the IPNC introduces the new University of Pinot program, nine seminar-style classes taught concurrently. Alfresco luncheons and suppers punctuate the formal sessions, including an impressive Saturday night salmon bake, where hundreds of alder-staked wild salmon are roasted over an open fire pit. A sparkling wine toast on Sunday morning ends the formal program, and the strong of heart finish the weekend with a Walkabout, an à la carte afternoon tasting of all the wines featured.

“My favorite kind of guest is the guest who shows up and knows very little about wine,” says Wesselman, nodding to the festival’s welcoming vibe. “By the end of the weekend, not only did they have a fantastic time, but they know more about Pinot Noir than 99 percent of the people they will ever run into in the world. Everything is on a level playing field. If you’re at IPNC, you’re with us all weekend long. It’s like a big summer camp.” 800-775-4762; ipnc.org.