New Pinot Classic this weekend in Russian River Valley



Bragging rights are an indispensable part of this weekend's Pinot Classic, the new tasting event that celebrates the Russian River Valley appellation as the epicenter of pinot noir.

As vintner Merry Edwards puts it: "There is no other place in the world where all the right conditions converge to create the kaleidoscopic aroma profile and the rich, full texture so recognizable in pinots produced in our appellation."

But with a number of new tasting events and weekends popping up, some wonder whether the region is reaching its limit.

"I think if an event can offer something special, or have a real focus, such as the Pinot Classic, the events can work," said Beth Costa, executive director of the Wine Road, sponsor of several popular tasting weekends. "Often, new wine events are fundraisers, which work because people attend to support the nonprofit, and in doing so, they are able to enjoy some great wines."

But things have changed since the first Barrel Tasting weekend 37 years ago, Winter Wineland 23years ago and A Wine & Food Affair 16 years ago, she added.

"These were about the only wine events you would find on the calendar," Costa said. "Folks saved the date and wouldn't want to miss out. Now if you are busy and miss one of these annual events, customers know there will be something else happening the following weekend in Sonoma County."

The Russian River Valley Winegrowers, organizers of the Pinot Classic, say what sets the event apart is the Paul? dinner that is its centerpiece.

The name "La Paul?" comes from the French word for saut?pan, poile. Traditionally, a Paul? dinner in France is held to celebrate the end of the harvest. Vintners would gather for a communal meal and bring special bottlings from their cellars to share.

Saturday night's Paul? dinner will be at DeLoach Vineyards in Santa Rosa, and vintners will dig into their personal cellars to bring wines from their wineries and the Russian River Valley, as well as bottlings from around the world.

Last year was the first Paul? Dinner at Arista Winery in Healdsburg, a lone event with the goal of introducing the launch of this year's Pinot Classic tasting. Many vintners lugged magnums and other bottlings in limited supply, competing for bragging rights.

"There are traditions to the celebration — special toasts and the singing of the Paul? song, choruses that repeat, getting faster and faster while everyone claps in unison as they sing together in celebration, and the table is usually made up of one-third winemakers and two-thirds guests," explained Guy Davis of Davis Family Vineyards in Healdsburg.

"For us here in the Russian River Valley, it is a perfect way to kick off our special weekend surrounding our celebration of pinot noir."

Aside from the Paul?, 40-plus wineries will open their doors on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. to pour for pinot enthusiasts. Other events include private barrel tastings and seminars. (For details on all the events, visit

Organizers say the Pinot Classic will help to develop the reputation of the Russian River Valley appellation as ground zero for pinot noir.

"If you may have noticed, quite a few Napa producers have realized our appellation is the place to be," Edwards said. "We even have well-known Burgundian producers investing in our area."

<i>Peg Melnik can be reached at 521-5310 or</i>