Steven Rigisich, along with his wife Lisa, are bringing back to Chicago last autumn's hit wine festival Pinot Days. Next Saturday November 15, join Chicago Pinot and other Pinot lovers at the Navy Pier to experience the world's best examples of wine made from the "Heartbreak Grape."
While waiting for that tasting, here are some thoughts about the current Pinot Noir scene from Steven himself:
"Chicago is a vibrant city with a creative food & wine market. In our opinion, the restaurant scene is the most innovative and exciting of all the major cities in America. With that comes people who are willing to explore and searching for the best, whether that is a wine to pair with food or drink alone. Pinot Noir is experiencing a surge in interest because those folks who are searching for perfection and innovation and discovering Pinot Noir."
"I don't believe 2008 is a banner year for California Pinot Noir. A dry spring, the worst frost in Northern California in 25 years which devastated many vineyards, a cool summer and early ripening all led to less flavors than in year's past. But that is pure conjecture right now because Pinot Noir, the fickle moody variety that it is, seems to transform itself through the course of maturation. So, who knows what we have right now, we will really know more in March or April. "
"With that said, 2007 was, in my opinion, the finest year California Pinot Noir has ever seen. The wines are as near-perfect as you can get. Whether you like your Pinot austere and feminine, intense and bold, lush and ripe, funky and earthy, this vintage performed at its best. It is really a unique vintage in that sense. Over the past few years, we have seen vintages that have fallen into the wheelhouse of one particular style or another. The 2004 and 2005 vintage are perfect examples of this. 2004 saw the "modern" producer excel due to a warm summer and ripe grapes where 2005 was the perfect vintage for the "traditional" producer who crafts structured and elegant Pinots. In 2007, both of these styles have excelled. "
"We have sixty producers attending Pinot Days from every appellation in California, Oregon, Michigan, Ontario, Germany, New Zealand and Australia. Some of the names folks know such as Siduri, Gray Farrell, Arcadian, Fess Parker, Calera, Roessler and Freeman will be presenting their wines as well as smaller wineries like August West, Raye's Hill, Dain Wines, Bjornstad Cellars, Talisman and Zepaltas who are making small amounts of some of the finest pinots in the market. The other fifty producers are also worthy of mention because they too are making incredible wines of character and soul. "
"We also will have some local flavor with wineries from the Michigan and Ontario area. Great Pinot is being grown and produced in more areas than people believe and folks should seek the wineries out because I think they will be surprised how good some of the wines from these areas are. It is the beauty of Pinot, it may be a bear to grow but when it is done right, no other variety can reach its
"Pinot has always had the status as the noble grape but it had that claim in Burgundy exclusively. In California, pinot struggled mostly because people were planting it in the wrong places. Then in the late 1980’s, growers began to realize that the grape belonged in cool climates like Anderson Valley and Santa Lucia rather than Napa, it began to flourish. The Pinot legacy is due to mavericks like Joseph Swan of J. Swan Winery, Josh Jensen of Calera, Burt Williams of Williams-Selyem, Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa and Francis Mahoney of Mahoney Vineyards who paved the way by taking the risks and discovering the best sites, clones and practices necessary to grow the best grapes."
"If you build on that with these very passionate and innovative "Young Turks" like Adam Lee of Siduri, Ed Kurtzman of August West and Ryan Zepaltas of Zepaltas Wines who have emerged as the new guard, you have truly great wines and the genesis of a cult. However, that is not enough. For that, you need the passion of the producers and consumers and the personalities like Gary Pisoni, Peter Cargasacchi and Michael Browne, who bring a perspective that is electric and, to be candid, a little crazy. If you add this all together, you create a community and with the community comes a cult. "
"If you use sales as a barometer, Pinot’s share of the market is still below Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and many other varieties. French Colombard has twice as many acres planted in California as Pinot Noir! But that is more a factor of where varieties can be planted than of the popularity of the heartbreak grape. The interest in pinot continues to rise exponentially as others are becoming flatter and that is due to the unequivocal fact that Pinot Noir is the ultimate food wine and you can never tire of their diverse renditions; there are simply too many styles, too much flavor and too many unique sites where it is grown. "
"So, in terms of quantity, you don’t find as many followers as in other varieties. However, in terms of quality, Pinot stands at the top. There is no doubt there is no more passionate follower than the one who considers themselves a Pinot-geek. That fact is proven at every Pinot Noir focused festival because you will not find a more wine-educated crowd, a more passionate crowd and a better crowd to have fun. Personally, I think quality trumps quantity."