Pinot Noir All Month Long: Famous Annual Wine Event Goes Virtual
Pinot noir lovers normally have the first weekend in March highlighted on their calendars. After all, it’s a weekend usually dedicated to the World of Pinot Noir (WOPN), the annual gathering of winemakers and wine consumers who fete Burgundy’s most famous red grape. Launched in 2001, the event has been held at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara in Goleta since 2014, drawing more than 3,000 thirsty oenophiles from all over the world.
This year, of course, COVID-19 had other plans for WOPN (pronounced “whoppin’” by those in the know). There will be no mingling with winemakers, no hands-on tastings, no sit-down dinners. Creativity prevails, however, and technology delivers.
This year, WOPN is claiming the entire month of March, and it’s going virtual. “Attendees often say they’d love even more content and more opportunities for intimate experiences with winemakers,” said Laura Booras, the CEO of Riverbench Vineyards in Santa Maria and president of the WOPN board. “This year, we actually have an opportunity to grow these opportunities.”
As WOPN goes from in-person to online, consumers will have several chances every week to get up close and personal with pinot noir – and all through live events broadcast across Zoom, Instagram, and Facebook. Wednesdays, for example, are dedicated to the WOPN Wine Case Experience, where guests buy a case of rare, hand-selected pinots then join a 30-minute Zoom chat at 5 pm for a guided tasting session and discussion. The 12-bottle compilation ($600 with a retail value of $800) features tough-to-get-your-hands-on finds from regions all over the globe. Some of the California standouts include Brewer-Clifton’s 2016 Machado Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir, a 93-point winner from Wine Spectator, and Eden Rift’s 2018 Landsdale Cienega Valley Pinot Noir, christened with 94 points by Robert Parker. The series is hosted by Master Sommelier David Glancy, founder of the San Francisco Wine School.
Learn About Famed Growing Zones
Thursdays feature deep-dive tasting seminars that highlight the growing zones behind some of California’s best pinot noir wines, including the famed Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley and vineyards of the Santa Lucia Highlands near Monterey. The seminar on Thursday, March 18, spotlights Sonoma County’s diverse sub-regions, such as the Russian River Valley and the Petaluma Gap, through a winemaker panel conversation and a tasting of wines that guests pre-order for home delivery, including Banshee, La Crema, and EnRoute. Prices for the seminars range from $150 to $295, depending on the wine brands featured.
Free events include discussions and winemaker Happy Hours every Wednesday at noon via Facebook Live and every Friday at 5 pm via Instagram Live. There’s an online charity auction, too, which gives consumers access to a remarkable selection of hard-to-access bottles. The lots include bottles of prized pinots, including magnums, from labels like Paul Lato, Calera, Goldeneye, Kosta Browne, and Ampelos. According to the WOPN website, part of the auction proceeds “will be donated to nonprofit institutions and/or scholarships that help further educate and enlighten the world about the storied pinot noir grape.”
To register as a bidder, and for more information on WOPN 2021, check out worldofpinotnoir.com.
WOPN is an international affair to be sure, tapping into the unique allure of pinot noir with its dependably eclectic aromatics, its complex flavor profile, and awesome ability to match most any meal. It makes sense that the event would be hosted by Santa Barbara. The grape, native to Burgundy and whose cultivation dates back to the fourth century, is grown all over the world, most prominently in California, France, and Germany. But Santa Barbara County enjoys a distinctive ability to produce Pinots that stand out. The east-west traverse of the Santa Ynez Mountains, which funnel marine air and create enviably pronounced diurnal shifts in temperature, and our special soils are tapped by a talented pool of winemakers, who’ve been drawn to the area by its unique potential. May the stars align so that WOPN returns as an in-person experience in 2022.