Calling All Pinot Lovers: Premier Wine Event Makes Santa Barbara Comeback
Pinot noir buffs from all over the world have their eyes – not to mention, their taste buds – set squarely on Santa Barbara. After a COVID-driven virtual-only experience last year, and a truncated live event at the pandemic’s onset in March of 2020, the World of Pinot Noir (WOPN) is making a big in-person comeback. WOPN (pronounced “whopping” by insiders) will take over the Ritz-Carlton Bacara for three days – March 3 through 5. Even for novice admirers of Burgundy’s most famous little grape, this event is a must.
WOPN was launched in 2001 to spotlight Central California pinot noir wines, though it quickly grew to become a global pinot event of record. It has always drawn a crowd – close to 3,000 consumers pre-COVID – not to mention a cavalcade of famous pinot noir producers, wine personalities, and media. And while it hosted the thirsty in San Luis Obispo for years, it moved to Santa Barbara in 2014, a move that squarely stoked its sex appeal.
As it makes its triumphant live return – a welcome sign not only for pinot noir lovers but also for those of us ready for any clues to our collective post-pandemic bounce-back – safety and health protocols rank high. Attendees will need to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test, and creative solutions include expanding the event’s outdoor footprint at Bacara as well as retooling the way food is set up and doled out.
Most importantly, though – the very special WOPN experience. Here are my top five reasons to take part in the 2022 World of Pinot Noir.
A no-brainer – the pinot noir is the big draw here! But we shouldn’t undersell the fact that this is not just pinot, it’s the best pinot on the planet. I’m counting no less than 150 wineries on the roster for WOPN’s three-day run, and producers from across the globe. Plenty of Santa Barbara’s own backyard faves, of course: Brewer-Clifton, Dierberg, Foxen, Paul Lato, Sea Smoke, just to skim the surface. Other California greats, too, like Eden Rift, Calera, Three Sticks, and Landmark, and Oregon heavyweights, including The Four Graces and Elouan. The access to standout international pinots will be a real treat for a lot of us, too: Amelia from Chile, Alta Pavina from Spain, and Louis Latour from Beaune, in the heart of France’s famed Burgundy region. So on world-class pinot alone, WOPN delivers.
The Grand Tastings on Friday and Saturday ($125) will be the biggest draws – a landscape of pinot producers, side by side, pouring their best; the events run 2:30 to 6 pm each day, with a VIP option that gets you in a half hour earlier ($200). The Opening Night Reunion Party ($125) on Thursday night will be a best seller, too: an indoor/outdoor event that has well-known sommeliers doing the pouring and sets the festive tone for the weekend ahead. Among more intimate, limited-seating events are the West Coast Blind Tasting Challenge ($100) on Friday morning, that compares 12 pinots AVAs stretching from Oregon to Santa Barbara, and the Secret Gems of Burgundy tasting ($175) on Saturday morning, that’ll feature preeminent labels from the birthplace of all things pinot. I’ll see you at Friday afternoon’s tasting – Explore Pinot Noir from North to South ($100) – that’ll feature Sonoma’s Patz & Hall and Santa Barbara’s Fess Parker in a head-to-head (or, palate-to-palate) comparative battle; this two-hour seminar runs noon to 2 pm and features gourmet bites by Bacara’s culinary team, making this the ultimate lunch.
Speaking of food, it’s very much designed to match the wine. There are two lunch options on Saturday, for example, including the Maggy Hawk Luncheon ($125), featuring one of the top pinot makers in California’s Anderson Valley, and the Santa Lucia Highlands’ 30th Birthday Celebration Luncheon ($100), commemorating this proficient AVA from Monterey County. The dinners offer plenty of wow factor and star power: the two options on Friday include the Kosta Browne 25th Anniversary Dinner ($300), a five-course fête featuring the famous label’s winemaker, and The Village Burgundy Dinner ($275). Pull up a seat on Saturday, too, at either The Grand Cru Burgundy Dinner ($500), featuring some of the very best vintages Burgundy has ever produced, or the Toasting the New SLO Coast AVA dinner, a five-course sustainably sourced feast in honor of what’s about to become California’s newest AVA. Suffice it to say, come hungry (and thirsty)!
The roster of winemakers and somms at WOPN is a real who’s who of wine personalities, and the ability to mingle with them, and to gleam insight from, is unparalleled. In many ways, this will also be a post-pandemic reunion of industry leaders, adding to the upbeat vibe of this event. But I’m most looking forward to mingling with fellow consumers, wine lovers like me who are emerging from their Covid cocoons, thirsty and curious, and ready to embrace an event that’s bringing awesome wines directly to me. Lots of clinking glasses – what a beautiful sound!
It bears tipping the hat to the Ritz-Carlton Bacara. To those traveling to WOPN, it’ll serve as Santa Barbara’s red carpet, a snapshot of the notable hospitality for which this pretty corner of the world is famous. For locals, it’ll be an excuse to return to one of the area’s best resort hotels and a setting defined by sweeping views of the ocean, the islands, and the mountains – a reminder, really, of how lucky we are to live where we do. And, did I mention the wine?
WOPN also features an Online Silent Auction, a chance to nab rare bottles, with proceeds earmarked for nonprofit groups and scholarships “that help further educate and enlighten the world about the storied pinot noir grape,” according to organizers; it opens to the public in late February.
Want all-access? The Weekend VIP Passport ($1,800) gets you into most of the weekend’s high-profile experiences. Want to splurge? You can stay in one of Bacara’s Luxury Ocean View Suites for three nights (March 3 through 6) and nab Weekend VIP Passports for two, all for $8,400.
Find out more and get your tickets at WOPN.com. See you there!
Gabe Saglie has been covering the Santa Barbara wine scene for more than 15 years through columns, TV, and radio. He’s a senior editor with Travelzoo and is a leading expert on travel deals, tips, and trends. Gabe and wife Renee have 3 children and one Golden Retriever named Milo