The Epiphany of Pinot Noir?

Epiphany “Pinot Noir is the tuning fork of the soul.”

"I seek a Pinot that transmits truth.”

“Pinot is the only grape that can legitimately be described as ethereal.”

It all strikes me as a bit much to heap on one grape varietal, but these are only a few of the otherworldly descriptions I heard laid upon Pinot Noir in just the first few hours of the International Pinot Noir Celebration.

I suppose it all sort of explains the “C” in IPNC.
I considered it one of my purposes this weekend in Oregon to try to understand this devotion to the wine. I admit I don’t have this kind of feeling toward Pinot. But I don’t have this kind of devotion toward any varietal. So it’s not a matter of me not liking Pinot or even not liking it as much as the next varietal. It’s a matter of me not caring about in the same way I care about my life.

"As people move through the wine education progression—sweet wine to white wine to red wine and finally to big red wine—they eventually land on Pinot Noir toward the end of their educational journey. It’s then that many have the epiphany. They have to be open to it though."

This sounds a lot like a pusher explaining the appeal of LSD and the person who gave me this explanation (A pinot winemaker) in response to my question about the oddly intense reverence that Pinot inspires admitted as much.

And the response strikes a chord with me. You get the sense from many of the people at the International Pinot Noir Celebration that they feel as if they have arrived at the end of the rainbow and found their pot of gold in the form of a particular wine. Here at Pinot Central there is the feeling that the greatest wine in the world is being celebrated.

But I keep wondering, where is my epiphany?

The styles of Pinot I’ve tasted over the three days of the IPNC can barely be counted. The variations in weight, color, intensity, flavors and aromas is indeed pretty vast. How could I have not arrived at that Pinot Epiphany. I’m feeling a bit left out.

I keep thinking about the idea of “being open” to the experience.

I’ve only had a few legitimate “epiphanies n my life. Sitting nearly alone in the upper deck at Candlestick Park in San Francisco with my father and looking down at a major league ball field. I was young. Fourteen. But even at an age when the meaning of life had little meaning, I really understood how happy I was at that moment. I recall realizing how good life could be. I felt happiness.

Recently I’ve experienced being overwhelmed by a feeling of both being loved and loving another person. This too was an epiphany—at least It felt like something I would call an epiphany.

The point is that I at least believe I’m capable of experiencing an epiphany. But not with wine.

“I experience the Pinot Epiphany at every IPNC I attend and it always occurs on Saturday at the Salmon Bake when great wine after great wine is poured in my glass by people who believe they are pouring the greatest Pinot available. It’s about being surrounded by 600 other Pinot lovers and a collective love for the wine that seems to hover overhead the festivities.”

Said one Pinot Lover I spoke too on Saturday.

The pairings of food and Pinot are ongoing at IPNC. Every meal is an event. In addition, this year we sat through a two hour seminar on the art of food and Pinot paring in which four different pinots were paired with dishes produced from different parts of the lamb by four different combinations of winemakers and chefs.

The pairing of Pinot and food strikes me as being the ripest situation for the creation of a Pinot Epiphany. Perhaps it's because it is a more complex exploration of aroma, flavor and wine. And while this seminar was enlightening, it didn’t produce the results I wanted. Still, this is where I’ll continue to pay attention and be on the look out for an epiphany via Pinot. Personally, food touches me in ways wine never has. Plus, the combination of wine and food should produce something beyond the potential of just one or the other.

What remains is that many folks have found truth transmitted via Pinot Noir. Others have located the tuning fork of their soul with just the right gulp of an ethereal Pinot. I have to conclude that the Pinot epiphany must exist and that it’s me who is deficient.

I’ll live. And I have every intention of continuing to be open to the moment of epiphany. Furthermore, the IPNC appears to be the right venue for seeking that moment of truth in the future.


14 Responses

  1. Randy - July 24, 2010

    I’m more likely to believe that Riesling is the grape that one arrives at after you’ve tried all the others.
    Anyone who believes that Pinot Noir is the ultimate destination in any wine journey is fooling themselves.

  2. Scott - July 24, 2010

    Something the two of us can agree on, Tom Wark. I’ve been lucky to work in a world where wine epiphanies happen to me once or twice a year, and I don’t immediately recall Pinot Noir ever having been in the vicinity. My overall impression after years of tasting them is the image of a dartboard after many blind people have taken their best shot. It’s just all over the place. It’s ultimately not important whether it’s us or the wines that are the problem, just the recognition that others are having an experience that doesn’t apply to us.

  3. Samantha Dugan - July 24, 2010

    Okay I’ll be the odd man out. Pinot Noir, more specifically Burgundy gets me off and haunts like no other wine can. There is something so sensual and intellectually stimulating about truly great Burgundy…wines like Domaine de Montille, Camus Bruchon, Comtes Lafon, Domaine Maume and Chandon de Briallies. They slip under your skin, drag their sensuality across your palate and strip off layer after layer like the dance of the 7 veils…fucking nothing like it. Bright, fresh, earthy, meaty, smoky, roasted…damn.

  4. John Kelly - July 25, 2010

    I moved on from big red wine to Pinot/Burgundy about 30 years ago, but the only real epiphany I ever had was with a 1967 Ch. Sudiraut and a cigar.
    Epiphany does not equal preference. Pinot/Burgundy is still my go-to wine – the only one that can sometimes raise the hair on the back of my neck. Riesling? Randy – really? Um… no.

  5. Thomas Pellechia - July 25, 2010

    OK John: you have finally posted something with which I wholeheartedly disagree: Riesling is capable of reaching monumental heights, at least this wine drinker.
    Too often, Riesling’s image is tarred by the fact that it is not red–and we all know that red wine is real wine; white wine is just something to do with our hands (that was a paraphrase of a 20-plus years old quote from a once well-known wine writer).
    As for epiphanies of any sort: if we seek them in a liquid, we probably have a problem or two needing attention…

  6. John Kelly - July 25, 2010

    Thomas don’t get me wrong – I do love me some German and Alsatian Rieslings! Even some local stuff. A couple weeks ago we opened my last bottle of 1986 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Late Harvest Riesling and it was sublime. I’m just sayin’ that – for me – Riesling has never raised the hair on the back of my neck, much less caused an epiphany.

  7. Katie - July 26, 2010

    I’m with Samantha here. It’s easily the most sensual of wines as long as it’s not an overripe mess. BTW, Tom, I think you mean LSD and not LCD, though some electronics salespeople I know could easily be considered “pushers”.

  8. Charlie Olken - July 26, 2010

    Tom W.–
    Perhaps your standards are too high. One does not need to define epiphany as an event equivalent to seeing god, whoever she is. An epiphany can occur whenever you experience something that opens your eyes. I feel that way dozens of times a year. My problem is that I want that experience every time I drink wine, and that is too much to ask.
    Or perhaps my standards are too low. I like to think that the risotto at Cyrus, the fois gras at Le Pigeon in Portland a couple of weeks ago, the Freestone 2007 Chardonnay, the Williams Selyem Rochioli Riverblock Pinot 2007, or even my first glass of Wild Turkey were all epiphanies.
    These were all revelatory experiences–changes in my perception of reality. Are they not epiphanies?
    I suspect you have had them as well. It is just a matter of definition.
    Oh, and to change the subject ever so slightly. It rains in Portland too, and it was 98 degrees on the day we were there. Lovely place, Oregon. Lots of Californians to visit with. But, I am staying here.

  9. Carl Giavanti - July 26, 2010

    It’s just wine folks! Like most things in everyday life wine epiphanies are rare. Oregon Pinot Noir is subtle and nuanced and layered, but many of us don’t have the patience or personality to appreciate that. To my point, next time you are in Willamette Valley, try any Johan Vineyards estate pinot’s; or in Portland proper try Grochau Cellars 2008 Dundee or Eola-Amity pinots.

  10. Blake Gray - July 26, 2010

    You can’t make an epiphany happen; it’s less likely to happen when you’re looking for it.
    What you’re experiencing is the Emperor-Without-Clothes feeling that I often get when everyone is telling you something is wonderful, but you’re not feeling it. I felt that yesterday watching “Inception,” and I can’t tell you how often I feel it while drinking some super-expensive wine.
    People overstate the wonderfulness of things because it simplifies their belief system. It’s easier to believe in a black-and-white world, in which Pinot Noir is always superior to Merlot, for example. And with any belief system, there’s safety in numbers.
    Wow — I’ve just drawn the psychological parallel between the Tea Party movement and IPNC. Who knew?

  11. Lee - July 26, 2010

    My Epiphany at this years IPNC, was how much I loved OR Riesling! (of course is was damn hot all weekend!)

  12. Donn R. - July 26, 2010

    Ya can’t beat Burgundy. When you hit on a good one, it is unmatchable. The only thing that will tie is a good Beerenauslese or TBA from the Rhine.

  13. Gretchen - July 27, 2010

    I think you have to find YOUR preferred Pinot to have that epiphany. You will know it when you taste it. Keep trying.

  14. Kathy - July 28, 2010

    If I’ve had a Pinot Noir epiphany, it was when, as menopause came knocking, I suddenly couldn’t stand it and realized just what the impact of “hormonic convergence” (getting old) was all about. Not exactly what the boys were talking about, eh?

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