Wine Ink: The Pinot Posse rides again
It is certainly possible to appreciate a wine without knowing the story behind it. But understanding where a wine came from, how it was made and who the people are who made it can bring a bottle to life.
So it is that over the past decade-and-a-half, a cadre of west coast winemakers represented in the state by CS Wines, have come to Colorado to introduce not just their wines, but also their stories, to wine lovers. Dubbed the Pinot Posse, the group hosts three wine dinners at which they pour some of the best and most well-made pinot noir in the new world, and share tales from their adventures in winemaking.
The producers reign in regions ranging from Washington’s Yakima Valley in the north to the Santa Barbara coast in the south. Together they have influenced the wine selections of countless Coloradans over these intimate dinners, exposing them to pinot noir from different origins made in varied styles.
This month, five producers, Sea Smoke Cellars Victor Gallegos from the Sta. Rita Hills, Ed Kurtzman of San Francisco’s August West; Michael Browne from Sonoma, the maker of CIRQ; JK Carierre’s Jim Prosser from Oregon; and David O’Reilly, who makes wines under the Owen Roe label from grapes grown in both Oregon and Washington, will converge in Colorado for the 15th edition of the Pinot Posse events.
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While they will not be making it to Aspen or Vail on this year’s tour, it is well worth taking a trip to join them at Jax Fish House in Colorado Springs on Jan. 19, in Denver at Table 6 on Jan. 20 or at the venerable Ski Tip Lodge in Keystone on Jan. 21. (See box for details.)
While this will be Browne’s first ride with the Posse, the others have all been on this trail before. Prosser has not missed a trip, while O’Reilly has poured here 14 of the 15 years, and Kurtzman counts nine visits. While clearly this is a professional trip with a goal of introducing wine communities to the winemakers’ various bottlings, a deep camaraderie also has developed among the participants. After all, while they are as diverse as the wines they make, they all share similar challenges and burdens in the vineyards.
And each comes with a unique story to tell.
Sea Smoke, owned by entrepreneur Bob David, may be the most well-known wine of the group, having achieved cult status after outstanding early reviews by James Laube in Wine Spectator. Victor Gallegos has been a key character in the ascension of the brand to one of the Ste. Rita Hills brightest stars. He can tell you how the constant quest to excel has led the winery to alter their growing practices and become 100% biodynamic.
CIRQ, Michael Browne’s latest project, is a second act for a winemaker who hit it out of the park the first time he came to the plate. One half of the eponymous Kosta Browne, which is now owned by Duckhorn Wine Company, Browne has created a family estate winery in the heart of the Russian River Valley. He is in the process of changing from a single-vineyard model to blending the highest quality fruit from selected sites throughout the valley, creating what he considers to be the finest possible pinot noir wines. On his Colorado sojourn he will be introducing his latest brand, CHEV.
“This wine is not yet released, so I am thrilled to be pouring it for the first time ever,” he said. “It’s so nice to be part of the Pinot Posse with (CS Wines founders) John and Penny. Always a great event, hosted by just the right people.”
For the first time in a world without the Grateful Dead’s deceased lyricist Robert Hunter, who introduced us to the character of August West in the classic “Wharf Rat,” Ed Kurtzman will pour his August West wines on a Pinot Posse Tour. The wines poured have all been made at Kurtzman’s urban winery in San Francisco after having been sourced from vineyards in the Russian River Valley and the Santa Lucia Highlands.
I used the word “venerable” to describe the Ski Tip, but the same could be applied to Jim Prosser’s streak with the Pinot Posse. Prosser makes wines that strive for high acids and smooth tannins, built in a classic pinot noir style in the Chehalem Mountains AVA of Oregon not far from Newberg, Oregon. Wines like Vespidae, named for a killer wasp and Provocateur — perhaps named for Prosser’s personality — are a joy to contemplate.
David O’Reilly brings just a smidgen of the vast number of wines he makes sourcing grapes from his own estate, and others in Washington and Oregon. That is not to say he brings too little wine, rather that he produces so many different varietals in his Owen Roe empire that pinot noir represents just a portion. Ah, but pinot is one of the best slices of Owen Roe’s prodigious pie.
Wine, dinner and conversation. It’s time to take a trip with the Pinot Posse!
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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