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At the Healdsburg Wine & Food Experience – California Pinot Noir takes on Burgundy

Thousands of wine enthusiasts descended upon Healdsburg, California, for the second annual international wine and food festival featuring over 200 wine producers, mostly from California. Serious wine aficionados attended educational seminars, including two focused events hosted by Kosta Browne winery.

The Healdsburg Wine & Food Experience, founded by Steve Dveris, is now in its second year. The event drew large crowds and a spike in tourism for the Sonoma side of Northern California wine country. The three-day festival, which took place in May, brought an international wine and food scene to its backyard.

Six expert-led masterclasses and multiple celebrity chef cooking demos were complemented by a grand tasting experience featuring over 100 top producers from Sonoma, Napa, and international regions like Champagne.

Two of the most focused events – a collaboration dinner showcasing experimental wines paired with sustainably-sourced ingredients and a separate seminar on Pinot Noir – were the brainchild of Sebastopol-based Kosta Browne winery.

The first was a special masterclass dinner in collaboration with Olivine, the newest restaurant from Hawaii’s Grand Wailea in Maui. The aim was to showcase two approaches to using top-quality, sustainably-sourced ingredients – one for food and one for wine.

On the wine side, Kosta Browne winemaker Julien Howsepian showcased wines from the Observations Series – small-production ‘trial’ lots crafted from select blocks in existing estate vineyards or new sites that might someday find their way into KB’s single-vineyard or estate wine programme.

Olivine executive chef Ryan Urig highlighted sustainable ingredients through the Blue Ocean Mariculture programme – a new hatchery concept based in Kona, Hawaii – which employs open-ocean mingling of Kanpachi (almaco jack), hatched and raised in submersible on-shore sea pens.

As Hawaiian Kanpachi is an ingredient in dishes worldwide – good for heart health, and a lean source of omega-3 fatty acids – the new project has far-reaching implications for other restaurants keen on sourcing sustainably-raised fish without decimating natural ocean populations.

At Kosta Browne’s ‘Pinot Talks’ masterclass, the spotlight was on how American-made Pinot compares to Burgundy.

Sommelier, author, and speaker Anthony Giglio and Kosta Browne’s senior estate director Regina Sanz guided consumers through a blind tasting of three flights of three separate Pinot Noirs. The seminar’s panellists included winemaker Mike Waller of Calera, Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards and Josh Orr MS of Broadbent Selections.

The results demonstrated the difficulty in identifying a wine blind based on the region’s classic or historical markers – a factor of individual style expression and climate change.

After each flight, attendees voted on whether the wines were from California or Burgundy. In one flight, 76% of the room believed that a 2017 Calera from Jensen Vineyard in California’s Mt. Harlan AVA was from Burgundy. ‘It is a wine that has its spanks on’ mused Jasmine Hirsch, clarifying that ‘it will gain in weight and fruit and texture, and now we are just seeing the skeleton’.

In another flight, 73% of respondents thought a 2018 Pierre Mayeul from Gevrey-Chambertin was a Californian wine. ‘The climate is changing,’ offered Hirsch. ‘We need to adapt and let go of the idea that there is one style of wine we make as Pinot producers and embrace vintage variation.’

Gary Obligacion, who works for The Alinea Group in Chicago and led the sommelier team, interjected: ‘This shows that Burgundy producers are learning from the New World, but it’s clunky.

‘This is Burgundy dealing with California-like circumstances of heat and drought and in a year when they had lower acidity and elevated alcohol levels, the new oak is showing.’

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