WineInk: The Pinot Posse rides again

by kelly j. hayes
An orange sky highlights the spring growth of a Napa Valley vineyard.
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Seating is limited and will sell out

Pinot Posse Dinner

Free Range Kitchen and Wine Bar

Four Courses. Eight Wines.

Wednesday, Jan. 17

Hors d’oeuvres at 6:30 p.m.; dinner 7 p.m.

Cost: $120 per person + tax and tip.

Free Range Kitchen and Wine Bar

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305 Gold Rivers Court, Basalt, CO 81621

“It’s been an amazing ride,” said John Salamanski of CS Wines, as he pointed with more than a hint of nostalgia to the past and the arc of the Pinot Posse that he founded a dozen years ago. “We have seen births and passings, successes and challenges, a wine industry that has grown and changed dramatically, and still, this core group of producers — friends, really — come back each year.”

Salamanski was reflecting on the cadre of West Coast pinot noir producers whose wines he has distributed for the past 15 years, and who have come to the Rocky Mountains to ski a little, talk about pinot a lot, and share their wines with those who love pinot noir at casual and intimate dinners.

This year, the Pinot Posse Dinner in the Roaring Fork Valley will take place at Steve and Robin Humble’s family-run Free Range Kitchen and Bar in Basalt on Wednesday, Jan. 17. The dinner will feature not just a remarkable evening of food and wine, but also an opportunity to meet many of the premier producers in American wine. And, man, are they a fun lot.

When Salamanski and his wife, Penny Devine, were starting CS Wines in the early 2000s, they needed a way to showcase the small-lot wines these makers were producing to diners and consumers in Colorado. “You have to remember that they were just dreamers when we were starting. They had worked as cellar rats in bigger facilities or had been to Europe to work harvests in Burgundy, and now they were buying fruit and making their own wines,” Salamansky said. Thus the idea of bringing the group together as the Pinot Posse was born. “Now they are fully formed, mature winemakers who are really doing it.”

It is appropriate that this year’s dinner is at Free Range Kitchen, as Steve Humble has been a proponent of many of these wines for years. First as the Wine Director at the Roaring Fork Club, then as a winemaker himself, and now at Free Range Kitchen and Wine Bar. Free Range Kitchen is an exceptional wine-centric addition to the Valley. “We’ve had a number of wine dinners here in the past year,” Humble said, rattling off names like Muga and Sinskey and Rivetti. “But this is the first time we have had a group of winemakers like the Posse.”

The format will feature a winemaker sitting at each table and then rotating among the diners during each of the four courses. “I really prefer this to the standard wine dinner format where the winemaker stops everyone’s conversation and stands up to speak about each wine,” Humble said. “This is a much more personalized and interactive format and gives everyone a chance to get to know the winemakers.”

And what a group of makers it is. Ranging from the Santa Rita Hills in Central California to the Willamette Valley in Oregon, six winemakers will be pouring eight wines with the dinner.

Moving south to north, the ever-gracious Jenne Lee Bonaccorsi will bring a wine made from fruit grown in Kathy Joseph’s Sta. Rita Hills Fiddlesticks vineyard. A proponent of the region, which is famed for its east-west orientation that allows the cool influence of the Pacific to prevail, Bonaccorsi will pour the 2014 Bonaccorsi Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills.

Deadheads and those who look for intense aromatics in their pinots will gravitate toward Ed Kurtzman’s August West wines. August West’s name comes from the Wharf Rat lyric and the wine he will be pouring comes from fruit grown in the Graham’s Family Vineyard in Green Valley of Sonoma County. You can’t get much more back-to-the-garden than that.

Also from Green Valley will be a big but balanced pinot from Camlow Cellars, the 2014 Magna Porcum. Craig Strehlow produces this intense but elegant pinot noir from Alan Campbell’s, Big Pig Vineyard, and the wines and their label reflect that moniker. This may be the best wine on the planet to drink when picking at a pig roast.

New this year to the Posse event is a bottling that is a collaboration between Dan Kosta, the Kosta in Kosta Browne (their 2009 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast was Wine Spectator 2011Wine of the Year), and New Orleans Chef Emeril Lagasse. The two, who became friends when Dan poured at Emeril’s epic auction in New Orleans, the Carnivale du Vin, are making wine under the AldenAlli label. Kosta, who lost his home in the fires in Santa Rosa in November, will be bringing the wine from the Sonoma Coast to pour. Think he will have a story to tell?

From Oregon’s Willamette Valley, pinot purist and acid king Jim Prosser will be flying in on the ample wings of his Vespidae. That is the name of the flagship wine he produces for his company, JK Carriere Wines, in Newburg, Oregon. “A train, a powerful locomotive delivering the goods” is how Prosser describes the 2014 Vespidae WV Pinot that he will be packing in his saddlebags.

And finally, as if that lineup were not enticing enough, one of my favorite winemakers and one of the most versatile producers of wine in the Northwest, David O’Reilly, will be pouring an Oregon pinot called “The Kilmore” that he produces for his Owen Roe label. Though O’Reilly makes his home in Washington’s Yakima Valley he drops below the border to make this wine in the Yamhill Carlton region of Oregon. “Ambidextrous,” is how Salamanski describes O’Reilly’s winemaking skills. He produces a ton of different varieties and yet remains true to the variety and the region.

“Pinot loves food. And this collection of wines and winemakers from California to Oregon provides such depth of flavors and acid profile,” Humble said, looking forward with anticipation. “This is the best part of my job, hosting these wines and their makers.”

See you there?

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at