WineInk: The Pinot Posse |

WineInk: The Pinot Posse

The Estate Winery at Sea Smoke in the Santa Rita Hills.
Special to the Daily |


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Colorado Springs — January 8

Till Kitchen

9633 Prominent Point

Colorado Springs, CO 80921


Denver — January 9

Table 6

609 Corona

Denver, CO 80218


Keystone — January 10

Ski Tip Lodge

764 Montezuma Road

Keystone, CO 80435


Aspen — January 11

Cooking School of Aspen

305 E. Hopkins Ave.

Aspen, CO 81611


Steamboat Springs — January 12

The Baby Posse Dinner

Café Diva

1855 Ski Time Square Drive

Steamboat Springs, CO 80487


What began as a notion has evolved into a tradition. It is a winter rite, as each January a collective of many of the most accomplished pinot noir winemakers from the left coast of America gather to bring their significant viniferous charms to the Rocky Mountains.

Next week, the Pinot Posse, this year featuring winemakers from Bonaccorsi, JK Carriere, Camlow Cellars, Owen Roe, August West, and for the very first time, Sea Smoke, will wing their way east to Colorado. Then, in rapid-fire succession, they will host pinot noir-driven dinners in Colorado Springs, Denver, Keystone, Aspen and Steamboat Springs (see box for details). These dinners are as good as it gets for pinot-philes who want to break bread, sip elegant wines and geek out with winemakers asking everything they always wanted to know about clones, diurnal shifts and clay composition.

’Twas 12 years ago when John Salamanski and Penny Devine, the owners of CS Wines, a Colorado-based wine import and distribution company, conjured a concept. They represented a number of high-end, small-production, limited-allocation wineries in California, Oregon and Washington, each helmed by interesting, quirky winemakers. What if they gathered them all in a van and made the rounds in the high country, introducing themselves and their wines at a series of group dinners? The idea has proven successful, and now the group looks forward to their Colorado sojourn as much as those fortunate enough to experience the dinners.


As people around the world worship different deities, people in the wine world often have devotion to different grapes. And for many, the supreme experience can be found in pinot noir. It is versatile, feminine and finicky. It can, on different lands, produce a multitude of flavors and textures. It can, in different hands, be manipulated to distraction or perfection. It is always a challenge, always a conundrum, but that is what makes it so charming.

Ed Kurtzman, who makes pinot noir under the August West label (Dead fans, you get the reference), and is a dedicated servant to the grape, puts it this way: “They say all roads lead to Burgundy, or at least all palates do. It didn’t take me long to realize the seduction of pinot noir, not just the complexities of the wine, but how an entire year’s worth of weather can make or break a crop and a vintage. They say pinot is the most transparent of all red grapes, and you can tell where it’s grown just by smelling the wine.”

And for Sonoma’s Craig Strehlow of Camlow Cellars, Pinot is personal.

“Pinot reminds me of the relationship you have with your spouse or significant other. Most of the time it’s a steady state of content, with your day-to-day relationship secure and comfortable. At times there are moments of great passion and love, like when you barrel taste a young pinot and realize the potential and can see the fulfillment of the passion you’ve put into it.”

Jenne Lee Bonaccorsi, who left a career working with Wolfgang Puck to make eponymous wines with her late husband, Michael, in the Central Coast AVA of California nearly a generation of vintages ago, remembers that pinot picked them.

“There was never a doubt, never a question that we would make pinot noir. The question was, would we make anything else? Chardonnay for sure, but syrah came later. Our reach was high, we wanted to make what we loved, Burgundy.”

In the Willamette Valley in Oregon, Jim Prosser says that he likes to make pinots that is “like our friends and our dinner guests. Vibrant in character, generous in spirit, acidic in wit, balanced in consideration of opposing tastes, and above all else, real.”

He is a guy who loves high points and wines are reflective of his personality.

“It’s been my experience and belief that drinking aged pinot noir offers more moments of epiphany than any other wine. C’est vrai.”

Also up north as it were, David O’Reilly lives the life of wine with his family. “Pinot is intrinsically connected to my desire to live off the land and the holy grail of this great grape. Both led us to Oregon — the beautiful focus here on one grape and a gorgeous valley to raise our family of eight children.” From his affordable Sharecropper’s pinot noir to the Dundee Hills designate, pinot noir has been good for his brand. “Now having moved to the Northwest over 25 years ago our kids are part of the business and all share and revere this grape. It has been and continues to be a great adventure.”


This year’s lineup includes a new member as Victor Gallegos, the winemaker from Sea Smoke, a wine from the Sta. Rita Hills in California with a fanatical following, joins the group for the first time. “I only get out twice a year to show the love,” Gallegos laughed when asked why he is making the trip. “We have been with John and Penny since the beginning and they’re great friends.”

Sea Smoke has been a sensation since it premiered earlier this century. Three quarters of their production is spoken for by members of their wine club, leaving just a tiny amount for the rest of the world. Sea Smoke makes highly collectible wines from their estate vineyard, including “The Southing” and “Ten.”

Gallegos is looking forward to connecting with the other winemakers. “It’s funny how you have to travel to just hang out with other winemakers,” he laughs. “It’s great to swap stories and get to know folks who love to do what you do in an off-line, late night environment.”

And also, to drink the sacred pinot noir.

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

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