WineInk: Pinot Noir at Free Range
The Pinot Posse Rides Again
What began as a whim evolved into a habit and is now a full-grown tradition.
Yes, the Pinot Posse, that collection of eclectic and charismatic (or so they think) winemakers from the West Coast will once again brave the elements and the vicissitudes of winter travel to come to Basalt for an evening of camaraderie and fine wine. On Wednesday, Jan. 18, Pinot Noir wines will be prodigiously poured and deftly discussed at Free Range Kitchen in Basalt as the gang of six gathers, once again, with local wine lovers.
Hard to believe, but this is the 18th iteration of this traveling winemaker road show that has showcased most of the Pinot Noir vintages of this century — all sourced from the most highly-regarded appellations and vineyards in California and Oregon.
“When we began, we wanted to show the potential and diversity of Pinot Noir,” said John Salamanski of CS Wine Imports, who conceived the concept and wrangled the producers with the idea of bringing them face to face with members of the trade and Pinot lovers. “Today, people know places like the Sta. Rita Hills or the Russian River Valley or the Sonoma Coast, but, back then, they were just beginning to get recognition. Pinot has exploded in popularity. There are what, 23 appellations in Oregon now?”
The first year of the Posse was to be a one off: “We had Dan Kosta who was with Kosta Browne at that time, David O’ Reilly was in Washington with Owen Roe, Jenne Bonaccorsi from Santa Barbara, and Jim Prosser from J.K. Carriere in Oregon’s Willamette Valley were along. The idea was to engage with as many buyers and consumers as possible in a four-day trip.”
Not much has changed in the concept, but it has been honed into a well-organized tour that takes the winemakers to trade tastings in Denver, Vail, Steamboat, and Aspen in the afternoons before they head to the finest dining destinations for the Pinot-themed dinners.
“The vibe is fun and relaxed,” said Salamanski about the dinners. “All the winemakers roam and move from table to table, so that guests can have a conversation with them one on one. Want to get technical? Go ahead. Just want to ask what life is like on the Sonoma Coast. That’s OK, too.”
This year features a producer, Adam Lee, who is taking the ride for first time with his new label Clarice, as well as a debut of wines from Dan Kosta, who has launched an exciting new project under the Convene label. Past Posse faves — Jim Prosser and David O’Reilly — return from the Pacific Northwest, and Christopher Strieter and Ed Kurtzman — who produce Senses Wine and August West, respectively — from California round out the 2023 Posse.
Lee is looking forward to pouring the most recent release of his new wine, a Clarice 2021 Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir sourced from a small selection of vines in a classic vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands region of northern California, just inland from the Big Sur coastline. The wines of Rosella’s are well-known for their expressive aromatics and smooth suppleness on the palate.
Lee comes to this new project after a stellar stint as founder of Siduri wines. The Austin, Texas-raised winemaker created the Pinot-centric wine company with his wife, Diana Novy, in 1994 to craft single-vineyard, cool climate Pinot Noirs from individual sites up and down the West Coast — ranging from Santa Barbara to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. In 2015, he sold the company to Jackson Family Wines. His new project is named after his grandmother Clarice.
“I am the newbie on this journey — my first Pinot Posse,” said Lee before his first ride. “I’ve known about it for some time, but the previous winery that I owned wasn’t distributed by John (Salamanski); so, I only participated by giving the members of the Posse (all friends) an inordinate amount of grief when they went on the trip. Now, I get to be part of the group I previously skewered.”
According to Salamanski, newbies have an important responsibility on the Posse, as they are tasked with procuring the Champagne, which evidently is the drink of choice for members. “He inherits the role of the Champagne Fairy,” Salamanski chuckled about Lee’s assignment.
Last year’s Champagne Fairy responsibilities fell to the youngest member of the Posse, Chris Strieter, who came to pour his Senses wines from the Sonoma Coast. Senses is a project started by three friends who grew up together in the heart of Sonoma wine country. The trio has made a mark in the west Sonoma coast in just over a decade by committing to a very Burgundian model of trusting the land as their north star and focusing on producing wines that speak of their place of origin. Strieter will be pouring a Senses 2021 Sonoma Coast Kanzler Pinot Noir. Located less than 10 miles from the Pacific, the Kanzler vineyard was planted in 1996.
Dan Kosta, a proud papa following the October birth of daughter Sofia, is changing lanes in what is already a storied career in wine. A founder of both Kosta Browne and Alden Alli wines, Kosta is now launching new labels DK Wines and Convene to focus on the wines he loves to make. In addition to single vineyard wines, he is excited to be making blends from different blocks and different vineyards.
“Blends have more fun,” Kosta explained this fall. “With a blend, a winemaker can be a bit more purposeful and have more of an impact than when making a wine from a single vineyard. The wines are a little more difficult to make, but you have the opportunity as a winemaker to make decisions that really affect what the wine will be.”
For the dinner at Free Range Kitchen, he will be pouring a Convene 2019 Campbell Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.
Two wines will be poured from Oregon’s Willamette Valley by the king of Parrett Hill, Jim Prosser. He claims to have attended every Posse sojourn. Why would anyone lie about that? His wine are treasured for their bracing acidity and age ability.
“Our focus is on high acid, smooth tannin, classically built Pinot Noir (and related projects like rosé of Pinot and sparkling Pinot)” is how they are described on the J.K. Carriere website. The first pour at the dinner will be his J.K. Carriere 2021 Glass Willamette Valley Rose Pinot Noir, and he will also be sharing his JK Carierre 2021 Vespidae Pinot.
David O’Reilly, the proud Irishman who specializes in, well ,everything, is breaking a tradition this year of bringing his acclaimed Kilmore Pinot Noir to the dinner and instead will offer up the Owen Roe 2019 Clonmacnoise Pinot Noir from the Durant Vineyard in Oregon’s Dundee Hills. If I’m not mistaken, the wine’s moniker is a tribute to an ancient monastery (founded in 544) on the River Shannon in the heart of Ireland. We’ll all have to ask the man himself for a correct pronunciation.
Of course, if you’re a fan of the Grateful Dead, then you know that Ed Kurtzman’s August West Wines were named as a homage to a character in the Garcia/Hunter song “Wharf Rat.” Kurtzman makes his wines not far from the wharves in downtown San Francisco and is a Pinot purist. He will be pouring the August West 2021 Green Valley Graham Pinot Noir from the Graham Family Vineyard, which like so much of Sonoma County, has been pummeled by rain in recent weeks.
As it is a wine dinner, all of these pours will be paired with a four-course meal that is a collaboration between Free Range owner Steve Humble and their executive chef, Kamron Hooker.
“Our job at a wine dinner is to showcase the wines and provide food that enhances the character of the wines,” said Humble. “These guys are all about having fun and demystifying wine. Many of them are old friends, so I love to have them come here.”
This is the fifth year the Posse will be at Free Range, and this year’s tour just might be the best yet.
Ride ‘em, cowboy.
What: Pinot Posse Wine Dinner
When: Wednesday, Jan. 18
Where:Free Range Kitchen 22864 Two River Road, Basalt
More info and reservations: 970-279-5199; freerangebasalt.com
Cost: $150 per person + tax and tip