I should have known better than to second-guess the Sonoma County Harvest Fair judges. Presented with some of the best wines of the land, I chose the lesser. This is how it happened:
On Friday, the fair offers unlimited tasting of Gold Medal and Best of Class vintages. It's a winetaster's dream ticket, but I was cautious to limit the unlimited; to swirl, sip and use dump buckets liberally; and not to get lost in the dream, lest I attract the snickers of amused gawkers as did one gentleman, who, poised in the classic stance of the contemplative aficionado (glass in hand, flehmening lightly), directed his gaze reverently upward, as if soliciting Dionysus, presumably perched on the rafters of Grace Pavilion, for an apt summary of that grape nectar's palate profile.
After an hour, my tongue was drier than English wit. Yet I detoured in the wine shop on my way out, thirsty for a full glass of memorable Pinot. Buena Vista's Carneros Pinot Noir ($24.99) was surprisingly rich with chewy dried cherries and allspice for moderately priced Pinots from that area—it squeaked in by a penny to win best under-$25 Pinot. But I demurred, instead thriftily choosing a $19 Pinot that had garnered a bronze. And? The judges did their job. The best I can say about the bronze winner's neutral bouquet is that, oddly enough, it conjured a nostalgic memory of my grandmother's old kitchen in Illinois. Which is to say, very clean—freshly laundered dish towels at most.
True devotees of the thin-skinned Burgundian can revel in all their favorite, piquant flavors at this month's Pinot on the River. Events include winemaker dinners, a field trip, and seminars on the status of the 2007 vintage. On the river but not just of the river, Pinot on the River brings a hundred producers from the Amity Hills to the Santa Rita Hills for a grand tasting at Russian River Vineyards. The focus is nearly entirely on independent, ultra-premium makers of single vineyard small lots who are creating the new classic map of West Coast Pinot Noir. Surely in this place, our rapturous friend from the Harvest Fair might commune freely with like-minded acolytes, in their very own Olympus.
Pinot on the River at Russian River Vineyards, 5700 Gravenstein Hwy. N., Forestville. Friday–Sunday, Oct. 24–26. Sunday, Grand Artisanal Tasting, noon–4pm; $69. Full weekend, $750. For more information, go to www.pinotfestival.com or call 707.922.1096.