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Food & Dining // Vino Sense
Roberto Viernes

Kapalua Wine And Food Festival Delights

The Kutch 2011 McDougall Ranch has beautifully ripe cherries laced with herbs and savory | photo from Roberto Viernes

The Kutch 2011 McDougall Ranch has beautifully ripe cherries laced with herbs and savory | photo from Roberto Viernes

Do you know which is the longest-running wine and food festival in the country? No, it’s not the Aspen Food and Wine, nor is it Napa Valley Premier. If you think it’s the Naples Florida Wine Festival, that one is only the second oldest.

The oldest and longest-running wine festival in the country is right here in Hawaii. It’s the Kapalua Wine and Food Festival. This special event held at the Ritz Carlton in Kapalua, Maui, celebrated its 32nd year last weekend. And this year’s was a fabulously entertaining one filled with some terrific guests and seminars.

Among all the great seminars, including the fun and educational “Sparkling Wine and Cheese” one that included Kent Torrey and yours truly, I must say that the one I was looking forward to the most was titled “In Pursuit of Balance.” I was familiar with this movement and its proponents as well as opponents in some controversial news covered by Wine Spectator over the past year, but this would be my first experience with an actual tasting with its members in person.

According to the In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB) website: “In Pursuit of Balance seeks to promote dialogue around the meaning and relevance of balance in California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. IPOB was created by Rajaat Parr of Michael Mina and RN74, and Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards to celebrate wineries striving to produce balanced Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in California. This growing group of producers is seeking a different direction with their wines, both in the vineyard and the winery. This direction focuses on balance, non-manipulation in the cellar and the promotion of the fundamental varietal characteristics that make Pinot Noir and Chardonnay great – subtlety, poise and the ability of these grapes to serve as profound vehicles for the expression of terroir.”

And with a palate that searches for balance and finesse in wines, I thought that this would be something I would really enjoy.

The panelists and wine-makers for this seminar were Rajaat Parr; Pax Mahle of Wind Gap Wines and Pax Mahle Wines; Jamie Kutch of Kutch Wines; and Gavin Chanin of Chanin Wines. Each winery featured two different Pinot Noirs. Parr began by introducing the concept and MO of IPOB. It really began as a question, to find out if it is possible for California wine producers to craft Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in a style that has lower alcohol (read below 14 percent) and still have intense flavor and balance. If the answer is easily apparent to some, we have to look at what is currently en vogue. The style of Pinot Noir that dominates in critical acclaim are the ones that are extremely ripe and, in some cases, overly so. I would venture to say that almost all of them are above 14 percent alcohol. IPOB, in a sense, is a response to this style, as well as another choice for consumers.

As I don’t have enough room on this page to delight in all of the wines that were tasted, I chose my preference of the pair from each winery to describe here. The 2010 Wind Gap “Gap’s Crown” Vineyard was very open; it had beautiful aromatics including a touch of vanilla and toast. It was warmer than the 2011 version, but also longer in acidity. This is a very compact Pinot Noir with lots of life ahead of it. Of Kutch’s pair, I leaned toward the 2011 McDougall Ranch, which had 80 percent whole cluster fermentation and 50 percent new French oak aging. It had a wider breadth of aromatics, including some beautifully ripe cherries laced with herbs and savory. It was very elegant, with some rich tannin, but certainly not overbearing. Chanin’s Los Alamos 2011 was maybe my favorite of the whole lot. It certainly seemed like the ripest, with a great, heady nose of fruit. It has a silky and sexy entry on the palate, with a long finish of cool fruit flavors. I could drink this anytime. The 2011 Sandhi Sanford & Benedict was spicy, with earthy tones coming out before the fruit. On the palate, it was more structure than fruit, but you can tell that this wine needs some time.

Overall, what was readily apparent in all the Pinot Noirs was their light and ethereal nature. None could be accused of being heavy or “big.” They also were quite distinguished in terms of their expression of place. Each was a good example of the area they were from. The Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noirs were quite distinct from Sonoma Coast versions. And despite the lightness of the wines, it was easy to see that they were excellent and age-worthy.

Someone later asked me what I thought of IPOB, and if I agreed with their stance on alcohol. My response was another question: “Why do I have to choose?” I can drink both. And thanks to Kapalua Wine and Food Festival, I was able to have all the above. My thanks to all who participated and helped to make it an awesome event. I hope to be there again next year.

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