For the first time since its debut in 2020, the Palm Springs Pinot Noir Festival—otherwise known as A Passion 4 Pinot—returned to delight wine-lovers with more than 60 different producers of pinot noir from California and Oregon.
This year’s event took place on Saturday, Jan. 8, outdoors on the ballroom veranda of the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort and Spa in Palm Desert, and the setting could not have been more beautiful.
Desert Wine Shop had a table there, and we began setting up at 11:30 a.m. It was 70 degrees outside, and under the shade of umbrellas and an overhead terrace, the temperature could not have been more idyllic. Add to that the mountains in the background surrounded by bright blue sky, and one might begin to question whether they had died and gone to heaven—especially if your version of heaven is filled with copious amounts of pinot noir.
David Fraschetti is the mastermind behind A Passion 4 Pinot, where he assembles a star-studded list of pinot noir producers with one goal in mind: to share their love of pinot noir with consumers in an intimate and personal way, where the winemakers, owners and sales directors of these prominent producers can educate and introduce wine-lovers to undiscovered gems.
That’s what makes this event so spectacular. Sure, many know about Gary Farrell, Kosta Browne and Sonoma-Cutrer wines. Yes, it can be reassuring to recognize a few winery names in sea of unknown bottles—but these wine-tasting events are all about discovery. And, boy, did I discover some knockout wines!
Once the vendors were all set up, we got to go explore. Before the floodgates opened and the throngs of thirsty guests arrived, the worker bees made introductions, tasted each other’s sample wines, and got pumped for the event.
That’s when I met “Ali from the valley” of Bee Hunter wines, located in the heart of Anderson Valley. Ali and her husband, Andy, only work with vineyards that practice organic, biodynamic and sustainable farming, and make less than 500 cases each of their delightful wines. They use a hands-off approach to their winemaking with a focus on minimal intervention—and they get it just right. The single-vineyard Angel Camp pinot was a standout, with bright aromas of Bing cherries and blackberries with a gorgeous texture that was both silky and a little crunchy. On top of the wines being amazing, Ali is an absolute delight, with a vivacious personality to match her powerful wines.
Incidentally, “bee hunter” comes from a local dialect in Anderson Valley called Bootling. It’s a mishmash of bizarre words that was created by the locals back in the mid-1800s as a way to talk about outsiders—and gossip in secrecy. A bee hunter was a free-spirited valley girl, which seems like a perfect definition for Ali.
Across the aisle from the Desert Wine Shop table was a winery called Mail Road. I noticed that Drew, the national sales director representing Mail Road that day, was pouring a vertical of chardonnays and pinot noirs. Very rarely do we get to taste the same wine from several different years to see how the wine evolves, and how each year directly affects the grapes. Was it warm? Did it rain too much? Were there frosts? All these things and more will change the way the wine tastes—and it’s such an eye-opening experience to see that for yourself.
Mail Road vineyard is located about 50 miles northwest of Santa Barbara in the center of the Sta. Rita Hills on the iconic slopes of Mount Carmel. At the winemaking helm is Matt Dees, who made wines for New Zealand’s Craggy Range and Staglin in Napa Valley. Those who know me best know that chardonnay from Chablis, Burgundy, is the wine I would drink if I was told I could only drink one wine for the rest of my life. So when I tell you that the chardonnays from Mail Road are the closest to a Chablis chardonnay any California wine I’ve tasted has gotten, I mean it. These guys are legit.
Once the event was winding down, I made my way to the other end of the venue and ran into Fraschetti, who was tasting the wines of Scherrer. He said when he was scouting for producers and wineries for this event, he would ask the winemakers he was meeting who their favorite pinot noir producer was. Unanimously, they all said Scherrer, Dave said. Well, that’s a good-enough endorsement for me!
I made my way to the front and began tasting through their lineup. It wasn’t long before I was immersed in a conversation with Fred Scherrer about his winemaking philosophy, and different techniques used with each individual lot.
Scherrer got his start making wine from his father’s vineyard in Alexander Valley, Sonoma. With the help of his friend (and wine legend) Tom Dehlinger, he began making wine commercially. After 10 years at Dehlinger, Scherrer was finally able to move into his own facility… an apple-packing-shed-turned-winery in Sebastopol.
I tasted four different pinot noirs, each one more glorious than the last. From his Sonoma County and Russian River appellation wines to the single-vineyard Hallberg and Platt pinots, each had such a distinct profile and personality.
This is, of course, what makes pinot noir so beautiful. Very few grapes have the ability to highlight their surroundings, the dirt they’re grown in, the weather conditions, and the hands that crush them like pinot noir.
After experiencing this event, it becomes very clear why so many people have a passion for this grape. This is the largest gathering of pinot noir producers in Southern California, and it’s right here in our backyard. How lucky can we be?
I hope to see you there next year!