Pinot Camp, one of the most exclusive wine events in the world. Available only to the utmost professionals in the industry. It is an annual event for Sommeliers and other wine service professionals held in Willamette Valley to educate about the wines of Oregon. It is important to note that this is fundamentally an educational event, and is brilliantly organized to this end, with transportation provided throughout the event to prevent any drinking and driving. Furthermore, any drinking beyond the professional call of duty is not encouraged by the organizers and is entirely a reflection on this writer.
I forgot my digital recorder, but I remembered condoms, so all things considered equal, I’d call the first half of day one at Pinot Camp a success. My teeth are purple, my belly is full of wine, and my morale is rebounding after twelve hours of hellish, unorthodox traveling from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles to the rolling hills of Willamette Valley.
Sommeliers have descended on the sleepy town of McMinnville like a swarm of angry wasps in search of strong drink. I enter the bar at the Hotel Oregon to witness a group of twelve gentlemen getting ejected from the bar for not having proper identification, and I must say it is a relief to see these chuckleheads get ejected, though I would soon get a lesson in empathy as I would later find myself “cut off.”
Earlier tonight, I somehow found myself within the confines of the exclusive, speakeasy-esque Nick’s Bar, located at the end of a dark, McMinnville alley (yes, there are dark alleys in McMinnville). Full of a handful of forty-something local wine industry types, the liquor was flowing, and with inhibitions tossed out the window, seeing these people in such a primal state was not unlike seeing a news anchor smoke off camera…it rattles you.
In my stomach is a cocktail of wine, beer, gin, scotch, wine, and more beer, and I’m beginning to believe the old wives tales of mixing alcohol being a bad idea to be more true than ever before. I’m playing the local women like a game of chess, five moves ahead, but always a step behind, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
I’m limited to the cash in my pocket; my debit card was hacked and hence terminated, and my company credit card has been put out of commission by my new “business partner” Douglas, so relationships are key here in an effort to keep the booze flowing.
I did have an opportunity to try some outstanding wines at the tasting this evening, standouts included Argyle, St. Innocent, Willakenzie, Dobbes, Domaine Drouhin, Cristom, Patton Valley, and Lemelson. The 1998 Argyle Extended Tirage Brut was a treat to try, I’m very familiar with the ’97 vintage of this sparkling wine, and the ’98 is a whole different beast…I love it!
I wake up at 7:37am in my brother’s army issue sleeping bag in the back of a pickup truck…which is a long story that can only mean trouble for this Mutineer, so we’ll leave it be. I’ve forgotten toothpaste, and my singular situation is unlikely to improve unless I procure some, a daunting task at 7:37 in the morning in this sleepy Oregon hamlet.
I ask the front desk person at Hotel Oregon for an emergency ration of toothpaste, and when she asks if I’m a guest, my answer of “kind of” seems to do the trick, as she makes a special trip into the supply closet to fetch me some.
A jumbo school bus approaches to pick us up, and I get a look at my bus mates for the first time. It appears to be a decent bunch, but you can’t test a person until you get a few drinks in them, so only time will tell.
In the words of Mr. Plainview, “There is a competition in me…” and I feel my fellow campers can sense this, creating a standoff-ish atmosphere.
My literal camping escapades combined with the local booming grass industry (again, literal) have resulted in a severe head cold, a devastating blow to any wine professional’s ability to evaluate a wine. Furthermore, in an effort to make my trip a complete waste, I scolded my tongue on a cup of coffee this morning, rendering my palate even more useless. A quick recovery, however unlikely, will be crucial to salvage this trip.
Apparently Willamette Valley wine turns me into the Hulk. The accounts of my behavior–by way of my fellow campers detailing the events of the previous night–portray me as a beast with an unquenchable thirst.
The night had begun innocently enough at dinner in the Willamette trophy winery Domaine Serene. Magnums of Pinot Noir that were bottled while the original Bush was in office filled the room, and a crisp $20 bill handshaked to our waiter ensured the best bottles would find their way into our glasses. After all, this was Oregon, one of America’s last frontiers, and as such follows a primitive code of street justice and Darwinian wine acquisition. Morale was high and inhibitions ignored at this culinary orgy in what has to be one of God’s personal gardens, a place so incredibly beautiful that to try and describe in words would be such an insult that my karma would simply implode on itself.
Details after dinner are hazy. I ended up at a vineyard’s guesthouse. I drank a lot of wine, managed to open a wine bottle with a steak knife and fork (destroying the kitchen in the process), and had to be restrained in a headlock for the latter half of the party. After being dropped off at the hotel, I apparently sprinted away from the car into the darkness, only to end up at a random female McMinnvillian’s house drinking wine and contemplating the philosophies of life at 6:00am.
As a result of last night’s escapades, I am now scribbling my thoughts on any available scrap of paper I can find. My notebook (as well as my high-end camera and eye glasses) has gone missing, and god only knows where they are right now.
Needless to say, I missed my bus this morning, and had to do the walk of shame into my session that had already begun, but such is life. On a positive note, there is a rumor circulating that last night one of the Somms from Las Vegas got wasted and shit themselves, so that is taking a little attention off of me.
What did I do on Monday? Simply survive. There are few things worse than a full day of drinking wine while battling a hangover, but I am a professional, and as such, I stepped up to the plate. Allergies seem to be getting worse before they get better. I am developing a reputation for myself as part hero/part drunk, and it’s a coin flip regarding which interpretation strikes you.
The big event tonight was a salmon barbecue at the gorgeous Stoller Vineyard. An ambitious S’mores roast trumped it afterwards, with even more wine from the vaults of some of Willamette’s finest. I hit a sweet rasta high after hanging with some other campers, and wandered aimlessly around the cookout, making friends and stealing sips of wine out of the glasses of the prettiest girls there (and there were many pretty girls). The sunset in Willamette is simply incredible. I saw daylight melting into darkness as the sun slowly fell over the horizon, with the infinite shades of blue stretching in between.
Today was a treat. I attended an event at the infamous Domaine Drouhin which specifically showcased older bottles, including a 1995, 1993, 1991, 1990, and…wait for it…a 1989. I fell asleep in the vineyard after a hearty provincial style lunch, and one severe sunburn later I found myself on a terrifying bus ride into the Chelahem Mountains for a “paulee”, which is essentially awesome food and drinks. My motivation is low, and I’ve written all I can…