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Pinot Smack Down – Willamette Valley defends the Championship Title

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What’s a Pinot Smack Down you say? It’s a knock-down, drag out, 24 hour global brawl over what region has the best Pinot Noir. Thousands of people from around the world join up on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets for one 24 hour period to taste, review, and rate Pinot’s from their favorite regions. If you’re passionate about Pinot like me, then I’ll bet you were one of those thousands who stood up for their Pinot producing region to gain global recognition of what you believe to be the best of the best. Willamette Valley reigned supreme in the 1st Annual Pinot Smack Down as the 2010 Grand Champion, not at all to my surprise.

Oregon Pinot Noir grapes

Extremely difficult to manage, the Pinot Noir grape is the Noble red grape of Burgundy, France, but because of its capabilities of ripening in a cooler climate; with warm days, cool nights and occasional low lying fog, it’s also the ultimate red grape of Oregon. It is truly unpredictable and arduous, but it results in some of the most spectacular red wines in the world. It not only makes incredible red wine, but it’s used quite often in the production of Champagne. Aside from France & the U.S., it’s also grown in Germany, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Croatia, Serbia, Italy, Austria and parts of South America and South Africa.

I decided to use Twitter as my social media outlet for reaching out to other Pinot Smack Down enthusiasts. Not familiar with Twitter? Here is the definition, taken right off of their ‘About’ page:

Twitter is a real-time information network that connects you to the latest information about what you find interesting. Simply find the public streams you find most compelling and follow the conversations.At the heart of Twitter are small bursts of information called Tweets. Each Tweet is 140 characters in length, but don’t let the small size fool you—you can share a lot with a little space. Connected to each Tweet is a rich details pane that provides additional information, deeper context and embedded media. You can tell your story within your Tweet, or you can think of a Tweet as the headline, and use the details pane to tell the rest with photos, videos and other media content.”

My decision to use Twitter for this event allowed me to see constant live streams of what other participants were saying about their Pinot producing wine regions, and although everyone I’m connected with on Twitter did not participate in this event, I was able to search “Pinot Smack Down” from my home page that brought me to a live stream of those who were solely involved in the smack down, including people who I had never been in touch with before. Twitter knows who’s involved in the smack down because all participants were instructed to use a hashtag symbol, which is the pound (#) sign, in front of the words: pinotsmackdown. A hashtag is used to mark key words or topics in a tweet and it helps users categorize messages, so all of the people who were involved in the smack down used #pinotsmackdown in their tweets. In order for the hosts of the event to identify the regions that were being sparred over, we were instructed to use a two-character hashtag; such as, #OR for Oregon. Other voting regions were:

  • #CA – California
  • #WA – Washington
  • #NY – New York
  • #46 – U.S. The “Other 46,” outside of the Big Four
  • #FR – France
  • #IT – Italy
  • #DE – Germany (Deutschland)
  • #EU – Europe, beyond France, Germany, Italy
  • #CN – Canada
  • #NZ – New Zealand
  • #CH – Chile
  • #AR – Argentina
  • #AU – Australia
  • #SA – South Africa

Since I was, of course, cheering for Oregon, each of my tweets contained #pinotsmackdown and #OR.

There were 12 participating wineries and venues as well as well-known wine bloggers from different regions around the world who hosted the event. Ed Thralls of www.winetonite.com represented the Napa region of California.  Joe Herrig, aka, The Suburban Wino was a host from Atlanta, Georgia who blogs about wine on www.thesuburbanwino.com . Simple Hedonisms wine blogger, William Allen is from Sonoma, www.simplehedonisms.com and Tamara Belgard of www.sipwithme.com was representing Oregon.  Clive Pursehouse of www.nwwineanthem.com is from Seattle, but represents wines from all of the NW wine regions, and Trish Barry, known as Mastermind TB on Twitter, was the host from Australia.

Restaurants and bars around the world threw Pinot Smack Down wine tastings and dinner parties. Simple Hedonisms William Allen put on a carefully planned Greenhouse Tasting Event at his farm that showcased world class Pinot Noirs that were organized into groups, tasted blind by 5 judges, including two winemakers, and the top in each category were selected to pour for the event. He provided stemware, spit cups, water, top-notch Pinots, detailed tasting sheets and voting sheets, where participants were asked to select their top 3 wines of the night. The only thing not provided was a Smartphone, so people could tweet about their favorite items – a must have for a Pinot Smack Down event when away from your trusty laptop, iPad or PC.

My event wasn’t as extravagant as Simple Hedonism’s event, but I did invite 4 good friends to share 4 good bottles of Willamette Valley Pinot that I had carefully selected for the event: My Smack Down party included Sweet Cheeks 2009 Pinot Gris (no-one specified that it had to be Pinot Noir!), Sarver Winery’s 2008 Pinot Noir, LaVelle Vineyards Matthews Reserve 2008 Pinot Noir, and Domaine Meriwether’s 2005 Pinot Noir. When my friends arrived, Smartphones in hand, we sat on the patio and opened our first bottle of wine, the Sweet Cheeks Pinot Gris. Our chilled white wine was a welcome beverage on a hot August 18th afternoon. Crisp and truly refreshing, we all discovered hints of melon and fig and thought the finish was bright and clean with balanced acidity. It was delicious with the Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad I had prepared earlier. We sipped and tweeted our thoughts on the Pinot Gris and took note of some of the other tweets that were streaming live for the Pinot Smack Down:

  • “A nifty little Alsatian number will be my #pinotsmackdown contribution”: 
  • I’d hazzard we had close to 200 people come through @6thAveWine throughout the night for #pinotsmackdown, #OR Pinot ran the show”
  • Winemaker Steven Anderson of Eola Hills is pouring his wine until 7pm. Come taste & buy signed bottles.  #pinotsmackdown
  • “Some nice #pinot from RRV in CA, but just not on par with #OR or #FR for my palate. #PinotSmackdown [ #true ]”

6th Avenue Wine Seller (@6thAveWine) is based in Seattle, Washington, so it was encouraging to see that Oregon Pinot’s were being purchased in great quantity for the event from our neighbors to the north.  In fact, I was amazed at the number of people tweeting about the Pinot Smack Down. Messages were coming through 20 at a time because so many people were tweeting about the smack down at the same time. What’s truly amazing to me is how many people are reached through an event like this, here are the official stats provided by Ed Thralls of www.winetonite.com and Trish Barry:

Official Stats of Reach & Impressions

  • Reach 446,589 users, 5045 tweets, 1067 contributors, 8.7mil impressions (tweetreach.com)

An astonishing 8.7 million impressions! Now, that’s a whole lot of ‘tweeters’ attracted to one specific event.

The next bottle we popped the cork on was the 2008 Pinot Noir from Sarver Winery.  Elegant and true to the Pinot Noir varietal, this was silky smooth with well rounded tannins and a lasting, perfectly balanced finish. We all agreed that it was delicious and exactly what we’d expect from a stellar Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, which was heavenly with Salami and Cheese “Antipasticks”, a recipe I found on www.volpifoods.com . Away we tweeted, sipped, and ate while enjoying the weather a little more now that the temperature had dropped a few degrees.

The third bottle of Pinot was the 2008 Matthews Reserve from LaVelle Vineyards. Since its release, it’s safe to say I’ve had the luscious Matthews Reserve more than a few times; it’s one of my favorite Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs. With fruit forward flavors of cherries and strawberries, this Pinot Noir can stand with the best. Extremely well balanced, we enjoyed every drop, and it didn’t last long as we consumed our wine with a suggested recipe pairing that I found on the LaVelle Vineyards website: Sweet Red Pepper Bruschetta. As we occasionally checked in on twitter to write our reviews on the Pinot we were sampling, we noticed almost every other tweet either had #NZ, #OR or #CA included in the 140 characters. It was obvious the New Zealanders and Californians had officially joined the battle for the best Pinot producing region.

Our last bottle of Pinot Noir to be opened was Domaine Meriwether’s 2005 Pinot Noir. Known for their world-class sparkling wines, the Meriwether still wines definitely keep up with their sparkling wine siblings. Darker in color than your average Willamette Valley Pinot, there’s a surprising and enticing depth of flavor. Very earthy, which is a quality that I love in many Willamette Valley Pinot’s, there’s also black cherries, blackberries and a hint of blueberries. There’s a bit of vanilla spice on the finish that leaves your palate wanting more. We grilled some shish kabobs using filet mignon, onions, bell peppers and mushrooms. Usually, I would pair a Pinot with salmon or turkey, but this particular well balanced and structured Pinot holds up extremely well with steak, and we were all impressed with the delicious melding of bold and complex flavors.

We continued to monitor the live streams of people battling for their beloved regions. Thousands of wines were tasted around the world on a particular Thursday in August; well, at least it was Thursday in our part of the world. We were anxious to find out who was ahead in the ultimate Pinot brawl, but we knew we wouldn’t have the results until the following day; therefore, we said goodnight to our new found twitter wine friends from around the globe and wished them luck in their quest to gain Pinot envy.

The first thing I did the next morning was pop open my laptop and search for the results, and there they were:

#NZ        24.2%
#OR       23.4%
#CA        23.2%
#AU       13.9%
#WA      5.9%
#FR        3.1%
#CH        2.3%
#CN       1.9%
#IT          .5%

As close as it was, with the top 3 regions being separated by only 23 tweets, New Zealand had won the Smack Down. New Zealand is now the Grand Champion title holder of the Pinot Smack Down; shockingly, Willamette Valley had been defeated and lost its title.

Although I didn’t participate in the 1st Annual Pinot Smack Down, I was not about to miss the 2nd global battle, and now I’m already planning, or should I say, “training”, for round #3. Regardless of the outcome, it was entertainment at its best, and the 5 of us truly enjoyed sipping fine wines and eating delicious foods all while tweeting our hearts out for the sake of the region we love most: The Willamette Valley, which we whole-heartedly believe produces some of the greatest Pinot grapes in the world.

Watch out New Zealand, the Willamette Valley will be especially prepared for 2012, and we’ll be expecting a switch-back of that Grand Champion Pinot Smack Down title. Cheers mates!

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