Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Local News

The wine flows again at international wine event on South Coast, two years after pandemic shutdown

Thousands of people attended the "World of Pinot Noir" event in Goleta over the weekend, as it returned as an in-person event for the first time since the pandemic.

World of Pinot Noir was the last large scale event to take place in region before the March 2020 shutdown. This past weekend thousands were on hand as it returns as an in-person event.

It was about wine... Pinot Noir specifically. But, this year the World of Pinot Noir event in Goleta meant much more. The March 2020 event was the last large scale event in the Tri-Counties before the pandemic lockdown. So, to have it return as an in-person event, with thousands of people, was symbolic of the comeback from the virus.

Bob Schafer of Thousand Oaks says being on hand was about more than just wine tasting.

"It feels a little strange, but it feels good that we can come here without masks, and that there are this many people in a room, and we can enjoy it again," said Schafer. "After two years, it's pretty amazing."

It’s become sort of the Super Bowl of Pinot Noir. One of the biggest events is the Grand Tasting. It features about 150 booths in the ballroom at the Ritz-Carlton Bacarra in Goleta. Around a thousand people sampled wines from around the world.

Amber Virez is with Cordant Winery, in Paso Robles.

"It's kind of surreal," said Virez. "It's really nice to reconnect."

Mike Dawson, with the World of Pinot, says they took a number of steps to insure health safety.

"You had to show you are fully vaccinated to get in," said Dawson. "The mask mandate was lifted in California, but the staff was wearing masks, just to make sure you felt safe."

And, people clearly feel safe, with the ballroom jammed with people sampling Pinots. While people are excited to be out, the draw is the wine.
Pinot Noir has skyrocketed in popularity. Greg Morthole is a winemaker with Rodney Strong Wines Estates, in Sonoma County.

"I think it's something that's more approachable than some of the bigger, harder wines, like Cabernet," said Morthole. "When you go to a party, it goes with all the food."

Allison Laslett, the CEO of the Santa Barbara Vintners organization, says there’s no question Pinot Noir has a higher profile.

"I don't know if it exploded, or the recognition for it has exploded," said Laslett. "Pinot Noir has been growing in this region for 50 years, but suddenly it's having a renaissance."

Many say the Academy Award winning 2004 film Sideways set in the Santa Ynez Valley helped. Actor Paul Giamatti’s character gushed about Pinot Noir. The Hitching Post restaurant in Buellton was one of the movie’s settings, and its wine was featured. Westin Hartley is pouring some of the wine.

"It is quite a legacy," said Hartley. "It was great for the region, and great for the Hitching Post."

The "World of Pinot Noir" event in Goleta didn't require masking, but everyone had to pass health checks before being admitted.

With some many Pinots to choose from, it’s hard for fans like Tim Teeman, of Santa Clarita to pick a favorite.

"You're trying to get me in trouble," said Teeman. "Well, I'm not going to take the bait. It's like I've got three kids...who's the favorite child?"

Pinot fan Jeff Meyer says it’s the third time he and his wife have been to this event. The Oxnard man says after all of the pandemic’s impacts, it’s great to be back.