International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC), McMinnville, Oregon: A Wine and Food Extravaganza

Oregon wine country

Come to a celebration of Oregon’s famed Pinot Noir.

Oregon’s Willamette Valley is famous for great summer and fall climate, stunning wine growing estates and countryside, and for producing some of the best pinot noir in the world. While wine festivals and events abound just about anywhere wine is grown, the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC), held at beautiful Linfield College campus in McMinnville, Oregon, is one of the country’s finest.

Since 1987, the IPNC’s Board and Staff have presented three days of festivities that include outdoor tastings, a sumptuous Grand Dinner (with an impressive auction), vineyard tour and gourmet winery lunch, a book fair, outdoor breakfasts, a local market, and more. The Festival presents opportunities for small, informal gatherings (Jazz and Iced Tea, a movie screening, and the chance to see the hilarious Sommelier Champagne bottle opening competition [saber anyone?], Sunday’s Sparkling Brunch finale, and of course, classes and seminars. Oh, and because this is Oregon (and because wine is involved) complimentary espresso carts dot the campus for that as-needed caffeine jolt.

When you come to the International Pinot Noir Celebration, you’ll join 800 other wine lovers, 70 pinot noir winemakers from the Willamette Valley and around the world, and 50 of the Northwest’s top chefs.

Appetizers International Pinot Noir Fest

There’s nothing quite like great food paired with Pinot Noir.

IPNC succeeds in creating a grown-up, yet informal, friendly and welcoming atmosphere. You’ll truly be comfortable and have great fun regardless of your age, whether you’re a wine expert or a newbie, and if your budget allows taking home three cases of your favorites and ordering four cases of futures, or you’re brown bagging two bottles from your carefully-culled favorite winery. It’s an event to remember, a chance to learn, and enjoy great wine and food in the midst of an appreciative group of people.

During the weekend, you’ll take classes at the “University of Pinot,” selecting among an extensive list of class offerings you can select at registration under “departments” called Pinot, Climatology, Geography, Social Studies, Globalization, and Extracurricular.

Wine and Food Galore

Participants are divided into groups for the Winery Tour and Lunch, boarding a bus to enjoy a winery tour and sumptuous meal. One group gathered at the beautiful Willakenzie Estate and attended a pinot noir wine class, followed by an hors d’oeuvres and wine reception and a three-course lunch.

My group was treated to a meal prepared by Chef Steven Ariel, of Trace Restaurant in Seattle. Servers passed appetizers of crispy fingerling potatoes with lemon crème fraiche and tobiko caviar, ahi poke chirashi on crispy wonton, and soy braised short ribs and turmeric apples. During the sit-down lunch, we enjoyed butter glazed shrimp and prosciutto tortellini with a sweet pepper reduction, followed by braised pork cheeks and roasted tenderloin, with tomato dried apricot mostarda, a subtly sweet Italian condiment made of candied fruit and mustard. Dessert included a beautiful cherry tartlet Theo Chocolate gelato with mint gel.

wine makers international pinot noir festival

Wine makers show off their best vintages at the International Wine Festival.

Naturally, each course was paired with excellent wines served by Maîtres d’Hotel Cyril Frechier from Marche Bistro and Wine Bar of Seattle and Kim Oshiro from Vinotopia in Portland. Not surprising, at the end of the meal, Chef Ariel, received a standing ovation. He smiled modestly at the accolades and more than one guest said a meal at Trace would be the excuse for a trip to Seattle.

Saturday night’s traditional Salmon Bake dinner is a delight. Priced separately from the main conference, tickets to this elaborate outdoor buffet dinner are offered first to full weekend guests, with a few remaining tickets going to the general public. I passed the Salmon Bake grounds several times throughout the day on Saturday and enjoyed watching the construction of the fire pit. The magic of watching fresh salmon fillets roasting on alder stakes, and the glow of lanterns and dancing to live music as night fell, made for a perfect evening. It’s no wonder the event sells out annually long before the conference begins and, next time, I’m getting my tickets early.

Salmon bake

Salmon is baked in the traditional Native American style.


Sunday’s Walkabout is a must event. Also priced separately, and billed as a “condensed version of the IPNC,” the Walkabout is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy yourself, especially if your budget won’t allow you to attend the entire weekend. For full weekend guests, it’s the perfect ending to the weekend. The Walkabout offers the chance to recap all of your favorite wines in a casual outdoor setting, and buy wines you need to take home. The Walkabout allows you to taste all 70 pinot noir wines in two tasting sessions (from 2-3:30 p.m. and from 4-5:30 p.m.) and snack your way through offerings from 15 local Northwest chefs. Wandering and browsing, tasting and snacking your way around the Oak Grove is a perfect way to end the weekend.

International Pinot Noir walkabout

The Walkabout enables wine lovers to sample a number of great wines in a relaxed setting.

Lodging for the event is available at local hotels, bed and breakfasts and home rentals, and, of course, shuttles are provided. Many attendees choose to room right on campus in one of the dorm rooms. They’re simple and Spartan, but campus lodging at Linfield is a step up from what you may have experienced in your college days.

The Celebration will keep you busy throughout the day and evening on Friday and Saturday, with festivities concluding at noon Sunday or after the afternoon Walkabout. If the premier Willamette Valley wine region is new to you, do plan on adding a couple days before or after your trip to see more of the region, or to spend some time in nearby Portland. It’ll make the perfect wrap-up to a perfect Pinot Noir weekend.

The 27th Annual International Pinot Noir Celebration will be held at July 26 – 28, 2013. Registration is currently open.

Story and photos by Nancy Zaffaro, RFT Contributor  Nancy Zaffaro

Nancy Zaffaro

Nancy Zaffaro is a travel and food writer based in Portland, Oregon. She enjoys travel, writing, good food and drink (of course!), cooking, yoga, kayaking, and photography. She’s a long-time writer and editor who has had interesting and varied careers in the arts and in business, and is thrilled to be able to travel the world and write about her adventures. Nancy is also the Editor of

4 thoughts on “International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC), McMinnville, Oregon: A Wine and Food Extravaganza

    1. Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT EditorBobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

      Thanks, Amy, for your kind words about Nancy Zaffaro’s story on the International Pinot Noir Celebration. Nancy is a new contributor to and we look forward to many more great stories from her. — Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

    2. Nancy Zaffaro

      Thanks so much, Amy. Once again, you all do a wonderful job with this event. Looking forward to July!

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