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Want a Great Pinot Noir? Do It Yourself

pinot-(1).jpgKen and Grace Evenstad are true believers in the adage "If you want something done right, do it yourself"—at least when it comes to wine. In the late 1980s, they grew frustrated when they couldn’t find a good version of their favorite wine, pinot noir.

"We can put people on the moon, but we can’t make a good pinot noir?" Grace says. So the Evenstads took matters into their own hands and purchased 42 acres in Oregon in 1989 and founded Domaine Serene winery. The region yielded excellent fruit, earning Domaine Serene’s first wines a Robert Parker Jr. score of 90. Over the next 20 years, the operation has grown to 462 acres with three vineyard estates that produce pinot noir and chardonnay wines that consistently crush the competition in blind taste tests.

"Pinot noir became very popular after the [2004] movie Sideways," Grace says, although less than 1 percent of red wines produced are pinot noir. "It was like the popularity of merlot. People said the next merlot was pinot noir—but you just can’t grow as much."

The part-time Naples residents were a natural match for the annual Naples Winter Wine Festival. As of the festival’s third year in 2003, the Evenstads became trustees and chaired the event in 2006. This year, they’re bringing their good friend, celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse to their home to prepare their vintner dinner (see p. 82). The Evenstads’ theme is Mardi Gras, a slam-dunk for the New Orleans-based chef.

"We start [planning the meal] with the wine," Lagasse says. "It’s really quite simple. We have a conversation with Grace to find out which wines she wants. Then I taste the wines with a couple of chefs, and we sit down and brainstorm. She has a couple of whites and a really big pinot, which go great with my style of food."

Grace says starting with the wine will make a successful dinner. "Any good chef who cares about how food and wine match has to do it that way," she says. "You can drink anything with anything you eat, but it’s not always going to enhance the wine or the food."

This is the third year Lagasse will prepare a vintner dinner at the Evenstads’ home for the wine fest, and Grace says Lagasse is the life of the party.

"Our kitchen is wide open, so it works well to have someone who likes to be seen, like Emeril," she says. "He brings excitement wherever he goes. He’s so nice and so generous, and it’s fun to have someone so famous here."

With the current economy, Grace says the work of the wine fest and its trustees is vitally important.

"I really think the key to the success of the wine fest is the trustees and the fact that they have influential friends and connections all over the country who have the money to bid," she says. "We’re hopeful that this year things will be OK. The charities need money more than ever."

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