The Valley Line: Tasting wine for a good cause

Four years ago Mike Farwell, owner of Noir Food and Wine Restaurant in Pasadena, was sharing a wonderful pinot noir wine and exquisite food with his chef, Claud Beltran and good friends. During the meal Farwell brought up the idea of having an annual grand tasting of pinot wines that would also benefit a local charity. The idea became a reality within a few short months. It was a quiet but important beginning — that first year 60 people gathered to taste pinot noirs and to sample foods from top chefs.

Last Saturday the fourth annual PinotFest grand wine tasting took place at the historic Altadena Town and Country Club with more than 350 people in attendance. It is very clear that this tasting event is growing in importance in wine circles.

Craig Sloan, general manager of the club, welcomed guests, as did Farwell. Also greeting the wine lovers and epicureans were Bill Martone, president and chief executive of Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services, and Rob Meyers, executive director of development of Hathaway-Sycamores, the charity that is the beneficiary of this year’s PinotFest.

“Hathaway-Sycamores is honored to partner with Pasadena PinotFest on this signature Pasadena event that showcases some of the top pinot noir wines from California and Oregon. Funds raised from this event will help us continue to provide critical programs and services for the thousands of children and families we serve,” Martone said.

The Altadena Town and Country Club, built in 1910, provided the warm and intimate atmosphere that Mike and his friends had envisioned when they first proposed the event.

Last Saturday there were 200 pinot noirs presented from more than 70 wineries. Most of the wineries also showcased white wines and some with sparkling surprises. Two of the club’s grand halls were not only set up with representatives of the wineries pouring their vintages, but also with food stations, so that guests could nibble on a fabulous array of cheeses from The Cheese Store of Pasadena, gumbo prepared by chef Beltran (a New Orleans native), gourmet delights prepared by Altadena Country Club chef John Angelopulos, and divine cupcakes created by Polkatots Cupcakes.

The club’s downstairs dining room and poolside patio was made into a VIP lounge where guests could come to taste more delights, sip wines and compare tasting notes.

Two of our locals were there presenting their wines: Wes Hagen, a 1987 grad of La Cañada High, who is the winemaker at Clos Pepe Vineyards, and Crescenta Valley High School graduate Gray Hartley, Hitching Post Wines co-owner and winemaker.

Some of the other wineries presenting Saturday included Brewer-Clifton, Williams-Selyem, Alma Rosa, D’Alfonso-Curren, Arcadian, Ampelos, Flying Goat, Gypsy Canyon, Ken Brown, Sojourn, Stephen Ross and Vergari.

One of the grand halls featured wine-themed silent auction items, as well as cases and bottles of wines. Those tables saw fast action as very brisk bidding ensued.

It was a stunning, beautiful day on many levels and just as the last drop of wine was being sipped, a surprise rain storm blew by that made the day even more beautiful when the sun came out again.

Our valley supports Hathaway-Sycamores. Some of the foothills folks who serve on its board in different capacities include David Battaglia, Michael Galper, Mark Jewell, Renee LaBran, Jack MacKenzie, John Suh, Mary Pinola, Annsley Strong, Michael Durfey and Paulette Lang.

JANE NAPIER NEELY covers the La Cañada social scene. She can be reached at

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