When I flagged down Karen Steinwachs, WOPN board chairperson, she was slowly making her way through the crowd of hundreds packed inside the larger of the two Grand Tasting tents Saturday afternoon. She looked like most of the rest of us felt — toasty, considering the number of bodies — but she voiced her pride in the obvious success of the event, as it was clear all guests were enjoying themselves sipping pinot noir, nibbling food and making new friends.

"Everything turned out very well," she told me. "Especially the quality of the food; our goal this year was to bring the quality of the food up to the quality of the wine, and we did that."

A factor in that equation was the debut presence of Santa Maria's Central City Market, an absolute gem on Northern Santa Barbara County's dining map. Erin Gromfin, co-owner with her husband and chef, Ryan, was delighted to have the restaurant join the WOPN action during both days' Grand Tastings.

Platters of hummus, pork belly on crackers and sweet potato biscuits with duck breast topped with a tart cherry were stellar companions to the pinot noir samples, especially the duck breast, Erin Gromfin noted.

The Succulent Cafe of Solvang also participated in both Grand Tastings.

I tasted approximately 35 pinot noirs and one rosé. Following are my highlights, noted in the order in which I tried them:

— 2010 Freeman, Russian River Valley — 2009 Twomey, Bien Nacido Vineyards — 2009 Sokol Blosser, Dundee Hills — 2010 Lucia, Gary's Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands — 2010 Pfendler, Sonoma — 2010 Pacific Ridge Vineyards, Kathy's Cuvee — 2010 Sokol Blosser Rosé — 2010 Drew Family Cellars Gatekeeper — 2010 Drew Family Cellars Morning Dew

Finally, while pinot noir is not the absolute best pairing wine for chocolate, the chocolate croissants served by Pan d' Oro Bakery, San Luis Obispo, were a delightful exception.