One on One with the Winemaker: Luke McCollom of Left Coast Cellars, Oregon
Without further ado, please pour yourself a glass of (Oregon, of course!) wine – here is our conversation with Luke McCollom:
Why “Left Coast Cellars”?
Well, we want to represent and paint a picture of our sense of place. The “Left Coast” can be seen on our Lewis and Clark Map rendered Labels. When you’re looking at a Map of the United States… we are on the Left Side! Also, of course… Left Coast is Family owned and 3 of the Family members running the Estate are Left Handed. When visiting Left Coast, coming from the closest Major city….The State Capitol Salem, you need to make Left Hand turns to get to the Winery. The Winery and Tasting room are both on the Left Side of the Drive. The term Left Coast not only describes our location, but our wholesome, casual style, and creative ability to artistically craft… unique, exquisite, Estate Grown handmade wines. Not to mention, the heavy “Coast” Influence brought in daily by the Van Duzer Corridor.
[TaV comment: I asked this question rather matter-of-factly, expecting the explanation about Left Coast, but it appears that there is so much more to this name]
Your logo looks very interesting. Is there a story behind it?
The “Sun” Logo is from a large Copper Sculpture which can be seen as you enter the property. The Sculpture was a gift given to Suzanne by husband Robert for an Anniversary. It is a beautiful, unique piece created by a Hawaiian artist named Abe Santoro. Santoro’s work can be seen at places like the Smithsonian. I believe Santoro is nearly 90 years old and is referred to as a Treasure of Hawaii.
For us it represents the Founders love for each other and the commitment of life partnership which led to a beautiful family, with passion for food, and wine. The logo is a symbol of the vision created together to Build an amazing Estate in The Willamette Valley. This “Circle of Life” logo also represents their commitment to Sustainability, the Earth, the Sun and the cycle of every vintage of wine.
When you started the winery in 2003 and purchased the land, were there any vines planted already or did you have to start from scratch?
When the Family purchased the property there were 25 acres of Pinot Noir. The first vintage crafted from these young Latitude 45 Vines received an 88pts. in Wine Spectator. This was very exciting because the vines where only 3 years old! Other than that, there was a large spring fed lake and most of the property was overgrown with poison oak and black berry bushes. All of the extensive gardens, landscaping, buildings, infrastructure, and design were created by the Family from scratch. Since then we have also planted another 115 acres of vineyards including 11 different types of Pinot Noir as well as some of the most extensive white wine grape plantings in Oregon.
According to the information on your web site, there are 8 distinct microclimates across your vineyards. Do your wines today already showcase the different microclimates or do you plan to expand on that in the future?
Yes, we constantly strive to showcase our different micro climates and to bottle distinct unique wines. Probably the best example of this is in the Vineyard Designate Pinot Noirs…(Right Bank Pommard, Truffle Hill Wadenswil, and Latitude 45 Dijon Bottlings). These Pinot Noirs are planted in locations best suited for their type of micro climate. Each Vineyard Designate Pinot is hand made in small, open top, French Oak Wine Vats. Each wine is made using different yeast and different dedicated barrel coopers selected to exemplify the Clone and Micro climate of each wine. For example, the Truffle Hill is a Swiss type of Pinot Noir, grown on one of our cooler sites (sort of like Switzerland) We use only Swiss Yeast in making the wine to showcase the tradition of the clonal selection and create distinct style and flavor. The Truffle Hill is aged using specific barrel cooperage which does not dominate the complex nuances of the Wadenswil Selection Pinot Noir. In the future, we would like to expand our showcasing of different soil types from the property comparing Sedimentary Soils to Our Volcanic Soils.
You grow Pinot Meunier, Syrah and Viognier – how do you use those grapes?
Pinot Meunier is used as a base in our Sparkling wines and is also made into a Field of Dreams Pinot Meunier still red wine. This year the Meunier was crafted into a sparkling Brut Rose and a couple hundred cases of still red wine. Meunier of course means “miller” in French like flour miller…because the vines are covered with white fuzz that makes them look like they were dusted with flour. Meunier is a mutation of Pinot Noir and loks like a “wild” Pinot Noir vine. The Meunier still wine sort of tastes like a wild pinot noir with it’s firm structure tannins and distinct brambly and pomegranate flavors.
Syrah and Viognier are also made into Field of Dreams Varietal wines for Wine Club and Tasting Room. The warm 2014 and 2015 vintages are good vintages for perfectly ripe Rhone Varietals in our climate. These vintages also make good quantity of these varietals for potential availability in the National Market. For 2015 Look for Left Coasts’ own Left Cote du Rotie…this is a Syrah co-fermented with up to 25% of Viognier. The Viognier has an enzyme in the skins which creates more extraction of color and flavor in the Syrah fermentation. Very Cool! Northern Rhone style wines which pair beautiful with food. We are a Pinot House, but the 45th parallel where we sit aligns exactly with Northern Rhone…this is why we grow small amounts of these varieties on the Estate. Another small celebration of Terroir, Microclimate, and Unique sense of place.
[TaV comment: this was a really a “duh” moment for me – and a clear showcase of deficiency of the virtual conversation – I forgot that many wines can be made in such a small quantities that they will be available at the winery only and never show on the web site, duh…]
to continue previous question – do you have any plans for single varietal Syrah wine?
Our first varietal vintage of Syrah was 2008…we recently opened a bottle to taste and the wine is incredible… still very youthful!
[TaV comment: “duh” moment didn’t stop with the previous question, right?]
It seems that Chardonnay is a rising star in Oregon – I see that you now offer Chardonnay wines for the past few vintages. What do you think of Oregon Chardonnays? What makes them unique? What is your chardonnay style?
Yes, we have committed some of our best land to growing Chardonnay. We have some of the largest modern plantings of Chardonnay in Oregon. The reason being, most people were ripping out Chardonnay when we were developing the vineyards, while we were planting it. We see Chardonnay as going hand in hand with Pinot Noir. Our 2005 Chardonnay was selected by the Oregon Wine Industry in 2010 as a “World Class Ageable White Wine” by our peers at the Oregon Wine Symposium.
We think this shows the potential of Chardonnay in Oregon and the potential of the Left Coast Estate. We strive to create a balanced Chardonnay with equal parts acidity, minerality, fruit, and oak. We believe we hand craft a Chardonnay which is very Oregonian in style meaning a wine which is clean, not oak dominated, will please non-chardonnay drinkers, and of course pairs well with Northwest Cuisine. For lack of description we try to craft Oregon Chardonnay as somewhere halfway between California and Burgundy. We love Oregon Chardonnay!!! and often ferment ours half in Stainless Steel Vats and Half in French Oak barrels. We believe the stainless portion of the fermentation preserves the fruit and acidty and the French Oak fermented portion provides subtle oak flavors with round mouth feel and volume. These wines are blended, married, and bottled together as one. We also have an extremely distinct Musque Clone Chardonnay that is concrete fermented and bottled for Wine Club.
I don’t know about you, but I definitely need a glass at this point, so here are two of the Left Coast Cellars wines I had an opportunity to try (as samples, courtesy of Donna White PR):
2014 Left Coast Cellars The Orchards Pinot Gris Willamette Valley, Oregon (14.2% ABV, $18)
C: straw golden
N: fresh flowers, fresh white fruit, candy, bright, exciting
P: nicely restrained of the palate, quite a contrast with the nose. Lemon zest, touch of grass, medium body with nice mid-palate weight, wine is nicely present, tart finish
V: 8-, should develop interestingly with time
2013 Left Coast Cellars Cali’s Cuvée Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon (13.5% ABV, $24)
N: typical Pinot Noir, sweet plum, violet, touch of licorice and vanilla
P: delicious. Sweet cherries, touch of eucalyptus, medium body, firm, touch of smoke, good acidity, good balance, very (very) long mouthwatering finish
V: 8, dangerous wine – once you start, it is very difficult to stop
That’s all I have for you for today. To be continued…