One on One with the Winemaker: Luke McCollom of Left Coast Cellars, Oregon – Part 2
Welcome back to Oregon – we are continuing the conversation with Luke McCollom, Founding winemaker, Viticulturist and General Manager of one of the largest estates in Oregon, Left Coast Cellars. First part of our conversation was focused on the history of the estate, its name, its logo, and selection of the grapes which comprise 150 acres of the vineyards. Now we are going to talk about growing the grapes, sustainable viticulture, mother nature and some of the personal favorites. Here we go:
Can you elaborate a bit on the sustainable viticulture you are practicing in your vineyards?
We are certified by a third party Audit as LIVE Sustainable. This is a whole farm approach which uses scientifically proven methods to reduce inputs into the vineyard and reduce impact on our land and environment. LIVE also monitors the treatment of people, carbon footprint, energy, and water usage.
Both the Vineyards and Winery are certified LIVE sustainable For example: we are also certified Salmon Safe…this means we do not spray or use any chemicals which are toxic to or can harm fish. We do not use chemicals that can run off or enter water ways. We use a permanent, no-till, cover cropping system in the vineyards which great reduces dust, sediment, and run-off that pollutes our water ways.
We of course are mostly Solar Powered…100% of our irrigation system is powered by Solar. The irrigation system is also gravity fed with a pond located on top of one of our highest hills. So, water is pumped up via solar and runs down into the vineyard drip irrigation systems via gravity. We also collect our winery rinse water into tanks where we can re-use the water for irrigating landscaping. All of the “grape waste” from the winery is composted on-site and returned to vineyards and gardens. Our property is shaped like a bowl, so there are no other source of outside contaminates or pollution entering the property. All of the water in our Lakes comes from our property only. We also have steelhead and trout in these lakes…so anything we do can and will directly affect our own water source.
Do your sustainable practices also include dry farming and natural yeasts?
All of our vineyards have the ability to be irrigated with their drip systems if needed!? Of course, we only irrigate vines if and when they need water. We believe with future changes in our climate that water is one of the most important factors in the quality of our wines. Our water is sustainably collected in the wintertime from rainfall runoff. Our 100 acre foot lake is the life blood of the Estate. With our sustainable methods of using this water our combined peak usage of water and electricity costs $11.70/mo a typical water and electric bill on an Estate our size would be anywhere from $10,000-$15,000/mo. This gives an idea of the power of Sustainability and the power of harnessing the sun. Yes, we use natural yeast and we also use commercially available yeasts to make wine.
Do you have any plans to go beyond sustainable into full organic or may be even biodynamic?
Yes, we would like to eventually have wines bottled as sustainable, organic, and biodynamic so people can taste the comparisons. We currently spray almost exclusively organic sprays and utilize many biodynamic practices although do not have certifications in either.
I’m sure that some of the hard core Oregon Pinot fans are familiar with Van Duzer effect, but can you give a short explanation of it to those who don’t?
The Van Duzer Corridor is the main path by which cool Pacific Ocean breezes enter the Willamette Valley. We are in the Heart of where the corridor opens into the Center of the Valley. We are currently involved with a group working on a “Van Duzer Corridor AVA”. The effects of these ocean breezes are critical in producing the highest quality Pinot Noir. On a warm summer day at the Estate, our day time temperatures will reach 90 degrees. In the evening, the Corridor ushers in the cool ocean breezes and our night time temperatures fall to 40 or 50 degrees! A huge temperature swing! The result is sort of like a refrigerator…at night, when the vines are not producing sugars, the Pinot grapes are preserved with the cool outside temperatures. What this means is…the grapes will retain freshness, acidity, and increased wine ageability because they respire less and are preserved with the cool night air.
Out of all Pinot Noir which you produced so far, do you have the most favorite wine from the favorite vintage?
My favorite Left Coast wine is the 2010 Suzanne’s Estate. This is the first vintage Luke and Joe Wright worked together making wine. We hand selected small lots of grapes from the vineyards and made them in small batches with minimal influence and impact from Winemaking. The result is a very cool vintage Pinot with minimal manipulation in the Winery and a 92pts. Wine Spectator rating. It was very rewarding for me to receive an outstanding rating when the wine was selected in the field and winemaking was at a minimum.
When you are not drinking your own wines, what are the other Oregon producers you would be happy to drink wines from?
We enjoy drinking many of our Neighbors wines including Bethel Heights, Cristom, and Witness Tree just to name a few…
And the same question, only going outside of the Oregon – any favorite wines and producers?
Reaching in and out of Oregon we have always kept an eye on Maison Joseph Drouhin. Locally, Drouhin of course makes Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot, but from Burgundy continues to offer an incredible range of wines from very affordable negociant blends to very expensive premier and grand crus from individual Domaines. We believe Drouhin continues to make and blend wines which celebrate classic Burgundy. Of course this is what intrigued us to try and grow World Class Pinot Noir in Oregon…it was Burgundy! We wanted to try and replicate the classic Terroirs of Burgundy and now we are trying to beat Burgundy with our classic Terroirs of Oregon and the Willamette Valley! Viva The Left Coast!
I don’t know about your take, but I think Luke McCollom did an excellent job answering my questions – I had a real feeling of being in the same room with him and looking out at the same vineyard. It is definitely very interesting to learn about sustainable viticulture and how it is done at the Left Coast Cellars – the example with $11.70 monthly electric bill versus potential $10,000+ was extremely impressive.
Of course the proof is in the glass, right? In the previous post, I shared my thoughts on estate’s The Orchards Pinot Gris and Cali’s Pinot Noir. To round up this portion of the interview, I had an opportunity to taste Chardonnay and another Pinot Noir. Before I will talk about the wines, I have to mention the bottles – as the saying goes for the food world “we eat with our eyes first”, same holds true for the wine. Talking about Left Coast Cellar wines, I really enjoyed holding the bottles in my hands – somehow they felt very promising in terms of their content. All four bottles had very nice punt, which would make elegant pouring of the wines an easy job. And the labels are perfectly design and spell “quality” with their look and feel.
Okay, okay – I’m sure you are ready to drink something – here are my notes on the two wines:
2014 Left Coast Cellars Truffle Hill Chardonnay Willamette Valley, Oregon (13.5% ABV, $24)
C: light golden
N: white ripe fruit, intense, touch of vanilla, caramel, touch of flowers
P: unusual, plump, medium to full body, hint of white peach, pear, supporting acidity, Burgundian elegance
V: 8, very unusual Chardonnay, with a style of its own, and overall delicious wine
2013 Left Coast Cellars Latitude 45 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon (13.5% ABV, $50)
N: intense, crushed red berries, lavender, sweet plums, vanilla, hint of chocolate, Bing cherries
P: wow, very unusual. Herbal profile with some fruit, initial tannin attack, almost light and effervescent on the palate, but tannins are very assertive. As I don’t have enough experience with red burgundies, my best analogy is wines of ArPePe, which are some of the most elegant Nebbiolo wines in existence. Clean, pure and unadulterated Pinot Noir. Just wow.
V: 9-, truly unique and different
Sustainable viticulture. Passion. Unique and different wines. Simple recipe for success, isn’t it? I can let you in on a secret. Quite often, I don’t finish a bottle of wine on the same day. Especially if I have a few open at the same time. So I happened to drink Cali’s Pinot Noir I mentioned in the previous post over 4 days. Just closing with the same screw top every night. And the wine was delicious, every day. I think folks at the Left Coast Cellars know what they are doing, and their wines are well worth seeking. Follow the passion, my friends. Cheers!