Stories of Passion and Pinot: David Nemarnik of Alloro Vineyard
Let’s say you are looking for the site to plant the vineyard of your dreams. After many years of research, you finally find what you were looking for – it should be perfect. And so the site you find is located on Laurel Ridge, and it has Laurelwood soils. Now assume you have an Italian heritage: how would you call your vineyard? What do you think of “Alloro Vineyard”? Alloro is an Italian for “laurel”, so it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
For sure it did for David Nemarnik, who was born into a Croatian – Italian family, and he was the one who started looking for the good vineyard site in Oregon in the late 1980s and finally purchased one in 1999 – and yes, named it Alloro Vineyard. First Pinot Noir vines were planted in 1999, and the first vintage was 2002. In addition to the Pinot Noir, the varietal line-up today also includes Chardonnay and Riesling.
Alloro Vineyard is a lot more than just a vineyard. Actually, the vineyard occupies only 33 acres out of the 80 acres estate, and the whole estate is a full-blown farm, with cattle, sheep, chicken and gardens. Altogether, it became a holistic habitat, where growing grapes and making wines is simply part of the lifestyle, perfectly attuned to David’s family traditions. The vineyard is sustainably farmed, L.I.V.E. certified sustainable and certified Salmon-Safe. To top that off, David installed solar panels on the property, and now generates 100% of the electricity he needs for all the operations.
I had an opportunity to [yes, virtually] sit down with David and ask him a few questions, and here is what transpired from our conversation:
TaV: Having Italian roots and memories of winemaking in Italy, have you ever thought of planting some of the Italian varietals? Moreover, Croatia also offers some interesting and unique grapes – how about those?
DN: I grew up with an Italian-American mother and grandmother who were all about family meals, which also always included wine. Not the high-end stuff, we are talking Familia Cribari Red Table Wine. My father was Croatian and born just outside of Triesta Italy. Family visits to my father’s village impressed upon me a lifestyle of artisan food and wine production. There was the home-made prosciutto and sausage, farm raised grain for bread, corn for polenta, and of course wine and grappa.
I love Nebbiolo and the wonderful Barolo and Babaresco wines of Piedmonte. If I were to plant an Italian varietal it would be Nebbiolo. I was recently in Piedmonte and observed the grapes were at about the same stage of development as our own Pinot Noir vineyard here in Oregon. It would be fun to put in an acre or two. Learning and trying new things is part of what keeps this winegrowing business fun!
TaV: Why Riesling? This is not a very common grape for Oregon – how did you decide to plant Riesling? In a blind tasting with German, Alsatian, Finger Lakes and Australian Riesling, where do you think people would most likely place your Riesling?
DN: Years ago in the mid-nineties I was making wine in my garage for family and friends. This was mostly Cabernet and Zinfandel. A friend of mine who was making wine in his apartment bedroom closet finally was given an ultimatum from his wife that led him to join me in my garage. He turned me on to Riesling. I really like Riesling’s versatility, dry, off dry, and sweet. So it was a natural to plant my own Riesling and make an estate wine.
TaV: Any expansion plans for the vineyards? May be some new grapes outside of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay?
DN: Well we recently planted a new 5 acre block that is mostly Chardonnay with the balance Pinot noir. I planted this on the east side of the road for a different exposure and aspect. We also have our Riesling and a small block of Muscat. So we currently have 33 acres planted out of 130 acres total. I’m sure at some point I’ll plant more grapes, perhaps that small block of Nebbiolo.
TaV: You produced your first vintage in 2002, so starting from that year, what was your most difficult vintage for Pinot Noir and why?
DN: The most difficult vintage for me was 2011. 2011 was the coolest year with the least amount of heat units since I started farming grapes in 1999. Bud break and bloom were 3-4 weeks later than our average year. We had a very cool summer and by early October we still had not fully completed veraison and were worried the fruit would not have time to ripen sufficiently. We did everything we could, thinned to one cluster, pulled leaves on both sides, and prayed. Thankfully we had an incredible October with dry and sunny weather. In the end, we made some really nice wine.
TaV: Continuing the previous question , what was your most favorite vintage and why
DN: My favorite vintage in the cellar is our 2010. What started off as a cool growing year transitioned to a mostly dry summer with mild temperatures leading to great conditions during that critical month of ripening prior to harvest. The wines are elegant and complex with a wonderful balance of red and dark fruit.
TaV: You operate not just a vineyard, but also a farm , a whole habitat with lots of things happening. I’m sure you had plenty of funny stories over the years – do you care to share some of them?
DN: Yes, Alloro is really a sustainable whole farm that includes raising hay for our cattle and sheep, as well as an extensive garden, hazelnuts, and numerous fruit trees. We compost manure from our cattle barn that is then spread on our fields as a natural fertilizer. We have a strong food culture that I would say is aligned with the Slow Food and Locavore folks.
One funny story has us picking strawberries in the garden. My chocolate lab named Abby disappears for a while and then returns with my neighbor’s Chinese runner duck in her mouth. The duck with its long neck sticking out of Abby’s mouth seems perfectly calm as she proudly brings me the duck. I carefully take the duck back to her owner’s pen…it never happened…
TaV: I’m assuming you produce your top of the line “Justina” Pinot Noir only in the best years – how many times have you produced it so far?
DN: Our Justina is a very special barrel selection. Although a blend of multiple barrels, it is a barrel equivalent (or 25 cases). Before any other barrel selections are made, we comb through every barrel looking for the very best of the vintage. Within the context of the vintage, our Justina has the most weight; the broadest, densest, finest, and most persistent texture; the most complex aromas; and typically a higher percentage of new oak. We have produced this wine every year since 2010.
TaV: You get all your power from the solar energy. Was the winery designed like that from the very beginning, or did you install solar panels at some point later on?
DN: The winery was completed in time for our 2003 vintage. The solar panels were installed in 2008 as part of the Oregon Business Energy Tax System program. Our goal was to invest in a green sustainable energy source.
TaV: Which are more difficult to tend for – the vines or your farm animals?
DN: Oh, by FAR the vines!!
TaV: You produce White, Rosé, Red and Dessert wines. The only one which is missing is Sparkling wines. Any plans to produce your own sparkling wines?
DN: Possibly, if we were to add one new wine to our lineup, this would be it. We love bubbles!
TaV: When you are not drinking your own wines, what are your favorites from Oregon or around the world, both for whites and the reds?
DN: To be honest, I wish I spent more time visiting and tasting the many well made wines produced here in our state. When I go to industry tastings I am always amazed at the overall quality. I am really excited about Oregon Chardonnay and what seems to be an explosion of well made sparkling wines. Outside of Oregon, I am a Barolo and Barbaresco fan.
Of course our conversation would be incomplete without tasting David’s wine. I had an opportunity to try his estate Pinot Noir and here are the notes:
2014 Alloro Vineyard Pinot Noir Estate Chehalem Mountains Oregon (14.1% ABV, $35)
C: dark Ruby
N: earthy smoky plums with licorice, open, medium intensity
P: sweet red fruit, licorice, touch of sage, espresso and mocca, excellent acidity, nice “meaty” undertones, medium long finish
V: 8, the wine has a lot of finesse, nice Burgundian style. Will evolve.
Believe it or not, but our Passion and Pinot journey is almost over. 6 winemakers, 6 stories of Passion – and Pinot, of course. I’m not saying good bye yet – Oregon is one of the hottest winemaking areas today in the USA, and with lots happening, I want to take another look at what we learned here and what might lay ahead. So I’m finishing the post with the rhetorical “stay tuned”… Is it Pinot time yet? Cheers!
To be continued…
P.S. This post is a part of the “Stories of Passion and Pinot” series <- click the link for more stories.