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It Might Be Gone Already

November 13, 2019 8 comments

Oenophiles are strange creatures. We love wine and derive out of it a tremendous amount of happiness, joy, and pleasure. We are also somewhat of a masochistic type. We like to torture ourselves around our beloved beverage. We can spend a lot of time trying to select a bottle of wine for a Monday night – multiply that by 10 if we are talking even about a casual Friday night. We need to take into account everything – the mood, the weather, who are we sharing the wine with, and on, and on.

One of the biggest problems we are always trying to solve is called “is it the time”. Yes, we know that it is a gamble. There is no science to know when the wine is ready to drink. And as we always like to enjoy the wine at its peak, we can take forever to decide on that right moment. And this is where the danger lurks – instead of getting the wine at its peak, we might be facing the wine which is … gone.

There are two types of special bottles we, oenophiles, get nervous around. There are those which we are trying to age to precisely hit the bullseye, the “oh my god” moment when tasting wine at its peak. The second type are those wines which we call “special”. “Special” is personal – a single bottle which reminds us of a wonderful trip or a moment in life, a special present from a dear friend, a super-rare or a super-expensive bottle we want to hold on to for as long as possible. Sometimes, this can be one and the same bottle which hits both characteristics. For the second type of “special” bottles there is the OTBN – ”Open That Bottle Night”, an event celebrated on the last Saturday in February, invented to help people to part with those special bottles. For the bottles we are waiting to become perfect… well, it might be the same OTBN, or maybe we just need to convince ourselves that “the time is now”.

This is what we decided to do, setting the theme for our wine dinner as “It might be gone already”. Usually, we set the rules for our tastings – what wines, what regions, what price ranges, etc. But for this dinner there were no rules – whatever anyone wants to have open, whatever the reason is to believe that the wine might be past prime (or not) – everything goes.

We managed to assemble a lot more wines than we were able to drink, so many of the wonderful bottles will have to wait until the next occasion. However, we still did great, finding lots of great surprises and enjoying the program very much. Here is my account of our tasting.

We started from a very simple wine – 2007 Saint-Hilaire Brut Blanquette de Limoux, a sparkling wine from the Languedoc, from the winery which claims that they were the first to make the Methodé Traditionelle wines, before Champagne ever saw a first bubble in the bottle. This is one of my most favorite sparkling wines – it is inexpensive ($12.99 or so), and tasty. But – 12 years old? That sounds like a little much for a wine like that. Nevertheless, it was perfect – still fresh, still a good amount of bubbles, a touch of yeast – a perfect start for our evening.

We continued our bubbly explorations with something of a truly next level – 1990 Dom Ruinart Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne. Another perfect encounter – crisp, focused, a good amount of yeast and toasted bread – an outstanding vintage Champagne without a sign of age.

Italy is better known in the world as the source of great red wines. However, Italian whites shouldn’t be ignored. Jermann makes some of the very best Italian white wines, and these wines are unquestionably a world class. Vintage Tunina is a flagship wine, made out of a field blend of Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia, and a small percentage of a local sweet grape. According to the notes on the Jermann website, Vintage Tunina can age for 7–8 years, 10 in the exceptional vintages. This 2006 Jermann Vintage Tunina Venezia Giulia IGT was 13 years old, and in a word, it was superb. Bright, vibrant, whitestone fruit and a touch of honey, medium+ body – an outstanding wine.

Our next white was 2007 Château St Jean Chardonnay Reserve Sonoma County – it was not as impressive as Vintage Tunina, but still was not over the hill, with a good amount of white apple, a touch of butter, and good acidity. I never had this wine before, and understand from the people who did that the wine was starting its journey down the hill, but it was still quite enjoyable.

I was trying to convince my friends that our next wine was not ready to be opened – 2011 Antica Terra Erratica Rosé from Oregon. I had 2010 last year, and the wine was mind-blowing (ended up being wine #2 on my Top Wines list of 2018). After being ostracized – “what are you talking about, it is 8 years old Rosé ?!?!” – I angrily pulled out the cork. 2011 was equally mind-blowing to the last year’s 2010. Pungent, lip-smacking, full of smoky cranberries and herbs, medium body – delicious. I don’t know for how long this wine can age, but I would definitely love to see it with at least another 5 years of age. Oh well…

Now, we are reaching practically a culmination point of the evening – 1966 Château Leoville Poyferré St. Julien. Well, it was conditionally the culmination point – when I received this bottle 2 years ago, the capsule showed a significant amount of wine stain, which is an indication of the wine potentially slowly sipping through the cork. But – it was 1966, so that alone deserves the utmost respect.

As we expected, the wine was past its prime. It had dark brown color in the glass – a color you expect to see on a well-aged tawny port, but not on Bordeaux at any age. The wine had the tasting profile of a nice hearty stew, but again, not the Bordeaux. To be entirely honest, I enjoyed a few sips of it (my friends refused it almost instantly), but this was definitely not the wine anyone should drink.

I’m not going in the right order, but let’s talk about maybe the biggest disappointment of the evening – 2010 Yves Boyer-Martinot Meursault-Perrier. 9 years old white Burgundy should be way too young to drink. But then the Meursault wines have a known issue – Premature Oxidation, or PremOx as it is often abbreviated. Fear of PremOx was a driving factor behind the decision to open this wine. Unfortunately, the fear was justified – kind of. The wine was not oxidized – but it was literally undrinkable. It showed a little sign of life at first, and we decided to decant it – however, it didn’t help. The wine showed very tired, some stewed plums, no vibrancy of any kind. Definitely not a good surprise.

Let’s get back to the red wines. Our next wine was 1978 Barbera. The label lost practically all of its color, so I don’t know who was the producer. But the bottle had been very important memorabilia – at the age of 9, our friend Stefano was helping to bottle that exact wine, so it clearly had a special meaning. The wine was still drinkable, had good acidity and some dark fruit. Not amazing, but well drinkable.

The next two red wines aptly compensated for all the misgivings of our tasting. 1997 Shafer Firebreak Napa Valley, a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, was excellent. The core of the dark fruit and espresso, firm structure, excellent balance, the wine was alive and delicious. It is a pity that this wine is not produced anymore, as Shafer replaced all the plantings of Sangiovese with the other grapes – this was definitely a delicious wine.

And maybe for the biggest surprise of the evening, let me present to you 1995 Navarro Correas Coleccion Privada Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza. What, you never heard of this wine? Me too! Until our tasting that is. When originally acquired, the wine price was something under $10. So who would expect that 24 years old simple Argentinian Cab would age so beautifully? The wine was fresh, no sign of age, tart cherries on the nose, the same tart cherries, herbs and a touch of sweet oak on the palate – the wine was going and going. A tasty, totally unexpected, surprise.

We had to finish this tasting with a dessert wine, didn’t we? 1988 Franciscan Estate Johannisberg Riesling Napa Valley, as rare and precious as you can find, as this wine is simply not produced anymore. This wine was definitely at its peak – beautiful figs, honey, and a perfect dose of acidity – an excellent finish to our great tasting.

Let’s try to summarize our tasting. Out of 11 wines, 6 can be safely designated as an “amazing experience”. Three wines were “good”. Two wines were a flap. I would take it as a very respectful, and very successful outcome – I’m sure you can think of a lot more tastings with a much lesser degree of success and enjoyment.

Here you are, my friends. Feel free to copy the idea – if you have anything reminiscent of a cellar, I’m sure you got the bottles that might benefit from being open. Open now, before it is too late. Cheers!

Let’s Talk Wine Labels

November 11, 2019 Leave a comment

How are you with the wine labels?

Speaking for myself, I love wine labels a lot more that I would even admit. Everybody knows that we eat with our eyes first – this is why good restaurants go out of their way to present their food in the best possible way.

The same is true for the wines – and I’m not talking about the wine in the glass. Let’s leave aside the situation when we are looking for a specific wine. You walk into the wine store and first and foremost you notice the wine labels. I don’t know how this works for you, but speaking strictly for myself, I can’t figure out what makes wine label attractive for me. It is more of magic. Some labels have an elaborate design, and my eye simply skips them. And then there are simple, very simple labels which solicit instant reaction “oh, this is so cool”. Magic.

It appears that the effect of the wine label goes much further than an instant determination of cool/not cool and the desire to quickly grab the bottle. The wine label design also creates expectations about taste, price, quality, and lots more. Don’t take this from me. Folks at Iron Design create product labels for living. They conducted market research, which you can read about here – and summarized all the results in the form of an infographic, one of my favorite ways of presenting the information. Bunch of numbers, facts, and pictures in compact and concise form – isn’t it fun?

For what it worth, the Iron Design team was very kind letting me share the infographic in this blog, which I’m happily presenting below. And for all of you, my friends, what do you think of the impact of the wine labels on your choices and expectations?

What Do I Need To Know To Enjoy A Glass Of Wine

October 26, 2019 2 comments

Glass and the candleSo you are wondering what do you need to know to enjoy a glass of wine.

This is actually a very simple question. Let me give you a very simple answer.

Nothing.

Nothing at all. You need to know nothing about the wine.

You don’t need to know who made it, where was it made, how was it made, what grapes were used, how much it costs. None of this matters.

The wine in your glass is binary. You either like it or not. If you are not sure if you like it, then ask yourself another simple question: “do I want a second glass, or not?” If you want a second glass, then it goes into the “I like it category”. If you don’t – well, you got my point.

I’ve not been fictitious or sarcastic here. I’m very serious. Wine is food. No, it is not a necessity, it is rather a luxury, it is a food you can live without. But still, wine is food, with about 100 calories in a standard size glass of dry red wine. When you take a bite of steak, your impression is binary – you either like it or not. The same is with wine – when you take a sip, you either like it or not. End of story.

Now, let’s get things straight. I’m not trying to invalidate here the whole wine ecosystem, where millions of people are studying and make their living around the oldest continuously produced beverage in the world. I’m not saying that wine is a simple subject. Depending on one’s life outlook, nothing is simple in this world, and the wine has unlimited levels of complexity (simple fact – at the moment of this writing, there are only 269 (!) Master Sommeliers (highest distinction of wine knowledge) in the world). Nevertheless, for a casual encounter with a glass of red, white, or pink liquid in the tulip-shaped glass, there are only two possible outcomes – “I like it” and “I don’t like it”.

Yesterday during the wine dinner I asked my neighbor at the table if she enjoys the wine we were drinking. “Well, I don’t know enough about wine”, she started, instead of simply answering the simple question – “yes, I do”, or “no, I don’t”. I heard this answer many times, and I find it instantly annoying. There is nothing you need to know to enjoy the wine in your glass. You don’t have to be a chef or a food critic to say if the omelet in front of you is tasty or not. The same is with wine – it either tastes good to you or not.

There is definitely a lot of intimidation around the wine. There are wine magazines that tell you what you should be drinking today. There are wine ratings – “here is an excellent wine for you – it got 95 points from Robert Parker”. You have no idea who Robert Parker is, but you would never admit it, “ahh, of course”. There are knowledgeable friends who tell you “try this – you are going to love this”. There are sommeliers and wine stewards at the restaurants who tell you that this is the best wine for your dinner tonight (nevermind that this is one of the most expensive wines on the list). All these things are part of the intimidation around the wine, and yes, it is very hard to say “hmmm, I don’t like it” if Robert Parker said that he did. But – you really have to learn to trust yourself. Everyone’s palate is different. There are only 4 basic tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter – we can skip the umami for this conversation) – but everyone perceives those tastes differently, has different sensitivity to each one of those (if you ever had to reduce salt consumption, you know that after a month or so of such a low-sodium diet, any restaurant dish comes as oversalted). And so what you taste is completely unique to you, and it is only you who is entitled to state “I like it” or “I don’t like it”, without any regard to any professional opinion in the world.

Again, I want to repeat my statement – you don’t need to know anything about wine to know if you enjoy it or not. But – and it is a major, major, supersized but – you might want to know about the wine as this might simply increase your level of enjoyment of that same wine. But even in this case, you don’t need to become an expert to better enjoy thye wine. You can start simple. When you find the wine you like and enjoy, take notice of the producer and the name of the wine (there are many apps today which can help you simplify this process). This can help you next time at the restaurant, trying to select wine from the list – once you see the wine you already tried and liked, this instantly reduces intimidation. Of course, it will also help you in the wine store, so you will get the wine you know you liked.

vinca minor cabernet sauvignon back label

Maybe once you recognize some producers, you might start taking notice of the regions the wine is coming from. You might find, for example, that you are usually enjoying white wines from Germany and red wines from Piedmont. This knowledge can help you further in your quest for the enjoyable wine, as even when you have your favorite producer and wine, you might not be able to always find that specific wine at a restaurant or in the store. In this case, you can use that knowledge to select the wine from the different producers but still from the same region, as this still increases your chances of liking the wine.

You don’t have to stop at the producer and region, and you can continue your wine knowledge acquisition literally forever, as the subject of the wine is endless. Vintages, vineyards, single vineyards, blocks and plots, grapes, blends, terroir, climate conditions, winemakers, oak regimen, age of the vines, visits to the wine regions, and on, and on, and on – all of this knowledge might help you enjoy the wine more. I can even take it further and tell you that all this knowledge might change the perceived taste of wine, as, for example, trying the wine made at the winery you visited can trigger happy memories, and definitely make the wine to taste even better – to you. Very important – this knowledge will only change the way the wine tastes to you. If the friend you are sharing dinner with never visited the winery, he or she can’t necessarily share your excitement and wholeheartedly say that they enjoy the wine if they don’t. And that’s okay. Everyone’s palate is different, and tasting and liking of the wine are strictly individual.

Remember this next time you are at a restaurant. If you know about the wines, don’t intimidate your friends. they don’t have to like what you like. At the same time, if you know nothing about the wine, don’t get intimidated by anyone or anything. “The truth is in the eye of the beholder” – if you don’t enjoy the wine, it is your truth, and it is nothing to be ashamed of or to worry about. Everyone’s palate is different. End of the story.

I hope you learned today everything you need to know to enjoy a glass of wine. Which is, literally, nothing. And nothing should be standing in your way of enjoying the wine in your glass. Cheers!

 

Alie Ammiraglia – The Rosé Experience

September 17, 2019 2 comments
Livia le Divelec

Livia le Divelec introducing Alie Rosé

Rosé Every Day – is that your wine motto?

Okay, that might be a bit much – occasionally, we would like to drink white and red too, don’t we? How about this:

Rosé is For Every Day – would you be able to subscribe to that?

It amazes me that today it still requires courage for an average wine consumer to happily say “I love Rosé” and stop right there without adding any “buts” – “only in the summer”, “only when it is hot outside”.

It is a given for us, wine aficionados and geeks, but an average wine drinker is still afraid that they are simply not supposed to like Rosé, and openly admitting your “Rosé love” in public is akin to loudly proclaiming “ohh, I have no taste in wine, no class”. This is mindboggling as we truly are living through the Rosé wine revolution.

Ten years ago, Rosé was strictly for summer, and the only Rosé you would find available during the winter months was the one from Tavel from the southern Rhône in France – only found in better wine stores or adventurous restaurant wine lists (Rosé is the major, if not the only type of wine produced in Tavel), or whatever ended up in the discount bins as not been sold during the prime season. Today, Rosé can be found at most of the wine stores throughout the whole year, no matter what season it is. It is also not surprising that literally every winery in the world, big and small, added Rosé to their repertoire. Actually, it might be still difficult to find Rosé at the wineries – it is usually produced in the small quantities and thus sold out in no time at all.

As we mentioned before, Rosé often considered an afterthought – while the winery is starting to make the red wine, whatever juice will bleed from the harvested grapes would be good enough to make Rosé – or whatever grapes are not good enough for the main wine still can be used for Rosé.

This, however, was never the case in Provence in France, where Rosé is The Main Product and never an afterthought. In Provence, the grapes were and are purposefully grown for the Rosé, and harvested at its proper ripeness to be made into Rosé – the best possible Rosé. But – “the best Rosé” crown is heavily contested today – literally, the whole wine world is after it.

Let me share with you an encounter with a perfect contender – Alìe Ammiraglia, an Italian Rosé produced by Frescobaldi family in Tuscany.

View from Polynesian Rooftop bar

At the end of July, I attended an event in New York City, where the new vintage of Alìe Rosé (in case you are wondering about the name, Alìe is “a figure from Greek mythology, a sea nymph and a symbol of sensuality and beauty”) was presented in style.

Let’s compact the whole experience into one very long sentence, just for fun: Alìe Rosé, made out of Syrah and Vermentino specifically grown for this Rosé wine, was presented at the event in New York City in the hottest setting of a roof-top bar, poured strictly from magnum and double-magnum bottles into the glasses specifically designed to enhance the qualities of the Alìe Rosé, accompanied by delicious bites of Polynesian cuisine on a hot summer day.

How about this long sentence?

Now, let’s repeat it, but a bit slower.

2018 Tenuta Ammiraglia Alìe Rosé Toscana IGT was introduced by Livia le Divelec, Frescobaldi Brand Ambassador and winemaker. 2018 is the fifth vintage of Alìe Rosé. The wine is made out of Syrah and Vermentino grapes grown at Tenuta Ammiraglia vineyards in Maremma, the region best known for the super-Tuscan wines. Maremma is a coastal region in Tuscany, thus the climate, soil, and terroir overall have a lot of maritime influence, hence the name and various sea-life elements of the design – the label, the glass. The bottles for Alìe Rosé are specifically designed in Mediterranean style, again to stress the origins of the wine.

The event took place at The Polynesian, bar and restaurant located at the Pod Times Square hotel and offering a roof-top seating. What can be better than sipping on a glass of beautiful Rosé, overlooking New York’s busy life from above on a warm summer afternoon? Well, let’s cue in delicious appetizers of Polynesian origin, harmoniously supporting the delight of Rosé – and now you got the whole picture.

Oh, wait, let’s not forget about the wine glasses! The wine glasses were specifically designed by German company Rastal for Alìe Rosé to accentuate qualities of the wine, both organoleptic (aroma, taste, …) and visual, with the glasses serving as another reminder of maritime-influenced origins of Alìe.

Well, I guess I still didn’t tell you how was the wine – got carried away with a beautiful setting of the roof-top bar, seductive bottles, and designer wine glass. Never mind all these accents – the wine was a real star, otherwise, I wouldn’t be talking about all this. Beautiful fresh strawberries on the nose, strawberries with a hint of Meyer lemon on the palate, crisp and fresh. Delicious cold, and still delicious even at room temperature – my litmus test for a quality white and Rosé. I would drink that wine any day, and any season. Remember, Rosé all day!

That concludes my brief. What is your Rosé of the Year? Cheers!

 

 

Mother Nature, Unbound

August 9, 2019 2 comments

I love photography. If you flip through the pages of this blog, you will see lots of pictures – I enjoy taking the pictures, and I enjoy sharing them.

Yes, this is a wine blog, and so most of the pictures here are related to either wine and food. Most, but not all – as, for example, will be this post.

I rarely take pictures of people – or even if I do, I rarely share them publicly. Nature, on the other hand, might be my most favorite subject, both for taking the pictures and for sharing them.

Yesterday we needed to take a trip downtown Stamford in the evening, and then the thought was  – why don’t we take the dog down to the beach for a walk?

Oh my… Once we arrived at the beach, for the next 30 minutes or so, we couldn’t stop looking and looking around, trying to fully appreciate and take in one of the most magnificent spectacles ever put out by Mother Nature (okay, yes, I’m going too far – she does it every day, non-stop around the world, but still). I often tell people that Mother Nature is a true and original artist, I just try my best to capture her creations and share them with the world.

I usually prefer to convey my own vision of the same Mother Nature’s act in my pictures (read – edit them), but yesterday’s performance was so perfect that I’m just sharing it as is, not edited at all – #nofilter as we like to say.

Enjoy!

How To Buy Wine At Auction

July 27, 2019 Leave a comment

* * * This is a sponsored post * * *

Buying at auction is great for many reasons – it’s sustainable, it’s timely, there’s huge range, and there’s plenty of quality –  but beyond the purchasing of artworks, jewelry, furniture and collectibles, auctions are particularly great for acquiring wine.

Though many wine connoisseurs and collectors may not know it, top quality wine is available at a fraction of the cost and in large quantities at auction. Whether it’s the wine of France, Italy or Spain that takes your fancy, or whether the New World (New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, US, South America) is your ultimate preference, you can find wine in all shapes, tastes and forms at auction. The best place to find wine is through the search service Barnebys, where you’ll find thousands of online auctions at any one time and you can actively bid on these auctions from your computer, wherever you may be.

Consider yourself a wine collector? Find out what your collection is worth with ValueMyStuff, where you will receive a valuation of your item(s) within either 24 or 48 hours. If you’re interested in selling your collection at auction, ValueMyStuff can put you in touch with the right house.

Photo: Marco Mornati

There are a few tips you should know before entering the auction room, however, whether it’s online or in person. Here’s our guide to purchasing wine at auction:

Try something new

If you go to a specific vineyard for a tasting, you’re limited to that vineyard’s own range and produce. However, buying at auction provides access to all kinds of variety and wine from across the world. Auctions are the perfect chance to let your tastebuds fly and to try something new, particularly as each bottle comes at a fraction of the cost of that from a wholesaler or retailer. Mix up your usual order with something daring – it may just end up being the perfect component to your next dinner party.

wine on the shelf

Photo: Scott Warman

Do your research

Particularly if it’s an old wine, make sure you ask about provenance and condition. It’s okay to be nosey, and don’t worry about being a nuisance – it’s your right to ask these kinds of questions. Auctions are the best place to source hard-to-find or niche vintages, and you shouldn’t shy away from older wines, but be sure to understand the condition of the bottles. Other things to consider are not only the age of the wine, but also the label, the cap, the capsule, the origin, how’s it’s been stored, and at what price it’s selling for elsewhere.

Photo: Barnebys/Bukowskis

Expect to pay a buyer’s premium

Remember, the price you bid on at auction – the amount that goes down with the hammer – isn’t the final price as it doesn’t include all costs. You need to factor in the auction house’s buyer’s premium (it’s typically around 20%, but this is at the house’s discretion so be sure to ask beforehand). There may also be charges such as duty or VAT, and, if the auction house isn’t near your home, you’ll need to factor in extra costs such as shipping and transportation.

Photo: Jeff Burrows

Bid

Bidding for wine at auction is exactly like bidding on art, jewelry or antiques, but, as always, it’s best to ask questions as each auction house is unique. You’ll need to register for the auction, place your (maximum) bid, and, if you’re successful, pay any extra costs before collecting your item(s) or arranging transport. Buying at auction may seem intimidating, but it needn’t be: it’s just like online shopping, except you’re purchasing against a few other people and you’re vying for the best price. It’s all about timing: bid early and stake your claim, or wait it out and swoop in at the last minute.

And all this is made easy with Barnebys, where you can search all wines available at auction across the world. Filter by price, location or auction date – and start bidding and adding to your collection today!

June – What a Month, in Wines and Pictures – Part 2

July 11, 2019 6 comments

Warning – lots of pictures will be following. And you can find Part 1 post here.

My birthday celebration usually means “party”. This year we decided with my wife instead of cooking and cleaning for 2 days to spend time by ourselves and go to stay somewhere fun. We managed to pack a lot in mere 3 days.

As a collector of experiences, I’m trying to fill my Wines of 50 States map, so as we were driving to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, I decided to visit local New Hampshire winery. Fulchino Vineyard was almost on the way, so this was our first stop (the details are coming in the separate post). Then we arrived at our intended destination for the evening – Wentworth by the Sea, a magnificent property hosting the Marriott hotel.

Wentworth by the Sea

When I drove by that hotel 5–6 years ago, I still remember my admiration of a beautiful structure. It got stuck in my mind and I was waiting for an opportunity to visit – I’m glad it worked out. Beautiful building, beautiful views, beautiful property – we really enjoyed our short stay. And I will let you decide whether this place is beautiful or not take a look at a few pictures below.

While Marriott was a great property in a magnificent setting, our next stop greatly exceeded my expectations. A few months ago I resubscribed to the Yankee magazine – it is a print magazine which is squarely focused on the happenings in New England part of the US, from Connecticut to Maine. As my “bonus”, I got a tiny leaflet called “Best of New England”, where one of the places that caught my attention was Inn at Woodstock Hill in Woodstock, Connecticut, mentioned as “Best Inn for privacy”. The Inn also conveniently hosted a restaurant with raving reviews, which sounded perfect for the birthday dinner.

When we arrived at the Inn, we found out that our room was located not at the main building, but at the adjacent cottage, which has a total of three rooms, but we would be the only people to stay there. So we literally had a whole house to ourselves, with the deck and the view of the fields. In addition to the fields which looked perfectly untouched, we had a pleasure of walking around a small garden, where blueberries, black (I’m assuming) currant and gooseberries were all growing, and a small field of poppies was yet another source of great pleasure, as we don’t spend much time around those gentle flowers.

I brought with me a couple of bottles to celebrate the occasion. One of those bottles was 2015 Field Recordings Foeder Old Portero Vineyard Arroyo Grande Valley (14.9% ABV, 50% Syrah, 35% Zinfandel, 15% Mourvèvedre, aged for 12 months in 50 barrel American Oak Foeder). While I generally treat Field Recordings wines as every day delicious wines, good for any day which name ends with a “y”, some of those wines are a bit more special, as they are not produced regularly, and when produced, the quantities are minuscule. This was one of such wines, which I had for a couple of years, but then decided that birthday is a good enough occasion to have it open. This happened to be a mistake, as wine could definitely enjoy another 10 years to fully evolve, but even then, it was a delicious, fresh, acidity-forward concoction of sour cherries and blackberries, with well-defined structure and dense finish.

Our dinner didn’t disappoint either. First, the folks at the restaurant were very kind and let us bring our own wine despite having the full wine list (the corking charge was $15, which was totally fine, of course). The wine which I brought, 1998 Kirkland Ranch Merlot Napa Valley (14% ABV) was on my “to open” list for a while. I got a few of these bottles from Benchmark Wine and was really curious to see how the wine would fare, but the bottle went unopened on a few prior occasions. This time the cork was finally pulled out, and the wine delivered lots of pleasure. It started its journey to the peak but was still far from it – fresh, good acidity, a complex bouquet of roasted meat, coffee, dark fruit (cherries and plums), good balance – very enjoyable. The wine continued to evolve throughout the evening, giving me good hope for a few more bottles I have left.

The food at the Inn at Woodstock Hill (the restaurant doesn’t have its own name, and because of it you can’t find it on Yelp, but it has all information on the web) was delicious. We started with an Escargot, which was enjoyed to the last morsel, and Artichoke Bottoms, which were unique and delicious. Then I had The Wedge salad, which is one of my perennial favorites – you can get any salad off the menu complementary to your main dish, a very nice feature – and The Wedge again was delicious. My main dish was Pork Shank, which was… well, I don’t know if I should declare myself a pork shank connoisseur, but I’ve been through the Czech Republic, where pork is king – this dish was absolutely on par with the best versions I tasted in Prague. Yep, it was a delicious standout or it was standoutously delicious (yeah, I know it is not a word – but this is my blog :)), but I’m sure you got my point.

The morning with that fields view was just perfect. I couldn’t stop myself from taking more and more pictures…

We made two more stops before finally getting home. First, we discovered the Rosewood Cottage, a pink-colored summer residence of Henry and Lucy Bowen, built in 1846, also sporting beautiful garden delimited by 150+ years old shrubs. The Cottage, which now belongs to the Historic New England organization, hosted 4 of the US Presidents visiting Bowen family on various occasions. Over these years, the house was painted 13 times in various shades of pink, has many of the original wall coverings (wallpaper) called lincrusta, and stained glass windows, some of those original since the house was built. It also houses the oldest in the United States indoor bowling alley! Does it worth a special trip? Yep, it does.

 

Our last stop was at the Taylor Brooke Winery, also located in Woodstock. Compared to my previous Connecticut wineries experience, this was definitely a better one – but more about it later.

Here you go, my friends – one memorable June of 2019. How was yours? Cheers!

Stories of Passion and Pinot: Iris Vineyards

June 18, 2019 1 comment

Let me ask you something. If you would look at the mountainous parcel of land, completely destroyed by the brutal commercial logging – would you be able to envision there a beautiful Pinot Noir vineyard? (if you answered “no”, same as I did, don’t worry about it – this is why you and I are not in the winemaking business). When Richard Boyles and his wife Pamela saw such a logging-destroyed site at the south end of the Willamette Valley, they were able to see past the nature in distress. They were able to see the future vineyards and even future forest restored where it was before. They purchased about 1,000 acres site in 1992, and it became the home to the Iris Vineyards, with the name inspired by the beautiful wild Douglas iris covering the surrounding hills in spring.

Richard’s fate was sealed at the age of 7, when he assumed assistant winemaker duty to his grandmother, helping her to make the sweet, dessert wine. As they say it in the stories, the rest was history. Richard met Pamela while studying at the University of Oregon. Countless visits to Europe and living there for a while as Richard had a carrier in international business management and hospitality, helped Richard and Pamela to discover their wine passion – Burgundy, and its signature grape – Pinot Noir. That passion for Pinot helped Richard and Pamela to see through the broken trees and realize their dream of making the world-class Pinot Noir.

Well, there is also an additional element to that passion – a principle of Areté. Richard and Pamela learned about Areté in the university, while studying ancient Greek philosophy. This principle simply means that it is one’s moral obligation to achieve the highest potential the person can achieve. Give it a thought – Areté is really a great principal to live by; we will get back to it later on in this post.

Today Iris Vineyards farms about 43 acres of vineyards, located at 800 to 1,100 feet elevation (quite high for the Willamette Valley). The vineyards are surrounded by more than 500 acres of restored forest, mostly Douglas fir and Ponderosa Pine, as well as Oregon white oak. The main vineyard of the estate, Chalice Vineyard, was planted in 1996 and produced its first vintage in 2001. Pinot Noir takes two third of the plantings, following by the Pinot Gris and a small acreage of Chardonnay. Iris Vineyards also produces a number of other, less traditional wines (Viognier, Syrah, and more) from other appellations in Oregon, such as Applegate Valley.

Richard Boyles Iris Vineyards

Richard Boyles

I was definitely intrigued by what I learned about the Iris Vineyards, so I took an opportunity to sit down with Richard Boyles (yes, once again it was a virtual conversation) and ask him a few questions. Here is what transpired:

[TaV]: You grew up tasting sweet wines. How did you end up with Pinot Noir becoming a passion?
[RB]: Although my first experience was sweet wines made and sampled with my grandmother, the wines I “grew-up” with were the wines served at family celebrations organized by my dad. These were usually red Bordeaux and reds and whites of Burgundy as well as German Rieslings. As you can see, with the exception of the Rieslings, these were dry wines that were intended to pair with food. I became more focused on Pinot Noir as it became clear that Oregon could grow world-class Pinot Noir with Oregon attitude. After graduation from the U of O, while living in Seattle, Pamela and I continued to explore the world of wine, visiting vineyards, tasting rooms and sampling primarily in Oregon and Washington and occasionally in Napa and Sonoma. Our interest in Pinot Noir solidified as a passion as Pamela and I explored different viticultural areas of Europe when we lived in Germany and Switzerland. We found ourselves gravitating to Burgundy for Pinot and Alsace for Pinot Gris.

[TaV]: What made you think that the parcel of land destroyed by logging would be an ideal place to grow Pinot Noir?
[RB]: In the Pacific Northwest logging is a part of the rural economy and landscape. In the case of our property, the fact that it had been logged and that we took on the legal obligation to replant the forest meant that we were able to acquire large acreage at a modest price. The property had a long history as a mixed forest operation, with cattle and timber harvests providing income to the owners. When we acquired the property, we replanted hundreds of acres of forest before we turned our attention to planting the vineyard on former pasture. The areas for vineyard plantation were selected for the Jory and Bellpine soils, south-facing slopes, elevation and for modestly steep slopes which allow the property to be farmed with standard farm equipment. While our purchase of the property was prompted by the vineyard potential, it has been equally satisfying to plant tens of thousands of Douglas fir trees that have now matured into a forest, an ecosystem really, supporting many species of flora and fauna.

[TaV]: I know that the concept of Areté and its relevance to everything you do is explained on the website, but can you explain one more time for our readers what Areté means for you and how does it apply to the Iris Vineyards and your wines?
[RB]: In addition to what is on the website and press kit, this is what I would say about Areté: Areté is a philosophy or way of being that says, “Hey buddy, you want to excel and standout? Then be deliberate about it. Figure out what skills and knowledge you need, practice them, perfect them if you can. Figure out what else will up your game. Go get that skill or knowledge. Repeat. Because that is what this life is all about. A constant aspiration to live up to the potential that is you. Why would you settle for less?” With respect to Areté at Iris, Areté is a cultural signpost. It tells team members and prospective team members what we value at Iris, how we want to be and be seen as an organization. It tells team members how they can contribute. We can only be an organization that exemplifies Areté if our team members embrace it, make decisions and plans by it. By making it clear what we are about, we attract like-minded team members. And, of course, Areté is a proclamation to the world about aspirations. So, we take it very seriously when we put the Areté name on the label of the wines that are the best examples of our craft.

[TaV]: I would guess that first was Pinot Noir, then Pinot Gris, then Chardonnay (curious – am I right?), but Iris Vineyards today offers way more than just 3 flagship Oregon grapes – how did you get to include Syrah, Tempranillo, Viognier into your repertoire?
[RB]: From the time we committed to establishing a vineyard, Pamela and I planned to grow Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay. The expansion into other varietals is the result of two factors: 1) the desire to create variety for our club members; and, 2) our winemaker, Aaron Lieberman’s curiosity, interest and skill at working with grape varieties beyond Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.

Iris Vineyards

Source: Iris Vineyards

[TaV]: While it is not yet available on your website, I understand that you are about to introduce Iris Sparkling wines. Can you tell me more about this project, starting even with “why sparkling wines”?
[RB]: Much as the reintroduction of the Rosé program was in response to Pamela’s strong interest in Rosé and renewed consumer interest in the category, the sparkling wine program came about as a result of Aaron’s interest in, and interest in the challenge of making sparkling wine. Sparkling wine is the ultimate celebratory beverage. Our club members and tasting room visitors love our Methode Champenois Blanc de Noir and Blanc de Blanc. We reserve a small amount for weddings and other celebrations at the tasting room, though the sparklers routinely sell out prior to the subsequent release. Aaron can expand on what brought him to pursue sparkling.

[TaV]: Will sparkling wines be generally available or they will be offered as winery exclusive/club options?
[RB]: I anticipate that the sparkling wines will be available to club members, available at the tasting room, available to weddings and celebrations held on the property and perhaps to select accounts. I don’t anticipate that it will be available to broad distribution. These are intensely hand made wines requiring lots of time and attention. The sparklers will have an important but limited role in our line-up.

[TaV]: Considering the wide range of grapes you already use, do you have any plans to expand it any further?
[RB]: Our offerings will continue to evolve. Our core business is in Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Rosé. As we expand our vineyard, we will plant small amounts of Pinot Meunier and Pinot Blanc as well as a broader variety of clones of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. Pinot Meunier will have a place in our sparkling program. We will evaluate it as a potential stand-alone variety. Pinot Blanc will be a standalone bottling. I expect we will pare some wines from our current offerings as we respond to the tastes of our club members and tasting room visitors. 8. I’m assuming you started producing wines at the end of the 1990s. Do you still have any of your first releases available in the cellar? How do they hold up? What is the oldest of your own wines you ever tasted?
We first bottled wine under our own label in 2001. Prior to that, we sold the small volume of fruit coming from our vineyards to other producers. We recently sampled a bottle of 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir. We have a single bottle left. I wish we had more in our cellar. While this wine wasn’t deliberately built to last ten years, it is drinking very well. The 2012 Reserve Pinot is drinking nicely. Pamela and I have a few overlooked bottles of 2001 and 2002 Pinot Gris in our personal cellar. These were award winners 15 and sixteen years ago, including double platinum for 2002. As compelling as these wines were at two, three, four and even five-year-olds, they weren’t intended to age and are now past their prime. It’s a good reminder to drink while the drinking is good.

[TaV]: You are practicing sustainable farming. Can you explain what it means for you, how does it relate to the land, vineyards, grapes and so on? Have you ever looked at going Biodynamic?
[RB]: The goal of our farming practices is to produce fruit that meets our particular purposes. We use different farm practices and viticultural techniques for Pinot Noir that’s intended for Rose’ differently than the fruit that is intended for our estate bottling for instance. Our farm practices are conventional as we want to have all the tools available to produce the best fruit for the purpose while supporting the long-term productive capacity of the vineyard and operating a financially sustainable business. Farming isn’t static. We annually review best practices and new literature to improve what we do in the vineyard. While we have considered a Biodynamic approach, we believe we can produce better fruit for our purposes with a conventional approach to farming.

[TaV]: When you are not drinking your own wines, what are your favorite wines from Oregon, and from around the world?
[RB]: One of the notable things about the world of wine today is that so much great (and not so great) wine is accessible from all over the world. We see wine as an exploration, so we regularly try what we haven’t tried before. That is as likely to be a Pinot from a new Oregon producer, a Sauvignon Blanc from a new growing region or an obscure varietal we haven’t tasted in a while. Through exploration, we learn more than returning to the same things repeatedly. That said, we have a broad stable of wines of our own production. We do frequently return to those.

[TaV]: Where do you see Iris Vineyards in 15-20 years from now?
[RB]: I expect that Iris will garner increasing consumer attention as we offer compelling wines at a good value. I expect that we will continue to offer wines across a variety of complex profiles and price points. I don’t say across a variety of quality, because all of our wines are of high quality, they just differ in terms of complexity. Personally, in 15 or twenty years I hope to have more tractor time and hands-on time in the vineyard and in the winery, particularly at crush. Overseeing this and other businesses currently require that I focus on the big picture. It was a “need” to farm and a maker mentality that brought us into the business. I still craft beer, pickle and can. I look forward to re-creating my job description to allow more time in the vineyard and winery and less in the business of running a business.

Yes, I agree with you – it is time to drink. I had an opportunity to taste two of the Iris Vineyards Pinot Noir wines – here are my notes:

2017 Iris Vineyards D Block Pinot Noir Chalice Vineyard Willamette Valley (12.7% ABV, $39.99, 300 cases produced)
Bright Ruby
Light, elegant, plums, cherries, a touch of ripe strawberries
Sweet cherries, plums, great acidity, excellent balance
8-/8, nice and approachable

2016 Iris Vineyards Areté Willamette Valley (14.1% ABV, $59.99, 100 cases produced)
Dark Ruby
Touch of smoke, plums, a hint of cranberries
Iodine, Cherries, a touch of smoke, good balance
8/8+, very good wine, will be interesting to try it again in 10 years…

Cropped Bench Iris Vineyards

Source: Iris Vineyards

Here you are, my friends – another story of Passion and Pinot. Go pour yourself a glass of Pinot – more stories are ahead…

To be continued…

P.S. Here are the links to the posts profiling wineries in this Passion and Pinot series, in alphabetical order:

Alloro Vineyard, Bells Up Winery, Ghost Hill Cellars, Ken Wright Cellars, Knudsen Vineyards, Lenné Estate, Tendril Cellars, Youngberg Hill Vineyards, Vidon Vineyard

Daily Glass: Oh, Turley

June 14, 2019 2 comments

I remember discovering Turley Zinfandel many years ago for the first time at the pre-theater dinner in New York with my friend Henry. I wouldn’t tell you now if I heard something about Turley before we picked the bottle of Turley the off the wine list, or if it was just a happy accident. I just remember our reaction of a pure “wow” at how beautiful the wine was. Ever since that discovery, Turley wine almost became our secret handshake – when I show up with a bottle of Turley at my friend’s house, I get an understanding smirk and a nod – “you did good, buddy”.

Once the Turley was discovered, the very next question was – how can I get it. This is where I learned about the concept of the wine mailing list, starting with the waitlist (I talked about all those terms before – if you need a refresher, the link is here). I believe Turley was one of the first if not the first of the wine lists I signed up for (meaning, got on the waiting list for the mailing list). Turley also happened to be the very first mailing lists I got accepted to – to my big surprise and delight, as the wait was not that long (a few years).

Turley Estate Zinfandel Napa Valley

In case you are not familiar with Turley and don’t readily share into the excitement of the subject, here is a brief introduction. Turley Wine Cellars is a winery in Napa Valley in California, which specializes in Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. The winery was started in 1993 by Larry Turley, who was actively working in the wine before and developed a serious passion for Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, especially for the old vine Zinfandel (some of Turley vineyards are continuously producing since the late 1800s). Today, Turley produces 47 different wines from 50 different vineyards throughout Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Lodi, Amador Couty and other regions in California. You can find Turley wines in the stores and the restaurants, but they are scarcely available, as while they are making 47 different wines, most of the wines are produced in the hundreds of cases only, so the best way to get Turley wines is by signing up for the mailing list. One more thing I want to mention, as it is important to me – even with all the [rightly deserved] fame (they are definitely one of the top 5, or maybe even top 3 Zinfandel producers in the USA), Turley wines are still affordable on the mailing list, with some of the wines still priced at $20, and with absolution majority of the wines costing under $50 (Hanes Vineyard Zinfandel is probably the only exception at $75).

Since I got on the mailing list, Turley wines became my favorite present for the wine-loving friends. Every time we meet, my friend Patrick gets a bottle of Turley to take home to Switzerland – it is an equal exchange though, as I always get a bottle of unique and interesting Swiss wine – not something you can casually find here in the US. I also love the reaction such a present causes when people look at the bottle. I brought Turley for my friend Oz when we met in Singapore, and I handed it to him when we were finishing dinner. I perfectly remember huge, ear to ear smile on his face when he saw the bottle, and his exact words sharing the excitement with his friends “look, he got me a Turley!”. Lots of fond memories associated with Turley, in a variety of ways.

What caused this outpour of Turley love? Opening of the bottle of 2014 Turley Estate Zinfandel Napa Valley. How can I describe it? To me, a well made Zinfandel should have a perfect core of raspberries and blackberries with the addition of spices – it should have restrained sweetness and not be jammy. If you drink Zinfandel often, you know that what I just described is difficult to find. This wine had exactly that. A perfect core of ripe, succulent raspberries and blackberries, covered in pepper, sage, sweet tobacco and eucalyptus. Perfectly dry, with a firm structure and layers and layers of flavor. This is the wine you say “ahh” after every sip, and you say “ohh” when the bottle gets empty. And to complete my description, note that 15.6% ABV was not noticeable at all. A perfect balance and pure pleasure is what makes this wine so special.

Here it is, my wine love story of the day. What’s yours? Cheers!

Stories of Passion and Pinot: Bells Up Winery

May 31, 2019 5 comments

Do you know by any chance what “bells up” means? If you do, you can already pat yourself on the back and pour yourself a glass of wine. If you don’t – you can pour yourself a glass of wine and ponder at the question for a bit – the answer will follow.

Meanwhile, let’s talk about the passion, an indelible component of winemaking, possibly even a key ingredient in a delicious wine.

Dave Specter started making wine in the basement of his home back in 2006. By 2009, he realized that passion for winemaking trumpets his (successful!) career of a corporate tax attorney, and Dave decided to let his passion lead the way. In 2012, Dave and his wife Sara found themselves in Newberg, Oregon, purchasing a dead Christmas tree farm in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, where they started planting their estate vineyard. The rest is history – of passion and Pinot, there is.

BellsUp-Pinot Harvest

Bells Up vineyards. Source: Bells Up Winery

Before there was wine, there was music. For more than 20 years Dave had been playing the French horn. In classical music, there is always a moment which needs to be stressed – “Bells up” is the conductor’s instruction to the French horn players to lift the bells of their instruments and produce the sound of maximum intensity. “Bells up” became Dave’s motto in life, and it also gave the name to his winery – now you have your answer in case you are still wondering.

While Pinot Noir was the first grape planted at the newly minted Bells Up winery, the passion also led Dave to plant half an acre of Seyval Blanc, the grape he successfully used back in Ohio. That Seyval Blanc planting became the first in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, and second in Oregon. If you look at Bells Up winery website, you will see that the winery bills itself as micro-boutique and un-domaine – planting Seyval Blanc and not Pinot Gris in Oregon is clearly an un-domaine move. By the way, the “un-domaine” was one of the words which caught my eye while researching the Bells Up winery information. So I took the opportunity to sit down (virtually, albeit) with Dave and listen to him share his passion for wine. Here is what transpired in our conversation:

[TaV]: What kind of wine(s) did you make in your basement in Cincinnati?
[DS]: In the beginning, when my wife Sara and I started making wine in 2006 as a couple’s activity for our fifth wedding anniversary, we started with kit wines—juice in a bag, essentially. When I moved on to grapes, I sourced from both local and regional vineyards for Seyval Blanc, as well as through a Cincinnati vintners club that would truck in fruit from vineyards in California. From that I made Syrah, Petit Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot—even a Pinot Noir, although that fruit was sourced from Lodi, and was completely unlike the Pinot I work within Oregon today. Essentially, it was a hobby that grew out of control.

[TaV]: Why Oregon? As a young winemaker, you had many options – what made you decide to go to Oregon?
[DS]: First, thank you for calling me young. We were a whole lot younger when we started this journey. After that first kit wine, I was hooked on the process and wanted to learn more. Sara graciously let me take over the basement, then the garage, then the dining room. And we started taking wine vacations to “hidden gem” wine regions—Texas Hill Country, Finger Lakes, and finally Oregon in 2008.

We had already visited Oregon briefly in 2004 and loved it. In 2008 we spent two weeks roaming the state, with the last few days in Newberg at a bed and breakfast just 400 feet up the mountain from the property that is now ours. We fell in love with Oregon, the scenery, the climate, the wines, and the intimate experiences tasting wines at the tiniest wineries with the winemaker. We decided then that this was the place for us.

[TaV]: Seyval Blanc is one of the most popular grapes in the Eastern US. But why Seyval Blanc in Oregon?
[DS]: When we moved to Oregon in 2012, we knew we wanted to plant a vine that connected to our story. I’d been working with Seyval Blanc for years in Ohio and when I won two amateur national winemaking competitions in 2011, one was with a 2010 Seyval Blanc. So, it was a great tie-in.

But also, we see an opportunity to differentiate ourselves with a white wine that nobody else has in the Willamette Valley—and only one other winery has in Oregon. Plus, we believed it would grow well here, and after two small harvests that resulted in some beautiful wine, we’re happy to be proven right. Note, however, we didn’t plant a lot of it: only about 250 vines (and not all of them made it—so Sara’s been propagating like crazy ever since for replants). We figured if it was a failure, we could always graft over it.

[TaV]: Any future plans for more mainstream Oregon white grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling?
[DS]: From a business perspective, we’ve taken a really close look at what other wineries in the area are making, and for a 500-ish case production winery like ours it’s best to have just one white wine available for sale at a given time. That’s because we don’t move enough volume and the whites generally don’t age as long as reds.

We currently make Pinot Blanc and we like it quite a bit. It’s a bit rarer in these parts than Pinot Gris or Chardonnay, which again helps to differentiate us. But as for expanding our white wine program, the ultimate plan is to phase out Pinot Blanc for Seyval Blanc and that will be the only white in our line-up. There are a lot of similarities between my Pinot Blanc and my Seyval
Blanc, so the transition from one to the other won’t be as jarring as a shift from another white varietal, such as Chardonnay.

Bells Up Wines in the cellar

Bells Up wines. Source: Bells Up winery

[TaV]: Today you already make white, rosé, and red. Any plans to join seemingly the hottest Oregon trend and start producing sparkling wine?
[DS]: No. I know I keep coming back to the numbers, but I’m a finance guy with an MBA and a corporate tax law career. While we think there’s a place in the market for adding bubbles to still wines, if I made a sparkling wine I’d want to do it the right way (traditional method). That takes time, space and money. And at our volumes, what we’d have to charge per bottle to justify that type of investment is more than what the market would reasonably bear.

[TaV]: Continuing the same question – as you already produce Seyval Blanc, which makes very good dessert wines, any plans for some Late Harvest Seyval Blanc goodness?
[DS]: Don’t give Sara any ideas! Actually, we’ve been so focused on just getting these Seyval Blanc vines established and proving that our concept had legs that we really haven’t thought much farther than straight up Seyval Blanc. Our 2017 harvest yielded 100 pounds and made 23 bottles (yes, bottles)! Our 700-pound 2018 harvest produced 15 cases and we’ve made that available exclusively to our wine club members on a 2-bottle allocation. Give me a few years when I’ve got Seyval Blanc growing out of my ears and I’ll get back to you on a Late Harvest version.

[TaV]: Who are your winemaking mentors (if any)?
[DS]: First and foremost, Joe Henke of Henke Winery in Cincinnati. Joe took me under his wing as a basement winemaking hobbyist. He offered me a position as an unpaid cellar rat but promised he’d teach me everything he knew—open book—and he did. He even showed me his books because he wanted me to understand what he called “the good, the bad and the ugly of being a professional winemaker.” He’s an award-winning winemaker who makes 2,000 cases across roughly 15 different types of wines (including a phenomenal sparkling Chardonnay and an incredible Norton) in the basement of a 100-year-old house in an urban neighborhood with the bare essentials: barrels, a pump, a press, a pallet jack. I learned so much from him about the process of winemaking and the business of winemaking; that you don’t need a bunch of expensive equipment to make incredible wines. You just need to do a ton of cleaning. Amazing mentor.

Additionally, I did a harvest internship in the Fall of 2012 at Alexana in Dundee, Oregon under Bryan Weil. It was Bryan’s first harvest there as winemaker and Lynn Penner-Ash of Penner-Ash Wine Cellars was still working alongside Bryan, as she had been consulting winemaker for the label prior to Bryan coming on board. I soaked up as much as I could about working with Pinot Noir from both of them. Because, at age 39, I was not your typical harvest intern—plus I had three years of time at Henke Winery under my belt—Bryan was gracious enough to build my internship around what I needed to learn. He put me in the vineyard for sampling fruit, for example, something I’d never had the opportunity to do before. He had me set up the lab for him and run lots of testing because I knew how to do it. We’re still very close today and I appreciate everything he was gracious enough to share with me.

As far as winery business mentors, there have been so many people in the Willamette Valley who have generously offered advice and shared their successes and failures that it would be impossible to name them all. But they know who they are.

[TaV]: What is your view on sustainable viticulture, dry farming, organic methods?
[DS]: That’s what we do here in our own vineyard and at the vineyards we source from. We think it’s very important to be good stewards of the Earth—we’re farmers now! It also produces stronger vines that develop more flavorful grapes and ultimately better wines.

[TaV]: How did you choose the music pieces as the names of your wines? What was your thought process, what criteria? What message are you trying to convey with those names?
[DS]: Let me start by explaining the name of the winery. I played French Horn for more than 20 years (I’m horribly out of practice now—Sara says I only make noise) including after business and law schools, so it was a key part of my life. When it came time to name the winery, we wanted to name it something personal that wasn’t our last name (people are terrible at remembering names!) and I really wanted to tie it into the French Horn. Coincidentally, the property Sara found was on Bell Road in Newberg. So that tied in perfectly to the term “Bells Up,” which is a notation by the composer in the score of a piece of music. At a dramatic moment, it directs the French Horns to lift the bells of their instruments to project their sound with more intensity. It’s our time to shine—which is why I say the winery is my #bellsupmoment.

The pieces of music I chose to name each wine are all ones that prominently feature the French Horn, as well as epitomize the wine itself. George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” inspired our Pinot Blanc to be named “Rhapsody” because it’s a jazzy, energetic white wine. Gustav Mahler—the French Horn player’s best friend because his pieces tend to be horn-heavy—wrote his Symphony No. 1 in D Major, called “Titan,” and it’s become regarded as his flagship work. Therefore, our Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, which we consider to be our flagship Pinot, is “Titan.” And so on. There’s a link at the top of our wines page to a playlist of all the pieces for those interested in hearing them.

[TaV]: Why “un-domaine”?
[DS]: It was a term that came up as we were discussing how to describe our casual tasting room vibe, our keep-it-simple winemaking approach, and our distinctive brand with a good friend who happens to be a wine writer. A couple of years ago after we opened our doors in 2015 there was a trend of new wineries opening in the Willamette Valley with the word “Domaine” in their name. We just aren’t. Our property is humble, our tasting room is a converted pole barn, you won’t find a marble fireplace. While Sara and I enjoy wine, nobody would ever confuse us with wine snobs.

Does “un-domaine” mean we’re not for everyone? Absolutely. There’s no cachet associated with owning or drinking a bottle of Bells Up wine. And that’s perfectly fine with us. We’d much rather be the bottle on your table every day of the week than the one gathering dust in the wine rack because you spent a ton of money on it and are waiting for a special occasion—and friends who will appreciate it—before it’s opened.

[TaV]: Did you have a pivotal wine in your life, the one which changed your wine worldview?
[DS]: Not so much a specific wine but a wine experience I had very early on. I had the pleasure of visiting some friends in Europe after graduating from law school and they took me to Beaune (in the heart of Burgundy) for a weekend. We did a lot of tasting in the touristy cellars, but also in garages and co-operatives where the atmosphere was much more down-to-earth. I knew absolutely nothing about wine prior to that but I was in awe of what I saw, smelled, and tasted. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but I was in the heart of a culture that valued wine as an everyday experience—that part really resonated with my soul. Looking back, I’m sure that I would appreciate that experience more fully if I took the same trip now, but that time in Beaune has fueled my passion for wine ever since.

[TaV]: With the exception of your own wines, what are your favorite Oregon wines and /or producers?
[DS]: We truly have an embarrassment of riches here in the Willamette Valley—so many quality producers call this place home that a list of my favorite producers would fill about 3 dozen barrels. With every producer having their own unique style—plus the trailblazing nature of the Oregon wine industry—innovation is happening all the time: new grapes, new techniques, and so on. I think many people assume that a winemaker drinks only his or her own wine at home, but the truth is I almost never drink my own wines outside of the professional setting. I’d much rather be exploring the styles and fresh ideas that other winemakers here are creating and perhaps get inspired to try some of those ideas myself!

[TaV]: What are your favorite wines and/producers outside of Oregon?
[DS]: Again, way too many to answer! The wines I enjoy most are ones where I have a personal connection in some way and I’m fortunate to have so many talented friends in other parts of the winemaking world. Back in Ohio, my mentor Joe Henke at Henke Winery, of course, but also my friends Greg Pollman of Valley Vineyards and Bill Skvarla of Harmony Hill Vineyards make fantastic wines from grapes grown locally and regionally. Up in Woodinville, Washington my friend, Lisa Callan of Callan Cellars is making a name for herself with her Washington-focused program. And up over the border in Naramata, British Columbia my friend Jay Drysdale has founded Bella Sparkling Wines, BC’s only winery dedicated to sparkling wines. I know that some other friends have projects in the works and can’t wait to brag about them in a few years too.

[TaV]: Where do you see Bells Up Winery in 20 years?
[DS]: Not in the grocery store. Our customer base is national, but we have no aspirations for retail distribution. We’re perfectly content to sell direct-to-consumer and to a couple of local restaurants and a wine bar in Downtown Portland. When we hit 1,000-case production, that’s it. We won’t make any more than that annually because we both enjoy and believe wholeheartedly in the micro-boutique winery experience we’ve created. We want to have personal relationships with our customers. We specifically don’t have an online ordering portal because we want to have a conversation with our buyers either by phone or email. Making and maintaining those connections is really important to us, and we hope to grow those relationships over the next 20 years and beyond.

I’m sure you are ready to taste some wine by now. Before I will share with you my notes after tasting 3 of Dave’s wines, I want to bring something to your attention. By now you know that Bells Up wines are named after different musical compositions. In case you want to experience those musical compositions, either by themselves or together with the wine, Dave has a link to Spotify playlist of all the relevant music pieces available on the winery website. And now, here are my notes:

2018 Bells Up Helios Seyval Blanc Chehalem Mountains AVA (13.1% ABV, $38, 15 cases produced)
Light golden
Restrained, minerality-driven, touch of gunflint, a touch of fresh green apples
Excellent acidity, Granny Smith apples all the way, crisp, fresh, good texture. Has traits of Seyval Blanc (tropical fruit intent, I would say, like a hint of guava without any fruit notes), but put on a different core
8-, very interesting, thought-provoking and food friendly wine (acidity lingers on the finish for a good couple of minutes)

2018 Bells Up Prelude Rosé of Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains (13% ABV, $22, 126 cases produced)
Light red
Medium plus intensity, distant hint of the barnyard, underripe cranberries, herbal notes
Bone dry, crunchy cranberries, excellent acidity, food-friendly wine, fruit showing up a bit later, excellent balance
8/8+, delicious and dangerous. I can keep drinking it until the bottle will be empty

2016 Bells Up Titan Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (13.1% ABV, $40, 12 months in French oak (39% new), 131 cases produced)
Dark ruby
Plums, a hint of smoke, violets
Slightly underripe plums, crisp cherries, sage undertones, good acidity, light to medium body,
8-, light, easy to drink, food friendly. Should improve with time.

Dave Specter conducts Bells Up-Private Tasting

Dave Specter conducts the private tasting. Source: Bells Up Winery

Here you are, my friends. Another story of Passion and Pinot.

To be continued…

P.S. Here are the links to the posts profiling wineries in this Passion and Pinot series, in alphabetical order:

Alloro Vineyard, Ghost Hill Cellars, Ken Wright Cellars, Knudsen Vineyards, Lenné Estate, Tendril Cellars, Youngberg Hill Vineyards, Vidon Vineyard

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