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When in Texas…

August 29, 2019 6 comments

Travel is a part of my job (the job which pays the bills) – nothing unique here, of course, and when my flights are not delayed for 14 hours or canceled, and I don’t have to sleep on airport terminal’s floor, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

As a wine junky (replace with your favorite epithet – lover, aficionado, geek, snob, …) I’m always on a lookout for two things when I travel.

One would be experiencing new wines – in whatever way possible. It might be a Vino Volo boutique at the airport, offering local wines. It might be a local winery within the driving distance. It might be a store which offers interesting wines (local, unique, inexpensive – whatever can constitute “interesting”).

The other one is meeting with friends. It is amazing how easy it is to become good friends over a glass of wine. The wine offers endless opportunity to talk, learn from each other, learn about each other’s lives, and really, to become friends.

Of course, you can meet your friends face to face only when your travel schedule will allow that. During my last trip to Dallas, Texas, in July, my schedule allowed for such a meeting. After exchanging a few emails with Melanie Ofenloch, a.k.a. Dallas Wine Chick (wine blogger at DallasWineChick – if you are not familiar with Melanie, here is a recent interview with her), she was able to rearrange her schedule and had time to share a couple of drinks – and a conversation.

We met at the bar at the restaurant which was conveniently located for both of us. I don’t remember what exactly we were drinking, because that was really not important – the conversation about wine, past wine bloggers conferences, families and life overall was the real value of getting together.

Before we parted, Melanie asked if I ever visited Spec’s, for which I said that I have no idea what that is. She told me “you must”, and put a location into my phone, to make sure I would have no problems finding it.

Spec’s, which is known under its full name as Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods, is a chain of wine stores in the Dallas area (don’t know if they have locations throughout Texas). Everything is big in Texas, so the Spec’s I visited was sized appropriately. Rows and rows of wines, mostly sorted by the grape variety. And while everything is big in Texas, cash is also a king – Spec’s offers 10% discount for all cash wine purchases (you can see three prices at most of the wine bottles – standard price, volume discount and cash discount).

It is not a secret anymore that Texas makes excellent wines, which are also not available much anywhere outside of Texas. So when in Texas, one has to use the opportunity to experience local wines (believe me, it is well worth it). Thus Texas wine section was of the most interest to me – and I found it after a few circles.

In that section, I found a number of wines frequented in the Texas wine bloggers’ posts – for example, Becker and McPherson. I also found some wines I was familiar with, such as Duchman, and some wines I knew existed, but I never tried them, such as Infinite Monkey Theorem, produced in Austin (this city winery originated in Denver, Colorado, but they also opened a facility in Austin a while ago). I ended up taking three bottles of the Texas wine to keep me company in the hotel room.

Before I left the store I also stumbled upon a section of the “serious” wines – Bordeaux first growth, Burgundy stars, Italian legends and more. It is always fun to at least find yourself surrounded by so much wine goodness at a given moment – even that I can’t afford any of those bottles.

Back in the room, I decided to start my wine tasting with the 2015 Infinite Monkey Theorem Tempranillo Texas (13.8% ABV). Tempranillo is one of my most favorite grapes, and it is one of the popular varieties in Texas. I also had successful past experience with Infinite Monkey Theorem wine – the Cab Franc rendition I had in Denver a couple of years ago, was absolutely delicious. All together, it made me excited about trying this wine – and it didn’t disappoint. Dark fruit, a touch of roasted meat and tobacco, a hint of anise – an excellent wine.

As I bought 3 bottles at Spec’s, my initial plan was to open all 3 and try them – this is what I typically do with Trader Joe’s wines, even when I stay only for one night. I was staying only for 2 nights, and the wine was so good that I simply decided to finish this bottle and take the other two back home.

Back at home, I was quick to continue my Texas wine deep dive with 2017 McPherson Les Copains Rosé Texas (12.9% ABV, 52% Cinsault, 42% Grenache, 6% Rolle). The wine was a classic Rosé, with a bit bigger body than a typical Provence, but full of ripe strawberries with a touch of lemon, fresh, crisp, and easy to drink. I would love to drink this Rosé any day, any season.

So when in Texas, make sure to drink Texas wines – you really have to do what locals do – I have no doubts you will enjoy it. And if you will be in Dallas, remember that Spec’s might be considered a “Disneyland for Adults”. Well, maybe leave your wallet at home.

Celebrate The End Of BBQ Season with The Federalist, The American Craft Wine

August 26, 2019 3 comments

The Federalist LogoHere you have the title I’m really not sure about.

Let’s see.

The end of the BBQ Season. First, who said that BBQ season is ending? Even on the East Coast of the USA people proudly fire up their grill in January, bragging about battling knee-deep snow. Never mind California, and let me not offend the South. So what’s ending?

What’s BBQ? When I grill the steak on a gas grill, is it classified as BBQ, or is the open fire required? Is charcoal qualified as a source of fire, or do I have to use the actual wood? Food is not as polarizing as politics these days, but it still has its share.

And then even if BBQ season is ending, is that something worth celebrating?

Never mind all this blabbering, as maybe the most important question is: what is The American Craft Wine?

Let’s watch this short clip:

 

If you will search online for the “American Craft Wine”, The Federalist will be the very first link which will come up. The Federalist is the winery in California, which makes a range of traditional American wines, and defines itself as “Born from the virtues of every forward-thinking, hard-working, red-blooded American, this is The Federalist. This Is American Craft Wine.”

Is craft wine an answer to the craft beer, an extremely popular consumer category (if you ever “checked in” on Yelp, “do they serve craft beer” question is one of the most popular ones while filling up a small check-in questionnaire)? Beer is often associated with BBQ, and of course, it is better to be a craft beer. But why not a craft wine? I think we would all agree that wine is the result of winemaker’s craft; good wine requires a good skill, a craft – so maybe The Federalist is paving a way to the new wine category?

I had an opportunity to taste The Federalist wines for the first time 3 years ago, and I liked them. Therefore, when I was offered a sample of The Federalist wines a few days ago, I was really curious to see how they will fair now, as both the style of wine and my tastebuds can easily change.

The Federalist Wines

I’m glad to report that even if my tastebuds changed, I still found the wines delicious:

2016 The Federalist Cabernet Sauvignon Lodi (14% ABV, $17.99, 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Zinfandel, 2% Petite Sirah, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc; 15 months in oak, 35% new)
Garnet Color
Coffee, dark fruit, a hint of currant, eucalyptus
Soft, approachable, licorice, sweet cherries, a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg
8-, unmistakably Lodi, generous and easy to drink

2017 The Federalist Honest Red Blend North Coast (15% ABV, $21.99, 45% Zinfandel, 24% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Franc; grapes sourced from: 42% Mendocino County, 33% Sonoma County, 25% Napa County; 15 months in oak, 35% new)
Dark garnet
Blackberries, sweet oak, cassis, a hint of mocha
Firm, wells structured, blackberries, tobacco, dry tannins, dusty cherries, good acidity, good balance
8, excellent, perfect by itself, will work perfectly with the steak

Is the BBQ season ending? You’ll be the judge of that. But if you have any BBQ plans this weekend, fire up whatever you designate as your BBQ machine, and give a try to The American Craft wine, paired with your own crafted BBQ. There is a good chance you might like it. Cheers!

How Do You Albariño?

August 24, 2019 6 comments

Albariño winesQuick – name the most popular Spanish white wine (and grape). Yes, Verdejo, Viura (Macabeo), Godello are all good candidates, but the crown unquestionably belongs to Albariño, the white grape predominantly grown in Rias Baixas in Galicia, in the Nothern Spain.

As it often happens with grapes, nobody can tell for sure where Albariño originated. The leading theory is that the Albariño grape was cultivated in the Rias Baixas area for a few thousands of years. But again, similar to many stories we hear today, things got real with Albariño once the growing zone was designated by the Spanish law in 1980. While initially it was an area designated to the Albariño grape itself, once the EU rules got into the play, the same area became known as Rias Baixas DO (Denominación de Origen), and this is where the absolute majority of Spanish Albariño wine is produced.

In most of the cases, Rias Baixas Albariño is unoaked wine (there are few producers, such as La Cana, who make oaked versions, but this is rare). I don’t like generalizing about the taste of the wines from the specific region, but to me, most of the Albariño wines have a core of salinity and Meyers Lemon. If you think about the location of Rias Baixas, right on the coast of Atlantic Ocean, it makes perfect sense that the most prominent wine from the region perfectly compliments the seafood dishes which one would expect to find in the coastal region. Albariño is easy to drink, works perfectly with and without the food, and it is typically priced under $20, which makes it an excellent white wine choice overall.

It is also worth noting that slowly, but surely, Albariño wines are fine-tuning their identity. What started about 40 years ago as one single region, Rias Baixas, now comprise 5 sub-regions – Ribeira do Ulla, Val do Salnés, Soutomaior, Condado do Tea, and O Rosal. You can’t always find the sub-regions listed on the labels yet, but I’m sure this is just a matter of time.

Make no mistake – the appeal of Albariño is not lost on the rest of the world. Today you can find excellent Albariño wines produced in California (Lodi makes some amazing renditions, such as Bokisch), Oregon, and Washington – and then Texas, lest not forget about Texas. Australia is also churning out some outstanding versions of Spanish classic (don’t think those wines can be found in the USA, though).

Beginning of August saw a slew of events celebrating Albariño – International Albariño Days took place from August 1 through 5; during the same days, Albariño was celebrated at The Albariño Festival, which is the second oldest wine Festival in Spain, taking place in the city of Cambados in Rías Baixas and attracting more than 100,000 visitors.

It is important to remember that Albariño is not just for summer – it is a versatile white wine, capable to elevate any evening, with or without a seafood dinner in tow. For the past two years, I attended virtual tastings on Snooth, each including a good selection of Albariño from the different sub-regions in Rias Baixas – here you can find the detailed descriptions of the 2017 and 2018 tastings. This year, I was offered an opportunity to try a couple of samples – here are my notes:

2018 Nora Albariño Rias Baixas DO (13% ABV, $18)
Very light golden
A hint of tropical fruit, white flowers, a touch of pineapple, medium-plus intensity, inviting
Clean, fresh, minerally forward, green apples, lemon, round, perfectly balanced.
8, perfectly refreshing for a hot summer day.

2018 Señoro de Rubiós Robaliño Albariño Rias Baixas DO (12.5% ABV, $18)
Light golden
Restrained, minerality, salinity, underripe green apple
Bright, fresh, touch of white plum and lemon, zipping acidity
8-, refreshing, but craves food (oysters!)

What do you think of Albariño? What is your go-to white wine, especially when it is hot outside? Cheers!

A Quick Trip To Chile

August 22, 2019 2 comments

Have wine, will travel.

Today our destination is Chile. As our travel is virtual, we need to decide on the wine which will help us to get to Chile, hence the question to you – what wine would you associate with Chile?

If you would ask me this question about 20 years ago, my answer would be quick – Cabernet Sauvignon. Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon has an unmistakable personality with a core of bell pepper – one sip, and you know where you are heading. Then, of course, you got the Carménère – the mysterious grape of Chile, long mistaken for Merlot – for a long time, Carménère was considered the ultimate Chilean grape, its unique flagship.

How about white wine? Again – 20 years ago, it would be a Chardonnay. Actually, that would be for no specific reason outside of remembering the shelves of the wine store full of Concha y Toro Chardonnay right by the entrance to the store – the most imported wine brand at a time. Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, that Chardonnay was not particularly recognizable or memorable.

About 5 years ago, I started running into the wines which I never associated with Chile before. When I was offered to try the Chilean Pinot Noir, to say that I was skeptical would be an understatement – yep, I didn’t believe that Chilean Pinot Noir is a “thing”. Those first tastings made me believe that Pinot Noir is possible in Chile – but they were not at the level to really make me a convert. Yet.

And then, of course, Chilean Sauvignon Blanc – exuberant wine, nothing subtle about it – bright grapefruit, tons of freshly cut grass and crips lemon – very un-Sancerre. Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is truly a polarizing wine, not any less than New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – both categories have plenty of haters. But let me not get on the tangent here.

A few days ago I was offered a sample of Chilean wines I never heard of before – Kalfu, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. I’m always happy to expand my wine universe, so yes, please. This happened to be a wise decision.

Kalfu is a project by Viña Ventisquero, focused on showcasing cool climate coastal wines. In case you are wondering, as I did, what Kalfu means, here is what the website says: “Kalfu means “Blue” in Mapudungun, the language of the aboriginal Mapuche people of the region. It represents the color that provides a myriad of sensations: blue, like the Pacific Ocean’s intense blue; and blue, like the free sky, acting as an accomplice of and witness to the mysterious origins of life.”

Under Kalfu, there are three lines of wines, representing different regions – Molu from Casablanca Valley, Kuda from Leyda Valley, and Sumpai from Huasco – Atacama Desert, all three names representing different sea creatures. As the wines I tasted were from the Kuda line, let me tell you what Kuda means, again taking from the web site:  “Kuda – in the case of the seahorse or hippocampus, the female lays her eggs and then the male takes care of them until the new seahorses emerge fully developed. Unlike other sea creatures, sea horses are delicate and unique, so they need to be cherished. ”

Kalfu wines

The wines were, in a word, beautiful. And maybe even surprising.

2018 Kalfu Kuda Sauvignon Blanc Leyda Valley (12.5% ABV, $19) was currant-forward. It didn’t really have the characteristic fresh grass, nor grapefruit – it had fresh black currant leaves and loads of Meyer lemon. It was a well present wine without going overboard, with a perfect balance of fruit and acidity. And yes, every sip wanted you to take another one. Drinkability: 8+

2017 Kalfu Kuda Pinot Noir Leyda Valley (14% ABV, $19) was even more surprising. For this wine, I can use two words. Frist would be finesse. The second word – Burgundian. The wine offered smoke, black cherries, violet, a touch of pencil shavings, good minerality – nothing over the top, none of the extra sweetness, but perfect, elegant balance. For $19, this is lots and lots of wine. Drinkability: 8+/9-

Here you are, my friends. Two beautiful wines worth seeking. And now I have my new favorite Pinot Noir which I will be happy to drink at any time. Where did you travel lately? Cheers!

 

 

How To Cool Yourself Off On A Hot Summer Day

June 29, 2019 2 comments

The heat is rising.

Photo by Quốc Bảo from Pexels

This is not a metaphor – the summer is here, the temperatures are pushing up to the “beyond comfort” level, and the question is real – how do you cool yourself off?

Of course, there are lots and lots of solutions – from very low-tech fans, powered by one’s own hand, to the battery operated misters, neck braces and more – but this is the wine blog, remember? Thus we will not be talking about any gadgets, neither low-tech nor high-tech. We are going to proceed with our simple, you can even call it simplistic, approach – “wine is the answer, what is the question?”

To tame down that heat, we are going to ask for the help of mountains, called the Dolomites, or Dolomiti in Italian. The Dolomites are the mountain range located in northern Italy; they are a part of the Italian Alps, and overall they are located in the Alto Adige region. The Dolomites are known for its striking beauty and intense contrasts. The whole area is considered the world’s treasure and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2009.

Alto Adige is one of my favorite Italian wine regions, especially when it comes to white wines. The mountain climate, soil, vineyard elevations – everything which we know as terroir, all take part in producing the wines of character. Thus when I was offered a couple of wines from the region for the review, I gladly said “yes, please” – with or without a summer, Alto Adige, Trento, and all of the sub-regions, such as Vigneti delle Dolomiti, always promise to surprise you, and generally, in a good way.

Terra Alpina wines tops

The history of Alois Lageder started in 1823, first as a wine merchant business in Bolzano. Next generations of Lageder family started acquiring vineyards and experimenting with making the wine, and in 1934, Alois Lageder III purchased wine estate in Alto Adige, which became the starting point of the modern period for Alois Lageder Estate. With attention to the quality becoming paramount since the 1970s, today Alois Lageder’s 125 acres of the family estate are farmed biodynamically. You can visit the winery’s website for more information – it is not only the information, you will also find some stunning photographs there.

In addition to producing more than three dozens of different wines, Alois Lageder is also involved in the number of special projects. One such project is called Terra Alpina and it is dedicated to the striking beauty of Dolomites, it is an attempt to convey that beauty in the liquid form – take a look at this picture:

Source: Terra Alpina by Alois Lageder website

The wines in the Terra Alpina project produced via the partnership with local grape growers and winemakers in the Vigneti delle Dolomiti area. Currently, there are two wines produced under the Terra Alpina label, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio – these were the wines I received for the tasting.

When the wines arrived, at first I even thought I got two bottles of the same wine – they looked very similar. After a few seconds, I figured out that this was not the case, and those were actually different wines. While the bottles looked similar on the outside, once I opened the wines, there was no question of similarity – the wines were beautifully and distinctly different, with Pinot Bianco strongly minerally-driven, and Pinot Grigio showing a perfectly noticeable, but the well-balanced amount of fruit – you can see my notes below.

Were these wines capable of delivering on the “cooling off” promise? Perfectly so. While different, both were fresh and bright, dropping a few degrees off a summer heat with every sip. The wines would be perfect on its own, but they would also play very well with food. And please make no mistake – while the wines offer a welcome relief to the summer heat, these are excellent, year-around, versatile wines, which offer a great value, and perfect for any day, and every day.

Terra Alpina wines with glasses

2018 Alois Lageder Terra Alpina Pinot Bianco Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT (12.5% ABV, $15)
Straw pale
Touch of sweet apples, lemon, minerality
Crisp but buttery, noticeable salinity, minerally driven, dry, refreshing, lemon, lemon finish.
7+/8-, very nice

2018 Alois Lageder Terra Alpina Pinot Grigio Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT (12.5% ABV, $16)
Light golden, a shade darker than Pinot Bianco
Intense, tropical fruit, guava, candied lemon, honeysuckle
Crisp, also a bit buttery and round, fresh lemon, vibrant, refreshing, delicious.
8-/8, excellent, passes room temperature test with flying colors

Here is my summer cooling off story. What’s yours? Cheers!

Stories of Passion and Pinot: Iris Vineyards

June 18, 2019 Leave a 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!

Daily Glass: Enjoy Your Wine and Play With Your Food – Beyond Meat Food, It Is

June 11, 2019 Leave a comment

I appreciate winding down Sunday with a good glass of wine and a family dinner. When it is warm outside, such a Sunday dinner typically means grill – and this past Sunday was not an exception (or maybe it even was a bit of an exception as it was dry and pleasantly warm, and not hot at all, compared to mostly hot and humid weather of the last year).

Kids love steak in this house. While shopping for a steak at our local Fairway Market, something caught my eye. Beyond Meat? Really? Both Beyond Meat The Beyond Burger and Beyond Meat Beyond Sausage Original Brat? Wow and double wow!

Let me explain the excitement.

Beyond Meat Burgers and BratwurstsI have plenty of friends and relatives who are vegans and vegetarians, so with the summertime, the question of a good meat alternative is always becoming hot – when someone visits our house, I really want people to feel included and taken care of, no matter what their dietary restrictions are, so the search for a good vegan burger, etc. was always on. A few years ago, I came across the product called Beyond Burger, made by the company with a catchy name Beyond Meat. The description of Beyond Burger, which offered full resemblance of the regular burger, including the blood, sounded a bit suspicious, so I carefully researched all the ingredients and to my dismay, found that all of the ingredients are natural and there was no red paint added to this product. When I decided to try it, further research proved it to be mission impossible – Beyond Burger was available only at the Whole Foods (which I don’t frequent), and the Internet was full of complaints of the people who desperately tried, but failed to find it in their local stores, as the product was always out of stock. I also learned that in addition to Beyond Burger, the same company is offering a new product called Beyond Sausage, which sounded to me too good to be true. Again, this all was taking place 3-4 years ago.

This year, Beyond Meat went public (and mind you, very successfully – while the initial offering was at $25/share in early May, today it is trading at around $168/share, and it is just about a month later). And it appears that they managed to increase their production and distribution – now I saw the actual product instead of just reading about it. Thus, as you can imagine, I simply had to try it, even though it is quite expensive for what it is – $5.73 for two burger patties and $9.99 for four “bratwurst” sausages – you can buy the pack of 14 real bratwurst sausages at Costo for $8.99. Nevermind all the price talk – the question is simple – is it tasty? Would I be happy to serve it to the guests?

What is the best way to compare wines? The blind tasting, of course. What is the best way to compare foods? Well, the concept of “blind tasting” in wine can’t really apply to the food, unless you would actually blindfold someone, or taste your food in one of those dark rooms were waitstaff wears special goggles. So I didn’t attempt to do any sort of the fair comparison, especially as the dinner plan included steak and not the burgers. However, I had some of the Costco bratwursts in the fridge, so battle sausage was definitely on.

Before we talk about the battle food, let me share with you two delicious wines we got to enjoy on Sunday. First, a Chardonnay from … Italy. Yes, Italy makes excellent white wines, and excellent Italian Chardonnay can be found more often than not – but I still get surprised every time at how good it can be. 2015 Maculan Chardonnay Veneto IGT (12.5% ABV) was delicious from the getgo. Beautiful golden color in the glass, a touch of honey and vanilla on the nose. The palate was plump and generous, with white apples, white plums, a touch of honey and vanilla, good acidity and nice weight. The wine might be close to its prime and offers an ultimate indulgence at the moment as it is perfectly balanced. My wife, who generally don’t drink white wines, said “wow” and asked for another glass.

Sunday calls for some special wine, so I decided to go with 1999 Hendry Block 28 Zinfandel Napa Valley (15.8% ABV). In case you are curious what makes this wine special, it is its age. I don’t drink routinely 20 years old wines (I wish I could), so every time I open a bottle of such an age, it constitutes a “special bottle”. Besides, Zinfandel is one of the pet peeves. The wine just jumped from the glass with the ripe blackberries and blueberries, supported by mocha and sweet oak. The palate offered layers and layers of goodness – ripe berries, a touch of blackberry jam, velvety smooth but well present mouthfeel, lots and lots of pleasure. I can also tell you that I noticed alcohol level only on the label, but not in the glass. A very well made, delicious wine.

Now let’s get back to food, as we have the battle to discuss.

Here is how both products looked before the cooking – note the real bratwurst at the bottom of the picture with sausages. Burgers look scarily realistic, and while Beyond Meat sausages look slightly different than the real sausage, they still look perfectly real overall (there are plenty of different sausages of exactly the same color):

Both burgers and bratwurst should be cooked for 3 minutes per side according to the package instructions, which is exactly what I did. Here is the result, again including the real bratwurst for comparison:

As you can see, Beyond Meat products have somewhat of a yellow hue (okay, this are the iPhone pictures, so you might have to take my word for it). Otherwise, both burgers and saysages perfectly held up to the cooking process and were very easy to handle – maybe even easier than the real meat products, considering the there was no fat coming out to cause the flare ups.

Just so you know we didn’t really convert into the vegans, here are few more dishes from our dinner (yes, this are real meat and real scallops):

And now, to the taste.

I made a small mistake of not creating the full experience out of the burger, meaning having it with a bun, tomato, ketchup and so on. On its own, it was quite decent, with some tiny hints of not been made out of the real meat (but then remember that it was not a blind tasting, so I was clearly influenced by the appearance). The sausage, however, was mind-boggling. It literally was identical to the real bratwurst in the taste profile and texture – I would never be able to distinguish it if I would close my eyes. Simply a wow.

If you read my typical wine posts you would know that at any possible occasion, I like to taste the wines over the course of a few days to see how they will change. When it comes to the food, it is not that I like to taste the food on the second or a third day (by the way, some of the soups and stews actually benefit from an extra day in the fridge), but I can’t stand wasting the food, so I usually make an effort to work on the leftovers for as long as possible or needed. What it has to do with this story? Simple. We had leftovers of both Beyond Meat burgers and bratwursts. Over the next two days, both perfectly held up to the reheating in the microwave, and both were perfectly on point in taste and texture, resembling its real meat brethren even more than on the first day while freshly made.

There you have it, my friends. The verdict on Beyond Meat burgers and bratwursts? Beyond reproach. I will be happy, very happy to serve them to my guests at any gathering. And yes, I hope you enjoyed your Sunday night wines too. Cheers!

Navarra, Surprising and Not

June 2, 2019 2 comments

It is commonly known that Spanish wines are some of the best-kept secrets of the wine world. An oxymoron, you say? Not necessarily. I’m not implying that you need to know the secret knock on the unsightly door in order to acquire Spanish wine. The “secret” simply means that consumers still often overlook Spanish wines as a category, despite the fact that those wines possess some of the best value, the best QPR you can ever find – try a $30 Rioja (for example, La Rioja Alta, Lopez de Heredia) and you will see what I mean.

Spanish wine regions. Source: Navarra Wine US

Turns out that even secret wines have deeper secrets, such as Spanish (of course!) wines from Navarra, a northern province known for its unique climate (influenced by Mediterranean, Continental, and Atlantic climates). A long history of a close relationship with France (going back to medieval times) also led to Navarra sporting rather an interesting mix of grapes, with plantings of Garnacha and Tempranillo intermixed with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay.  For a long time, Navarra was known as the “land of Rosé” – today you can find a full selection of white, Rosé and red coming from this small region.

By the way, here is the fun fact for you – in case you are a Game of Thrones fan, you might be interested to know that season six of the popular show was filmed in Navarra, in Bardenas Reales desert – here, you can impress your friends already.

If you are interested in a quick set of numbers (I know I always am) – Navarra has about 27,000 acres of vineyards, located on an average altitude of 1,300 feet (400 meters) above sea level. Annual production is about 70M liters of wine. Most planted grapes are Tempranillo and Garnacha, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. 90% of the wine production are red and Rosé (Rosé is 1/3 of this production), and 10% are white wines. Okay, done with numbers, let’s continue.

With this “secret of secrets” designation, you can probably figure that Navarra wines do not occupy central shelves of the liquor stores – but maybe it is for the better? Of course I mean it in our own, selfish interest – more for us, for the people “in the know”.

I had a pleasure of drinking Navarra wines before – for example, Tempranillo from Bodegas Ochoa is an excellent rendition of one of my most favorite grapes. However, this is where my exposure to the wines of Navarra mostly ends. Thus when I was offered to try a sample of Navarra wines, I quickly agreed.

Navarra Wines Sample

The surprises started upon arrival of the wines. Once I opened the box, finding a bottle of Garnacha made perfect sense. However, not finding a bottle of Rosé was rather surprising – I was sure Rosé would be included in the sample of Navarra wines. And the biggest surprise for me was finding the bottle of … Sauvignon Blanc! No argument here – Spain is often associated with red wines, but it makes excellent white wines – Albariño, Verdejo, Godello, Viura – but 100% Sauvignon Blanc from Spain is not something I see often (Rueda might be an exception, as Sauvignon Blanc is used there too, but mostly for blending).

The surprises continued as I opened the bottle of 2018 Bodegas Inurrieta Orchidea Sauvignon Blanc Navarra (13% ABV, $12). I have to admit, before the first sniff, I was skeptical. The first whiff of the aroma immediately cured all of my worries as the wine was simply stupendous. In a blind tasting, I would instantly place this wine into California – the wine was round and powerful, on the level of Honig or Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc. A touch of freshly cut grass and currant leaves were unmistakable, supported by golden delicious apple, lemon, and complete absence of grapefruit. Perfectly refreshing, delicious wine – and at the $12 price point, the word “steal” comes to mind. (Drinkability: 8+)

Then there was Garnacha. Garnacha, a.k.a. Grenache is a very interesting grape. Garnacha has a tremendous range of expression, from ultra-powerful likes of Alto Moncayo Aquilon and No Girls Grenache to light and ephemeral Cote du Rhone and Bodegas Tres Picos. The 2016 El Chaparral De Vega Sindoa Old Vines Garnacha Navarra (15% ABV, $15) showed rather in the “ephemeral” category, despite the 15% ABV (I only noticed this high ABV when I was writing this post but not when I tasted the wine). Two main descriptors for this wine are raspberries and pepper. The wine was light, it was playful, full of fresh, ripe, but perfectly crunchy raspberries. Each one of those raspberries had a dash of black pepper on it. Ephemeral, surreal, or simply tasty – I will happily go with either descriptor. Again – excellent, excellent value at $15. (Drinkability: 8+).

Here you go, my friends. You can’t go wrong with either of these wines – not in price, not in the taste, not in the pleasure. Look for the wines of Navarra – you might be on a cusp of your next great wine discovery. Cheers!

Stories of Passion and Pinot: Bells Up Winery

May 31, 2019 4 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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