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Stories of Passion and Pinot: Knudsen Vineyards

November 6, 2017 8 comments

It takes courage to be a pioneer. It takes vision, belief, perseverance and lots and lots of hard work to convert the dream into reality – but this is how many great wine stories start.

Nobody questions “World Class” status of Oregon wines today.  But back in 1971, this was really not the story. One had to see the potential and believe that Oregon is meant to produce the world-class wines. Cal and Julia Lee Knudsen did when they purchased the remnants of the walnut orchard in 1971 and established Knudsen Vineyards. The whole family – Cal, Julia Lee and four of their children worked hard to clean up the land and plant the vines. In 1972, they established a 30 acres vineyard, which was the largest in the  Willamette Valley. By 1976, they had 60 acres planted, which made them the biggest in Oregon (as a matter of fact, Knudsen Vineyards still have some of the 1974 vines which produce fruit). Today, Knudsen Vineyards plantings span 130 acres, which is certainly one of the largest in the state where the typical vineyard size is 35 acres. And in 1975, in partnership with Oregon winemaking legend, Dick Erath, Knudsen Erath Winery became first commercial winery in the Dundee Hills appellation.

In 1987, the Australian Brian Croser met Cal, and the new chapter started for Knudsen Vineyards. Cal always had a dream of making sparkling wines, and the Knudsen Vineyards entered into the new partnership, now with the Oregon sparkling wine pioneer, Argyle Winery. Today, many of the Oregon wineries are starting to add Chardonnay to their repertoire – Knudsen Vineyards was growing Chardonnay for the very long time, and Chardonnay is essential for a good sparkling wine. As a matter of fact, Julia Lee’s Block, which you can see designated on one of the top Argyle’s sparkling wines, contains the oldest in the new world plantings of French Chardonnay Dijon clones 76 and 96. Also, while you will not see it widely advertised, Knudsen Vineyards grows 3 acres of Pinot Meunier, used only for the production of Argyle sparklers.

Knudsen Vineyards, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Knudsen Vineyards, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Ever since Knudsen Vineyards started working with Argyle, all of their fruit was going into Argyle sparkling wines. Five years ago, the four siblings who run the vineyard now, decided to start producing the wine under their own label, which resulted in the 2012 release of Knudsen Vineyards Pinot Noir. The first release of Chardonnay was added a year after, in 2013. This year, Knudsen Vineyards added the new premium bottling – 2015 Pinot Noir Reserve. All of the wines are produced with the help of the winemaking team at Argyle, which vinifies the juice from the different blocks of the Knudsen Vineyards – but the family gets together to decide on the final blend of the wines they later release.

If you followed any of the Passion and Pinot stories, you probably expect that I will have an interview for you – and you are right. Only this time around, it is slightly different – in addition to the virtual part, I also had an opportunity to sit down face to face with Page Knudsen Cowles, managing partner at Knudsen Vineyards, and extend our virtual conversation with the personal one. I learned lots of interesting things which are really impossible to get to in the format of the virtual interview.

For instance, have you ever heard of the “Suitcase clones“? I certainly never had. It appears that it is a common name for the vine cuttings which are smuggled into the country in the suitcases. For the Knudsen family, the “suitcase” was not exactly a choice tool for vine transportation – the ski bag was the one, as every family skiing vacation in Europe saw new cuttings finding its way home.

At some point, Cal started experimenting with the effects of the birds’ chirping on the vines. The birds’ sounds were played between the rows of the vines. The unfortunate part is that the results of this experiment are not known. But when birds became a problem in the vineyards in 2010/2011, the sound of distressed robin came to the rescue – it was played throughout the night and helped to shoo the birds away – however, made the stay at the small cottage the family has right in the vineyard very problematic.

Knudsen Second Generation

Knudsen Second Generation: Page, Colin, Cal Jr, David

Okay, let’s move on. Let me share with you our [now virtual] conversation with Page Knudsen Cowles. Get a glass of wine in hand, and here you go:

[TaV]: The first vines were planted at Knudsen Vineyards in 1971. Are there any of the original vines still around, and if yes, are they still producing fruit?

[PKC]: The oldest currently-producing vines were planted in 1974. They are Pinot Noir vines that produce fruit for sparkling wine.

[TaV]: I understand that back in 1971, Cal and Julia Lee purchased a 200-acre former walnut tree orchard – are there any of those trees still around and producing [commercially}? Was/is Knudsen family ever in walnut business?

[PKC]: No, the Knudsen family was never in the walnut business. The walnut tree orchard was destroyed in the 1962 Columbus Day storm that wrecked havoc through the Willamette Valley at that time.

[TaV]: The first Knudsen wines under Knudsen Erath label were produced in 1975. Are any of those wines still around? Have you ever tasted wines from that inaugural vintage?

[PKC]: I have not had the pleasure of tasting that very first vintage. I have found in the secondary market a stash of Knudsen Erath Winery 1983 Vintage Select Pinot Noir and some bottles of the Knudsen Erath Winery 1985 Vintage Select Pinot noir. Both wines have held up remarkably well and are fun to drink and share with wine aficionados who appreciate the provenance and age of the wine.

[TaV]: Continuing the previous question, what are the oldest vintages which can be found at the Knudsen Vineyards library? What are the oldest Knudsen wines you ever tasted?

[PKC]: The oldest vintages we have in the Knudsen Vineyards library are:

  • 1979 Knudsen Erath Winery Merlot
  • 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987 Knudsen Erath Winery Pinot Noir

The oldest wines I have ever tasted are the 1983 and 1985 Knudsen Erath Winery Vintage Select Pinot Noirs.

[TaV]: Today Knudsen Vineyards has about 130 acres under the vines. What grape varietals do you grow today?

[PKC]: We grow 73% Pinot Noir including a variety of French Dijon Clones 667, 777, 115, and 4407, plus the heritage clone Pommard; 24% Chardonnay including the French Dijon clones 76, 95 and 96; and 3% Pinot Meunier.

[TaV]: Knudsen Vineyards just started producing the wines under its own label, and it is not surprising that the first two wines are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Moving forward, do you have any plans to start producing any other wines, such as Pinot Gris or Riesling?

[PKC]: No, we do not have plans to produce either of these varietals.

[TaV]: Within the 130 acres of vineyards, you probably identified some of the plots which perform better or, at least, different than the others. Do you plan to produce “single-plot” wines?

[PKC]: Our current planning does not include production of “single plot” wines. We have favorite estate grown blocks that we like to blend when we produce our wines.

Aerial View over Knudsen Vineyard, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Aerial View over Knudsen Vineyard, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon

[TaV]: Knudsen Vineyards have a strong connection to the production of the sparkling wines through the partnership with Argyle Winery. Nevertheless, do you have any plans to produce sparkling wines under the Knudsen Vineyards label?

[PKC]: Our father, Cal Knudsen, had a love affair with sparkling wines from around the world, though he was most attached to those from the region of Champagne and Oregon sparkling wine. He allied Knudsen Vineyards with Argyle in order to make sparkling wine. Knudsen Vineyards would love to produce a small amount of sparkling wine in the future in honor of our father’s love for that expression of the fruit from our vineyard.

[TaV]: When making wines, do you rely on natural yeast, or do you work with some specific strains of yeast?

[PKC]: I reached out to our winemaker, Nate Klostermann, of Argyle Winery, for the answer to this one. We grow several selected yeast cultures and then inoculate with the one that seems best suited to the vintage.

[TaV]: What kind of oak regimen do you use in the production of your Chardonnay and Pinot Noir?

[PKC]: All of our oak comes from French barrels. Our inaugural 2013 Chardonnay has 35% new oak and was aged over 13 months in barrel; our 2014 Chardonnay had 25% new oak and was aged over 10 months in neutral and new oak barrel; and our 2015 Chardonnay has 27% oak over 10 months in barrel.

For the Pinot Noir, our oak usage is as follows:

Knudsen Vineyards 2014 Pinot Noir 25% new oak barrels; remainder aged in 2 – 4 year old previously used oak barrels; aged for 15 months in barrel, nine months in bottle Knudsen Vineyards 2015 Pinot Noir 20% new oak barrels; remainder aged in 2 – 4 year old previously used oak barrels; aged for 16 months in barrel, nine months in bottle Knudsen Vineyards 2015 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 35% new oak barrels; remainder aged in 2 – 4 year old previously used oak barrels; aged for 16 months in barrel, nine months in bottle

[TaV]: What is the total production of your Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (how many bottles)? Do you plan to increase the production in the near future or you are happy with the current production?

[PKC]: Currently, we produce between 1,000 and 1,200 cases of our Pinot Noir and Chardonnay combined (between 12,000 and 14,400 bottles). The mix is approximately 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. We are content at this level of production for a couple of years. In the future, we hope to expand.

[TaV]: Is there a “next big grape” for Knudsen Vineyards?

[PKC]: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are what we intend to grow into the foreseeable future.

[TaV]: What about Willamette valley in general – is it going to stay a Pinot Noir land for the foreseeable future, or would there be a “next big grape”, white or red, for the Willamette Valley?

[PKC]: I believe the North Willamette Valley will stay devoted to Pinot Noir and will increase its production of Chardonnay.

[TaV]: Do you have a dream wine – the wine you always wanted to try, but never have?

[PKC]: I would like to try a bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti from Burgundy and a bottle of any of the Bordeaux First Growth red wines: Château LatourChâteau Lafite RothschildChâteau Margaux and Château Haut-Brion. I also would love to try a bottle of Opus One from California.

Knudsen Vineyards wines

Now for sure it is time to drink the wine. I had an opportunity to try Knudsen Vineyards wines, here are the notes:

2015 Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay Dundee Hills Willamette Valley (14% ABV, $45)
C: light golden
N: vanilla, touch of toasted oak, medium intensity
P: fresh, crisp, slightly underripe Granny Smith apples, touch of minerality, distant hint of butter and vanilla, quite an acidic finish
V: 8/8+, not bad, but needs time to evolve. Opens in the glass quite elegantly. Second day was outstanding – nice buttery note while fridge cold, and more vanilla-driven as the wine warmed up

2015 Knudsen Vineyards Pinot Noir Dundee Hills Willamette Valley (141% ABV, $55)
C: light bright ruby
N: tart cherries, lavender, hint of smoke
P: cherries, round, good acidity, touch of mushrooms, fresh, Burgundian style
V: 8-, very nice

2015 Knudsen Vineyards Pinot Noir Reserve Dundee Hills Willamette Valley (14.1% ABV, $70)
C: dark ruby
N: smoke, mushrooms and forest floor aromatics
P: cherries, good acidity, layers, smooth, lavender-driven on the second day
V: 8/8+, very polished, elegant, will evolve with time.

Thus we conclude another story of Passion and Pinot (and a little bit of Chardonnay). Wine is a family affair, and Knudsen Vineyards shows it very well. Now the third generation of Knudsens is entering the business, and I’m sure there are lots we should expect to see from the Knudsen Vineyards in the future. Cheers!

One on One With Winemaker: Phil Rose of Wairau River, New Zealand

July 15, 2017 2 comments

It just happened to be that once again, we will be talking about New Zealand wines. Once again, we are going to visit Marlborough. And once again, we are going to meet with a pioneer.

Wairau River Vineyards

Source: Wairau River

Wairau River Wines‘ story started in 1978 when Phil and Chris Rose became grape growers (Phil was a farmer since the childhood, so the transition was not that dramatic). In 1991, they also became winemakers, producing their first wine. Today, Wairau River vineyards span 550 acres, making it one of the biggest family owned wineries in New Zealand. And it is all truly in the family, as Phil and Chris’ two sons and three daughters are all working at the winery.

Wairau River Wines produces two lines of wines. The Estate collection includes all of the usual suspects, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Chardonnay, but you can also find some oddballs there, such as Albariño. The Reserve line also includes Syrah and Viognier, as well as late harvest botrytized Riesling.

I had an opportunity to sit down with Phil Rose (albeit, virtually), and inundate him with questions – here is what transpired.

[TaV]: You started growing grapes in 1978. Was there a pivotal moment which got you into the grape growing? Were grapes a long-time passion before you started, or was there an event which brought you into the world of the wine?

[WR]: The oil shock in the 1970’s meant we looked for an alternative away from the farming of beef and sheep plus the growing of Lucerne and other crops. However due to a rural council district scheme rule, grape growing was prohibited on land north of old Renwick road. 
We were required to apply for permission to establish a vineyard, which we did but the application received 56 objections and not one single vote of support. There were a number of reasons for the objections. Forestry owners were concerned they would no longer be able to use sprays like 2.4.5.t because of its impact if grapes were nearby. Local farmers were also concerned their normal farming methods would be threatened. There was also the moral opposition such that no one should be able to grow a product that could be turned in to alcohol. 
Unfortunately the council denied our application, so we appealed. But things moved even slower back then than they do now – and it took 18 months for the independent tribunal to take place. 18 months where we worked hard to try and convince the powers that be and our own neighbors that grape growing in the Rapaura area of Marlborough had huge merits. 
Finally in 1978 we got a unanimous decision from the tribunal which gave us the permission we needed to become contract grape growers. As a result, the council had to change the district plan and open the Rapaura area up to grape growing.

[TaV]: Can Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc age? What was the oldest Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc you ever tried? What is the oldest Sauvignon Blanc you have in your cellars?

[WR]: Of course the wine will age well although the wine takes on different characters with age as do all wines. Most sauvignon blanc now though is consumed in its youth as its fresh, crisp and lively style that have become hallmarks of our success. 1991 was our first vintage and we still have a few bottles of that in the cellar.

[TaV]: Did you ever experiment with cork versus Stelvin closures? Obviously, all your wines use the screw tops, but I wonder if you ever tried to create a control batch with the conventional corks and see how the wines would compare.

[WR]: We bottled our first wine in screwcaps in 2002. Prior to that we were 100% cork but never really happy with the closure. We felt that cork was tainting, oxidising and affecting the delicate aromas of sauvignon blanc in particular. 
Wairau River was part of the New Zealand screwcap initiative that was formed in 2001 and we did many trials in the early days – all of them showing that wine under screwcap was far better in terms of consistency and quality than corks. 
Today we are 100% screwcap for all of our wines.

[TaV]: It seems that Wairau River is truly a family operation top to bottom. Do you ever have any work conflicts? If yes, how do you resolve them?

[WR]: Yes we now have the whole family and some their partners involved in running the business across vineyards, winery, cellar door and restaurant. It is not often there are any issues but having a voice and opinion is important and so we all listen and work through this and will always achieve a result that works for everyone. We also have a board of directors which meets regularly which helps with accountability and offers independent advice.

[TaV]: The question I always like to ask: what was the worst vintage you remember at Wairau River and why? 

[WR]: I think 1995 will long be remembered as the toughest vintage we have had. It rained and rained

[TaV]: And the second question I always like to ask: what were your most favorite vintage years and why? 

[WR]: Actually there are many years we look back and think that was one of the best vintages however we never like to look backwards for too long. We are always striving to improve our wines each year so lately it seems every year we are getting better results across all varieties.

[TaV]: How would you differentiate Sauvignon Blanc from Wairau Valley and Awatere Valley? Are the pronounced differences there? Do you think Marlborough needs further subdivision?

[WR]: There are quite big differences between the 2 valleys in terms of flavor profiles however strategically the Rose family have chosen to focus in the Wairau Valley and then within that a tight area surrounding our home vineyard and winery. 
Further sub regions like Rapaura or Dillons Point will develop with time however Marlborough as an overall region will still be the key to our success and the protection of that is paramount.

Wairau River Wines

[TaV]: It seems that your wine portfolio is very diverse and includes a wide variety of grapes as well as styles (white, rosé, red, dessert) – the only notable absence nowadays is Sparkling wine – do you plan to fix it?
[WR]: haha – always a good topic of conversation…..we are happy with what we are doing at the moment, however we have a rule of never saying no to anything so who knows what the future will bring – perhaps the next generations may want to make sparkling wine.

[TaV]: Sauvignon Blanc and then Pinot Noir squarely put New Zealand on the world wine map. Is there a next big white and/or red grape for the New Zealand?

[WR]: We consider Pinot Gris to be the next big thing especially from Marlborough. It has a certain style that resonates well with wide variety of cuisines and will help those drinkers that are looking for NZ wine and want to try an alternative to our Sauvignon Blanc.
In the reds perhaps the wines from Hawkes Bay may make a statement but this will also be limited by smaller production.

[TaV]: Outside of New Zealand and your own wines, do you have any other favorite producers or regions for Sauvignon Blanc?

[WR]: We are lucky enough to travel the world selling wines and meeting customers so we are exposed to a number of different wine areas and styles.
In all honesty I think we produce a world class Sauvignon Blanc that is hard to beat however I do quite enjoy wines from Sancerre in particular Domaine Vacheron.

[TaV]: Same question as before, but only for the Pinot Noir – any favorites outside of New  Zealand?
[WR]: Of course, we enjoy Jim Clendenen wines at Au Bon Climat.

[TaV]: What are your next big plans at Wairau River? Any exciting projects you have started or about to start? 

[WR]: We are comfortable with where we are at in terms of our vineyard ownership and winery capabilities – our challenge is to grow sales and return better margins in all markets as we have wines that are in high demand but with limited availability. 
Gaining recognition for our other varieties such as Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir will be a key focus. Ros sales have become very hot lately so this will also be a focus going forward.

[TaV]: Last question: as you run winery as a family, I’m sure you had some funny moments in your daily wine business. Anything you care to share?

[WR]: We work extremely hard throughout the year and don’t often come together as a whole family outside of the work environment. Although I can’t pick one particular moment we have a lot of fun with the family when we gather to celebrate Christmas in the Marlborough sounds with our 5 children, their partners and 12 grandchildren there is always something happening that creates some funny occasions and a great laugh.

I’m sure you are thirsty by now, so let’s taste some wine, shall we? Here are the notes for a few Wairau River wines I had an opportunity to taste:

2016 Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough New Zealand (13% ABV)
C: white pearl, pale
N: intense, currant, touch of grass, bright, fresh
P: herbaceous, nicely restrained, fresh, bright, touch of grapefruit on the finish.
V: 7+/8-, an excellent example of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

2015 Wairau River Pinot Gris Marlborough New Zealand (13.5% ABV)
C: light golden
N: medium intensity, minerality, limerock
P: white stone fruit, nice minerality, salinity, crisp, refreshing
V: 7+

2015 Wairau River Pinot Noir Marlborough New Zealand (13% ABV)
C: bright ruby
N: freshly crushed berries, cherry, plums
P: cherries, fresh fruit, plums, touch of smoke, medium body
V: 7+, nice, traditional Marlborough Pinot Noir

Passion and perseverance rule in the wine world – we all know that, but it is always fun to listen to the stories. Pour yourself another glass – you deserve it. Cheers!

Stories of Passion and Pinot: Looking Back and Looking Forward

February 15, 2017 6 comments

Back during the fall of the last year, I ran a series of posts talking about passion and Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is a finicky grape which, I can only guess, has some enchanting properties – for the winemakers and wine lovers alike. Pinot Noir has an ability to grab you and never let you go – once discovered, it becomes an object of obsessive desire: winemakers go out of their way to make the best Pinot Noir wine, and oenophiles go out of their way to find it.

To give you the best examples of Pinot Noir’s passion and obsession, I decided to [virtually] sat down with a pioneer, a rocket scientist, a soil fanatic, biodynamic believer and some true farmers – all of them from Oregon. Through our conversations, I wanted to convey the unwavering belief in the magic of that little black grape, Pinot Noir.

We talked with Ken Wright of Ken Wright Cellars, David Nemarnik of Alloro Vineyard, Mike Bayliss of Ghost Hill Cellars, Wayne Bailey of Youngberg Hill Vineyards, Steve Lutz of Lenné Estate and Don Hagge of Vidon Vineyard – the passion was easy to see, through their words and through their wines.

The essential Pinot Noir map includes four major players – Burgundy, California, New Zealand and Oregon. Out of these four, Oregon usually beats Burgundy in consistency, and often California and New Zealand in finesse. That consistency and finesse don’t go unnoticed – and not only by wine consumers but by the big domestic and international wine businesses and investors as well. Big businesses are great, but – they are, first and foremost, big businesses – and passion is often replaced just by pragmatic business needs and shareholders value.

The wine quality and creativity is on the upswing around the world, and while consumers are driving this trend with an ever increasing thirst for the wine, nothing can be taken for granted – the wines have to find the consumers, and convince them that they are worth paying for.

The big business interest and more and better wines – what does it mean for the Oregon wine industry, the passion and the Pinot Noir? To answer this question, I asked once again for the help of Carl Giavanti of Carl Giavanti Consulting, wine marketing and PR firm, who reached out to the Willamette Valley Wineries Association. As you can imagine, I had more than one question, so here I would like to share with you what I have learned.

Passion and Pinot series photo collage

First three questions were answered by Anthony King, 2017 President of WVWA Board of Directors and General Manager of the Carlton Winemaker’s Studio:

[TaV]: Willamette Valley squarely joined the ranks of world-class wine regions. Does it mean that everything is great, or you still have big issues to solve on your agenda?

[AK]: Willamette Valley is certainly on the rise and we are all thankful for the attention. Our biggest issue is to continue to share the spotlight with the other classic regions of the world without losing our roots, our authenticity, and collaborative spirit.

[TaV]: It seems that lately big corporations are paying lots of attention for the WV wineries – or rather money, as for example, Jackson Family which acquired 3 WV wineries over a short period of time. Are you concerned with this development? Do you think it might change the soul and spirit of WV wines?

[AK]: Most of us are flattered by the attention that our wines, vineyards, and wineries have been getting from producers all over the world. JFW, in specific, has invested heavily, but have done so with a soft touch and an eye towards the community and their neighbours. In the end, the region will have diversity that consumers will ultimately benefit by. Our hope, however, is that this interest doesn’t drive vineyard and fruit prices into a range that makes the hands-on artisan winemaking that has made Oregon so special too expensive for entry.

[TaV]: There are many white grapes which can be called “next frontier” for the WV wineries – Pinot Gris (yes, okay, this is an old news), Chardonnay, even Riesling. However, if we look at the red grapes, WV wineries are a “one trick pony”, only working with Pinot Noir. Do you see any problems with that? is there a next big red grape for the WV, or is it not necessary?

[AK]: Great question. I don’t think that any of us, as winemakers, regret that we are working with Pinot noir in such an ideal locale. It presents a lifetime of challenges and, hopefully, rewards. Although much more rare, Gamay can be thrilling and has been successful planted alongside Pinot noir. Syrah, too, has a lot of potential, making compelling, Northern Rhone style reds in warmer years. Cooler-climate Italian reds could have potential as well. We’ve already seen an increase in planting of these “other reds,” but the more dramatic shift is (as you mentioned) towards focusing on whites and sparkling wine, which are very well suited to this climate. Ultimately, I foresee increased experimentation with a range of red varieties in the warmer sites in the Willamette Valley in the short-term; time and the weather will tell what succeeds.

The rest of the questions were answered by Emily Nelson, Associate Director for Willamette Valley Wineries Association.

[TaV]: What percentage of WV wineries are LIVE certified? Do you see this number dropping, increasing, staying the same?

[EN]: In 2016, there are 13,170 Oregon vineyard acres certified sustainable, which is 48% of total planted acres in the state. 8,218 acres are LIVE Certified, which is 30% of total planted acres. We do see the number of certified sustainable vineyard acres increasing year after year. As the home of the nation’s most protective land use policies, the first bottle recycling law, and the highest minimum wages for farm workers, it’s fitting that the Oregon wine industry is committed to sustainable farming and winemaking practices.
For LIVE Certified acres in particular, the number has increased annually from 2,368 acres in 2007 to 8,218 acres today.

[TaV]:  How important is Biodynamic viticulture for the WV wine industry? Do you see more wineries embracing it?

[EN]: Biodynamic viticulture in Oregon has also steadily increased over the years, from 289 certified acres in 2007 to 1,585 certified acres today. It is an important component of our sustainable character in the region, reinforcing our belief that agriculture in general and viticulture in particular can flourish in harmony with our natural environment. In general, Demeter Biodynamic certification is in accord with many practices that characterize the certification of organic farms. However, certain practices are unique to Biodynamic agriculture, including managing the whole farm as a living organism; maintenance of a healthy, diverse ecosystem that includes not only the earth, but as well the cosmic influences and rhythms of which the earth is a part; and use of the Biodynamic preparations to build soil health through enlivened compost.

[TaV]: Are there any new wineries showing up in the WV? If yes, is there a trend there (more than the last 5/10 years, less than the last 5/10 years, the same?

[EN]: Yes! Our number of wineries in the region has climbed over the last five to ten years. We had about 110 wineries in the Willamette Valley in the year 2000. By 2010 that had more than doubled to 300 wineries. And now in 2016 our most recent census shows 531 wineries in the region. People are drawn to grape growing and winemaking here for many of the same reasons that brought our pioneers in the 1960s—unique climate and soils ideally suited to Pinot noir and a wine industry culture that celebrates collaboration, inventiveness, and land stewardship.

[TaV]: Do you see a lot of foreign capital coming into the WV winemaking industry (buying, partnering, starting new wineries)? Again, is there a trend?

[EN]: There is a trend of outside investment in the Willamette Valley wine industry, and it speaks to the quality of the wines being produced here. We see Burgundian investors who’ve found the New World home of Pinot noir, as well as those from Washington and California who are expanding their premium Pinot noir brands with Willamette Valley wines.

[TaV]: Last question – are there any new and coming, or may be old but coming around wineries wine lovers should watch for? Anything which makes you particularly excited?

[EN]: We’re particularly excited about a few things here: first, many of our pioneering wineries are handing the reigns down to second generation winegrowers and owners. The children who grew up in the vineyards and cellars of the wineries who put our region on the map are now at the helm. They continue to innovate and improve, so watching their brands and their wines flourish and evolve is a thrill. Second, we’re excited about the Burgundian presence in the Valley. French winemakers who come here to experience the Oregonian version of their time-honored grape offer unique expressions of the wines and outside confirmation that there’s something really special happening here. Lastly, we’re excited about new winemakers just entering the industry, who contribute a vibrant sense of experimentation and energy to the Valley.

All the good things come to an end, so this was the last of the conversations in the Passion and Pinot series – for now, at least. As I said before, Pinot Noir has some very special properties, making people fall in love with it and not letting them go. And whether you agree or disagree – you know what to do. Until the next time – cheers!

P.S. Once again, here are the links to the web sites for the wineries profiled in this series:

Alloro Vineyard: www.allorovineyard.com
Ghost Hill Cellars: www.ghosthillcellars.com
Ken Wright Cellars: www.kenwrightcellars.com
Lenné Estate: www.lenneestate.com
Youngberg Hill Vineyards: www.youngberghill.com
Vidon Vineyard: www.vidonvineyard.com

 

Celebrate with Ferrari!

December 29, 2016 5 comments

Would anyone argue that holidays are better with Ferrari? Both of eponymous Italian hallmarks of quality would greatly enhance one’s holiday, but one of them – the car  – is a bit less accessible to the general populace, so let’s talk about the one which is – sparkling wine from a beautiful region in the Italian Alps – Trento.

More than 100 years ago, Guido Ferrari recognized the potential of the green slopes to grow world-class Chardonnay. While Chardonnay is an undisputed star of the still white wine, its swan song might be delivered best with the bubbles. Champagne comes only from Champagne, but Méthode Champenoise is successfully used around the world to produce sparkling wines easily rivaling Champagne in quality.

This is what Guido Ferrari set out to do in 1902 – produce world-class sparkling wines – the task which he completed successfully. As Guido Ferrari had no direct heirs, in 1952 he sold the winery and vineyards to the Bruno Lunelli, a friend and wine merchant. Now in the third generation, Lunelli family proudly continues Ferrari traditions into the 21st century.

Earlier in the year, I had a virtual conversation with Marcello Lunelli, a winemaker at the Ferrari winery – you can find that post here. Then during summer I had an opportunity to meet, talk to and taste the wines together with Camilla Lunelli, Managing Partner at Ferrari, who visited New York on the occasion of attending The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards ceremony, where Ferrari was sponsoring The Art of Hospitality Award (it went to Madison Eleven restaurant in New York city). As we combined conversation with the tasting of the wines, I want to share here my brief notes about both the winery and the wines we tasted.

Camilla Lunelli, Ferrari wines

Today Ferrari is producing about 2 million bottles per year. They are working in close cooperation with the network of 500 growers and employ 8 agronomists who work literally around the clock to ensure the quality of the grapes. All Ferrari vineyards are certified organic, which is something not to be taken lightly – think about the work required to convince 500 growers to change their ways, to adapt Best Practices developed by Ferrari and get certified (it took most of the growers between 3 and 5 years to change). Talking about the vineyards, an interesting side note: Trento is a mountainous region, and all Ferrari vineyards are located on the slopes which provide for large temperature shifts between day and night, which is significant for the development of the Chardonnay grapes.

Italy is the biggest market for Ferrari sparkling wines. However, when I asked which market is the next big one after Italy, I got a surprising answer – it is Japan! (Yeah, I knew it is not the US, as Ferrari wines are hard to find in the US stores).

I also asked what would be an interesting food pairing for the Ferrari sparklers, and Camilla recommended Rosé sparkling wine with Pizza (yes, I can see it) and then bubbles with the BBQ, which is something I will need to try.

Okay, let’s get to the wines now, shall we?

NV Ferrari Brut Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $25, 100% Chardonnay) – Delicious. Perfect acidity, lightly yeasty, refreshing, clear acidic finish.

2007 Ferrari Perlé Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $38, 100% Chardonnay) – complex nose, minerality, complex palate with musk undertones, full bodied and refreshing

2009 Ferrari Perlé Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $38, 100% Chardonnay) – we didn’t taste this wine with Camilla – I recently got a sample of 2009, so it was a good opportunity to include it here. On the nose, fine fizz, mostly closed nose with just a touch of an apple. The palate showed toasted bread notes, restrained, good acidity, tart, very clean and austere. Perfectly reminiscent of a good Champagne, however, too astringent for my personal enjoyment. I would definitely prefer 2007.

2008 Ferrari Perlé Rosé Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $59, 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay) – Delicious nose, hint of strawberries, yeast, great concentration, complex, toasted bread, refreshing.

2008 Ferrari Perlé Nero Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $79.99, 100% Pinot Nero) – great nose, plump, open, full-bodied, lots of fruit on the nose, fresh baguette, not just yeast or toasted bread, toasted caramel, butterscotch

2006 Ferrari Riserva Lunelli Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $56, 100% Chardonnay) – the grapes for this wine come from the single area around Villa Margon. This wine is aged in neutral Austrian oak casks. Excellent, seriously complex nose, with a touch of tropical fruit; tremendous palate – roasted meat, super-complex, delicious.

2004 Ferrari Riserva del Fondatori Giulio Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $120, 100% Chardonnay) – the grapes for this wine come from a single high altitude vineyard called Maso Panizza. The wine has the classic nose, great acidity, it just screams “classic vintage Champagne” all the way.

Here you are, my friends – a full range of beautiful sparkling wines, worthy of any celebration you will have. I wish they would be a bit easier to find in the US, but these are the wines worth seeking. Cheers!

Daily Glass: Ah, Pinot!

December 12, 2016 11 comments

Nothing is simple around wine for us, oenophiles, right? We need to meticulously arrange proper experiences – perfectly match wine with food, with the company, with the mood, with the moment. If we don’t, we question ourselves to eternity – what would’ve happened if I would’ve open that other bottle I had in mind; should’ve I just plan it all differently?

But every once in a while, we let our guards down, and let things just happen. When we think about it right after, we realize – wow, totally random, and totally delightful. Yay!

That “random and delightful” was my experience yesterday. My plan was to open a bottle of wine from 1998, and I have a very small selection of those, so the one I picked happened to be a Burgundy. So that one was a special bottle, waiting for the evening and the decanter.

I can’t cook without the wine, so of course, the bottle had to be opened. The “before Thanksgiving” shipment from Field Recordings contained more than one interesting bottle – the one I told you about already was Pét Nat from California. Another bottle I never saw before had a bold Nouveau word printed across shiny, golden label:

I’m an avid fan of the “Beaujolais Nouveau” phenomenon. But I have to admit that a few years back, I tasted few of the attempts by California wineries to join the Nouveau movement, and those were widely unsuccessful.

So how would Field Recordings’ Nouveau rendition fare? Actually, spectacularly. As the label says, the grapes for this wine were hand-harvested only 74 days prior to the bottling. And nevertheless, the wine had all the finesse you expect from the perfectly balanced California Pinot Noir. This 2016 Field Recordings Nouveau California (12.1% ABV, 100% Pinot Noir) had lean, uplifting nose of fresh fruit, but less fruity than typical Nouveau, nothing grapey. On the palate, unmistakably Californian, touch of smoke with fresh plums and a bit of mint. Good acidity, more round than a typical French Nouveau version, perfectly drinkable. 8+. Outstanding, in a word. Would happily drink it again any day.

Remember I told you this was one of the days when things are just happening? I have a good number of bottles in the cellar, but absolute majority of the bottles are in the single amounts – just one bottle of particular wine from particular vintage, and that’s it. Thus sometimes, I spend good 20 minutes trying to select a bottle (in the fear of missing on what it can evolve into) and end up pouring myself a splash of Scotch instead. But yesterday, I had enough courage to grab a bottle of the wine which might be the only bottle in the US – unless someone also has good friends in Switzerland.

This wine was made by the family producer in Vaud region in Switzerland, Henri Cruchon, who I had pleasure meeting about 6 years ago. What makes it special is that this wine, called Nihilo, is not filtered, made from organic grapes, and doesn’t have any added sulfites. To preserve the wine better, the cork is covered in wax. And to be entirely correct, the wine goes beyond organic, as the back label sports Demeter logo, which means that the winery is certified biodynamic.

It is great to know that the wine is non-filtered and organic – but the ultimate verdict is in the glass. This 2015 Henri Cruchon Nihilo La Côte AOC Switzerland (13.5% ABV, blend of Pinot Noir, Gamay and Gamaret) had a spectacular nose, very complex – iodine, anise, crunchy cherries, mint. The palate was equally spectacular with sweet cherries, pepper, roasted notes, peppermint, crispy, fresh blackberries – once you start, you can’t stop. 8+/9-, outstanding wine.

And then there was 1998 Patrick Lesec Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes (13% ABV) – an 18 years old Burgundy wine, as Pinot Noir as it can be.

Patrick Lesec Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes18 years shouldn’t be an age for Burgundy, but I still was a bit concerned. Decided to decant the wine, to avoid sediment and let it breathe a bit, for about an hour. I’m clearly abusing the word “spectacular” in this post, but this is what this wine was. Touch of barnyard on the nose, on the palate – gunflint, smokey cherries, roasted meat, lots of herbs – oregano, mint, sage – every sip was a “wow” experience. By the end of the evening, the wine mellowed out and started showing more of the sweet cherries, still perfectly balanced with acidity. A pure treat for sure. Drinkability: 9.

There you have it, my friends. An accidental and hugely enjoyable Pinot Noir deep immersion – from California to Switzerland to France – very different wines holding one common trait – delivering lots and lots of pleasure. Cheers!

Stories of Passion and Pinot: David Nemarnik of Alloro Vineyard

October 15, 2016 2 comments
Winegrower and Proprietor David Nemarnik and winemaker Tom Fitzpatrick

David Nemarnik and Tom Fitzpatrick. Source: Alloro Vineyard

Let’s say you are looking for the site to plant the vineyard of your dreams. After many years of research, you finally find what you were looking for – it should be perfect. And so the site you find is located on Laurel Ridge, and it has Laurelwood soils. Now assume you have an Italian heritage: how would you call your vineyard? What do you think of “Alloro Vineyard”? Alloro is an Italian for “laurel”, so it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

For sure it did for David Nemarnik, who was born into a Croatian – Italian family, and he was the one who started looking for the good vineyard site in Oregon in the late 1980s and finally purchased one in 1999 – and yes, named it Alloro Vineyard. First Pinot Noir vines were planted in 1999, and the first vintage was 2002. In addition to the Pinot Noir, the varietal line-up today also includes Chardonnay and Riesling.

Alloro Vineyard is a lot more than just a vineyard. Actually, the vineyard occupies only 33 acres out of the 80 acres estate, and the whole estate is a full-blown farm, with cattle, sheep, chicken and gardens. Altogether, it became a holistic habitat, where growing grapes and making wines is simply part of the lifestyle, perfectly attuned to David’s family traditions. The vineyard is sustainably farmed, L.I.V.E. certified sustainable and certified Salmon-Safe. To top that off, David installed solar panels on the property, and now generates 100% of the electricity he needs for all the operations.

I had an opportunity to [yes, virtually] sit down with David and ask him a few questions, and here is what transpired from our conversation:

Alloro Winery, Chehalem Mountain AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Alloro Winery, Chehalem Mountain AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Source: Alloro Vineyard

TaV: Having Italian roots and memories of winemaking in Italy, have you ever thought of planting some of the Italian varietals? Moreover, Croatia also offers some interesting and unique grapes – how about those?

DN: I grew up with an Italian-American mother and grandmother who were all about family meals, which also  always included wine.  Not the high-end stuff, we are talking Familia Cribari Red Table Wine.  My father was Croatian and born just outside of Triesta Italy.  Family visits to my father’s village  impressed upon me a lifestyle of artisan food and wine production.  There was the home-made prosciutto and sausage, farm raised grain for bread, corn for polenta, and of course wine and grappa.

I love Nebbiolo and the wonderful Barolo and Babaresco wines of Piedmonte.  If I were to plant an Italian varietal it would be Nebbiolo.  I was recently in Piedmonte and observed the grapes were at about the same stage of development as our own Pinot Noir vineyard here in Oregon.  It would be fun to put in an acre or two.  Learning and trying new things is part of what keeps this winegrowing business fun!

TaV: Why Riesling? This is not a very common grape for Oregon – how did you decide to plant Riesling? In a blind tasting with German, Alsatian, Finger Lakes and Australian Riesling, where do you think people would most likely place your Riesling?

DN: Years ago in the mid-nineties I was making wine in my garage for family and friends.  This was mostly Cabernet and Zinfandel.  A friend of mine who was making wine in his apartment bedroom closet finally was given an ultimatum from his wife that led him to join me in my garage.  He turned me on to Riesling.  I really like Riesling’s versatility, dry, off dry, and sweet.  So it was a natural to plant my own Riesling and make an estate wine.

TaV: Any expansion plans for the vineyards? May be some new grapes outside of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay?

DN: Well we recently planted a new 5 acre block that is mostly Chardonnay with the balance Pinot noir.  I planted this on the east side of the road for a different exposure and aspect.  We also have our Riesling and a small block of Muscat.  So we currently have 33 acres planted out of 130 acres total.  I’m sure at some point I’ll plant more grapes, perhaps that small block of Nebbiolo.

TaV: You produced your first vintage in 2002, so starting from that year, what was your most difficult vintage for Pinot Noir and why?

DN:  The most difficult vintage for me was 2011.  2011 was the coolest year with the least amount of heat units since I started farming grapes in 1999.  Bud break and bloom were 3-4 weeks later than our average year.  We had a very cool summer and by early October we still had not fully completed veraison and were worried the fruit would not have time to ripen sufficiently.  We did everything we could, thinned to one cluster, pulled leaves on both sides, and prayed.  Thankfully we had an incredible October with dry and sunny weather.  In the end, we made some really nice wine.

Alloro Tuscan Vineyard

Source: Alloro Vineyard

Terrazzaa at Alloro Vineyard

Terrazza view. Source: Alloro Vineyard

TaV:  Continuing the previous question , what was your most favorite vintage and why

DN: My favorite vintage in the cellar is our 2010.  What started off as a cool growing year transitioned to a mostly dry summer with mild temperatures leading to great conditions during that critical month of ripening  prior to harvest.  The wines are elegant and complex with a wonderful balance of red and dark fruit.

TaV: You operate not just a vineyard, but also a farm , a whole habitat with lots of things happening. I’m sure you had plenty of funny stories over the years – do you care to share some of them?

DN: Yes, Alloro is really a sustainable whole farm that includes raising hay for our cattle and sheep, as well as an extensive garden, hazelnuts, and numerous fruit trees.  We compost manure from our cattle barn that is then spread on our fields as a natural fertilizer.  We have a strong food culture that I would say is aligned with the Slow Food and Locavore folks.

One funny story has us picking strawberries in the garden.  My chocolate lab named Abby disappears for a while and then returns with my neighbor’s Chinese runner duck in her mouth.  The duck with its long neck sticking out of Abby’s mouth seems perfectly calm as she proudly brings me the duck.  I carefully take the duck back to her owner’s pen…it never happened…

TaV:  I’m assuming you produce your top of the line “Justina” Pinot Noir only in the best years – how many times have you produced it so far?

DN:  Our Justina is a very special barrel selection.  Although a blend of multiple barrels, it is a barrel equivalent (or 25 cases).  Before any other barrel selections are made, we comb through every barrel looking for the very best of the vintage.  Within the context of the vintage, our Justina has the most weight; the broadest, densest, finest, and most persistent texture; the most complex aromas; and typically a higher percentage of new oak.  We have produced this wine every year since 2010.

TaV:  You get all your power from the solar energy. Was the winery designed like that from the very beginning, or did you install solar panels at some point later on?

DN:  The winery was completed in time for our 2003 vintage.  The solar panels were installed in 2008 as part of the Oregon Business Energy Tax System program.  Our goal was to invest in a green sustainable energy source.

TaV: Which are more difficult to tend for – the vines or your farm animals?

DN:  Oh, by FAR the vines!!

TaV: You produce White, Rosé, Red and Dessert wines. The only one which is missing is Sparkling wines. Any plans to produce your own sparkling wines?

DN: Possibly, if we were to add one new wine to our lineup, this would be it.  We love bubbles!

TaV:  When you are not drinking your own wines, what are your favorites from Oregon or around the world, both for whites and the reds?

DN: To be honest, I wish I spent more time visiting and tasting the many well made wines produced here in our state.  When I go to industry tastings I am always amazed at the overall quality.  I am really excited about Oregon Chardonnay and what seems to be an explosion of well made sparkling wines.   Outside of Oregon, I am a Barolo and Barbaresco fan.

Alloro Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir

Of course our conversation would be incomplete without tasting David’s wine. I had an opportunity to try his estate Pinot Noir and here are the notes:

2014 Alloro Vineyard Pinot Noir Estate Chehalem Mountains Oregon (14.1% ABV, $35)
C: dark Ruby
N: earthy smoky plums with licorice, open, medium intensity
P: sweet red fruit, licorice, touch of sage, espresso and mocca, excellent acidity, nice “meaty” undertones, medium long finish
V: 8, the wine has a lot of finesse, nice Burgundian style. Will evolve.

Source: Alloro Vineyard

Source: Alloro Vineyard

Believe it or not, but our Passion and Pinot journey is almost over. 6 winemakers, 6 stories of Passion – and Pinot, of course. I’m not saying good bye yet – Oregon is one of the hottest winemaking areas today in the USA, and with lots happening, I want to take another look at what we learned here and what might lay ahead. So I’m finishing the post with the rhetorical “stay tuned”… Is it Pinot time yet?  Cheers!

To be continued…

P.S. This post is a part of the “Stories of Passion and Pinot” series <- click the link for more stories.

One on One with Winemaker: Steve Lutz of Lenné Estate

October 8, 2016 4 comments
Steve Lutz

Steve Lutz. Source: Lenné Estate

For many years, I was trying to start my garden. Every year I would order my tomato plants, some peppers, and some herbs, plant them and then meticulously make sure to water them on the regular basis and hope for the best. Every year my reward would be a nice rosemary and sage (basil would always die) and maybe 10 mediocre tomatoes from 8 or so plants.

This was the story until this year, when I built raised beds, got a perfect top soil, premixed with all the proper organic fertilizers, planted tomatoes and lots more, and still collect (it is October now) a nice daily harvest of tomatoes, eggplants, and cucumbers. The soil is the king, you know – that rich, soft, almost greasy dark goodness of the good dirt.

Don’t worry, this post is not about me and not about my amateur gardening escapades. Talking about wine, do you think the soil is important? Would you want the best possible soil for your vines, the richest and the most nutritious? Or would you believe that someone would purposefully choose the plot with the poorest possible soil, and plant there the vineyard of their dreams? Enters Steve Lutz, who did exactly that.

In the year 2000, after searching for the perfect vineyard site for 8 months, Steve Lutz climbed a steep hill on the outskirts of the town of Yamhill in Northern Oregon, and after an hour of negotiations became an owner of the plot where Lenné vineyard was planted. The chosen site had peavine soil, which is not all that rich in the nutrients. Couple that with the steep slope and no irrigation, and you got the ideal farming conditions, right?

In 2001, 11 acres of Pinot Noir vines were planted, consisting of 3 blocks (one Pinot Noir clone per block). In the first year, Steve lost 35% of his plantings. In 2003, the additional 2.5 acres were planted, only to lose practically all of it to the record heat in the same year. It was only in 2007 that Steve was able to harvest enough fruit to vinify individual Pinot Noir clones. Also in 2007, Steve opened the tasting room, and the rest of it is a history which you can read for yourself on Lenné Estate web site.

lenné vineyard

Source: Lenné Estate

I had an opportunity to [virtually, of course] sit down with Steve and ask him a few questions – here is what came out of our conversation:

TaV: Before you purchased that parcel of land that became Lenné, what made you believe that that soil can produce great Pinot Noir wines?

SL: All great soils for growing grapes have low nutrient value that limits the vines vigor. The soil type I am on is classified as the poorest Ag soil in Yamhill County. I knew the shallow, low nutrient, sedimentary soil would produce smaller clusters and berries with more concentration.

TaV: It took you about 6 years (from 2001 to 2007) to get to any level of commercial success. How many times (if ever) you were ready to declare the project to be a failure?

SL: Well there was too much sweat equity and personal money involved to turn back, but after we planted a 2.5 acre block in 2003 (one of the hottest springs ever) and lost all of it, we came close.

TaV: The soil at Lenné sounds it can produce some other interesting wines – have you thought about planting grapes other than Pinot Noir, let’s say Syrah?

SL: Well, we have grafted some Pinot to Chardonnay and have thought about grafting a little over to Gewurztraminer. The issue is that you can’t do much because it isn’t economically viable. We do have a neighbor that grows syrah which I find interesting but it’s a little like swimming upstream; cool weather Syrah is fascinating with bottle age but a hard sell young.

TaV: Outside of your own wines, what is your most favorite wine what you ever tasted?

SL: Well, years ago I had all the DRC wines about a half a dozen times and those would have to be my favorites.

TaV: Looking at the names of your wines, I’m assuming Jill’s 115 and Eleanor’s 114 are named after your daughters?

SL: No, Jill is my mother in law who lives in England and Eleanor is named after my late mother. We also have a wine called Karen’s Pommard named after my wife.

TaV: Along the same lines, I’m sure there should be a story behind the name of “Kill Hill”?

SL: Yes, that is the most shallow, stressed soil in the vineyard and we had many dead vines when we planted there in spite of burning out a clutch on a tractor trying to keep them watered the first year. I always referred to it as “kill hill” because of all the mortality. When we finally got it established I decided to blend the two clones there (114 and 667) and call it “Kill Hill.”

Lenne Vineyard

Source: Lenné Estate

TaV: You are teaching a class for the wine consumers on Dundee Hills and Yamhill-Carlton District soils, Red and Black, which includes blind tasting. How often do your students identify the wines correctly to the type of soil?

SL: Probably about 70% of the time.

TaV: Do you plan to expand the vineyard in the future?

SL: No, we have planted most of which is plantable.

TaV: If you are to expand the vineyard, would you ever consider planting white grapes, such as Pinot Gris or Chardonnay?

SL: Refer to above.

TaV: I understand that you are using low intervention, dry farming. Do you have any plans to obtain any certifications, such as LIVE, or maybe even going all the way into biodynamics?

SL: We are looking at the LIVE program right and I have thought about experimenting with biodynamics though I think some of the practices are more about marketing than having anything to do with good farming practices.

TaV: I’m really curious about particular significance of “11 months in oak” which seems all of your wines are going through. Why exactly 11 months? Do you ever change the duration of time the wine spends in oak based on the qualities of the particular vintage?

SL: No, not really. The practice is based partially on practicality in that we like to get the wines out of the barrel before harvest. But having said that my philosophy is to get the wines in the bottle as intact as possible. Letting them sit in oak for extended periods of time leads to oxidation. Pinot is very sensitive to oxidation and I would rather put it in the bottle with as much of a reflection of the vineyard as possible and let what happens in the bottle happen. Some vintages could benefit in terms of mouthfeel with extended barrel aging, but they will get that in the bottle and have less oxidation than if you gave them extended barrel age.

TaV: If you would have an opportunity to “do over”, would you choose any other location for your winery, or may be more generally, what would you do differently?

SL: I would do a lot of things differently in terms of the way we started, attention to detail in terms of farming the first year. We were in such a hurry to put the plants in the ground that we didn’t have our farming practices completely dialed in with the right equipment. As far as the site I can honestly say there is not another 21 acre site in Oregon that I would even think about trading my site for. The one thing we got completely right was finding the site.

lenne-pinot-noir-willamette-valleyTime to taste some wine, isn’t it? I had an opportunity to taste Steve’s basic Pinot Noir, and I can tell you that left on the kitchen table, the bottle was gone in no time. Here are my notes:

2014 Lenné Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (14.2% ABV, $38)
C: Garnet
N: Smoke, lavender, ripe blackberries, medium intensity
P: tart cherries, fresh, vibrant acidity, firm tannins and firm structure, earthiness, excellent balance
V: 8-, very good wine, food friendly, will evolve with time

Here you are, my friends – another story of Passion and Pinot – now it is all about the soil and believing in yourself. We are not done yet, so until the next time – cheers!

To be continued…

P.S. This post is a part of the “Stories of Passion and Pinot” series <- click the link for more stories.

One on One with Winemaker: Wayne Bailey of Youngberg Hill Vineyards

September 30, 2016 6 comments
Wayne Bailey Youngberg Hill Vineyards

Wayne Bailey. Source: Youngberg Hill Vineyards

What do you think of biodynamic winemaking? As an oenophile, do you embrace it or shrug it off?

Well, it is easy for us, oenophiles, to have an opinion, informed or uninformed – but then there are people who actually live by it, meaning – practice every day.

Biodynamics was born almost 100 years ago, in 1924, when German scientist, Rudolf Steiner, presented a course of 8 lectures on agriculture. At the core of the biodynamics is a holistic approach to the agricultural work, embracing the whole sustainable, natural ecosystem – akin modern day organic agriculture. However, biodynamics goes further and adds what many perceive as voodoo element – bladders, intestines, skulls and many other “strange” items play role in the full biodynamics approach, and that puts a lot of people on offensive.

I’m sure at this point you are probably looking back at the title of this post and trying to figure out what biodynamics has to do with promised winemaker’s interview? In 2003, Wayne Bailey purchased the vineyard in the Willamette Valley in Oregon, called Youngberg Hill. The Youngberg Hill vineyard was planted in 1989 by Willamette Valley pioneer, Ken Wright, and it produced its first vintage in 1996. When Wayne Bailey was looking for the property to buy, Youngberg Hill was recommended to him as the place which has “good vibrations” – and rest is now a history. These “good vibrations” also set Wayne on the path for the holistic farming, starting with all organic in 2003 and upgrading to biodynamic farming in 2011 – and this is why you had to get the refresher course on what the biodynamics is.

Vineyard Map. Source: Youngberg Hill Vineyards

Vineyard Map. Source: Youngberg Hill Vineyards

Vineyard View Youngberg Hill Vineyards

Source: Youngberg Hill Vineyards

Lots of things are happening at Youngberg Hill Vineyards today, but I will let you read about it on your own, as now I would like to share with you my [virtual] conversation with Wayne Bailey:

TaV: First vineyards were planted on Youngberg Hill in 1989. How much did you have to change between then and now?

YHC: Those 11 acres continue to produce and are healthier now than 14 years ago as a result of switching to organic and biodynamic farming practices. We have planted four additional acres of Pinot Noir in 2008 and five acres of Pinot Gris in 2006. In 2014 we grafted over half of the Pinot Gris to Chardonnay.

TaV: 1996 was the first vintage at Youngberg Hill. Have you had an opportunity to taste those wines?

YHC: Yes. The only vintage I have not had was the 1997. I had a few bottles of ’96, ‘98’, ’99 that were part of our purchase.

TaV: What do you think of them?

YHC: They were very good and reflected both the quality of the fruit coming off the hill and the ageability of the wines.

TaV: Are there any of those wines still around?

YHC: I have 1 bottle of ’98 and a few 2000, etc.

TaV: Your first vintage was in 2003. How are those wines aging?

YHC: Only have a few bottles left, but had one only a couple of months ago that was beautiful. Aging very well and was still not showing signs of deterioration.

TaV: You produce Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris from Youngberg Hill vineyards, and Chardonnay is on the way. Do you have plans for any other grapes (Tempranillo, Syrah,…)?

YHC: No, I am not convinced that we will see global warming impact us to the extent that we can consistently ripen big red varietals in my lifetime. That will be up to my daughters.

TaV: Do you have any plans to expand plantings beyond the 20 acres you have right now?

YHC: No

TaV: You went from traditional (whatever it was) farming to organic and now to biodynamic. How those transitions manifest themselves in wines? Can you taste them?

YHC: Yes. The fruit is much healthier coming out of the vineyard and into the winery, meaning that the fruit is much more balanced and more balanced ripening of the fruit across all parameters of ripeness. That shows up in the wine as higher quality (depth and complexity and balance) and more vibrancy as the wine ages in the bottle.

youngberg hill vineyards aerial photo

Youngberg Hill vineyards aerial photo Source: Youngberg Hill Vineyards

 

Jordan Vineyard Youngberg Hill Vineyards

Jordan Vineyard. Source: Youngberg Hill Vineyards

TaV: Is the day in the life of biodynamic farmer much different from the “traditional” one?

YHC: Yes, in that you spend more time walking the vineyards and knowing each plant more intimately.

TaV: Is going all the way to biodynamic worth the effort for the grapes and wines, or is it just better for the farmer’s soul and the environment?

YHC: All of the above. You grow healthier grapes which are of higher quality, resulting in better wines. At the same time the soil and plants are healthier and will sustain better in the long run and there is no negative effects to the environment.

TaV: Youngberg Hill might be the only winery (to my knowledge) producing Pinot Noir Port. How traditional is your Port in making and style? Would you compare it to any of the Porto wines? Do Pinot Noir grapes accumulate enough sugar to be made into the Port? Lastly, do you produce Port every year?

YHC: Our Pinot Port is slightly lighter in overall structure and a little drier, not because there was not enough sugar accumulation, but because I let primary fermentation go a little longer. The production process is the same and the style is similar except for the varietal characteristics. We do not produce every year. It depends on many factors related to the vintage.

TaV: What were your most favorite and most difficult vintages at Youngberg Hill and why?

YHC: Of past vintages, 2005 and 2010 are two of my favorites for their balance, elegance, and complexity. However, 2005 was significantly reduced in quantity due to mildew; and 2010 was greatly reduced in yield due to the birds. 2015 may become my best vintage to date (currently in barrel).

TaV: When the Youngberg Hill is called a “good hill”, is this more of a gut feeling, or is it more of a specific terroir parameters – soil, climate, wind, temperature range etc.

YHC: Both. It is good from the standpoint that the terroir is excellent for growing Pinot Noir; higher altitude, marine sedimentary and basalt soils, southeast facing slope, altitude change from 500 to 800 feet, coastal breezes coming off the coast, cooler temperatures both day and night, etc. but also the peace, serenity, isolation, aquafer, underground water, and much more “natural” setting also attribute to the “good hill”.

TaV: As a biodynamic farmer I presume you are well attuned with Mother Nature. From 2003 to now, do you see the material effects of the climate change? Do you take this into account with the grape growing and wine production?

YHC: Having been in agriculture throughout my life, I have experienced the 20 year cycle of hot and colder temperatures, so I believe in another couple of years we will see temperatures going down again. However, over the long term (hundreds and thousands of years) the earth is getting warmer and the highs and lows are tending to be more extreme along with weather incidents. Does it impact my grape growing practices? No.

Hope you are still with me, and it is the time for some wine, right?

We have an open conversation among friends here, so I will dare to confess an interesting experience. I opened the bottle of Youngberg Hill Pinot (screwtop), poured a glass. Swirl, sniff, sip – nothing to write home about. Swirl more intensely, another sip – just a touch of acidity and not much else. I closed the bottle, put the wine aside and decided to give it a day. Before I tasted it the second day, my thought was – please, please, please – if the wine the same as the previous day, this post is going to be published without the tasting notes. Luckily, the wine evolved dramatically, so I’m happy to share my tasting notes with you:

2013 Youngberg Hill Pinot Noir Cuvée Willamette Valley (13% ABV, $35)
C: dark Ruby
N: lavender, cherries, earth, fresh, open, medium intensity
P: first day was very tight; sweet red fruit showed up on the second day, bright acidity, vibrant, firm structure, good concentration, dark powdery medium-long finish. Still delicious on the third day, so definitely this wine can age.
V: 8/8+, well made wine, needs time to open, can age for another 10+ years

Here you are, my friends – another story of Passion and Pinot – with rocks, soils and a bit of biodynamics. We are not done yet, so until the next time – cheers!

To be continued…

P.S. This post is a part of the “Stories of Passion and Pinot” series <- click the link for more stories.

Stories of Passion and Pinot: Ghost Hill Cellars

September 25, 2016 16 comments

Wine and mystery go hand in hand, don’t they? How about a little ghost story? Take a sip from your glass, and say it with me: “It was dark and stormy night…” – now take another sip – do you taste the difference between the first one and the second? So here is a little ghost story for you. Legend has it that during the Gold Rush in Oregon (1800s), the miner was on his way to Portland with the load of gold. He decided to set an overnight camp on top of the hill. During the night, someone got into the camp, killed the miner and took his gold. Ever since, the miner (his ghost, of course) is wandering around that hill, looking for his gold; quite appropriately, the hill became known as the Ghost Hill.

Ghost Hill Cellars

Source: Ghost Hill Cellars

Ghost Hill Cellars

Source: Ghost Hills Cellars

In 1906, brothers Daniel and Samuel Bayliss purchased about 230 acres of land around that Ghost Hill, and started their farm. That farm is now staying in the family now for 5 generations, with all the cattle, sheep, hay, wheat and clover growing there. Being in the heart of Willamette Valley, it is hardly possible not to catch the Pinot Noir bug. In 1999, the Bayliss-Bower Vineyard was planted with the Pinot Noir. The Oregon wine pioneer, Ken Wright, once asked Mike Bayliss if he would sell the vineyard and how much he would want for it – as you can guess, the answer was “no”.

I had an opportunity to [virtually] sit down with Mike Bayliss and Bernadette Bower, his daughter and 4th generation owner of Ghost Hill Cellars, and ask them a few questions – here is what transpired from our conversation:

TaV: Ghost Hill farm is 234 acres, and the Ghost Hill vineyard today is 16 acres – do you have any plans to expand it?

GHC: At the moment, we have no plans to expand, but we are not ruling out expansion.  We will have to see what the future holds.  We have 90 acres deemed plantable to Pinot Noir.

TaV: How did you come up with the idea of producing Pinot Noir Blanc? Did you see/hear someone else do this (or maybe you even tasted someone else’s wine), or was it a pure moment of bliss?

GHC: Actually, the idea of Pinot Noir Blanc came from our winemaker at the time Rebecca Shouldis.  She was talking to a fellow winemaker from France who suggested a Pinot Noir Blanc for our younger plantings of 115.  He told us that in France, half of champagne is usually Pinot Noir Blanc, so that would be a good white option for us.  We agree, it has been very successful for us.

TaV: You use Pinot Noir to its full capacity, producing white, Rosé and red, all from the same grape. So the only type of wine which is probably missing is sparkling wine, for which Pinot Noir is perfectly suitable. Do you have any aspirations to start producing your own sparkling wine?

GHC: We have discussed it, but we have no plans to start production of a sparkling in the near future.  Again, you never know what the future holds!

TaV: Did you ever meet the ghost of the deceased miner, looking for his gold?

GHC: The presence of the miner has been felt many times. Neighbors have seen and felt the presence of the ghost at dusk while riding horses. They will not ride in that area anymore. When the kids were little, Mike used to tease the kids and tell them he could see the ghost on the hill, but that is as close as we have come.

Ghost Hill Cellars Vineyard

Source: Ghost Hill Cellars

Ghost Hill Cellars Pinot Noir Grapes

Source: Ghost Hill Cellars

harvest at Ghost Hill Cellars

Harvest. Source: Ghost Hill Cellars

Ghost Hill Cellars Grape Leaf

Source: Ghost Hill Cellars

TaV: Do you have any plans to start growing other grapes, such as Chardonnay or Pinot Gris, for example, or do want to stay Pinot Noir all the way at the moment?

GHC: At the moment, we are staying Pinot Noir all the way.   We have been considering Chardonnay for future planting, but nothing has been decided.

TaV: Do you have any plans to convert your vineyards to all organic or biodynamic?

GHC: We will not go to all organic or biodynamic. It takes away too many tools to deal with emergency situations in the vineyard, but we are certified sustainable and salmon-safe, and plan to continue those practices, as sustainability is very important to us.

TaV: On your farm, you grow more than just grapes. Is farming for the grapes much different from all other plants?

GHC: Yes and no.  Some of the same rules apply to farming other crops, but grapes are incredibly labor intensive, much more so than other crops we have grown.  Grapes need your attention all the time.

TaV:Did you ever regret not selling the land to Ken Wright?

GHC: Depends on which day you ask us…  But really, no.  We want to keep the land in the family. 110 years is a long time, we aren’t ready to give that up.  The land holds so many memories for our family, we would feel lost without the farm.

TaV: Your life had been intertwined with the farm pretty much forever. With the grapes or not, but I’m sure you got some interesting stories to tell. Can you share some of your most fun (or most dreadful) moments

GHC: When we were raising beef cattle, the cattle were always getting out and had to be chased. We appreciate that the grapes never escape or have to be chased.  Our daughter will tell you her least favorite day was the morning the cattle got out and she was out chasing them in her pajamas when the school bus went by, full of her friends who were laughing at the whole situation.  Our vet from the cattle days is writing a book and has promised to devote an entire chapter to The Bayliss Farm.

TaV: You use only the very best of your wine to produce the Prospector’s Reserve. Was there a year when you decided not to produce the Prospector’s Reserve, or do you see such a situation possible?

GHC: For the 2013 vintage, we do not have a Prospector’s Reserve as we did not have enough grapes to make a reserve blend. We will only be releasing 2013 Bayliss-Bower.

TaV: When you are not drinking your own wines, what other wines from what producers and what regions do you like to drink?

GHC: Of course, we drink Hamacher.  We are discovering fabulous new Oregon wines all the time, there are so many new producers in the region.

ghost-hill-cellars-pinot-noir-blanc-with-flowersTo tell you the truth, once I heard that Ghost Hill Cellars makes Pinot Noir Blanc, I was really intrigued, so I was happy to try this wine:

2014 Ghost Hill Cellars Pinot Noir Blanc Bayliss-Bower Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton AVA (13.9% ABV, $25)
C: light copper, reminiscent of Rosé
N: initially intense, yeasty, Granny Smith apples, citrus, then evolving to the notes of honey and then showing hint of gunflint
P: creamy and round, touch of strawberries, minerality, lemon, green apples, good structure, good acidity, medium long finish, with acidity prevalent
V: 8, very enjoyable

Here we go, my friends. I can’t tell you if the ghost of deceased miner is affecting the wines – you can try to find out on your own, by either visiting the Ghost Hill Cellars or, at least, drinking their wines. And, of course, stay tuned, as more of the Passion and Pinot stories are coming out soon. Cheers!

To be continued…

P.S. This post is a part of the “Stories of Passion and Pinot” series <- click the link for more stories.

One on One with Winemaker: Don Hagge of Vidon Vineyard

September 16, 2016 9 comments
don tractor

Don Hagge. Source: Vidon Vineyard

What do most people do at the age of 69? Retire, or at least, semi-retire, right? Humans live longer than ever before, and many still have enough energy and desire to continue doing what they are doing. But let me  rephrase the question a bit – how many people do you know who would start a totally new business at the age of 69? Might be a difficult question, I understand. Sure it would be for me, but now I can proudly say that I know at least one person like that. Let me introduce to you Don Hagge.

So what does rocket scientist (with degrees from UC Berkeley in physics and business from Stanford), whose resumé includes Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Centre d’Etude Physiques Nucleare in Paris, Apollo Mission at NASA and Silicon Valley high-tech industry, upon retirement? Of course, starts his own winery! Well, it sounds radical, but considering that Don grew up on a farm in North Dakota, and had an opportunity to live in France and experience wines of Burgundy, maybe it is only logical?

Vicky and Don Hagge started Vidon Vineyard in 1999 in Willamette Valley, in the Chehalem Mountains AVA of Oregon (you can probably figure that name of the winery, Vidon, is made up after Vicky and Don). Fast forward to today, Vidon Vineyard produces primarily Pinot Noir, plus small amounts of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Viognier, Syrah, and Tempranillo. Vidon Vineyard is sustainable, LIVE and Salmon-safe certified, and practices minimal intervention winemaking. Don Hagge not only makes wines, he also plays a role of a handyman when it comes to various winemaking tools and equipment. Plus, he is very opinionated about the use of glass enclosures instead of corks…

In the vineyard

Source: Vidon Vineyard

I had an opportunity to [virtually] sit down with Don Hagge and ask him a few questions, so here you can find our conversation:

TaV: For many years, you had been living and working in California. Why have you decided to build a brand new winery in Oregon and not in California?
DH: I was recruited to Oregon by a venture capitalist as the CEO of a startup semiconductor company. During this time, I biked in the Willamette Valley regularly and loved the vineyards.  Since I lived in France some time ago, Pinot Noir has been a favorite wine. I grew on a farm and decided to make a career change and what could be better than buying land, planting a vineyard and learning how to make wine?  Oregon was gaining a reputation for Pinot Noir so here I am.

TaV: Your very first wines were made in 2002. Do you still have any of those bottles left? If you do, how do they drink today?
DH: Unfortunately, the 2002 vintage is gone. I made only 40 cases and didn’t label it, only for friends and personal use.  We just had a 2006 vintage this evening which is fantastic.

TaV: During all the years of Vidon Vineyard existence, what was the most difficult vintage for you and why?
DH: Probably the 2007 vintage. This was the first year I used my own winery so many things were new. I saw the forecast for heavy weather, got a crew and pulled in 16 tons on September 25th.  Before we finished cleaning the equipment it started raining and didn’t stop for a month.  Most people suffered through the rains and the vintage got a bad rap in the press.  We were lucky – it’s still a beautiful wine!

TaV: For how long do you typically age your Pinot Noir wines in French oak Barrels?
DH: Most of my wine carries the 3-Clones label and gets 11 months in French oak barrels which are on average 30% new. I’m not a fan of big oak in any wine.

TaV: You are an enthusiastic proponent of glass enclosures instead of traditional cork. When did you start using glass enclosures? Also, did you ever try to bottle the same vintage both with glass enclosures and traditional corks and then compare the results of the aging?
DH: Until the 2008 vintage I used corks and usually quite expensive ones. However, I determined that no matter what they cost, they still taint wine because of TCA and pre-oxidize occasionally.  Therefore, in 2008 I began using Stelvin screw caps.  In 2009 I started using Vinoseals for the Single Clone labels.  No, I’ve never done a comparison of cork vs Vinoseal glass closures.  It’s not necessary, I know what corks do and Vinoseals and screw caps don’t do. I don’t understand why anyone uses a closure that ruins a percentage of their wines when there are alternatives that don’t.

TaV: Today, you are producing a number of different white and red wines. Do you have any plans (if not plans, may be at least some thoughts) about starting to produce Rosé and/or Sparkling wines?
DH: I made Rosé for two vintages and one was a great, I was told. I’d like to do a Sparkling but my winery is too small given what I’m now doing. That’s not to say I’m not dreaming of a winery expansion and interested in trying more and different wines.

winery photo at Vidon Vineyard

Vidon Winery. Source: Vidon Vineyard

 

TaV: Outside of your own wines, which are your favorite Pinot Noir producers in the world?
DH: Good Bourgogne wines are what I like to emulate. The 2004 vintage was the nearest to a great Bourgogne that I’ve made.

TaV: If you would have an opportunity to start your winery again, would you do something different?
DH: Given the resources I had, not much. Perhaps I’d build a better winery instead of an expensive house, but I have a wife.  🙂

TaV: You describe your approach in the vineyard as “minimal intervention”, and your winery is LIVE Certified. Do you have any plans to become certified organic or biodynamic winery?
DH: I’m a scientist and Biodynamic winemaking isn’t scientific. Many of their practices are good, how they treat the land, etc.  But I don’t believe in VooDoo.  I don’t’ believe that Organic Certification results in better wine or land management than what we do in the LIVE program.

TaV: I understand that you have built your own bottling line wine dispenser for the tasting room. What are the other technological tools which you built at your winery?
DH: I don’t think I’ve built anything for winemaking that any good farm boy couldn’t have. I’m always trying to find ways to simplify tasks and become more efficient in using time and material.  I have an idea about saving wine and labor in barrel topping but haven’t implemented it yet.  My use of Flextanks to replace some barrels is already saving wine and labor by eliminating barrel topping while producing wine that’s equivalent to that from barrels.

TaV: You already work with quite a few grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Cab Franc, Syrah). Do you plan to add any other grapes in the vineyard?
DH: No more varieties. No more land to plant.  However, I do hope to plant a small plot of Coury clone Pinot Noir next year. Planting of the clone date back 50 years to the original plantings.

TaV: What drives your passion? You started Vidon vineyards at the age when most of the people are happily retiring, so there must be some deep reason for you to engage in such a – of course, a labor of love – but hard labor?
DH: I like to live. I’m not ready to “stop” and watch TV.  I think having a ToDo list every morning and a little anxiety and stress about getting things done will result in a longer life.  To have no challenges is pretty dull and boring.  When one is doing things that one enjoys, it’s not labor.


What do you say, my friends? This interview continues our Stories of Passion and Pinot series, and I think it is a perfect sequel to the conversation with Ken Wright – Don Hagge exudes the same righteousness, passion, and confidence in everything he does.

And you know what supports Don’s ways and means? His wines! I had an opportunity to try his Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and in a word, I can tell you – what a treat! Two stunning, perfectly balanced and perfectly Burgundian in style – made with passion and care in Oregon.

Vidon Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

Vidon wines - BEE

Vidon wines back labelFor what it worth, here are my notes:

2015 Vidon Vineyard Chardonnay Estate Chehalem Mountains, Oregon (12.9% ABV, $35)
C: golden color
N: initially, very restrained, mostly minerality. After 2 days in the fridge, honey and vanilla, quite spectacular
P: initially tight, minerally and acidic. Two days later – exuberant, golden delicious apples, perfect acidity, vanilla, medium finish. Every sip leaves you craving for more
V: 9, simply outstanding, delicious.

2013 Vidon Vineyard 3 Clones Pinot Noir Estate Chehalem Mountains, Oregon (14.3% ABV, $40)
C: bright Ruby, cranberry undertones
N: inviting, intense, touch of smoke, lavender, red fruit
P: nicely restrained, minerality, crushed red fruit, mouthwatering acidity, fresh, elegant, lots of finesse
V: 9-, outstanding wine, Burgundian style

Here you are, my friends – another story of Passion and Pinot. And I have more for you, so until the next time – cheers!

To be continued…

P.S. This post is a part of the “Stories of Passion and Pinot” series <- click the link for more stories.