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Stories and Passion and Pinot: Shane Moore of Gran Moraine

May 25, 2022 Leave a comment

Gran Moraine prides itself on producing experiential art in the form of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sparkling wines made to express the exquisite terroir of our Yamhill-Carlton Estate Vineyards.”

Experiential Art.

Not a bad way to introduce the winery, what do you think? Wine is art, all wine lovers can sign under such a statement, so “experiential art” sounds very near and dear to any wine lover’s heart.

Gran Moraine vineyard was planted in 2004 by Premier Pacific Vineyards in the Yamhill-Carlton district of Willamette Valley in Oregon, with 200 acres of hillside vines of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The vineyard took its name from moraines, glacial sediment left after the glacier movements in the last ice age. In 2013, the Gran Moraine Vineyard was acquired by Jackson Family and it is one of the 4 major properties owned by the Jackson Family in Oregon Willamette Valley.

I visited Gran Moraine last August and had an opportunity to taste a number of the wines and have a quick chat with the winemaker, Shane Moore. Then I followed up with the usual, virtual “conversation” and here is what transpired:

[TaV]: Was there a pivotal wine in your life? 

{SM]: I’ve had plenty of wines that have possibly changed my life’s trajectory.  However, I feel like the most pivotal wines in my existence have been those that seem to stop time. These wines provide my most fond wine moments and provide me with the most inspiration.

[TaV]: Is there a winemaker you would call your mentor? Someone you learned the most from as a winemaker?

[SM]: I think if I gave any specific shoutouts I’d be doing a disservice to so many of the amazingly talented and thoughtful winemakers I have had the pleasure to have worked with.  Over my time I worked with and under at least 40 winemakers – I for sure learned a great deal from all of them.  Another great group I both learned a lot and derived much inspiration from are the seasonal cellar workers we hire each year. With that I’m proud to say many have went on to become winemakers themselves.

[TaV]: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines are all about blocks and clones. How many clones of Pinot Noir and how many clones of Chardonnay do you grow? How many individual blocks do you identify for the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay?

[SM]: At the Gran Moraine Vineyard, there are 6 different clones of Pinot Noir and only 2 of Chardonnay.  Every block is harvested and vinified separately. At any given time, there are around 100-120 different lots of wines. There are approximately 80 blocks – I don’t bring them all in – it’s too big of a vineyard for that – I bring in what I think of as around the top 30% of the acres.

[TaV]: Following up on the previous question – what is your approach to the blending of the final wines, both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay? Do you ever produce single block or single clone wines, and if you don’t do it now, do you have a plan to start producing such wines in the future?

[SM]: Blending final wines starts with having an abstract notion of the experience which you would like to have said “wine endue.” Then you purposely work within the parameters of the vineyard, the growing season and your production capabilities to craft something with that end goal in mind.

We will sometimes produce single clone or block wines when the wine is so profound that it would be a disservice to humanity to blend it away.

[TaV]: You already produce a few of the sparkling wines. What is your approach to harvesting the grapes for those wines – do you have specific plots which you designate for sparkling wines, or do you take an early pass through the vineyard prior to general harvest to get the grapes for the sparkling wine production?

[SM]: You know when you eat something so acidic that it makes your ears ring? I like to pick the fruit for sparkling wine when it’s just a little riper than that. We use specific blocks for the sparkling wine that are purposely farmed. Generally, these blocks are some of the most marginal sites on the vineyard; for example, north facing and heavier soils.

[TaV]: How much focus the sparkling wines program gets at Gran Moraine? Do you expect to produce more sparkling wines in the future, or you expect to stay at the level where you are at?

[SM]: Sparkling wine is currently about 15% of our production.  I can see it growing some, it seems to be very popular.

[TaV]: Gran Moraine is a ~200 acres vineyard. If I understand it correctly, it is all planted with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Do you plan to plant any other grapes – Pinot Gris, for example, or will it stay strictly as it is right now?

[SM]: The suitable acres on the piece of land are pretty much planted out.  I don’t think we’ll be grafting any of the Chardonnay or Pinot Noir over to anything else anytime soon.

[TaV]: When you make Gran Moraine Chardonnay, is there a specific style you are trying to achieve?

[SM]: I want the Chardonnay to have umami, electricity and tension.  Of course, I also want it to be delicious.

[TaV]: Same question for the Gran Moraine Pinot Noir?

[SM]: With the Pinot I try to focus on it being beautiful and sleek creating power and complexity daftly by DJing with great music and surrounding it with happy people.

[TaV]: What are your favorite producers in Oregon? In the USA? In the world?

[SM]: Oregon: Adelsheim, Antica Terra, Antiquim Farm, Alexana, Belle Ponte, Brickhouse, Beaux Freres, Bethel Heights…..that’s just getting to the B’s!  Too many really to mention – I’m always trading wine with people. I’m totally in love with Oregon wine.

USA:  I’d have to go to CA and say some of my favorites there are Ridge, Drew, Papapietro Perry, Navarro, Hartford.

[TaV]: Is there a winemaker you would love to work with? A dream winemaker so to speak?

[SM]: Jean-Herve and Laurent Chiquet of Jacquesson.  I hope they are listening.  I’ve got ideas.

[TaV]: What’s ahead for Gran Moraine? Where do you see it in 10 years?

[SM]: We’ll probably be doing the same thing but hopefully with even more intention and weirder.

[TaV]: Is there a dream wine you always wanted to make? What would that be?

[SM]: A great New World Nebbiolo.

Here are the tasting notes for a few of the Gran Moraine wines I had an opportunity to taste during the visit:

Gran Moraine Brut Rosé Sparkling Wine Yamhill-Carlton (58% Pinot Noir, 41% Chardonnay, 6% Pinot Meunier)
Toasted notes on the nose
toasted bread, a touch of yeast, good acidity, crisp, clean
8, delicious

2018 Gran Moraine Chardonnay Yamhill-Carlton
A touch of honey notes, vanilla
Good acidity, good acidity, needs time
7+

2018 Gran Moraine Pinot Noir Estate
Brilliant fresh cherry notes, sage
Crisp, restrained, tart cherries and earthy notes, fresh tannins
7+

2017 Gran Moraine Upland Pinot Noir
Restrained nose, a touch of funk, cherries
Light palate, fresh, bright, cherries and cranberries
8-

Here you go, my friends. Another winery, another story of Passion and Pinot. Until the next time – cheers!

This post is a part of the Stories of Passion and Pinot series – click the link for more stories…

Passion and Pinot Updates: Bells Up Winery

January 6, 2022 1 comment

And then we arrived at “micro-boutique, un-domaine” Bells Up Winery, our final stop of the Oregon wine country touring.

Out of 13 wineries profiled in the Stories of Passion and Pinot series, Bells Up is the youngest one, having been founded in 2013, with the first vineyard plantings of Pinot Noir going into the ground in 2014. Despite being a young winery, Dave (the winemaker) and Sara (the Boss) Specter have a clear vision as to where they are going with their distinctly un-domaine wine – if you are curious why I keep saying “un-domaine”, I would like to direct you to the (virtual) interview I did with Dave in 2019 – he explains the concept of un-domaine very well.

Everything is distinctly un-domaine (see, you need to read that interview) at Bells Up. The vineyard with a gentle slope, the winery right in the middle of the vineyard, a simple but elegantly appointed tasting room with lots of fresh flowers and beautiful views of the vineyards. Here you go – pictures, pictures, pictures:

 

 

After admiring all the views we proceeded with lunch and tasting. Our lunch was prepared by Sara and while it was somewhat of a simplistic summer chicken salad, the amazing part was that this salad perfectly paired with the majority of wines we tasted – if you ever tried pairing the salad with wine, you would have to agree that achieving great pairing is very far from easy.

As I mentioned, Dave and Sara have a clear vision of the future direction for Bells Up. While Bells Up estate vineyard will be mostly planted with Pinot Noir, and by 2022 Bells Up plans to be at 100% estate fruit for all Pinot Noir bottlings, they have a clear plan for making Bells Up unique and different – growing and producing Pinot Blanc instead of the more commonly available Pinot Gris; being first in Willamette Valley with Seyval Blanc plantings; planting (out of all grapes!) a little known Italian grape Scioppettino; already offering Syrah and adding Cabernet Sauvignon in the 2020 vintage. “Unique and different” is a good description, in my opinion.

 

Before we talk about wines I would like to mention that none of the wine names you will see below are random. All the names have connections to the classical music pieces under the same name, and every choice of the name has an explanation as to why the particular piece was selected to connect with a given wine. If you are interested, there is even a Spotify playlist that includes all of the relevant music pieces – you can find that list directly on the Bells Up Our Wines page.

We started our tasting with Pinot Blanc:

2020 Bells Up Rhapsody Pinot Blanc Willamette Valley ($32)
Great complexity, lemon, gunflint
Great acidity, lemon, clean, crisp, refreshing
Perfect pairing with summer chicken salad
8, Excellent

We almost had to beg Dave to let us Seyval Blanc which was practically sold out. As a curiously interesting fact, Seyval Blanc plantings had to be protected by the net, as it happened that birds loved the grapes too.

2020 Bells Up Helios Seyval Blanc Estate Chehalem Mountains AVA ($40)
Gunflint, minerality,
Clean fruit, Meyer lemon, good acidity, good creaminess
Great with summer chicken salad.
8

Next up was Pinot Noir Rosé, the first Pinot Noir wine entirely produced from the estate fruit:

2020 Bells Up Prelude Pinot Noir Rosé Estate Chehalem Mountains AVA ($28)
Strawberries, nice minerality
Strawberries, bigger body than Provence, good acidity, perfect balance.
8-

We followed up with the selection of Bells Up Pinot Noir wines:

2018 Bells Up Titan Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($44)
Plums, violets, sandalwood
Crisp, clean, crunchy cranberry profile, a hint of cranberries, good acidity on the finish.
8-

2019 Bells Up Candide Pinot Noir Reserve Chehalem Mountains AVA ($54, 12 months in French oak)
Floral, nutmeg, warm spices
Cherries, cut through acidity, black pepper, perfect balance, delicious
8

2019 Bells Up Villanelle Pinot Noire Reserve Tonnelier Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($58, 12 months in French oak, final vintage)
Blackberry/raspberry, Marionberry
Cassis leaves, light crunchy cherries, well-integrated tannins, good acidity on the finish, delicious.
8

2019 Bells Up Jupiter Estate Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains AVA ($48, 12 months in French Oak)
Underbrush, summer forest, cherries, a touch of tobacco
Crunchy cherries, clean, fresh, delicious
8

While this is not a video, here is Dave talking about Bells Up wines:

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Bells Up Syrah was served with an amazing seedless grape pie. As Sara explained, everyone gives wines as presents in Willamette Valley, but tasty grape pie is almost equivalent to the hard currency when exchanging gifts with neighbors. As I said, the pie was superb, and to think that sweet pie would pair with Walla Walla Syrah? I really wouldn’t – and I would be mistaken.

2019 Bells Up Firebird Syrah Summit View Vineyard Walla Walla Valley AVA ($52, 12 months in French oak)
Blueberries and blackberries on the nose
Berries all the way, nicely balanced
8, Amazing pairing with seedless grape pie with cardamom

Again, we almost had to twist Dave’s arm to let us taste the future release of Cabernet Sauvignon:

2020 Bells Up New World Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Summit View Vineyard Walla Walla Valley AVA ($68, 12 months in French oak, barrel sample)
A hint of green bell pepper
Cassis, a hint of black pepper on the finish, good, round, smoky undertones.
8-

Here you have the summary of our “un-domaine” experience – an excellent set of wines and super-friendly hosts. If you will find yourself touring Willamette Valley, add Bells Up winery to your “must visit” list.

This is the last update in the Passion and Pinot series. For now, that is.

Until next time…

This post is a part of the Stories of Passion and Pinot series – click the link for more stories…

 

Passion and Pinot Updates: Utopia Vineyard

January 3, 2022 1 comment

And then we arrived in Utopia.

When your destination is called Utopia Vineyard, poking some fun is irresistible, isn’t it?

Upon our arrival to Utopia Vineyard in Ribbon Ridge AVA, we were warmly greeted by Dan Warnshuis, proprietor and winemaker, who poured us a glass of Utopia Pinot Noir Blanc (yep, a white wine made out of Pinot Noir) and took us on the tour of the vineyard, glass in hand. After speaking with Dan virtually about a year ago, it was definitely a pleasure to shake hands and move from the virtual to the real world where things can be touched and smelled.

Utopia Vineyard looks different from Le Cadeau and Lenné – no fighting with the rocks here. Gentle slope elevation of only 20 feet from top to bottom makes it easier to tend for grapes. Utopia Vineyard is farmed using Sustainable Organic practices and was L.I.V.E. certified in 2008. Dan practices dry farming and uses cover crops every second row – in normal conditions though. Summer 2021 was so dry and hot that by the second week in August when we visited, all of the cover crops were removed so it will not compete with vines for access to water. The grapes looked perfectly healthy and beautiful despite the hot weather – you can see it for yourself in the pictures below.

I don’t know how the actual utopia should look like, but I find these vineyard views pretty compelling:



There are 12 clones of Pinot Noir growing at Utopia Vineyard – one of the wines we tasted was made out of all 12 clones. There are also 3 clones of Chardonnay growing there, planted in 2010. Talking about “fashionable wines”, Utopia Vineyard doesn’t produce sparkling wines, but Dan makes Pinot Noir Blanc, a white wine from the red grapes, which we tasted upon arrival, and also had the pleasure of tasting it directly from the barrel (all notes below).

In 2018, Dan acquired additional 35 acres of land not far from Utopia Vineyard’s original location. That parcel of land also had a 5,500 sq. ft building which by the time of our arrival 3 years after the acquisition was fully converted into a state-of-the-art winery. We stopped by the winery a few times during our visit, and what was the most mind-boggling to me was that Dan was pretty much operating everything at the winery just by himself – moving barrels, emptying tanks, and so on. His son-in-law comes to help during the harvest, but otherwise, Dan is a one-man operation.

This additional property also hosts a freshly constructed log cabin which is called exactly that – Utopia Vineyard Log Cabin, which offers beautiful accommodations and spectacular views:






We visited Utopia Vineyard over two evenings and had some delicious food and tasted through a substantial range of Utopia Vineyard wines. I also learned about an interesting berry I never heard of before – Marionberry, which is a type of blackberry, which we tasted in the form of delicious pie – I wish this is something I can find here on the East coast. Marionberry takes its name from Marion County in Oregon, where it was selected in 1956 as a cross between Chehalem and Olallie blackberries.

Time to talk about wines – here are my notes:

2018 Utopia Bliss Pinot Noir Blanc Ribbon Ridge AVA ($45)
The nose of the buckwheat, yellow plums
Plums on the palate, good balance, good acidity, asks for food
8-

2015 Utopia Vineyard Chardonnay Estate Ribbon Ridge AVA ($45)
Nice, delicate, a hint of vanilla
A touch of vanilla, Golden delicious apples, good acidity
7+/8-

I mentioned before that we had an opportunity to taste some wines directly from the barrel.

2020 Chardonnay was outstanding, fresh apples and lemon, clean acidity, perfectly clean, vibrant, and balanced. If I would have an opportunity, I would drink this wine just like that.

2020 Pinot Noir Blanc from the barrel was even more exciting – a touch of toasted bread, a touch of fresh fruit, perfect minerality, vibrant, clean, full of energy. Again, I would love to drink this wine just like that.

2015 Utopia Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge AVA ($55) – all 12 clones are used
Plums, cherries, a touch of iodine
Clean, crisp, plums, cherries and cranberries, good acidity
8, excellent

2014 Utopia Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge AVA ($55)
A touch of sapidity, mushrooms,
Plums, round, soft, clean
8-

2013 Utopia Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge AVA ($55)
Mushrooms, forest floor, underbrush
Earthy, restrained, plums, clean, round
8-

2017 Utopia Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge AVA ($48)
Sweet plums, violets
Raspberries, red berries, round.
7+

2015 Utopia Vineyard Pinot Noir Clone 777 Estate Reserve Ribbon Ridge AVA ($65)
Violets, sweet plums, iodine
7+

2016 Utopia Paradise Pinot Noir Estate Reserve Ribbon Ridge AVA ($75)
Original 2002 plantings.
Mushrooms, underbrush, violets
Clean, ripe cherries, pepper, medium body,
8, excellent

I was also excited to try a late harvest Riesling which was absolutely delicious:

2016 Utopia Late Harvest Riesling Chateau Bianca Vineyard Willamette Valley AVA ($40)
Beautiful apricots, a touch of honey, clean acidity, good balance. Delicious.
8

Talking to Dan we learned that 99 percent of the sales at the winery are direct to consumers, via the wine club and visitors. Dan also has a few customers who like to take his wines as a private label. Dan is very much involved with philanthropy, supporting the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, The Hampton Opera center in Portland, OR, making wine donations, offering cabin stays, and more.

Utopia Vineyard offers something for everyone – if you will find yourself visiting Portland, you might want to take a 30 minutes trip southwest of Portland and find your utopia there. Or better yet, just stay in the cabin – everything else might be optional.

This post is a part of the Stories of Passion and Pinot series – click the link for more stories…

Passion and Pinot Updates: Lenné Estate

December 30, 2021 5 comments

Out of the 13 Oregon wineries profiled to the date in the Stories of Passion and Pinot series, Lenné Estate stands aside. I had my first encounter with Steve Lutz and Lenné Estate in 2014, two years before the Stories of Passion and Pinot series was born, when Steve participated in the #WineChat event on Twitter. This is when I heard for the first time about Peavine soils, a mixture of clay and rocks, and Steve’s relentless, passionate pursuit of Pinot Noir winemaking in the place where it seems no vine can ever grow – read this original post to see what I mean. This passion I learned about while “listening” to Steve for the first time, the passion for the finicky grape became the reason for the name of the series.

When I spoke (virtually) to Steve in 2016 (you can find this conversation here), I learned a lot more about all the hard work establishing the vineyard, about Kill Hill, and about the wines which Steve produces, so when we arrived at Lenné Estate with Carl Giavanti, I felt like I knew Steve for a long time, and almost felt at home in the vineyard.

It is one thing to listen to someone talking about the soil, and it is totally different when you look at it (you can touch it too if you want) and think “how anything, really anything can grow in this soil”? Dry farming, no irrigation, and then you look at the soil – and you look at the grapes which it perfectly produces, and you can only say “wow”. I can tell you that out of the number of vineyards we already visited during the trip, the grapes at Lenné looked the best – tight bunches, beautiful colors of veraison, just a pleasure to look at.

More grapes:

We took a walk to the top of Kill Hill, and I can tell you that it was one steep walk. But the views from the vineyard were nothing short of spectacular.






Yes, it is steep!

We talked about winemaking, and Steve mentioned that he typically prefers using commercial yeasts, because they produce more reliable and predictable results – however, he is not foreign to the idea of indigenous yeast, as we tasted in one of the wines. When we spoke back in 2016, Steve was not very big on producing white wines – I was happy to see that he changed his mind and now offers Lenné Estate Chardonnay. However, more as an exception to the rule at this point, Steve is still not ready to produce sparkling wines – however, I hope that this will change at some point – we will have to see.

After the walk, we went back to the tasting room, where Steve set up a full tasting, including the charcuterie and cheese boards.

View from the tasting room

We started tasting with the Chardonnay, which was excellent

2019 Lenné Estate Scarlett’s Reserve Chardonnay Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($58)
A touch of honey, herbs, restrained
Crisp acidity, fresh, bright, Granny Smith apples, a touch of vanilla, creamy, excellent
8

Next, of course, we moved to the Pinot Noirs, where we tasted the whole range – here are tasting notes for the wines including some additional comments regarding the vintage and winemaking:

2017 Lenné Estate South Slope Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($55)
Hot vintage with a big fruit set
Beautiful nose of sweet cherries and raspberries
Wow, red fruit all the way, cut through acidity, perfect balance
9-, superb

2016 Lenné Estate South Slope Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($55)
Early vintage, cool August, harvest done by mid-September
Cherries, sage, floral notes
Clean, tart cherries, warm notes, good acidity,
8-

2018 Lenné Estate Sad Jack 777 Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($55)
Indigenous yeast, spontaneous malolactic
Tart cherries, a hint of cherry pie, savory note
Tart cherries, clean, balanced, crisp, superb
8+

2018 Lenné Estate Karen’s Pommard Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($60)
Commercial yeast and forced malolactic
Cherry, cherry pie, sweet oak
Tart cherries, dark fruit, good balance, well integrated tannins
8

The last wine was a culmination point of the tasting. “Cinq Élus” means “five chosen”, which in the case of this wine means five best barrels and 5 clones. The wine was simply superb:

2018 Lenné Estate Cinq Élus Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($85)
5 best barrels from the vintage, 5 clones
The succulent nose of red and black berries, distant hint of gunflint, herbs, great complexity
Restrained, cherries, layered, complex, perfectly integrated, tannins come through on the finish, superb
9-

While we were tasting the wines, we also talked about blind tasting events which Steve runs at the winery, where attendees get an opportunity, for example, to compare Oregon Pinot Noir with the Burgundy, or Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir with Dundee Hills Pinot Noir and so on – here you can see what blind tastings are offered. Steve also leads European wine cruises where everything revolves around food and wine, as you can imagine – here you can find information about those.

On the Lenné Estate website, there is also an interesting section called Vintage Charts. Here you can find general information regarding the suggested drinking window for Oregon Pinot Noir in general, as well as particular recommendations specifically pertaining to the Lenné Estate wines.

There you are, my friends. If you are looking for mature, confident, and simply delicious Oregon Pinot Noir, you don’t need to look further than Lenné Estate.

But we are not done here yet. More Passion and Pinot updates are coming – stay tuned…

This post is a part of the Stories of Passion and Pinot series – click the link for more stories…

Passion and Pinot Updates: Youngberg Hill Vineyard

December 29, 2021 2 comments

I virtually met with Wayne Bailey of Youngberg Hill Vineyards in September of 2016. Now, 5 years later, I was able to actually shake his hand, listen to the stories face to face and taste the latest wines.

We arrived at the winery in the morning and went on to meet Wayne at the winery building, which also serves as Bed and Breakfast. The views from the terrace of that building were simply incredible – I walked around trying to snap as many pictures as I could.





After meeting Wayne, we went on a tour of the estate. Actually, we drove around the vineyards in the baggie which Wayne was driving. Again, more of the beautiful views all around. We also got to meet a few of the cute animals which call Youngberg Hill home.

At the Youngberg Hill estate, it is all about the Bailey family – Wayne, his wife Nicolette, and daughters Natasha, Jordan, and Aspen. The Youngberg Hill vineyards were first planted in 1989 when the estate was founded, 12 acres of Pinot Noir vines. These 12 acres are divided into two blocks – 7 acres of Natasha block at the altitude of 600 feet on marine sediment soils, and 5 acres of Jordan block on volcanic soils at the altitude of 800 feet. There is 2 degrees difference in average temperatures between these two blocks, and as the Jordan block is a little bit cooler, the grapes usually ripen later than the ones on Natasha Block, with about 10 days difference in pick time.

Aspen block was first planted in 2006 with 5 acres of Pinot Gris. In 2014, half of the block (2.5 acres) was grafted over to Chardonnay. In 2008, Bailey’s block was planted with 3 acres of Pinot Noir, at 700 feet altitude and predominantly volcanic soils.

When we spoke back in 2016, 20 acres of vineyards were planted on the 50 acres estate. I asked Wayne if he has any plans to add additional plantings, and got a simple “no” answer. Well, I guess the old adage of “never say never” is perfectly at play here, as in 2018, 3 acres of Wayne’s World block was planted with two more clones of Pinot Noir, bringing a total to 5 clones, if I’m not mistaken. This block was planted mostly on marine sediment soils at an altitude between 500 and 600 feet.

Here you can see a sample of the soils at Youngberg Hill Vineyards.

After we finished the tour, it was time to taste the wines.

I was happy that we started our tasting with the sparkling wine – this is almost something you now expect from Oregon wineries. Similar to the sparkling wine we had at Le Cadeau, this wine was also made with first-pass grapes. The wine spent 2.5 years on the lees, so it is called the Extended Tirage sparkling.

2018 Youngberg Hill Vineyards Extended Tirage Sparkling Eola-Amity AVA (12.5% ABV, $55)
A touch of apple and vanilla
Crisp apple notes, fresh, good acidity, good body, delicious. Lingering acidity on the finish
8, excellent

Next, again to my delight, we had a couple of Chardonnays:

2019 Youngberg Hill Vineyards Aspen Chardonnay McMinnville AVA (12% ABV, $45)
Beautiful nose of apples, vanilla, and a touch of honey
Crisp, clean, great acidity, wow.
8, it would be amazing with age

Another change at the Youngberg Hill Vineyards since we last spoke was the new wine label introduced in 2019 – Bailey Family Wines. Bailey Family wines comprise a selection of the best plots and barrels. In addition to sparkling, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir, the Bailey Family wines range also includes Grenache sourced from the Rogue Valley. We tasted the latest vintage of Bailey Family Chardonnay which was superb:

2018 Bailey Family Chardonnay McMinnville AVA Willamette Valley (13.4% ABV, $85)
Herbal notes, a touch of butter, honey, minerality
Great complexity, mouthwatering acidity, lean, green apples, a touch of sage. Perfect balance
8/8+

Next, we had the pleasure of going through the selection of the Pinot Noir wines, both current vintages from Natasha and Jordan blocks, as well as reserve wine, Nicolette’s Select:

2018 Youngberg Hill Vineyards Natasha Block Pinot Noir McMinnville AVA (14% ABV, $60)
Ripe cherries and cranberries
Restrained, tart cherries, firm structure, dusty palate, excellent balance.
8+

2018 Youngberg Hill Vineyards Jordan’s Block Pinot Noir McMinnville AVA (13.8% ABV, $60)
Cherries and violets
Bright popping ripe cherries, good acidity, perfect balance.
Both [Natasha Block and Jordan Block] are built for the long haul.
8+

2015 Youngberg Hill Vineyards Nicolette’s Select Pinot Noir McMinnville AVA (14.1% ABV, $85)
Great bouquet on the nose, cherries, pencil shavings, underbrush
Wow, an interplay of cherries, cranberries, mushrooms, dusty palate, layered, balanced
9-, superb.

I keep going back to our 2016 conversation with Wayne. While preparing the interview questions I learned that Youngberg Hill produces a really unique wine – Pinot Port, as it was called – a Port-style wine made out of Pinot Noir grapes, something which I never heard of before. So now, being at the winery, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to taste the Pinot Port. Wayne was somewhat hesitant about it, as I don’t believe he is making this wine anymore, but I had my wish granted and had a sip of this delicious beverage:

NV Youngberg Hill Vineyards Pinot Port (19% ABV, $NA, 25 cases produced)
Nicely aged wine, dried fruit, good balance, very pleasant

There you are, my friends. Another story of Passion and Pinot, with the Pinot Noir (and Chardonnay, and bubbles) of truly a world-class, and in its own, Oregon style. These wines are worth seeking, and if you want to spend a few days in the wine country, surrounded by incredible views and delicious wines, that Inn at the Youngberg Hill sounds really, really attractive.

I got more of the Passion and Pinot updates to share with you, so until the next time…

This post is a part of the Stories of Passion and Pinot series – click the link for more stories…

Passion and Pinot Updates: Le Cadeau Vineyard

December 28, 2021 4 comments

Five years ago, I started a new project in this blog called Stories of Passion and Pinot. The goal of the project was to interview winemakers in Oregon, who passionately went on to grow Pinot Noir and make wines often in conditions that many others would find impossible and untenable. All the way until August of 2021 my interviews were all virtual – I would read about the winery, come with the questions, get the answers, and then publish those conversations in this blog (you can find them using the top menu).

This year I attended Wine Media Conference 2021 which conveniently took place in Eugene, Oregon. After the conference was over, we drove with Carl Giavanti to meet some of the winemakers face to face – and now I can offer you updates, mostly in pictures, lots of pictures, and tasting notes for the wines I had an opportunity to taste.

Le Cadeau Vineyard was our first stop after we left Eugene.

Where do I start? First of all, the views. Le Cadeau Vineyard is a stunning oasis, surrounded by tall pine trees (I already told you how much I love those), and offering amazing views. You be the judge:

Tom Mortimer slowly walked us through the vineyard, talking about clones and all the work he invested into creating this vineyard simply on top of the rock (you can find the details in the original interview). It turns out that there are 18 Pinot Noir clones used in wine production at Le Cadeau – while I was somewhat shocked to hear that number (sounds high), it was simply due to my ignorance – for example, Sanford winery in Sta. Rita Hills uses more than 50 clones. Considering that Sanford winery is about 25 years older than the Le Cadeau, it is all makes sense. Tom was particularly proud of some of the clones, such as the Calera clone which is based on the DRC, and some additional Vosne clones (not trying to impress with the words here – Vosne here stands for Vosne-Romanée, one of the most coveted Pinot Noir production areas in Burgundy; DRC stands for Domaine Romanée-Conti, probably the most famous Pinot Noir producer in the world; Calera is one of the legendary California Pinot Noir producers and pioneers from Central Coast).

The beginning of August of this year (2021) happened to be the veraison time – the onset of ripening of the grapes when the grapes start changing their color. This was my first time actually being in the vineyard during veraison, so I couldn’t stop taking pictures as I saw bunches with more and more color – here are more pictures:

We also saw Chardonnay grapes growing:

Remember, we are talking about passion here. The amount of labor of love and passion which this vineyard required to be established was simply incredible. Tom had to use a special machine to break through the basalt to help the vine roots to get established. There were a few rows where he decided not to use the machine, and those rows look particularly different from the rest of the vineyard. The rocks which you can see in these pictures give you a good idea of what he had to deal with while establishing the vineyard.

After we finished walking around we sat down to taste the wines with Tom and to continue the conversation about the winemaking. Tom is highly analytical, he uses a lot of different charts, such as Degree Day reports to estimate when he might need to start picking up the grapes based on the historical data and what is the potential weight of the grapes might be at the harvest. Harvest is usually done in multiple passes, depending on the year – in 2015 and 2018, for example, he had to pick grapes 5 times; in 2016 and 2020 there were three picks made.

We started our tasting with 2018 Chardonnay, which was outstanding:

2018 Le Cadeau Vineyard Chardonnay Willamette Valley (14.1% ABV, $45)
Beautiful nose of vanilla with a hint of butter
Vanilla, butter, Granny Smith apples on the palate, beautifully clean and balanced
8+

It is really amazing to see the level of finesse Oregon Chardonnay has developed over the years.

It appears that Tom also makes sparkling wines, and he loves it, as making sparkling wines nicely complements making still wines – you remove perfect grapes for the sparkling (high acid), and the other grapes can ripen better. The sparkling wine we tried, was again, in a word, outstanding:

2013 Le Cadeau Rosé Brut Oregon (13.1% ABV, $50, 4.5 years on the lees)
A touch of funk and toasted bread
Sapidity, yeast, toasted notes, clean acidity, delicious.
8+

Now we moved on to the Pinot Noir. Tom is working with the winemaking team to produce his wines, including the consultant from Burgundy. Le Cadeau makes some of the reserve wines, but those are only produced in the best years. We tasted through the 4 Pinot Noir wines which were all excellent in their own right.

2018 Le Cadeau Côte Est Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (13.9% ABV, $60)
Beautiful cherries on the nose
Cherries on the palate, clean, round, soft, a touch of earthiness, delicious.
8

2018 Le Cadeau Diversité Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains AVA (14.1% ABV, $60)
Beautiful minerality, sweet cherries, a hint of cranberry
Tart cherries on the palate, pepper, clean, fresh, light
8+

2018 Le Cadeau Rocheux Chehalem Mountains AVA (13.5% ABV, $60)
Stunning nose, cranberries, cherries, violets, a hint of sage
Superb balance of power, fruit, acidity, structure – everything is in perfect harmony.
9-/8+

2017 Le Cadeau Merci Reserve Chehalem Mountains AVA (13.3% ABV, $80)
Incredible aromatics, floral, violets
Beautiful, round, clean, open
8+

It is interesting that when I tasted the 2017 Le Cadeau vintage for the interview post, Diversité was my favorite, and Rocheux was a close second. This time, Rosheux was my favorite Pinot Noir from the tasting.

That’s all I have for my update. I don’t drink much of Burgundy, so I can’t really offer any comparisons – but I don’t think comparisons are needed. Oregon Pinot Noir are unquestionably world-class wines in their own right. I remember reading in Wine Spectator Matt Kramer’s article where he mentioned that the main characteristic of a world-class Pinot Noir is finesse. Going by this measure, Le Cadeau definitely got it – finesse is the virtue of all their wines. If you are looking for the Pinot Noir for a special occasion – don’t look any further than Le Cadeau.

This post is a part of the Stories of Passion and Pinot series – click the link for more stories…

 

 

 

Stories of Passion and Pinot, And Not Only Pinot: Battle Creek Cellars

December 12, 2021 2 comments

I love urban wineries (or city wineries as they are often called). Solvang, Woodinville, Walla Walla – each place was different but similar at the same time – unique wines, unique stories, unique experiences. I would venture to say that winemakers at the urban wineries have more freedom to create and experiment, as they can choose the vineyards they want to work with and the style of the wines they want to produce. My latest experience in Portland is a direct confirmation of this.

My last winery visit in Oregon was at the city winery called Battle Creek Cellars, located in Portland’s Pearl District. I was told that I’m going to meet a winemaker who not only makes wines but also plays American football professionally, and has a unique personality. And I had about one hour before I had to start heading to the airport to make my flight – somewhat of a challenge for me as it is in my nature to worry about not missing a flight.

Sarah Cabot, the winemaker, was already waiting for us as we arrived at the tasting room. We grabbed glasses, a few bottles and headed out to the patio in the back to taste wines and to talk.

At the city winery, you can expect to find great wines, but you are not necessarily expecting to be blown away by what you taste and what you learn. The wines were absolutely spectacular, starting with the very first one 2018 Battle Creek Cellars Reserve White Blend – the wine had a distinct spicy nose, honey notes, and on the palate was clean, crisp with great acidity, creamy, and very different from the nose. This is where the unique sides of Sarah were already showing – she was getting the fruit from the vineyard where the vinegrower refused to tell her the exact composition of the blend – she only knew that Riesling and Gewürztraminer are a part of the blend, but the exact composition was not known.

Not only Sarah works with unknown grape blends, but she also uses a range of tools to produce the wines. For example, her 2019 Chardonnay Reserve was spectacular – round inviting nose with a hint of honey, and clean, crisp, and creamy green apple driven on the palate, a delicious rendition of Chardonnay – fermented in the sandstone jar.

Talking to Sarah I learned that while Battle Creek Cellars production is about 10,000 cases overall (6000 cases for unconditional Pinot Noir, 4000 cases of the other wines), Sarah is responsible for the production of more than 100,000 cases annually for her parent company, Precept Wine, Northwest’s largest private wine company. I also learned that Sarah greatly values the freedom to experiment which she has while working with her Battle Creek Cellars portfolio and that esoteric elitism, so common in the wine industry, is making her uncomfortable. And the amount of energy Sarah was exuding during our conversation, explaining all the different ways she utilizes when looking for the right vineyards and the right grapes and deciding how she would ferment and age any particular wines, was simply contagious.

We tasted more wines:

2018 Battle Creek Cellars Reserve Rosé was simply outstanding, offering a whole array of sensory experiences – onion peel color, and the nose which prompted you to imagine yourself walking in the garden and smell strawberries, flowers, and just open meadows. The palate offered great acidity and was fresh and crisp.

2015 Battle Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir from the vineyard planted in 1998 was excellent, with cherries, mushrooms, chocolate on the nose, and more cherries, lean and crisp on the palate. Definitely an aging-worthy wine.

And then there was the 2019 Amphora Series Carbonic Red Blend Oregon which literally blew my mind… Grenache/Malbec blend, fermented whole cluster in amphorae for 30 days with skins. The nose was amazing with crunchy raspberries and cranberries, and then fresh fruit on the palate with beautiful supporting tannins was simply incredible, the wine you have to experience to believe it.

Next, we were out of time – but we agreed to continue the conversation, which we did using both emails with questions and a phone call, so I really had here the full experience as the writer.

Here is what transpired during our follow up conversation:

[TaV]: How did you get into the wine? When did you realize that making wine is your calling?

[SC]: I was working in casual fine dining restaurants as an undergraduate student in Boston and developed an initial fascination with wine there.  Eventually, my life brought me back to the West coast and a sommelier I used to work with suggested that I go back to school for enology/viticulture when I mentioned to him that I was feeling unfulfilled in the service industry.  I followed his advice and I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I had found my calling after my first day of classes.

[TaV]: What was the first memorable wine you made, the wine you were completely happy about?

[SC]: I guess that, to me, they have all been memorable in some way.  As far as a wine that I’ve been “completely happy” about…I think that would be the 2018 Amphora Riesling.  That wine made its own decisions and I couldn’t have made better ones if I had tried.  Now, 3 years later, I feel even more ecstatic about it as I notice the developing notes of petrol that I’ve always coveted about fine Rieslings.

[TaV]: You seem to be working with lots of vessels to ferment and age wines – in addition to the standard vessels such as stainless steel and oak, you also use amphora, sandstone jars of different shapes, and probably a bunch of others. How do you decide when to use what, what grapes to put into what vessel and for what wine?

[SC]: This will probably sound a little silly, but the right fruit just seems to end up in the right vessel.  It’s a combination of varietal, timing, and my whim in the moment.  There’s no real formula to it.

[TaV]: When you were talking about your 2020 carbonic red blend, you mentioned that you instantly fell in love with Merlot you saw, and you wanted to make the wine exactly with the Merlot. How does it work for you? What was so special about that Merlot?

[SC]: More than the grapes themselves, it was the site where they were growing that made me feel inspired to work with Merlot for the first time since I was in school.  It’s a special, beautiful, steep and windy vineyard in the Columbia Gorge AVA called Wind Horse Vineyard.  The grower is passionate and engaged and I haven’t ever stood in a vineyard quite like it.  I thought…if Merlot from anywhere is going to be extra interesting, it’s going to be from here.  Sure enough, the aromatics and texture of the finished wine did not disappoint.

[TaV]: Do you use natural or commercial yeast? Winemakers often get religious about their yeast approach – what is yours?

[SC]: Since I make all my wine in a large winery among other producers, I can’t claim that my ferments are all completed by “native” yeast.  I do often allow my ferments to begin spontaneously and finish on their own/without the addition of commercial yeast.  I do have a few commercial yeasts that I particularly like to use which are all blends of Saccharomyces and non-sacch yeasts.  I’ll use these in certain cases when it is a challenging fermentation environment and I don’t want an unwelcome microbial load to mask the fundamental sensory characteristics of the vineyard.

[TaV]: When you select fruit for your next wine, do you take into account factors such as sustainably/organically/biodynamically grown? Do you have any viticultural preferences?

[SC]: More than anything, I prefer to work with growers whose priority is to cultivate a healthy and long-term-sustainable ecosystem in the vineyard.  Don’t necessarily have a strong feeling about the certification, but care about the ethos of the grower, how the vineyard is treated, and the surrounding area, not just the production environment. I try to work with the growers who take this symbiotically – sustainability is a key. The intention behind farming matters more than a certificate on a piece of paper.

[TaV]:  Is there a winemaker you would call your mentor?

[SC]: Brian O’Donnell at the Belle Pente winery. Brian is the owner and winemaker, and this was my first job in Oregon right after enology school – he definitely created the framework that holds up my knowledge now as a winemaker. He taught me what his philosophy is and left me to my own devices to sink or swim. I made a few mistakes of my own, nothing too costly, but this was the best way to learn. I know general ethos and philosophy, and now it is my time to grow, improvise and get on my feet. There are other incredible winemakers I had mentorship moments with, but Brian is the closest to the real mentor.

[TaV]: Is there a dream wine you always wanted to make? What would that be?

[SC]: The perfect Pinot? Nah. High elevation Ribolla Gialla, oxidized. Similar to what Gravner produces in Friuli, it should have acid but should be ripe enough. I have yet to find the fruit in Oregon.

[TaV]: Your single-vineyard wine labels have beautiful simplicity and different images – what do these images represent?

[SC]: The avatar on each label represents the character of the wine, and it is unique to the vineyard. There are explanations of all the avatars on the back labels. The avatars are used for single-vineyard wines. Even when there is a vintage variation, the barrels selected to be bottled under a single-vineyard label have a consistent profile. The barrels selected to be the most identifiable features of the vineyard – power, finesse – and this is what characters represent.

[TaV]: As I promised, we need to talk about football. Does playing football helps you make wine? How about your work as a winemaker influencing the way you play?

[SC]: Football definitely helps me to do everything. That level of extreme physical exhaustion and violence is very cathartic, and this helps me to be a better winemaker dealing with pressure.

My work as a winemaker has had both positive and negative impacts on my game.  As the negative impact, winemaking experience makes me second guess my decisions. However, as a winemaker I learn to react quickly and make decisions quickly, which helps, When I will retire from playing football I will need to start coaching because I will need this in my life.

[TaV]: During our conversation, you mentioned that working with Chardonnay is easy, but working with Pinot Noir is a pain in the butt. Do you care to expand on this? Can you be very specific?

[SC]: Chardonnay is not easy, but easier than Pinot.  Working with Pinot is difficult because of the thinner skin and lower levels of phenolics, and it is not as protected by phenolics from the mistakes as Merlot or Syrah and is susceptible to all sorts of issues. Growing Pinot, if temperatures reach 88F, that affects the fruit, the vine can shoot down, and you don’t want to irrigate too much, so there is a constant worry. Because of thinner skin, it raisins a lot easier than others; when it is too wet, it breaks a lot easier than the others. With Pinot Noir, you can’t look away for one second.

[TaV]: Was there a pivotal wine for you, or a pivotal wine experience?

[SC]: There are 3. There is one that made me decide I love Pinot when I was 19 and working at the restaurant – 1996 Hartley-Ostini  Hitching Post Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara. It tasted like candy, I was 19, and I loved it.

The red wine which made me realize how versatile the grape variety can be and how much where it grows to make a difference was Guigal Côte-Rôtie. I had learned about Syrah as a blending grape in Southern Rhone or Washington Syrah, and then I tired Côte-Rôtie, and my head was blown.

The white was really an assortment of whites from Trimbacbh – big, round, acidic, ultimate food wines.

[TaV]: Do you have an all-time favorite wine or wines?

[SC]: It will be Morgon. Duboeuff or Jean Foillard grand cru. Moulin-a-Vent would be a close second.

[TaV]: Given the opportunity, is there a winemaker you would want to make the wine with, or the winery you always dreamt of working at?

[SC]: I would love to have the opportunity to work side by side with Gravner or Radican, or anywhere in Jura, producing the traditional wines. Gravner is the ultimate.  Gravner is the reason I got amphorae. I love their wines very much and I would love to learn there.

I can tell you that after the conversation with Sarah, I definitely want to try Gravner wines, and I can’t wait to experience the 2020 Amphora series which should be made with that magnificent Merlot…

Here you are, my friends. Another story of passion, Pinot, and not only Pinot, and pushing the envelope as far as it can go. If you are planning to visit Portland, make Battle Creek Cellars your “must stop”. Cheers!

This post is a part of the Stories of Passion and Pinot series – click the link for more stories…

Re-Discovering Oregon

December 11, 2021 4 comments

It’s been more than 20 years since my first visit to Oregon. It’s been more than 20 years since I tried Oregon Pinot Noir for the first time. More than 150 posts in this very blog mention Oregon one way or the other, including 14 interviews with Oregon winemakers. And nevertheless, this year 2021 was the one when I really discovered Oregon as a winemaking region.

A picture worth a thousand words. When it comes to creating memories, a picture is definitely stronger than just words. What would be even better at creating memories than a picture? An experience. Seeing something with your own eyes, touching, smelling – a full sensory experience would certainly create the most lasting impressions.

In August of 2021, I attended the Wine Media Conference in Eugene, Oregon. Three days of the conference were so filled with wines, conversations, and more wines that these 3 days really became more like just one. One long, very eventful day. It was only after the conference was over, and I stayed behind for another 3 days to meet with winemakers and yes, drink more wine, that I finally had a moment to reflect and create an actual new impression.

We stopped at the rest area off the highway while driving to the first appointment at Le Cadeau with Carl Giavanti, and I found myself surrounded by the beautiful, tall, straight pine trees, standing magnificently over the clean forest floor. This view instantly transported me to my childhood – growing up in Belarus, this was the forest I was used to, full of tall, magnificent trees, perfectly suitable to become ship masts. And the air, the air – you breathe differently in a forest like that. This was a great beginning for my deep dive into Oregon.

And then, of course, seeing the vineyards, seeing the Kill Hill at Lenné and absorbing magnificent views from the vineyard, seeing and touching the rocks at Le Cadeau, and tasting the wines surrounded by the grapes – all of it guaranteed the creation of the long-lasting impressions. Even more, for the first time ever seeing the vines while they are going through veraison, the magnificent promise of the vintage was also a great way to create a strong proverbial “memory knot”.

During these 3 days, I met with winemakers I already virtually talked to before (Bells Up, Le Cadeau, Lenné, Utopia, Youngberg Hill, as well as winemakers I met for the first time, and I plan to talk about those experiences later on. But based on my leanings during the conference, and conversations with the winemakers, let me summarize my realizations about Oregon wines.

One important idea to keep in mind – when it comes to wine, Oregon is not just a Willamette Valley, and Oregon is not just Pinot Noir. Yes, winemaking in Willamette Valley got its initial boost in the early 1970s when winemakers from California started moving up north in search of locations to grow cool-climate Pinot Noir, hoping that cooler weather will push vines to produce less fruit of a higher quality. Considering the quality of the Oregon Pinot Noir, this plan definitely worked – however, as we were visiting the McMinnville area of Oregon, the temperatures during the day were pushing 95F, which is not the idea of a cool climate of course. Leaving that aside, yes, the Pinot Noir is a king of Willamette Valley, but we shouldn’t discount Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat, and many, many other grape varieties successfully growing around the state. But as I spent all of my time in the McMinnville area, let me share with you my observations for this Pinot Kingdom.

Pinot Noir is a King, but Chardonnay is a Queen.

Not letting Burgundian parallels stop at the Pinot Noir only, Oregon producers now fully embrace Chardonnay. And this Chardonnay is stunning. I tasted lots of Chardonnays during the three days, and I don’t think I had a single one I didn’t like. And the best Chardonnays were showing purely Burgundian, with vanilla, apples, and honey, my absolute favorite Chardonnay profile.

It’s all about the rocks.

Rocks. Seemingly nutrient-devoid soils. You just need to see this land to simply ask yourself – how is that even possible? The vine needs so much strength to reach the nutrients through the rocks and basalt – no wonder Steve Lutz at Lenné was ready to give up on his work as the vines couldn’t establish year over year. You need lots of patience. And you need to believe that one day, the vine will fully establish, and the fruit will be worth it. And it does.

Clones Rule!

It is the clonal game here in the Pinot Kingdom. Le Cadeau grows 18 different clones of Pinot Noir, all of which are used in the production of the wines. At Utopia, there are 12 clones of Pinot Noir growing there, and one of the Utopia Pinot Noir wines uses all 12 clones. The same Utopia is growing 3 clones of Chardonnay, all 3 are used in the estate wines.

The grape juice is clear

I don’t know how much of the trend is this, but as you know, the juice of most of the red grapes is clear – and thus you can produce white wines from the red fruit, which many of the producers already do quite successfully. Will this become a big deal? Maybe. Either way, creativity is always great.

The bubbles are everywhere

Almost everyone we talked to produces already sparkling wines. Whatever way it is done – either by harvesting some of the grapes earlier to preserve acidity, or growing the grapes specifically for the sparkling wines, but the sparkling wines make perfect sense as been based on the same Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The bottling is easily done with the mobile bottling line, so adding bubbles to the repertoire is easy and makes sense, especially as an important addition to the wine club inventories.

Oh yes, the wine clubs!

The wine clubs are the key model. While it is great to have nationwide distribution and demand, selling directly to consumers is a lot less involved, and offers much better margins. You don’t have to deal with the three-tier system, you don’t need to deal with extensive marketing – just create a loyal following, make sure members are happy, interested, and get the royal treatment, and you can achieve your financial goals right there and then.

Don’t hope for Rosé

While it seems that producing Rosé is a no-brainer, and it theoretically makes as much sense as sparkling wines in terms of extending the offerings, it doesn’t make much economic sense. When you harvest grapes for the sparkling wines, you are either using the fruit which will never ripen enough to go into the estate wines, or you will do a first pass collecting fruit for the sparkling wines and thus directing all the strength of the vines to the remaining grapes, making your estate wines even better. To make good Rosé, you need to use exactly the same fruit as you would use for the estate wines – only you can’t charge for Rosé as much as you can charge for the estate wines. So yes, while it sounds fashionable and proper to us, consumers, it doesn’t make much business sense.

The view from Lenné vineyards

This is where I can stop this little summary. The rest of this story is really in the wines, delicious wines I had an opportunity to taste. There will be updates to the stories of Passion and Pinot, and there will be new conversations to share. Until then – cheers!

WMC21: Day 1 Highlights

August 11, 2021 5 comments

Wine Media Conference 2021 was distinctly different from all of the previous years. The conference started in 2008 in Sonoma, so this was the 13th annual conference bringing together a bunch of people who love talking about wine – for passion and for business. 2021 was a special year, having everyone battle through the 2020 pandemic, so quite expectedly, the attendance and conference program took a toll – but I sincerely believe that those of us who attended for their love of wine definitely got at least their money worth, and lots more, as you can’t put a price tag on the camaraderie of the wine people.

View from Valley River Inn

This is the second time the conference took place in Oregon. In 2012, it was hosted in Portland with most of the attention focused on the Northern Willamette Valley. 2021 conference took place in Eugene, a town about 120 miles down south from Portland and home to the University of Oregon, hosted at the Valley River Inn. While the previous Oregon conference focused on the wines of Northern Oregon, going down south allowed everyone to explore the lesser-known wineries of the South Willamette Valley and even much further beyond.

Before we get to talk about Day 1, we have to talk about Day 0. First, there was an opening reception and walk-around tasting. There were a few interesting wines – particularly, I want to mention two of the California wines. 2018 Cuda Ridge Petit Verdot Livermore Valley was a perfect example of 100% Petit Verdot, with the concentrated power of the dark fruit, supported by well-integrated tannins. Then there were Knotty Vines – a new line of wines from Rodney Strong, made to be playful and accessible. I tasted 2018 Knotty Vines Chardonnay California which was simple and elegant, having all the Chardonnay traits (vanilla, green apple, a touch of butter), neatly packaged together. At $15, it is your perfect everyday wine. 2018 Knotty Vines Cabernet Sauvignon California was a great example of a well-made California Cabernet Sauvignon suitable for any budget – perfectly noticeable cassis on the nose and the palate, easy to drink, and delightful wine.

Now, for the most important part of the Day 0 – parties. There were at least two of such parties taking place. The first one was at the house of Neal Benson and Alyse Stone who live in Eugene and run the service called Winery Wanderings. Alyse and Neal graciously invited what seems to be a whole conference to their backyard and everyone was able to find a spot. There were lots of wines, lots of hugs, and conversations. While there were lots and lots of bottles opened and consumed, my unlikely favorite was 1971 Fontanafredda Barolo, brought by Jeff Burrows – the wine still had enough fruit left, and the palate gently evolved toward dried fruit – lightweight, but very pleasant.

The second afterparty was kindly hosted by Rodney Strong. Not only we had an opportunity to taste many of the Rodney Strong single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon wines (Rockaway, Alexander Crown, Brothers – all delicious), as well as Davis Bynum Pinot Noir, pure and classic, we also had a large selection of Voodoo Doughnuts, a local (Portland) crave and a cult. While Cabs and Pinot were excellent, my favorite wine of that evening was the 2018 Rodney Strong Chardonnay Reserve Russian River Valley, which was perfectly bright with vanilla and apple tones on the nose, and a hint of vanilla and butter on the palate. While doughnuts looked great, I really didn’t get the excitement and the cult status of these Voodoo doughnuts – they didn’t offer any special taste or flavor – but of course, they are fun to look at.

Day 1 started with the keynote from Cyrill Penn, the editor of Wine Business Monthly magazine, who primarily talked about the history of his publication and how it morphed over the years.

My favorite session of the Day 1 was delivered by Austin Beeman who works for the wine distribution company and runs a few of the wine blogs. Particularly, Austin was talking about the great difficulties wine shipping and logistics are facing right now and will continue having the issues for a while. I plan to interview Austin to discuss all of these in greater depth.

The next highlight was the tasting of the wines of the Troon Vineyard. Troon Vineyard is located in Southern Oregon, in Applegate Valley, and if there is one wine Troon doesn’t make it would be a Pinot Noir. But is not a major differentiator. Troon Vineyard is not only a certified biodynamic winery, but it is the second winery in the world to hold Regenerative Organic certification, which is a serious achievement in itself. I always loved Troon wines, and tasting them was always a major highlight of the WMC events, as Craig Camp, GM of Troon Vineyard, was always a big supporter of the conference, and he always brought a large assortment of Troon wines. And despite the fact that Troon wines were always pure and delicious, this year they manage to deliver even more.

Troon brought 3 sparkling wines, all made as Pet Nat (single fermentation in the bottle). While all 3 were delicious, my personal favorite was 2020 Troon Vineyard Kubli Bench Pet tanNat Applegate Valley, made out of 100% Tannat. Beautiful and clean cut-through acidity made this wine an ultimate refresher – and made me crave oysters right on the spot. My other two favorites were 2019 Troon Vineyard Estate Syrah Applegate Valley and 2019 Troon Vineyard Siskiyou Estate Syrah Applegate Valley, two beautiful expressions of the cold climate Syrah, clean, elegant, smell-forever Syrah wines with a perfect black pepper finish – best Syrah I’ve tasted in a long time.

In the afternoon, we had a good session on the wines of newly minted delle Venezie DOC from Italy, followed by the Wine Social Live tasting of white and Rosé, which was an adjusted version of the traditional speed tasting. Both sessions were very good and I plan to cover them in the later posts.

It is traditional to have winery excursions on the evening of Day 1. Out of the two options, I went with the tour of urban wineries in downtown Eugene. Before we went around the town, we gathered at the newly opened Gordon Hotel – it opened in late 2020, so I have to definitely tip my hat to the courage of the people behind this modern, ultra-contemporary hotel and the whole affiliated Market street complex.

A few of the highlights of the walk-around tasting were 2016 King Estate Brut Cuvée Willamette Valley, delicious sparkling wine with a toasty nose, and refreshing and crisp palate, and 2019 Iris Vineyards House Call Red Blend Rogue Valley, a round and delightful concoction made out of Cab Franc (50%), Merlot and Malbec.

Walking out of the Gordon Hotel we quickly stumbled upon the winery called Terra Pacem, which in translation from Latin means “Peaceful Earth”. Terra Pacem is not just an average urban winery – it is a winery with a great social mission. The winery employs adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and provides community, training, and employment for them. And I’m happy to say that Terra Pacem can boast not only about the great mission but also about delicious, very well made wines. We had “3 out of 3” success with our selection.

NV Terra Pacem Brut had a beautiful toasted nose, with similar toasted notes on the palate, crisp and refreshing, how you would want your sparkling wine to be. 2018 Terra Pacem Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley was concocted to be a perfect Old World example of Cabernet Franc wine – just enough of the bell pepper on the nose to know that it is there, with bell pepper and cassis on the palate, lean and delightful.

I was tasting the wines with Jeff Burrows, and we were both concerned if we would like the 2018 Terra Pacem Tempranillo Rogue Valley, as for both of us, Tempranillo means Rioja, and I’m very particular about the Rioja’s I like. The wine didn’t disappoint – fresh berries on the nose, same round berries with a hint of the cedar box notes – in a blind tasting, I would happily take it for a Vina Real Crianza, so this was one delightful wine.

And that concludes my report. If you are still with me – thank you, as I feel quite exhausted just by writing it. Until the next time – cheers!

Oregon Wine Reflections – On The Way To The Wine Media Conference 2021

August 6, 2021 2 comments

I like flying. And it is not only the excitement of travel, arriving at the new place, meeting new people, having new experiences. The plane itself, the cabin, offers one of the rare sanctuaries, an opportunity to do some undisturbed work and reflect. Yes, the economy plane seat is not the most relaxing accommodation in the world, but if I chose to do something useful (oh so many times I ended up binge-watching movies instead of doing anything productive), comfort is not the most important thing.
Right now I’m on the small plane, connecting from Denver, Colorado to Eugene, Oregon – the location of the Wine Media Conference (previously know as Wine Bloggers Conference) 2021, WMC21 for short. It could’ve been equally called WMC20, as you can imagine that WMC 2020 never took place, but hey, at least we are getting together in 2021.

This will be my 5th WMC (I started in 2014, skipped 2015, and attended 2016, 2017, and 2018), and I’m really excited to visit Oregon for that.

As I was thinking about the location, I also tried to recall how did I discover Oregonian wines – you know, wine solicit the emotion, makes you dig into your memory.

I have no way of tracing it back to the exact year, but I believe the very first Oregonian wine which made me say “wow” was Archery Summit Pinot Noir, and I would think it happened 15–16 years ago. I probably had some wines from Oregon before and after which were just “meh”, but Archery Summit was definitely a pivotal wine. I think the next super-impressive Oregon wine was the Evening Land Pinot Noir, followed by Ken Wright (I was blown away by the massive power that wine was packing), followed by some of the high-end Adelsheim Pinot Noir wines when I wished for an expense account. And let me not forget Antica Terra, with absolutely spectacular Pinot Noir and Pinot Noir Rosé wines (among many others).

This was ancient history. The modern history (ha!) of my Oregonian wine embrace is closely associated with Carl Giavanti, the winery publicist out of Portland, Oregon. We met with Carl at WBC14 and maintained contact from thereon. At some point, I started doing winemaker interviews in the blog, and Carl asked if I would be interested to create a series of interviews of the Oregonian winemakers – this is how the Stories of Passion and Pinot series was born 5 years ago. Working on those interviews afforded me to discover amazing wines – and amazing passion behind them. Vidon, Lenné, Youngberg Hill, Ghost Hill Cellars, Le Cadeau, Alloro, Iris, Utopia, Bell’s Up – each one had a unique story and unique wines. As part of the series I also interviewed Ken Wright, and I always remember that when I asked him how Oregon Pinot Noir compares to Burgundy, he said that for the long time, Oregon sees Burgundy in the rearview mirror, having found its own unique style.

While Pinot Noir is a king of Oregon, it is not the only wine produced here. Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Tempranillo, Tannat, Vermentino, and many others also call Oregon home, and if you ever had wines from, for example, Troon Vineyards, you would know how good those wines can be.

Yes, color me excited – I finally get to meet the people and visit the wineries I’m already so [virtually] familiar with – and now it will be real.

Wine Media Conference 2021 – here we go!

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