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.
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
Today, class, we will be talking about things obscure. Yes, things obscure, but not in the whole entire world, of course, but in the world of wine.
In your opinion, if we use the word “obscure” in conjunction with the word “wine”, would that be a good thing or a bad thing? For starters, let’s think about the meaning of the word itself. Here is how New Oxford American Dictionary defines “obscure”:
Now that we are clear on the meaning, let’s go back to our original question: “obscure + wine” – is it good or bad?
Reading wine’s description, have you ever come across the words “obscure grapes”? I’m not talking about the stuff you read on the back label, as there you will rather find the words “indigenous grapes”, “traditional grapes”, or maybe, “local grapes”. But if are reading blogs, or any of the “peer reviews”, I’m sure you’ve encountered the “obscure grapes”. I get it – “obscure” often implies that we got something to hide in a bad way – but not in this case. Referring to the definition we just saw, “obscure” here simply means “not discovered or known about”. Need examples? How about Trepat, Bobal, Gros Manseng, Khikhvi – heard of those grapes?
My favorite part is that obscure often translates into pleasure – lots of pleasure for the oenophile. Unlike most of the other food and drinks humans consume, wine taste is largely perceived. We have expectations for how Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay should taste, and when we don’t find that taste while drinking one of the “well known” wines, we often get disappointed. But when presented with the “obscure bottle”, all those preconceived notions are largely thrown out of the window, and we take wine for what it actually is – which gives us a great chance to enjoy something we wouldn’t otherwise.
It is not only wine drinkers who get more pleasure from the obscure grapes – when using those little-known grapes, winemakers are also not bound by any “customer expectations”, which gives them more freedom to express themselves. From the personal experience, I found that more often than not, I truly enjoy those obscure wines, and quite honestly, I like hunting down those unknown wines and grapes because of the pure mystery in the glass.
By the same token, lesser known wine regions (read: obscure) have the same advantage for both oenophiles and winemakers. What do you expect when you see Czech Republic, Georgian Republic, Mallorca or Valle d’Aosta written on the bottle? Most likely, you wouldn’t know what to expect, and thus you would take the wine for what it is. However, when you drink Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or Spanish Rioja, you have a set of expectations in your head, and you always are ready to say “ahh, this doesn’t taste anything like Napa Cab”. Presented with the Czech Pinot Noir or Chinese Cabernet Sauvignon, you have no choice but to try it and decide whether you like it or not. Same as in the case of the obscure grapes, winemakers get an opportunity to freely create without the need to comply with a given set of expectations.
What we need to keep in mind though that the concept of “obscure” is very personal. For someone who lives in the Republic of Georgia, Georgian wines are very far from obscure. For someone who grew up in Conca de Barberà region in Catalonia in Spain, Trepat might be a perfectly familiar grape. But looking at the big picture, all of us, wine lovers, have our own, personal obscure territories – and this is where we might discover great pleasure. What makes it even more interesting is that the more we learn about the wine world, the more we understand how still little we know. And so we can keep on that road, shedding the light on obscure and making it (if we are lucky) dear and familiar, one discovery at a time.
I wish you all, oenophiles, lots of pleasant encounters with obscure sides of the wine world – as this is where the pleasure is hiding. Cheers!
This post is an entry for the 27th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC30), with the theme of “Obscure”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New, Pleasure, Travel, Solitude, Bubbles, Smile, Winestory
More than 3 years ago, an interesting tradition was born in the world of wine blogging (a brainchild of The Drunken Cyclist, with the help of the supporting cast of characters) – the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. Every month or so, wine bloggers en mass subject themselves to the masochistic practice of taking a random word and creating a soulful connection from that word to the beloved world of wine – all of it on a tight deadline.
Writing a post for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (MWWC for short), I always want to put out a regular post, and then at the end, simply state “and by the way, this was written for the MWWC, ha”- just to show how easy it was. Of course, this practically never happens – like today, with the theme of our epistolary exercise been “Bubbles“, and my writing taking place during the very last hour (sigh).
When oenophile hears the word “bubbles”, the first reaction it triggers is “Champagne!”. It gives us such a pleasure to write about the world of “Sparklers” – the ingenuity of Dom Perignon, the resourcefulness of Widow Cliquot, the battles of I-was-the-first-to-make-my-wine-sparkle.
There are many other connections of the bubbles to the world of wines – think about bubbles you see on the surface of the juice during fermentation – those are some bubbles! Or think about simple, tiny bubbles of oxygen, making it through the cork and allowing the wines to age gently and gracefully – these bubbles are critical. And then there are maybe bubble issues for the wine collectors? Will that price of DRC or Petrus ever come down?
Yes, I will take my own, different course, and will not write about Champagne or Sparkling wines. For sure.
Do you believe me? Who said “no”? How did you guess?
Banal or not, but I have a good reason to write about sparkling wines – Prosecco, to be more precise. A few weeks ago, I was offered to review some Prosecco wines. At first, my reaction was “I’ll pass”. But reading the email more carefully, my interest piqued. I always thought of Prosecco wines made from 100% of grape called Glera (yes, there are few exceptions, like Bisol, but just a few). These three Prosecco wines were all blended – Processo DOC rules allow up to 15% of other grapes in the blend – and the blends were all unusual, so the intrigued brain said “why not”?
As we are talking about Prosecco, I need to share some fun facts with you – who doesn’t like statistics, right?
French Sparkling wine and then Champagne had been around for a bit less than 500 years. Prosecco’s history is only a bit longer than 100 years, and only in 1989 (27 years ago!) Prosecco made it for real outside of the Italy (here is the link to my post about it, in case you are interested in history). However, according to Nielsen report, Prosecco sales in US in 2015 grew by 36% (Champagne – 8%). In 2015, Italy produced its largest Prosecco crop ever with 467 million bottles – that is triple of only 7 years ago; out of this amount, 48 million bottles were exported to the US – and still US is only #3 importer of Prosecco behind UK and Germany.
Moving right along, let me decipher a cryptic title of this post for you (not that you cared much, right?).
Zonin family got into the wine business in 1821, almost 200 years ago. Now in the 7th generation, the family manages about 5,000 acres of vineyards, mostly in Italy. Zonin had been making Prosecco for the very long time, but considering the ever growing interest, they decided to offer a new line of Prosecco wines, called “Dress Code”, suitable for different mood and a company. The “Dress Code” colors include white, grey and black, so you can wear a different color every day. Of course, these are only colors of the bottles, nobody added squid ink to the wines… yet? Hmmm, note to self…
Here are the notes for the wines I tasted:
Zonin Prosecco White Edition Prosecco DOC (11% ABV, SRP $16.90, 91% Glera and 9% Pinot Bianco cuvée): simple overall. On the nose, touch of white fruit. Good creaminess on the palate, touch of white fruit, very restrained, good acidity, but again, overall is a very muted expression. 7/7+, Decent everyday glass of bubbly.
Zonin Prosecco Grey Edition Prosecco DOC (11% ABV, SRP $16.90, 87% Glera and 13% Pinot Grigio cuvée): white stone fruit on the nose, white flowers. Palate: light, creamy, effervescent, refreshing, distant hint of sweetness, round, good acidity. 8-, nice upgrade from the “white”.
Zonin Prosecco Black Edition Prosecco DOC (11% ABV, SRP $16.90, 90% Glera and 10% Pinot Noir cuvée): promising touch of fruit with lemon and rocky minerality on the nose. Perfect acidity, elegance, finesse on the palate, touch of white stone fruit, lime and noticeable nutmeg. Most elegant out of three, a “little black dress” if you will. 8/8+, one of the most elegant Prosecco I ever had.
So, what color are your bubbles? My favorite was black. Cheers!
This post is an entry for the 27th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC27), with the theme of “Bubbles”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New, Pleasure, Travel, Solitude
Grape grower. Pioneer. Visionary. Winemaker. Mentor. Teacher. Philanthropist.
It makes perfect sense to start our “Stories of Passion and Pinot” series by conversing with Ken Wright. After starting making wines in Willamette Valley in Oregon in 1986, Ken came to the realization of a tremendous diversity of soils and microclimate conditions in the region. Ken was instrumental in establishing 6 AVAs in the region; he also focused his winemaking on showcasing terroir through single-vineyard bottlings. The rest is history which you can read on Ken Wright Cellars web site and various publications, such as Wine Spectator May 2015 issue.
I have limited exposure to Ken’s wines – the production is small, and there are lots of people who loves to drink his wines. But even my limited encounters resulted in long lasting impressions – and not only the wines but also the labels which you need to see only once to remember forever. Thus when I had an opportunity to ask Ken a few questions, albeit virtually, I was very happy to do so – and the outcome of our conversation you can see below. This might be a tad long, so arm yourself with a nice tall glass of Pinot – and enjoy!
- When it comes to the winemaking, is there someone who you would name as your mentor or a teacher?
KW: My first position was in California and included working with Dick Graff of Chalone on their Gavilan brand. Dick started a research group, in 1979 I believe, that met once a month at Mount Eden Vineyards. The group included many of the best wineries in the state including Mt. Eden, Kistler, Calera, Sanford, Acacia, Forman, Chalone and the Paragon group among others. The opportunity, as a novice winemaker, to be part of that group of successful producers allowed me to be part of cutting edge winemaking discussions. Ears were perked, respectfully my mouth was generally closed. I was a sponge.
- As a pioneer and a long standing and successful winemaker, I’m sure many young winemakers look up to you and want to learn from you. Are there any winemakers who you would call your students?
KW: Once I moved to Oregon, in 1986, to pursue the production of Pinot noir I had a learning curve to understand the new area that I was in. During those early years I fell in love with the ability of Pinot noir to connect myself and our buyers with the qualities of individual sites. After blending sites for several years I began in 1990 to produce site specific wines that connected us to place.
In the mid 90’s I was part of a group we created, quite similar to the California research group, that focused on research both in the vineyard and winery. My partners were Bethel Heights, Cristom, Solena and Penner-Ash. Beaux Freres joined at a later date. Our experiments provided a volume of information that I believe changed the way in which we all grew grapes and made wine. That information was openly shared with anyone who cared to ask. Many viticulturists and winemakers are now approaching their craft with the lessons we learned whether or not they are aware of where this information came from. I would not want to take any personal credit for the success of those that have benefited from this work or from my many direct relationships. Information comes from so many sources. If I have benefited someone along the way that would be great but I would only be one of many.
- You personally helped to define 6 AVAs in Oregon. Do you think there are still areas in Oregon which would benefit from their own designated AVAs?
KW: It is a natural evolution for regions to define themselves. All areas must first identify which wine varieties have inherent superiority. It’s a process. What is clear at this time is that the Willamette Valley, particularly the area of the six new AVA’s, is world class. We are producing Pinot noir that is riveting. While there are regions that can say they are older there is no area on the planet that can say they are better, period. I suspect there will be new AVA’s within the six new identified AVA’s that will further define each region in more detail.
- In the description of the Freedom Hill vineyard, there is a mention of Phylloxera. How did it come around? How difficult was it to contain it and deal with it? Is that the only one of your vineyards which was affected?
KW: Phylloxera reared its ugly head in 1990 at Fuqua Vineyard in the Dundee Hills. With the first inexpensive own rooted plantings of Eyrie in 1966 the industry coasted until this time with the hope the blight would never come. But it did. It is impossible to know what the source of the “infection” may have been. This was an older vineyard so unless they were purchasing replacement vines on a regular basis from a nursery that had an issue it would be hard to assign blame on source of vine material. Not impossible though.
Phylloxera became real in the mid 90’s. Freedom Hill began to fail. Guadalupe began to fail. Shea began to fail. There were a number of others. Vineyard owners, hoping to forestall the infection, did whatever they could to protect their sites. At the time the concern was that the insect was being transferred on soil. We had chlorine foot baths. Incredible cleaning of vineyard equipment. It did not help. It is only my opinion but I believe most of the “infection” was directly from the replacement vines from nurseries that had the bug in their soil material that came with new or replacement vines.
- Can you make parallels between any of your vineyards and Burgundy vineyards, in terms of wines which they are capable of producing?
KW: Burgundy could only hope to make wine that consistently produces the quality of wine that we produce. They are in our rear view mirror. It’s sad that people automatically assume age of region is related to quality. Do truly blind tastings and you will not be able to assign label prestige to the result.
- Same question regarding your wines – would you compare any of your wines with any of the wines from Burgundy, and if yes, which with which?
KW: If there is any comparison I would say that Oregon Pinot noir has a perfect fresh fruit profile. Burgundy tends to be more acidic, angular in youth and less forward.
- It seems that you only produce Pinot Noir from all of the vineyards you are working with, and the only white wine you are producing comes from Washington. Is there a reason why? Have you ever thought of planting white grapes in Oregon?
KW: As a business, anything we produce that is not Pinot noir is harder to sell and less profitable. The entire world recognizes the quality of Pinot noir from our region but no other variety resonates. We have a half acre of the Chardonnay Dijon 548 clone at Savoya. It is delicious but only sold to our mailing list. We will not plant more Chardonnay in my lifetime.
- I find your wine labels fascinating. How do you come up with the designs? Are you making those yourself or you are working with an artist? Do you change any of the labels from vintage to a vintage?
KW: The artist that created our labels is David Berkvam, a Portland native. He is a dessert chef at a local Italian restaurant named Geno’s. The original artworks are 100% beeswax carvings. Incredible depth that we attempt to relay on paper. Our relationship with David began with seeing his work at a gallery in 1999 in Portland.
Our original label for Ken Wright Cellars was a clean, straightforward text only label. It was not memorable or noticeable. My wife Karen and I decided to make a significant change to the look of our label. We asked David to produce a label that showed the efforts of the Mexican laborers in our vineyards during the difficult time of winter pruning. There was no other labor that would do this work. Yet the Mexican women and men who did this work did so with graciousness and humor. That was our first label with David. Now each vineyard has its own artwork from him and each is quite personal for us.
- What is your approach to the oak ageing? For how long do you typically age your wines? What type of oak do you use most often?
KW: Unfortunately, we have to use French oak for our wines. Would prefer to buy from the US but our native oak species are very resinous which does not rhyme with Pinot noir. Pinot noir spends 11 months in oak before bottling.
- Based on the information on the web site, your general philosophy around winemaking is “minimal intervention”. Did you ever consider going into organic or even biodynamic wine production?
KW: Winemaking has nothing to do with your farming approach. Yes, the winemaking at the highest level is minimal intervention, assuming a very high level of professional babysitting. All inherent quality comes from the vineyard. Any winemaker at the highest level knows they are subservient to the quality of what they receive.
- You’ve been making wine in Oregon for the very long time. Did you have any scary (okay, most difficult) moments you can share with us?
KW: The beauty of our area is that we do in fact have “vintages”. No robotic wines. The year is reflected in the wine. A great example of a “scary” vintage was 1991. A cool year that produced wine that was at first reticent. With age this vintage proved to be perhaps the best of the decade for most producers.
- Among all the wines you made in Oregon since the beginning, can you share a few of your most favorite vintages and particular wines?
KW: 1990 was the best vintage I have seen in Oregon. An unusual year in that it was amazing for so many regions in the world, Germany, Italy, Champagne, Burgundy and more.
- Do you export your wines outside of US? If yes, what are your top export destinations?
KW: We export to all provinces of Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, South Korea and of course Luxembourg.
- Today, Oregon wines are well known and well recognized by the wine lovers. What is ahead for the Oregon wines? What are the latest trends and new directions for the Oregon wines?
KW: We will always hang our hat on Pinot noir because we truly have a world treasure with this variety. As world markets emerge we will find a place at the table in each of these markets.
- You have very extensive list of charities you support. How do you go about deciding which charities you are going to support?
KW: Karen and I normally choose to support local charities that keep our immediate area healthy. We have hosted Flavors of Carlton for 15 years which is by far the most impactful event that keeps the pre school, after school, summer work experiences, 12 sports programs and more financially sound. We are founding sponsors of Salud, started in 1992, which is a combined effort of Wineries, hospitals, clinics and Medical Teams International that has provided health care for vineyard workers. Karen and I were the initial 50K endowers of the local Community College program for their vineyard curriculum.
We partnered with the local FFA Alumnae, High School FFA teacher, YC Board, the curriculum writers from the local college and members of our AVA board to create a path for our local young people to get real world experience in growing grapes. We created a 1.5 acre vineyard on the high school property so they would have real world experience, not book knowledge.
We are done – and I hope you are still here, as there was a lot to read (and I thank you for that). Hope you found this interesting, and now have an increased desire to drink Ken Wright Cellars Pinot Noir (good luck with that unless you already have one in your cellar). I also believe that this was an excellent opening into our Stories of Passion and Pinot – you can clearly feel passion and pride in every word of Ken’s answers…
We will continue our series next week, so for now – 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.
It is easy to declare this grape a king. It is a lot more difficult to have people agree to and support such a designation. And here I am, proclaiming Pinot Noir worthy of the kingship, despite the fact that this title is typically associated with Barolo (made from Nebbiolo grape) or Cabernet Sauvignon.
Barolo might be a king, why not – but its production is confined strictly to Italy, and can be considered minuscule in terms of volume. Cabernet Sauvignon is commanding attention everywhere – but I would argue that it is more because of the ease of appeal to the consumer and thus an opportunity to attach more dollar signs to the respective sticker. Don’t get me wrong – I love good Cabernet Sauvignon as much or more than anyone else, but having gone through so many lifeless editions, I developed a healthy dose of skepticism in relation to this noble grape.
Talking about Pinot Noir, I’m not afraid to again proclaim it a king. If anything, it is a king of passion. Hard to grow – finicky grape, subject to Mother Nature tantrums, prone to cloning, susceptible to grape diseases – and nevertheless passionately embraced by winemakers around the world refusing to grow anything else but this one single grape – year in, year out.
Historically, Pinot Noir was associated with Burgundy – where the love of the capricious grape originated, and where all the old glory started. Slowly but surely, Pinot Noir spread out in the world, reaching the USA, New Zealand, Australia, Chile and Argentina – and even Germany, Italy, Spain, Canada and South Africa are included in this list. Looking at the USA, while the grape started in California, it then made it into Oregon, and now started showing along the East Coast, particularly in Hudson Valley.
I don’t know what makes winemakers so passionate about Pinot Noir. For one, it might be grape’s affinity to terroir. Soil almost always shines through in Pinot Noir – it is no wonder that Burgundians treasure their soil like gold, not letting a single rock escape its place. While soil is a foundation of the Pinot Noir wines, the weather would actually define the vintage – Pinot Noir is not a grape easily amended in the winery. But when everything works, the pleasures of a good glass of Pinot might be simply unmatched.
However important, terroir alone can’t be “it”. Maybe some people are simply born to be Pinot Noir winemakers? Or maybe this finicky grape has some special magical powers? Same as you, I can’t answer this. But – maybe we shouldn’t guess and simply ask the winemakers?
Willamette Valley in Oregon is truly a special place when it comes to the Pinot Noir. Similar to the Burgundy, Pinot Noir is “it” – the main grape Oregon is known for. It is all in the terroir; soil is equally precious, and the weather would make the vintage or break it. And passion runs very strong – many people who make Pinot Noir in Oregon are absolutely certain that Oregon is the only place, and Pinot Noir is the only grape. I’m telling you, it is one wicked grape we are talking about.
I see your raised eyebrow and mouse pointer heading towards that little “x”, as you are tired of all the Pinot Noir mysticism I’m trying to entangle you in. But let me ask for a few more minutes of your time – and not even today, but over the next few weeks.
You see, I was lucky enough to have a conversation (albeit virtual) with few people who combined Pinot and Passion in Oregon, and can’t see it any other way. What you will hear might surprise you, or maybe it will excite you enough to crave a glass of Oregon Pinot Noir right this second, so before you hear from a pioneer, a farmer, a NASA scientist and a few other passionate folks, do yourself a favor – make sure you have that Pinot bottle ready. Here are the people you will hear from:
- 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
- Don Hagge of Vidon Vineyard
I would like to extend a special note of gratitude to Carl Giavanti of Carl Giavanti Consulting, wine marketing and PR firm, who was very instrumental in making all these interviews possible.
As I publish the posts, I will link them forward (one of the pleasures and advantages of blogging), so at the end of the day, this will be a complete series of stories. And with this – raise a glass of Pinot Noir – and may the Passion be with you. Cheers!
P.S. Here are the links to the web sites for the wineries profiled in this article:
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
Solitude. An interesting word, isn’t it? Is it something good or is it something bad? Let’s see what the dictionaries think of solitude:
If we think of solitude as a feeling of isolation, this clearly doesn’t sound good. We, humans, are social creatures. We want to connect, communicate, love, laugh, interact. Feeling isolated is really opposite to feeling connected and engaged, so let’s leave it as that – feeling isolated is not what we want, so this is not the solitude we want to talk about.
Let’s then talk about solitude as the “state in which you are alone usually because you want to be“. Every once in a while, our connected sensors become overloaded. Too many things to do, too many tasks to finish. The new things which must be done arrive without any regard to the things which we are still doing. We are going somewhere all the time, without even understanding the direction, or what is even worse, without understanding of why we are going there.
Solitude is our way out. Have you ever been up in the mountains, where there are no other sounds outside of gentle murmur of leaves and muted whisper of wind? How does it feel? Or may be instead of the mountains, you prefer to stand by the ocean, listening to the dreamy sounds of the slowly pulsating waves? With every wave gently crawling up the sand line, the tension becomes less, the mind becomes clearer, and our energy replenished.
The challenge is that unless we are a lucky few, most of us can’t just magically happen to be by the ocean or up in the mountains when we need it the most. And to take things further to the dark side, most of us now live in the constant state of over-socializing. Think about all the tweets we have to respond to, facebook statuses and instagrams to like, snapchats and periscopes to watch. If we thought we were overloaded before, how can we describe our state now? The state of solitude, which we need for our own well-being, is more ephemeral than ever before. Yes, it is literally unattainable.
While we are talking about life, this is a wine blog after all. Tell me the truth – you knew that I will turn it all to the wine, didn’t you?
How does the wine relates to the solitude, you ask? To begin with, think about the wine while it is being made. We are seeking solitude by the ocean or up in the mountains – but have you ever stood between the rows vines on a quiet day, without talking or looking at your phone? Did you feel relaxed and restored just by standing there?
Or have you ever stood in the middle of the dimly lit cellar, breathing the wine smell and admiring the silence, thinking about the wines, quietly and patiently laying there? The wines spend month and month in that perfect solitude, left to themselves, to age and mature, before they will see you again.
And then there is may be the best and easiest moment of solitude any wine lover can experience at any time. Yes, wine is meant to be shared, and it is wonderful when you are in the company of the people who share you passion. But think about that moment when you take a sip of wine, and for that exact moment, the world stops, it doesn’t go anywhere, it becomes quiet. You are left one on one with that wine. You ponder at it. You reflect. You are one on one with yourself, in your moment of solitude, brought to you by that sip of wine.
I remember being in the Rioja seminar, and listening to our guide talk about his experience sharing the bottle of 80 years old Rioja (from 1922) with the group of friends (also wine professionals). He said that they poured the wine and had a sip, and the table was quiet for the next 5 minutes. Nobody wanted to say anything. Everybody were transposed. And they were in their moment of solitude.
Let me leave you with that. Have you ever found your moment of solitude in the glass of wine? I hope you did, and if not – don’t worry, it will come. Just give it time.
This post is an entry for the 26th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC26), with the theme of “Solitude”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New, Pleasure, Travel
This post is an entry for the 23rd Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC23), with the theme of “New”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance.
New. We all crave, adore and worship new in our lives. New experience. New restaurant. New baby. New job. New car. New iPhone. New house. New puppy. Add “new” to practically any object, and it instantly becomes something exciting.
The “new” is not limited to the things and objects. New ways constantly appear, and we embrace them wholeheartedly. New technologies and new processes are born every day. Self-driving cars. 3D printers. We store our pictures in the cloud. It’s all new, new, new around us.
We love new so much that “old” becomes almost en expletive. We might attach “old” to the experiences, but not to the objects! Think about it. When you are looking for the used car, the dealer will refer to such a car exactly like that – used. She might even say “almost new” or “gently used”. But you will never hear from the dealer that they want to offer you this old car – unless you are in the market for antiques – but even then “old” descriptor will be avoided. Or let’s say you are looking for a house. Ever heard agent saying “let me show you this old house“? We learn to be afraid of the world “old”, as we don’t want to get old ourselves.
Talking about wine world, the word “new” is exciting as in any other aspect of our lives. In essence, the whole wine world is built on the concept of new – ever year there is a new harvest, and a new wine will be produced from the grapes of that new harvest. New labels are made for the wines. New wineries are founded. New tasting rooms are built. New vineyards are planted. New processes are invented to press the grapes, to ferment them, to preserve wines, to bottle. New packaging (wine in a can, anyone? wine on tap?). New is a most prominent concept in the wine world.
But the concept of “old” is ohh so different when it comes to wines. “Old” in the wine world commands such a respect that we might not find in any other areas of human life. Let’s start in the vineyard. So you planted a new vineyard? Great. Now you need to wait until it will become old, as for the most of vineyards you need to wait at least 3-4 years before they will produce fruit suitable for winemaking. And that vineyard has to become old in the natural way, just by letting the time pass – there is no magic bullet.
To top it off, the older vineyard gets, the better it is. Ever seen the words “old vines” on the bottle? May be viñas viejas? Or how about vieilles vignes? These words mean exactly what they say – that this wine was made from the grapes harvested from the vineyards which had been around for a long time – 20 years, 30 years, 60 years, 100 years. The term “old vines” is typically not regulated, so there is no way of knowing exactly how old the vines are – but often the back label will give you that information. Very often that “age” is also reflected in the price – the older the car, the less it costs – but it is exactly opposite in the wines – the older the vines are, more expensive wine becomes (older vines yield less grapes with higher flavor concentration = tastier wine).
“Old” doesn’t stop in the vineyard. Lots and lots of wines are aged before they are released – both by law and by the desire of the winery. By law, non-vintage Champagne have to age for a minimum of 15 month, and vintage Champagne for at least 3 years – in reality, most of NV is aged for 2-3 years, and vintage is typically 4-10. By law, Rioja Gran Reserva requires at least 5 years of aging before the release. By law, Brunello Rieserva can be sold not earlier than 6 years after the harvest. Many of the wineries in California offer so called “library releases”, when the wines are aged for you in the winery’s cellar in the ideal conditions. Some wineries in Bordeaux sell their wines only 10 years after the harvest, including First Growth Chateau Latour, which recently declared that “vintages will be released when the chateau believes they are ready to drink”. Let’s go down all the way – how about some 100 year old Para Vintage Tawny from Seppeltsfield in Australia, which is released … yes, 100 years after the vintage date.
It is not that “old” is unquestionable winner in the world of wines. More often than not, “new” and “old” are clashing – sometimes in amicable ways, sometimes – not so much. One of the simplest “conflicts” – new oak versus used oak. This, of course, is what making winemakinng an art, as there is no hard and fast rule to when to age wine in old oak barrels versus new oak – each has its own benefits. Another form of the simple “conflict” is an internal fight which oenophile endures trying to decide when the wine from her cellar is ready to drink – there is also lots of
good bad advice coming from all the wine professionals and the media – and we still are trying to figure that magical moment when the wine is perfectly “old“, or rather “aged” as we like to say, to maximize our pleasure. And then you got all those violent clashes between old and new – think about “traditional Barolo” versus “new style Barolo”. Think about fight for the Super Tuscans, attempts to introduce the new grapes in Brunello, or just any winemaker trying to do something new against the rules of the appellation.
Now, what do you think? Is wine world upside down for the new and old? Is there anything else which humans do where old commands equal or greater respect than new? Cheers!
This post is an entry for the 22nd Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC22), with the theme of “Second Chance”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing.
Let me describe to you I’m sure a very familiar situation: the bottle of wine is opened, wine is poured in a glass, you take a sip and … you don’t like it. Too sweet, too acidic, too sharp, too tannic, too “biting” – it is not always that you follow a sip with “wow” or “ahh”. What do you do next? Of course I understand that this question doesn’t have a single answer, as everything depends on the context. And as a side note, it is also implied that the wine is not spoiled – not corked, not cooked, not oxidized – it is simply not to your liking.
Let’s assume that you opened the wine in the comfort of your home. You can simply put the glass aside and decide to wait and see if the wine will change (you of course hope for the better). If this happened in the restaurant, your choices are limited – if you just ordered this bottle out of your own will, in most of the cases you can’t send it back (remember, we said it is not spoiled) – you can ask for the wine to be chilled or decanted, but that is about all you can do. If you are at a friend’s house, you probably have only one choice – to smile and to say that this is delicious, unless you grew tired of that friendship long time ago, so then it might be a good opportunity to end it on a high note.
No matter what setting it was, let’s assume you didn’t get to the point of liking the wine, and now it is in your memory as the wine-I-never-want-to-touch-again. Would you ever think of giving this wine another chance?
Yes, I know. There is such an abundance of wine around us that if we don’t like something, why bother with any “second chances”? It is humanely impossible to taste all the wines produced in the world, so why bother with something which you were done and over with? Yes, by all means you have a point. But is there a tiny little voice inside your head, which says “may be that wine needed more time to open up”, or “may be I was just in the wrong mood”, or “may be my food overpowered the wine”? Do you ever get any of those “may be”s, so you would actually go and try the wine again, just because you are curious?
I understand that this is matter of personality and an outlook on life in general, but more often than not, I find myself in the “may be?”, a “what if?” group. This is especially true when it comes to the wines which I open at home. If I take a sip of wine and don’t like it, I often put it aside, to try it on the next day. Or may be the day after next. Or may be even after that. One of my favorite examples is the bottle of 2002 Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, which opened up only on the 5th day (the wine was 11 years old when it was opened). When I took a first sip after just opening a bottle, the wine was tannic and literally devoid of fruit – there was no pleasure in that wine. Pumped the air out, put it aside for a day. Next day – literally no changes. And so was the story on the next day, and the next day. But I was not not ready to declare the wine a failure and just pour it out – kept giving it second chances. And the reward came on the day number 5, with layered fruit and delicious, powerful wine.
I have another example from literally 2 weeks ago, when we opened a bottle of 1980 Lamborghini Colli del Trasimeno Rosso (I can tell you that I bought the wine strictly on the basis of the fun name – Lamborghini – a car which I’m sure anyone would be happy to drive at least once). The wine was opened, went into a decanter – and for the whole evening nobody liked to drink it, as it tasted more as brine than the wine. I can’t tell you if I was giving the wine a conscious second chance, or was simply lazy to pour it out. Next day before clearing the decanter I decided to take a little sip – why not? And it appeared that the wine actually developed into delicious, mature wine, with the nose of tertiary aromas and palate full of sweet plums. Not the most amazing wine I ever had in my life, but perfectly delicious, mature wine which delivered lots of pleasure.
I could go on and on with similar examples, but I’m sure you got my point – the wine could’ve been discarded as “bad” and the great pleasure would be missed, if it wouldn’t be for the second chances.
So, what do you think? Do you have any “second chance” wine stories of your own, maybe with the happy ending? Do you think wines deserve their second chances? Cheers!
This post is an entry for the 19th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC19), with the theme of “Choice”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis.
Choice. Simple word, isn’t it? But think about how powerful the concept of “choice” is. Or better yet, think about how scary the word actually is – think about times when simple phrase “this is your choice” sent chills down your spine? Yep, “choice” is an interesting word.
Choice is closely related to the concept of freedom. When you don’t have freedom, you usually have no choice – well, except may be one – to fight for your freedom or not. Surprising or not, but sometimes we prefer not to have that freedom of choice. Life becomes so much easier when the choice is already made for you. This might not be the best choice (it rarely is) but then a person is happy as the life seems simpler. Choice is hard, choice is difficult, choice is emotionally and intellectually draining. When choosing, we can not know if we are making the “right choice”, and that makes us wary, frustrated, tired and unhappy. It important to understand that “do nothing” is also a choice, not an absence of it. We are choosing it – “doing nothing” doesn’t happen by itself – this is what we decide, we “do nothing” by choice.
We make choices every day, from the moment we wake up until we go to sleep. What to wear, what to eat, which book to read, which task requires our attention first, and which can wait. Most of the choices we make don’t have long term consequences – eggs Benedict versus scrambled eggs is important only for a few minutes you will enjoy your food. Black pants versus grey pants is not the matter as soon you step out of the house. But some of your choices can be extremely far reaching – taking or declining a job offer, going for the third child or not – these choices will shape your life and you will feel their effect for a long while.
Let’s now take a look at the winemaking. I would argue that a lot (most!) of choices made in the winemaking have long term consequences. The wine starts in the vineyard. Which grape to plant? Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc or Aglianico? Pinot Noir, you said? Which clone? Dijon (which one then exactly), Pommard, AS–2? Now you are growing the grapes with numerous choices regarding irrigation, pruning, canopy management, protection against insects. 5 years down the road your are ready to harvest grapes to make the wine. Harvest date? Hand versus machine? How to crush? Choice of fermentation temperature? Choice of yeast – natural or synthetic? If synthetic, which one of the thousands available in the catalog? Malolactic fermentation or not?
How to age – stainless steel, oak, ceramic, qvevri? For how long? New oak versus old, American versus French? What type of bottle should we use? Screw top, natural cork, synthetic? What is going to be on the label? Below is an example of choices made by the winemaker – captured in the format of the very informative back label – what grapes to use, how long to age, how to ferment – just a glimpse of all the choices which went into production of a bottle of wine…
Choices, choices, choices… The effect of many choices will not be known for years, sometimes tens and tens of years, until someone will open a bottle of a 50 years old wine, take a sip and say “wow”. Only then we might know that we made right choice years back. Or not.
Yes, we face the drama of choice every day. You know what is important in dealing with this drama? Don’t look back. The choice is made, and it is a part of the past now. The worst thing you can do is to take yourself on the mesmerizing road of “what would’ve happen if I wouldn’t make that choice, if I would’ve chosen differently”. Here you have only one choice – to move forward. Yes, you can’t change or undo the past choices. But you can “do over” – it is always your choice. If you planted the wrong grape, you can replant vineyard with the new one. If you’ve chosen profession you are not happy with – make a choice to change that, learn something new and choose a new path.
You have no luxury of stopping. The very next moment, you will have to make a choice again. And again. And again. Life has an endless supply of the choices for us. Let’s embrace them. Cheers!
P.S. I will not be upset if you will find this post mumbling about nothing new or of substance. But I hope it will at least give ideas and will inspire someone else to choose to write a post for the #MWWC19…
This post is an entry for the 18th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC18), with the theme of “Crisis”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany.
Let me ask you a question – do you associate wine with crisis? Not really? Ahh, you are even puzzled why I asked? Let me elaborate. This question is not about “business of wine” – that part is self-evident. Every business has its crisis moments. Some are relatively small, like broken truck with day’s harvest of grapes, leaked barrel or malfunctioning bottling line. Some are bigger, like hail storm during July or a frost in late May. Some are huge, like earthquake in Napa valley or phylloxera epidemic. But – business problems “come with the territory” – the only way to avoid them is not to be in the business at all.
Now, my question about wine and crisis is not about the business, it is about people who like to drink wine. I mean, really like it. Those who make wine into a passion. They often referred to as oenophiles. Or wine aficionados. Or wine geeks. Depending on the circumstances, also known as “wine guy” or a “wine gal”; it is not foreign for them to be called a “wine snob”. Anyway, if you belong to this category, you already identified yourself. If you don’t (but you’re still reading this blog, so thank you), you know who I’m talking about. So I have to tell you that we, oenophile (yes, I closely identify as one), go hand in hand with crisis. We readily create the crisis around the wine, then we work our hardest to resolve it – and we feel proud and relieved that we actually did. Need examples? Here we go.
A wine oenophile is invited to the party (no, this is not a beginning of the anecdote). The bottle of wine is selected, with love and care, very often from one’s cellar, and oenophile almost arrives at the destination, when the horror thought takes over – “what if this bottle is corked, what am I going to do then??? Why did I forget to bring a second bottle, just in case, why?”. If you been there, done that, raise your hand. Have you ever contemplated a fallback solution “if this bottle is bad, I know where the nearby store is so I can quickly drive there and pick up something else”? Yep, oenophiles are crisis-prone like that.
A dear and wine loving friend is coming over to the oenophile’s house. Peering at hundreds bottle strong cellar, the thought process starts – “I think this bottle of Pinot should be good. But I don’t think she is into Pinot too much. May be the Cab? No, that might not work with the meal… Or may be that 1990 will do??? And then Amarone? No, no, no! I DON’T HAVE THE BOTTLE TO OPEN!!!” Do you feel the drama? Do you see the crisis once again, which requires a quick action – unquestionably it will be averted, and oenophile and the friend will be happy (unless the bottle(s) will be corked, but we don’t want to even go there), but the crisis is clearly there.
The simplest form of oenophile’s crisis might take place during the daily ritual of opening the bottle for the regular evening – after touching and pulling out tens of the bottles (from that hundreds bottle strong cellar), the spine-chilling thought comes in: “I don’t have the bottle I can or want to drink right now, what do I do?!?!”
There are many more crisis moments we can talk about – the horrifying moment at the restaurant, where after the 5th scan of the wine list oenophile realizes that there is nothing there which one want to drink or can afford; the process of selecting wine to pair well with food; looking at the rare bottle in the shop and thinking that you must buy it now or you will never see that vintage again. I’m sure you got my point by now (or even well before now), and I’m sure you even feel pity towards that oenophile who have to deal with crisis all so often. But – that is the best form of crisis, as it is immediately forgotten at the first sound of the popped cork and whiff of aroma accompanied by the words “ahh, this is good”. This is one form of crisis which oenophiles are happy to have in their lives – and I’m sure many people will be too. Cheers!