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Stories of Passion and Pinot: Le Cadeau Vineyard

September 26, 2019 5 comments
Tom and Deb Mortimer. Source: Le Cadeau Vineyard

Tom and Deb Mortimer. Source: Le Cadeau Vineyard

Hello, wine lovers.

I’m going to ask you for something very valuable – your time. About 20 minutes of it, as this is how long it should take you to read this post, one of the longest posts I ever published. But I’m not asking for your time for free – in return, I’m offering you one of the very best interviews ever published in the Stories of Passion and Pinot series,  as well as the overarching One on One With Winemaker conversations.

Winemaking usually starts with passion, courage, and conviction – a belief that “you can”. Really. It is not always a degree in oenology (don’t get me wrong – of course that helps!), but the resolve to get going, as you have a burning desire to make world-class wine no matter what – this might be your main ingredient of success.

Tom and Deb Mortimer had such a resolve to make great Oregon Pinot Noir. After searching for a year, they found an uncultivated parcel of land on the south slope of Parrett Mountain in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, and the hard work began. Planting grapes, understanding your land, learning the soils and microclimates. All with the resolve to produce the best possible Pinot Noir. This is how the story of Le Cadeau Vineyard started (wonder if “Le Cadeau” means something? Keep on reading).

After tasting the wines of Le Cadeau, I was convinced that I want to learn more – which turned into a very enjoyable [virtual] conversation with Tom Mortimer, who generously offered his time to answer all of my questions. And this is what I want to share with you with a full conviction that it is well worth your time.

Here we go:

[TaV]: The story of Le Cadeau Vineyard started in 1996, when you purchased the 28 acres parcel in Chehalem Mountains AVA. When did you come up with the name Le Cadeau? What is the meaning behind this name?

[TM]: Le Cadeau (is French for “the gift”):  We like to say that “the wine is not ‘the gift’; rather, “the wine is the excuse”—the true gift is the land and friendships.”  When we first saw the Le Cadeau / BHV site, there was no view; it was obscured by scrub-oaks, blackberry bushes, and a lot of brush.  Clearing the land was a bit like unwrapping a present, and ultimately a gorgeous view emerged.  More significantly, rocky soils are coveted for top-tier vineyard sites.  As we cleared the site, the broken volcanic basalt cobbles were revealed; rock in Oregon is rare, so we were very fortunate to find a rocky site.  Lastly, wine is inherently relational.  Enthusiasts get-into wine for the product, but ultimately, they stay in wine for the people; when the glass is empty, the relationships remain.  So “the gift” has multiple manifestations.

[TaV]: When you found the parcel which became the future home for Le Cadeau, you said “For some reason, the property “felt right”. I don’t really know why”. So this was the love at first sight, right? Now, 23 years later, can you maybe better explain that feeling?

[TM]: Part of it was the location—the vineyard is only 35-minutes from downtown Portland, yet it was very serene countryside.  We came from suburban Minneapolis to start this project; 22-years ago the Willamette Valley was much less developed, so this location was perfect for us.  My wife (and I) didn’t want an isolated, rustic, farm experience.  But other than the location, it was a beautiful site—south slope, about the right grade, I was fairly certain the view existed.  It just had a different / better feeling than many of the other places we looked at.

At another level, I think I Iiked the fact that it was never-before-cultivated land.  There was something about “starting a vineyard from scratch” that was appealing… of course, at the time, I had no idea what I was getting us into… which is actually a good thing.  There are plenty of reasons to not take on a project like this.  Sometimes it is better to not know what lies ahead.

Source: Le Cadeau Vineyard

[TaV]: I really like the name “Black Hole Vineyard”, even though it has not necessarily a positive connotation about it. Have you ever bottled any wine which says “Black Hole Vineyard” on the label? What happened to that name? Is the Black Hole Vineyard simply became Le Cadeau Vineyard, or is it still exists under its own name?

[TM]: There was one “Black Hole” wine made by a fruit client.  It was small production, and was only released to his wine club.

Our business is corporately divided into two companies:  A farming company (the vineyard), and the wine biz.  Most of the fruit from the vineyard is sold to the wine biz, but some is sold to notable clients.  The farming company is named Black Hole Vineyard, LLC (or BHV, LLC), while the wine company is Le Cadeau.  So in that regard, the name lives on.  We also continue to personally refer to it as Black Hole among ourselves, and generally the winemakers like to call it Black Hole, vs. Le Cadeau.  But at some point you need to make a brand decision, and focus your time and energy on that brand.  We chose Le Cadeau vs. Black Hole.  Obviously, it is a much more positive message, though perhaps not as amusing.

[TaV]: What made you believe that you can conquer the rocky soil? What was the drive behind your passion, developing your vineyard against the difficult terrain and the cash flow?

[TM]: As noted above, a good part of my confidence was rooted in ignorance.  But as a wine collector I knew that many of the great wines of the world were grown in rocky soils.  I figured, “if they can do it, so can I”.

Over the years I have come to discover that there is one tool that is central and more important than any other in developing and farming a rocky site.  You might think that the tool is a chisel plow, or a big tractor, or whatever.  But the reality is that the single-most-important tool is a checkbook.  Unfortunately, unlike many of the folks that get into this business, my checkbook was about the size of a hand-held garden tool.  With a vineyard that is raw ground and solid rock, it is better to start with a checkbook that is the size of a bulldozer… and a D8 at that.  Fortunately, I kept my day-job.

[TaV]: How many Pinot Noir clones have you planted so far? Why so many?

[TM]: We’re up to about 16-Pinot Noir clones and 6-Chardonnay clones (the first Chardonnay, 2017, to be released in a couple months).  Why so many?—there are a handful of reasons:

  1. a) I cannot recall ever having a single clone wine that I felt was as complete and interesting as a multi-clone wine. We don’t put them all in a single wine; our cuvees result from different combinations of clones, soils, and aspect (climate). Most of the cuvees have 3 to 5 clones, Diversité has the most with 7 that make up the majority of the wine, and another 2 or 3 that are there in small quantities.
  2. b) Curiosity and experimentation. Quite simply, clones are exciting. You wait for 3-years wondering what the fruit will look like and taste like.  Often it takes several more years before you learn about the flavors, texture, physical characteristics of the fruit and how it affects the wine.  So there is always a sense of anticipation.  I liken clones to colors on an artist’s palette; they add “color” to wine—not in a literal sense, but in terms of variance, nuance, and complexity.
  3. c) Differentiation. I don’t want to make wine that is like everyone else’s.
  4. d) Optimization. Folks (i.e., typically winemakers) have varying views of how important clones are in the overall mix of variables. Most agree that the dirt / site are the most important elements, and I’d agree with that.  But for many, “clones” would be further down the list.  For me, the plant material is very central to extraordinary wine.  Great wines only happen when there is great dirt, perfect climate, excellent farming / viticulture, the very best and site-matched plant material, and of course great winemaking.  Like many things in life, something can only be as good as its weakest link.

[TaV]: Is there an Oregon (or maybe Burgundian) winery(ies) which were instrumental in the development of your own winemaking style?

[TM]: We have always wanted to make wines that are true to the estate site.  In this regard, Le Cadeau is more of a European model, in that the “rock star” is the vineyard, not the winemaker.  The wide range of cuvees exist to showcase the range of “faces” of the vineyard.  But more recently we’ve been searching for more freshness and aromatic excitement.  This is why I engaged our French consultant, Pierre Millemann several years ago.  Not surprisingly, this has led us to produce higher acid / lower alcohol wines.

It would be difficult to pick a particular winery to reference against; again, our dirt / site is very unique.  There are many wineries, both in Oregon, Europe, (and California) that we respect, but I think it would wrong to say that we try to emulate any of them.

[TaV]: Do you still have any bottles from the 2002 vintage? If you do, how do they hold?

[TM]: I have a few bottles of 2002.  The last one I had was about 2-years ago.  It was doing well, but I think it was past its prime.  Keep in mind that the vines from that vintage were only 4-years old.  I recently had an ’05 Diversité from magnum; it is going strong and will continue to last for a long time.

[TaV]: According to what I see on your website, you produce [at least] 7 Pinot Noir wines. Is there an idea behind such a range of Pinot wines? What are you trying to showcase?

[TM]: As noted above, the majority of the cuvees showcase various attributes of the vineyard:  Rocky soils (Rocheux); the cooler East-side (Cote Est); clonal diversity (Diversité); heritage clones (Merci Reserve).  More recently, we’ve added two cuvees that are more inclusive of winemaking technique—Trajet Reserve is 100% whole cluster; and “Pierre” has considerable input from our consultant, Pierre.  It is about “freshness” and higher acidity.

[TaV]: Going back to the Pinot Noir clones – considering the sheer number of them, you must be blending your wines. What is your approach to blending? Do you have any Estate Pinot Noir wines where you trying to maintain consistency throughout the different vintages?

[TM]: Generally we favor co-fermentation of multiple clones in a single tank.  Most of the cuvees are made of two separate tank fermentations that go to barrel separately, and are then combined to make the final cuvee.  But for the most part, all of the wine from each ferment ultimately goes into the cuvee.

I like to say that the Le Cadeau wines are “made in the vineyard”… I don’t mean that literally, but rather that the specific “Cote Est” fruit is picked separately, and it is made into the Cote Est cuvee.  Same for Rocheux, Diversité, and Merci.  In this regard, there is clonal consistency from year to year, because the wine for each cuvee is consistently made from the same section of the vineyard.  For example, Rocheux is always roughly 45% Dijon 777; 45% Pommard; and 10 % Wadenswil… that is what is planted in the sections where the Rocheux fruit is grown.  … and fortunately, the vines don’t move around at night when we’re not looking… that would be a mess.

Aerial view over Le Cadeau Vineyard, Chehalem Mountain AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Source: Le Cadeau Vineyard

[TaV]: How did you come to the idea of the Sparkling wines? You offer 2011 vintage sparkling wine, so clearly you started making sparkling wines before they became “the thing” in Oregon, so how did you get there?

[TM]: 2011 was a very cool, late, year, and the clusters were uneven.  Some of them were quite large (a fairly rare event, given our rocky soils).  On October 15th, the bigger clusters had only gotten to about 19-Brix—not good for still PN.  I know we wouldn’t/couldn’t pull them all out on the sorting table, so we did a sort in the vineyard.  I told the crew to harvest the three biggest clusters off of each plant in certain sections of the vineyard.  Since these were at a perfect stage for sparkling, and we had them hanging on the vine for a full season at that point, it seems silly to drop that fruit on the ground.  So we took a shot at sparkling—it worked out very well, so now we make it generally every other year.

[TaV]: I’m sure you knew this question is coming J – it seems that you only work with Pinot Noir grapes. Do you grow any other varieties? Do you have any plans for the white wines? If yes, what grapes would you plant?

[TM]: As noted above, we have 6-clones of Chardonnay that are now in production.  The first Chardonnay will be 2017, released in a few months.  We’ll only do Chardonnay at Le Cadeau (other than Pinot Noir).  But under our other brand, Aubichon, we’ve made some wonderful “Alsatian Style” Pinot Gris, as well as a Pinot Gris-based Rosé, and a wine we call “Sur Peaux”, which is an “orange wine” from Pinot Gris.  All the Pinot Gris is sourced from old vine vineyards, about 25-years old.  So it’s nice fruit, and the wines are quite special.

Le Cadeau, Chehalem Mountains AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Source: Le Cadeau Vineyard

[TaV]: And one more common question I like to ask – when you are not drinking your own wines, what are your favorite wines and/or wineries, in Oregon or anywhere in the world?

[TM]: I have a diverse range of preferences:

I’m a huge fan of Weinbach in Alsace; Chave Hermitage is often special, Guigal Condrieu (the good version, not so much the standard one), Huet and Chidane Chenin Blanc; Fevre Chablis; Robert Weil German Reisling (and many others—Keller dry from their rocky vineyard is nice); any good Bonne Mares; love white Bordeaux—Chevalier, Smith H-L, and of course the “big guys”, but they’re too expensive.  Barberescos from Italy—Gaja (also like Gaja Chardonnay), and I think Produtorri does an amazing job for the price, along with Albino Rocca.  I’ve had a Foradori wine that I thought was special, certain Brunellos, but many have become Parker-ized, that’s unfortunate.  I like Ciacci wines though.  … the list goes on…

In Oregon, there are many that I respect, and a small group that I like, but I’d prefer to leave those thoughts anonymous.

[TaV]: What is ahead? Where do you see Le Cadeau in 10-15 years?

[TM]: I think we’re just beginning to make our best wines, and really beginning to understand the vineyard’s nuances.  Some of our more exciting clones are still quite young, so it will be interesting to see what sort of wines we make from the more exciting clones when the vines are older.  The 2018 wines that we have in the barrel are possibly our finest to date.  Very excited about getting them into the bottle and out on the market.

I’m hopeful that our Chardonnay program will be noteworthy.  Pierre’s guidance on Chardonnay has been very helpful.  2018 in barrel looks to be very promising, and I’m excited about the first 2019 fruit from a rocky grafted section of the vineyard.  We have a couple interesting Larry Hyde clones of Chardonnay planted in that area as well.  The fruit looks to be quite different.  I’ll have a better sense of the Chardonnay potential in another year, but I’m hopeful that we can produce “the real deal”.

Le Cadeau Vineyard Pinot Noir wines

Thirsty? Here are my tasting notes for the wines:

2017 Le Cadeau Côte Est Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (13.9% ABV, $50, 145 cases made)
Dark Ruby
Smoke, plum, iodine, medium-plus intensity
Wow. Touch of smoke, Sage, medicinal notes (cough syrup), good acidity, excellent balance
8

2017 Le Cadeau Rocheux Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (13.2% ABV, $50, 174 cases made)
Dark Ruby
Plums, cherries, violets, intense, inviting
Bright, clean, succulent ripe cherries, licorice, great minerality, excellent balance, superb
8+

2017 Le Cadeau Diversité Estate Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (13.9% ABV, $50, 245 cases made)
Ruby
Delicate, lavender, a touch of smoke, perfect
Beautiful, plums, ripe strawberries, great acidity, baking spices, delicious overall
8+/9-

2016 Le Cadeau Merci Pinot Noir Reserve Chehalem Mountains Willamette Valley (14.1% ABV, $80, 143 cases made)
Garnet
Intense, ripe cherries and plums, candied fruit
Wow, great intensity, cherries, cherry compote, ripe plums, minerally notes, good acidity, good balance
8+

As you can tell, I really liked the wines – they were literally one better than another.

Here you go, my friends – yet another story of Passion and Pinot. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, and I thank you for your time and attention.

Will there be more Passion and Pinot stories? Well, do you think the passion ran out of the Pinot winemakers and aficionados? I will bet my virtual DRC bottle that it did not. So we will continue our conversations as soon as the next opportunity will present itself.

Obey your passion!

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

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

Stories of Passion and Pinot: Iris Vineyards

June 18, 2019 1 comment

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

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

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

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

Richard Boyles Iris Vineyards

Richard Boyles

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

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

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

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

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

Iris Vineyards

Source: Iris Vineyards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cropped Bench Iris Vineyards

Source: Iris Vineyards

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

To be continued…

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

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

WBC18: Like A Kid In The Candy Store – Again, or 4 Days in Walla Walla

October 13, 2018 11 comments

walla walla welcome signBack in 2014, I was visiting the state of Washington on business, and my obsession with local wines led me to the small town of Woodinville, about an hour northeast of Seattle. As I parked next to the industrial building and started going door to door, visiting one artisanal winery after another, I really felt like a kid in the candy store – the wines were delicious, and conversations with winemakers and not were even better than the wines – what else the wine lover needs? I was so impressed with that visit that my enthusiasm showed in the blog post, which won one of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenges (we called them MWWC) with the theme “local”.

The timing for the Wine Bloggers Conference 2018 (WBC18) was a little strange – for the most of the time, the conferences took place in August, and October is definitely not the ideal month to take time off (I know that many of the regulars couldn’t attend due to the timing). However, my high opinion of the Washington wines and the memories of visiting the Woodinville became the deciding factor, so I was able to find the time for this trip to Walla Walla in Washington.

Boy, was I not disappointed. After a beautiful ride from the Portland airport along the Columbia River (I wish I would record a little video – the amazing scenery must be shared), I arrived at the Walla Walla. Walla Walla is a home to about 30,000 residents, but it is hard to tell from the tiny downtown. However, when it comes to wine, don’t let the small size to full you – Walla Walla downtown hosts 30 something tasting rooms, plus a number of full working wineries located within the city limits (there are 120 wineries in the Walla Walla Valley overall) – it is definitely a destination for any wine lover out there.

As it always happened so far (this was my fourth WBC), the 4 days of the Wine Bloggers Conference became a non-stop adventure of sipping, spitting and learning, and most importantly, spending time with the fellow bloggers. I can’t tell you how many wines were tasted during these four days – whatever happens at WBC, stays at WBC. But – I will be happy to share with you main takeaways from these 4 days. Here we go:

  1. Washington State produces some magnificent wines (duh) – at least on par with Napa, and often far exceeding the Napa offerings in terms of QPR – and they are predominantly red. All six Bordeaux varieties are doing quite well in Washington, both in the form of the Bordeaux blend and on its own. Merlot might be a king of Washington, but Cabernet Sauvignon can often fight for that royal crown, and quite successfully. The Syrah is definitely a queen, well deserving your attention, following by the other Mediterranean breeds, such as Grenache and even Tempranillo.
  2. Washington whites are much rarer find – but they can be equally delightful as the reds. Rhone varieties do particularly well (Marsanne, Roussanne), but Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and even Albarino can deliver a happy surprise. An important reminder – please, please drink Rhone whites at the cool room temperature – they really taste better like that. Make them too cold, and they become indistinguishable and boring.
  3. Unlike California, where you can find 100+ years old [continuously farmed] vineyards, such as Bechtold in Lodi (farmed since 1886), and 150 years old continuously producing wineries, Washington wine industry didn’t survive the prohibition. What was striving in the 1860s, was completely destroyed in 1920s, and had to be rebuilt in 1960s. This information actually doesn’t have any deep meaning outside of being an interesting (and unfortunate) fact.
  4. I don’t believe you need to pay attention to the vintages for Washington wines, unless something ultra-bad happens, like out of blue frost in May. The temperatures are consistent, and so are the general climate conditions – too hot of a summer can be compensated by harvesting earlier. Well, the summers are typically hot, so the “canopy management” is a hot subject in winemaking circles. If the vineyard is managed properly, and winemaker does the job right, there is a good chance for consistency. In other words, don’t ask “how was that vintage”, just get the wine you want to drink. But – the way a lot of wines in Washington are made, especially coming from the small wineries – with utmost respect to the product at all stages – guarantees that the wines will age well. Give them some time, and prepare to be amazed.

I can probably think of more conclusions, but instead, I really want to tell you how my four days unfolded – just in case you wonder what one does at the Wine Bloggers Conference. Look at it more like the set of highlights as opposed to the detailed report. And then my plan is to convert many of this mentions below into the separate posts, to make my report more detailed – oh well, will see how that will work.

Day 1: After the beautiful ride along the Columbia River from Portland, I checked into the hotel, and then my next immediate stop was a tasting at the Seven Hills Winery, located right next to the conference hotel. After tasting at Seven Hills, next stop was the tasting at the Gård Vintners – with lots of delicious surprises. That tasting was followed with a very short walk back to the hotel to attend the Masters of Merlot session (now part of the official WBC program), presented by two of the Merlot Greats – Duckhorn and L’Ecole No 41 (very appropriate for the October, the #MerlotMe month).

Next was the mingling with the fellow bloggers around so-called Expo, where WBC sponsors poured their wines and offered their products. My last activity for the day was a superb, mind-blowing tasting at the Eternal Wines (more later) in lieu of group dinner. I also skipped all after-hours activities – that was enough for the first day.

WBC18 Walla Walla winemakers panel

WBC18wine influencers panel

Day 2: The actual conference program started. One of the main morning highlights was the panel discussion by the 4 of the Walla Walla winemakers, talking about terroir, canopy management, and stories, their personal, real life stories. I also liked the panel of wine influencers, talking about the wine industry, wine writing, and Dos and Don’ts of wine blogging. During lunch, we had an opportunity to taste wines from the Cascade Valley Wine Country, where one particular wine, WineGirl Wines Red blend left a mark with me – a standout, flawless, round, and beautiful.

After lunch, I went with a group of friends to taste delicious Oregon non-Pinot wines from Troon Vineyards Applegate Valley, as presented by WBC veteran, Craig Camp (I believe Craig didn’t miss a single WBC event). We got back to listen to the keynote by Lewis Perdue, the founder of Wine Industry Insight publication, who was focusing on a seemingly simple concept – Trust – and the tenets of good writing.

Next session was one of my traditional favorites – Live Wine Blogging for red wines, and once that was over, we all left for the dinners at mystery wineries (nobody knew where they are going), with our mystery winery being Canoe Ridge. Do you think this was enough for a day? Wrong. It is never enough – the last part of the program was so-called “after party”, where we tasted lots more wines (attendees are invited to bring wines to share with the others for this late night session). My highlights from this late-night tasting were Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from Smith-Madrone and iOTA Cellars Oregon Pinot Noir vertical (2013, 2014, 2015). Whew, time to sleep.

Maryhill vineyards

Mary Hill winery - soil sample and peach trees

Day 3: The day started from learning about the location of the Wine Bloggers Conference 2019 – Hunter Valley in Australia, October 10-12, 2019. This sounds ultra-attractive – and equally impossible (in my own world). After a few of the breakout session, we went out for lunch at the Walla Walla tasting rooms which we had an opportunity to select the day before – my choice was Otis Kenyon Winery. Next was the session called Bubbles and Bites, a sparkling wine and food pairing lesson presented by Gloria Ferrer. Right after that, we had an in-depth lesson about European Cheeses. Up next was the “Lightning talks” session – 5 minutes presentations by the fellow bloggers with the slides rotating every 15 seconds. Wine Live Blogging session for whites and Rosé closed the main conference activities – which left us with the wine dinner with the vintners from Walla Walla. At the dinner, I fell in love with the wines from Revelry Vintners, which were simply stunning, and also enjoyed a few wines from Bergevin Lane. And then … yes, of course, another late night session (someone had to drink all that wine, right?)

fall in Mary Hill vineyards

view from Cathedral Ridge winery

Day 4: The conference was officially closed, but – there were post-conference excursions. I visited Maryhill Winery in Walla Walla, and Cathedral Ridge Winery in Oregon, both offering spectacular views and delicious wines.

The End.

Here it is – my abbreviated report of the WBC18 activities. Speaking strictly for myself, I greatly enjoyed the conference – the place, the wines, people and conversations – everything work together very well to create a memorable experience. If you never attended the conference – do you want to attend one now, after reading my report? If you are a “regular”, what are your thoughts about WBC18 and will we see each other in Australia? Cheers!

A Pinot Noir Lesson for Self with Tendril Cellars

October 3, 2018 7 comments

Tendril Cellars winesBack in May, we virtually met with Tony Rynders of Tendril Cellars and talked about … many things wine, of course – you can find this conversation here.

Tony is one of the few winemakers I know who teaches people about his wines by conducting organized tastings. As I didn’t have an opportunity to attend any of those events, I decided to run a lesson for myself on the same subject. How you ask? Easy – by tasting the wines blind.

I can literally see the surprised looks and raised eyebrows. How is it a blind tasting if I know already everything about those wines? You see, the lineup I had included 6 wines. Out of those six, four were different Pinot Noirs – different vineyards, different winemaking process, different price points. Obviously I was not planning to try to identify the exact wine, but still – will I be able to taste the difference, and maybe identify the most expensive wine? Comparing Chardonnay and white Pinot Noir should also be a fun exercise, as those are two siblings ruling the world of Champagne. Yep – lots of opportunities for having fun.

Okay, blind tasting it is. The bottles are wrapped, the numbers are randomly assigned. May the taste buds serve me right!

Tendril Cellars Blind tasting

Here are my notes for the wines while tasting them blind:

1 Light golden color
Vanilla, golden delicious,
Bright acidity, vanilla, apples, a touch of honey

2 toasted notes, yeast
Perfect acidity, Granny Smith apples, a touch of honey, toasted notes on the palate, outstanding
white pinot?

3 Dark ruby
Earthy, Rutherford dust on the nose, a touch of roasted meat,
Beautiful palate, soft plums, round, espresso, excellent acidity, wow. ThightRope?

4 Ruby
Concentrated nose, mint, eucalyptus
Concentrated palate, acidity, eucalyptus, sage, violets on the palate. Very unusual. Single Vineyard?

5 Dark ruby
Wow. Blueberries, raspberries, restrained
Very smooth, silky, bright fresh fruit, acidity, firm structure, excellent balance, never-ending finish. Wow. C-Note?

6 Dark ruby
Nose old world style, forest floor, mushrooms, great restraint
Round palate, blackberries, baking spices, soft, delicious. Outstanding. Extrovert?

Tendril cellars after blind tasting

Everyone knows that the best part of the blind tasting is … unwrap! The moment of truth, pure and simple. Here are my notes for the tasting of the wines non-blind, 3 hours after the blind tasting (in the same order):

1 – 2015 Tendril Cellars Pretender Willamette Valley (14.1% ABV, $60, white Pinot Noir)
A bit darker color (golden)
Vanilla, butter
Plump, round, crisp acidity, acidity on the finish (very extensive), plump body.
8, excellent. Reminiscent of a nice Marsanne.

2 – 2015 Tendril Cellars Chardonnay Willamette Valley (13.5% ABV, $40)
Honey, gunflint, vanilla
Brioche, Granny Smith Apple, a touch of butter, clean acidity, excellent
8, outstanding.

 

3 – 2014 Tendril Cellars Extrovert Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (14.1% ABV, $48)
Beautiful, classic, open Pinot, with cherries, sage, and plums.
Soft cherries and plums on the palate, clean acidity, sage, violets, delicious, wow
8, delicious.
8+/9-, a pure standout. Polished, velvety, seductive, like a light touch on the hand which makes your whole body to vibrate. More reminiscent of CA Pinot than dark and loaded

4 – 2014 Tendril Cellars TightRope Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (14.2% ABV, $64)
Very tight, espresso, licorice, blackberries
Beautiful, sweet fruit, noticeable tannins, very round, medium body, cherries and cherry pit.
8, excellent.
Complex nose of herbs and spices, exotic and unusual.
Wow, great power and complexity, not a typical Pinot, might be more of a Zinfandel or even Syrah profile. Needs time, lots more time.

5 – 2014 Tendril Cellars Pinot Noir Mount Richmond Single Vineyard Willamette Valley (14.1% ABV, $60)
Very unusual. Beets and caramel on the nose, with a touch of dark chocolate.
Blueberries and caramel on the palate, nice salinity, raspberries. Medium+ body. Excellent
8
Very ripe after 2 days been open (air pumped out). Beautiful palate, minerality-driven, cigar box, eucalyptus, tense, powerful. Can be mistaken for a Rioja of a nice caliber.

6 – 2014 Tendril Cellars C-Note Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (14.1% ABV, $100, 100% Whole Cluster, 100% new oak)
Sublime. Can be described only via allegories, such a finesse. Dark chocolate and cherries. Excellent
Equally delicate on the palate, crisp acidity, bright, sweet plums, and tobacco. Outstanding.
8, excellent
Nose is incredible. First, you want to smell.this.wine.for.a.long.time.
Superb, elevated wine, complex, great finesse, and needs time. 8+

As you can tell, I failed miserably. I didn’t identify any of the wines – however, this was perfectly in line with my expectations. What was definitely interesting is that despite the four Pinot Noir wines been all from Oregon and at about the same age, they were absolutely, unquestionably, distinctly different – and strikingly delicious.

Of course, I extended the pleasure of tasting some of those wines over the few days, which is reflected in the tasting notes above.

 

Here you are, my friends. Blind tasting or not, the Tendril Cellars wines are worth seeking – the virtual tasting will simply not do it – these are the wines to experience. And if you need to choose only one, I can let you in on a secret (don’t tell anyone!) – the Extrovert was my favorite. Cheers!

Blending Art and Wine – Galer Estate in Eastern Pennsylvania

September 8, 2018 2 comments

Galer Estate groundsDo you like surprises? It depends, you say? Okay, let me rephrase: do you like pleasant surprises? Of course, you do – and so do I.

What’s up with this “surprises” prelude? Simple – was prompted by the recent experience in Eastern Pennsylvania – at Galer Estate Vineyards and Winery.

With the fear to sound obnoxious (feel free to stamp “snob” and stop reading), I have to say that East Coast wineries are a hit and miss experience. I’m sure this is not just an East Coast phenomenon, but here I experienced it enough to state it. When visiting the winery, I’m looking for the “full experience”. I want the winery to have an ambiance, to have a soul. To me, the wine is a thing of comfort, and this is what I want to experience when I come to taste the wine. I don’t care for glitz and glamor, I don’t care for all the little “look how many cool and utterly useless things you can buy here”. The winery to me is all about a comfort and pleasure, and, most importantly, the real, good, tasty wine.

Oh, and one more thing to add – a conversation, conversation with the person who pours the wine into your glass. I don’t want to be pontificated upon (recent experience at Akash winery in Temecula was beyond terrible), I don’t want to be ignored (“I don’t know anything, I’m just here for a weekend job, here is your wine”). I want a person who pours the wine to share their passion and pride – it makes wine tasting a lot more enjoyable.

I’m happy to say that we had this exact “full experience” on the recent visit to Galer Estate. While the winery, located just a stone throw away from the Longwood Gardens (actually, while driving to the winery, I thought I made a mistake and will simply get inside the gardens instead of the winery), started only about 10 years ago, it looks like it had been there for centuries. It is rustic, it perfectly blends into the surroundings, and it is beautifully decorated – I’m sure the fact that Lele Galer, the co-owner of the winery, is an artist, comes to play here.

Galer Estate tasting Room

Galer Estate tasting Room

The doors of the tasting room had been brought from France, some of the panels are from Italy, stained glass windows are from the midwest USA. The view of the Chardonnay vineyard from the tasting room is beautiful, and all those little details together create the right ambiance for the tasting.

The Galer Estate owns two vineyards, and when necessary, they bring grapes from other vineyards, but all the grapes are still local, coming from the vineyards within 30 miles radius, all located in the Chester County. The selection of grapes is quite eclectic – it was my first time trying Grüner Veltliner and Albariño from the East Coast. Here is what we tasted:

2017 Galer Estate Grüner Veltliner Chester County Pennsylvania ($25) – fresh nose, beautiful grassy palate, great acidity. 8-, excellent effort.

2017 Galer Estate The Huntress Vidal Blanc Chester County Pennsylvania ($25) – Excellent, restrained, nice balance of white fruit, good acidity, elegant. 8, one of the best renditions of Vidal Blanc I ever had.

2016 Galer Estate Red Lion Chardonnay Chester County Pennsylvania ($18) – gunflint on the nose, crisp, green apples, lemon, clean. 8, excellent wine. I’ll take a gunflint on my Chardonnay at any time, and was literally ecstatic to find it here.

2017 Galer Estate Albariño Chester County Pennsylvania ($35) – excellent, varietally correct, touch of perfume on the nose, mineral lemon notes on the palate. 7+, Unique and different – East Coast Albariño, not the wine you can expect to find here.

2015 Galer Estate Chardonnay Reserve Chester County Pennsylvania ($32) – not my favorite – I’ll leave it at that. May be a “sleeper” bottle?

2017 Galer Estate Pinot Noir Rosé Chester County Pennsylvania ($30) – practically no color in the glass. I would prefer a Rosé with more extraction. Not my favorite

2016 Galer Estate The Huntress Red Blend Chester County Pennsylvania ($30, blend of Cabernet Franc, Carmine, Petit Verdot) – excellent, clean, cassis on the nose, cassis and raspberries on the palate. Soft, good balance. 8-, an added bonus – a new grape, Carmine – the grape (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan) was specifically designed to withstand the cold of the East Coast.

We had a great time while tasting, as our host was knowledgeable and engaging. It was also great to have lunch right in the cellar room – it was too hot to sit outside, so after the view of the vineyards, the view, and mostly the smell,  of the tanks might be the most exciting for the wine lovers.

And of course we had an opportunity to snap some pictures of the vines and grapes:

Here you are, my friends. If you are visiting Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, which is one of my most favorite places, put aside some time to visit the Galer Estate. Considering the full experience, this was one of the very best East Coast wineries I ever visited. And even if you have take a special trip over, you will not regret it. Cheers!

Stories of Passion and Pinot: Tony Rynders of Tendril Cellars

May 11, 2018 6 comments

Wine and passion are indelible. Yes, wine is a business for the most parts, but making a bottle of wine which someone else is desiring to drink is a labor of love, and every such bottle has a bit of the winemaker’s soul invested in it (feel free to call me melodramatic). Thus I’m always happy to talk to the winemakers, trying to understand what moves them, what drives them to do what they do. A lot of my conversations are virtual, and you can find most of them on this blog.

Many of interviews are truly random in terms of profiling the wineries and winemakers. However, about 2 years ago, with a prompt and help of Carl Giavanti, I started a series of posts called Stories of Passion and Pinot, which are dedicated (so far, at least) to the winemakers in Oregon, producing Pinot Noir wines. Winemakers are always passionate about what they do and the grapes they use – but it seems to me that Pinot Noir, being a difficult grape it is, really asking for a special dedication to allow itself to be tamed – hence the name for the series.

My latest addition to the series is a conversation with Tony Rynders, the proprietor and winemaker at the Tendril Wine Cellars, a young winery in Willamette Valley in  Oregon (the winery officially started 10 years ago, in 2008). While the winery is young, Tony is an accomplished winemaker, who started making wine back in 1989, honed his craft at the wineries around the world, including 10 years as a head winemaker at Domaine Serene, one of the best-known wineries in Oregon.

When Tendril Cellars started, it owned no vineyards, which essentially gave Tony a flexibility to bring the best fruit from the Oregon vineyards he was already familiar with. To my surprise, Tendril Cellars only offers one single-vineyard bottling in their line of  5 different Pinot Noir wines – but you will find an explanation below. In 2013, Tendril Cellars planted a 19 acres Maverick vineyard in Yamhill-Carlton district with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – the vineyard already producing the fruit which is going into the Tendril Cellar’s second line of wines, Child’s Play (a creative name for the wine, don’t you think?).

Tony 5 Courses instruction 2

Tony Rynders leading five course tasting

Tony calls his approach to winemaking “low and slow” – letting the nature to do its work. He is also aging all of his Pinot Noir wines for 16-17 months, which I find particularly appealing. And then, how many winemakers do you know who run organized tastings for their customers? That is what Tony does, presenting his wines as a “5-course meal” and explaining the concept of terroir to the wine consumers (after tasting Tendril wines, Tony’s approach to the tasting makes perfect sense to me – but we will discuss it in the next post).

After learning a bit about Tony and Tendril Cellars, I decided that the time came to sit down (yes, virtually) with Tony and ask him a few questions. Here is what transpired.

[TaV]: You started making wine for others in 1989. Was there something which prompted you to start making your own wines in 2010, a pivotal moment, or you simply decided that it is time to make wines “my way”?

[TR]: I have had several opportunities making wine since I began in 1989.  Each one has contributed in some way to influence my approach to making wine.  I can tell you that I am a much different winemaker today than I was when I started.  I think it is critical that we continue to evolve and adapt as the climate, consumers, and wine preferences change.

In fact, I started my own brand, Tendril, in 2008.  I was just coming off a 10-year stint as head winemaker at Domaine Serene.  It was a highly formative period in my career as there was a massive shift toward new, estate vineyards during my tenure. The creative “heavy lifting” took place largely during my watch.  I accomplished everything I set out to and more.  It was time for my next big challenge…creating a portfolio of wines for my own brands from scratch.  And tell a story about Pinot Noir in a way that it had not yet been told.

[TaV]: You worked at the wineries around the world. Are there any winemakers you would consider your mentors, either directly or indirectly?

[TR]: There is one fact in winemaking that I completely embrace: There is no way to learn it all…I will never stop learning, growing and evolving.   Every winemaker I have worked with has mentored me, including but not limited to, Rollin Soles, Ken Wright, Co Dinn, Jean-Francois Pellet and David Forsyth.

[TaV]: Can you explain your “low and slow” approach to the winemaking?

[TR]: Just like the “slow food” movement, I use top quality ingredients (grapes) from attentive, engaged farmers (vineyards) with whom I have a very close relationship.  I have hand chosen each of our vineyards myself and each brings a distinctive flavor profile (like spices) in order to make our signature “five-course meal” of Pinot Noir.

For all the Tendril wines, I over-vintage the wines in barrel (at least 16 months) and then bottle age 12 months or more prior to release.  The wines are then at the front end of their drinkability curve, with the potential for a decade enjoyment ahead of them.

[TaV]: I find it interesting that in your range of Pinot Noir you have only one vineyard-designated bottling – I always think that designated vineyards and even specific plots are better identify with quality of the grapes and the resulting wines – obviously you don’t see it like that?

[TR]: While I love to make single vineyard wines, I find that not every site is able to produce balanced, compelling and complete wines every year.  And that, simply put, is my goal as a winemaker.  So this is how the unique story and line-up of wines for Tendril was born.  When I started Tendril, I knew that I wanted to do something different with my portfolio of wines.  And it took 6 years to complete the lineup (Extrovert 2008, TightRope 2009, Single Vineyard (Guadalupe) 2011, C-Note 2011, Pretender 2013).

The common model that exists for Pinot Noir is the single vineyard model.  Wineries make 5-15 (or more) single vineyard wines in a given vintage.  The problem is that not all of the sites deliver on their promise of distinctiveness every year.  The true test is a horizontal tasting in which all of the wines are evaluated blind.  In a given year, some wines are great, some under deliver and some taste quite similar in a given line-up.  This is not consistent with my goal.

So, I created my own, unique model for Pinot Noir.  Each of my wines is distinctive and complete.  Collectively, they show a progression of flavors that mirrors the progression of dishes in a five-course meal.  My wines gain in intensity, darker fruit character and structure as the “courses” progress.  And each of the wines must re-qualify for their place in the lineup each and every year.

I believe single vineyard wines should be special.  Since all wineries charge more money for them, I think they should be worth it.  So we typically do just one offering per year that is, simply put, the “wine of the cellar” from just one site.  As I had anticipated, it has proven to be rotational (4 vineyards in 7 vintages).  It is like a Christmas present in that you don’t know what it is until you open it.

Tendril Cellars Pinot Noir

[TaV]: Your C-Note Pinot Noir is designated as “whole cluster fermented” – is that a substantial differentiator to make it the “top of the line” wine, or is there something else behind it?

[TR]: Of the Pinot Noir line-up, the C-Note is the most stylized wine yet at the same time requires the greatest amount of restraint.  Whole cluster fermentation of Pinot Noir is a technique that I have only attempted since 2011.  The was the first year I made a wine using 100% whole cluster…and it was so successful that it became our first C-Note bottling.

For C-Note, we use 100% Pinot Noir, 100% Whole Cluster fermentation, and age in 100% new French Oak barrels (air dried 3 + years).  The restraint comes into play in order to reign in the “whole clustery-ness” and tame the oak impact to mimic a wine with half the new oak exposure.  We are extremely gentle with our cap management to control the whole cluster notes and we select the most subtle, elegant barrels coupled with long aging to integrate the oak flavors.  C-Note is all about complexity, texture and mind-blowing length.  I love making wines that surprise and beguile.

[TaV]: You are one of the very few winemakers who conduct organized tastings. Can you explain what you are trying to showcase with your 5-course Pinot Noir approach?

[TR]: Yes, I believe the best way to showcase these wines and share this unique experience is to do seated tastings.  Like a five-course meal, our tasting take time (typically an hour and a half or more).  But people leave here feeling that that have experienced something truly special…and that is pretty rare.  They are shocked that they enjoyed each and every wine they tasted.

I began working in restaurants at a young age.  I cooked for several years and really enjoyed it.  A few years after I started making wines, I realized that I was using the exact same skill set to make wine that I used to cook.  I am truly a “wine cook” and make wine with that sensibility.

I wanted to showcase a diverse range of flavor profiles that can be accomplished on an annual basis with Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley.  Each offering is distinctive, unique and impeccably balanced.  Collectively, they showcase perhaps the greatest range of flavors and textures of Pinot Noir under one brand.

[TaV]: To follow on the previous question, how receptive are your customers (typically) to what you are presenting in the tasting? Do they get your point? Do you offer people to taste the wines blind and to try to identify what they are tasting?

[TR]: The beautiful thing about the “five-course meal” context of our tasting is that EVERYBODY can relate to that experience.  People completely get it and they really get into it.  The wines show a progression of flavors just like a multi-course meal.  They also increase in intensity much like turning up the volume on a radio.

At this stage, the tastings are not blind and are tasted one at a time.  And I don’t have the ability to pair food at this time.  But we have done the “five-course meal” here at the winery a few times. It was a huge success.

[TaV]: Maybe an odd-ball question here – wine is an adult beverage, and nevertheless, you called your line of wines “Child’s Play” (I personally like it very much, especially the labels). Do you think wine consumers might find this controversial? Did anyone ever comment on this wine name?

[TR]: I am a huge fan of the “double entendre”.  Here it is actually triple.  1) My kids playing…my two daughters paintings are the original artwork for all the labels 2) We winemakers are big kids and we get to “play” with offering unique wines (the Pinot Chardonnay is the only still version of Chardonnay and white Pinot Noir in the country…to my knowledge), Zinfandel from WA (a unicorn wine), and a stylistically different Rose of Pinot Noir.  The Pinot Noir is just damn good. 3) Child’s Play implies it’s easy…so easy a kid could do it.  We are taking the pretension out of wine with the packaging and the wines inside.  Great value for money…as it should be.

My customers love it.  The only objection came from the Feds…and a simple paragraph explaining point 3) above got us our label approval.

[TaV]: This one is more of the pet peeve question for me. Your Tendril wines are enclosed with the corks (makes me very happy to see it). The Child’s Play line uses screwtops, so obviously the screwtop idea is not foreign to you. I know that some winemakers in Oregon swear by alternative closures (like Don Hagge at Vidon with the glass stopper), but I personally think that the wine needs a cork to age properly. What is your take on this subject?

[TR]: While I like the idea of cork, the execution of the closure has haunted me for my entire career.  Corks are highly variable in both their flavor impact on the wines as well as the oxygen permeability.  Each one is unique and has an unintended impact on my wine.  I believe natural corks are a huge problem and as such, I no longer use them.  But I do gladly use a cork product in my Tendril wines (looks like a duck and quacks like a duck) that provides consistency of density and very low aromatic impact.  I would be happy to talk to you about this topic some time.  I have researched it for years.

Screw caps are new to me, but I love them in the Child’s Play line to further differentiate the brand from Tendril.  I think the MSRP $30 price point avoids any potential push back on the choice of closure.

[TaV]: Sparkling wines are so popular nowadays, almost everyone is making them, and often with very good results. Considering your experience at Argyle, should we expect to see Tendril sparkling wine at some point in the future?

[TR]: Maybe…but I will wait until we have a great sparkling wine vintage (cool and slow ripening) to make that decision.  If you asked my wife (who is a sparkling junkie), the answer would be yes.

I would only do it if it could have the potential to be a truly special offering.

Maverick Vineyard

Maverick Vineyard

[TaV]: What is in the store for your new Maverick vineyard? How are you planning to farm it – sustainable, organic, biodynamic? Out of 19 acres, you have 10.5 allocated for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – what about the rest? Any plans to expand beyond Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – let’s say, Pinot Gris, Riesling, etc?

[TR]: At this time, Maverick is LIVE.  We plan to move towards organic over the next few years.  It is an incredibly well behaved site that is already producing strong personality wines.  I view this as a highly desirable trait for a young vineyard.  The Chardonnay for the Pinot Chardonnay (70% of the blend) is all Maverick.  This is the first bottled wine coming from Maverick.

No plans for other varietals at this time.  But the clonal mix for the Pinot Noir (943, Swan, Calera and Mt. Eden) is pretty unusual.

[TaV]: Oregon is clearly a leader in Pinot Noir, considered by many as simply the best in the world, and it is also getting to the same level of recognition with the Chardonnays. What is ahead for the Oregon wine industry? Is the future bright and sunny, or do you see any clouds on the horizon?

[TR]: To me, the only constant is change.  By that I mean that to continue to succeed as an industry, we need to be engaged (both locally and on a world stage), we need to be adaptive (as our climate continues to change, we are in for more and different challenges), and we need to be more concerned about the sustainability of our environment (both locally and throughout the world).

I believe we will have sun and clouds…and perhaps some rain.   Just the weather we always have in Oregon 😉

[TaV]: When you are not drinking Tendril wines, what are your favorites from the other producers and/or regions?

[TR]: Lately I have been enjoying Graham-Beck sparkling wine from South Africa.

Or give me a good single malt Scotch…

Here we are, my friends. I’m sure you are thirsty at this point, but we will talk about Tendril Cellars wines in the next post.

To be continued…

 

Drink Local, North Carolina Edition – Chatham Hill Winery

December 15, 2017 1 comment

Chatham Hill WineryOnce again, I was on the road. And as you know, if I have the slightest chance, I will look for the local wine. If I can also throw in a winery visit – that becomes a double pleasure.

In these terms, this time around, it was exactly a double pleasure. While visiting Raleigh in North Carolina I managed to squeeze in a short visit to the North Carolina winery call Chatham Hill, located in the town of Cary (about 20 minutes from Raleigh-Durham airport).

I had an opportunity to try North Carolina wines for the first time a few years ago while connecting through the Charlotte airport. I had favorable impressions after the first experience, thus was definitely looking forward to the opportunity to expand my “wine map” of the 50 United States.

The Chatham Hill Winery was founded in 1998. When Chatham Hill Winery opened, it was the 14th winery in the state of North Carolina – today, there are more than 185 wineries and 525 vineyards there. Chatham Hill was also the first urban winery in the North Carolina –  they don’t own any vineyards. The absolute majority of the wines at Chatham Hill are made either from the North Carolina grapes, coming primarily from the Yadkin Valley AVA, or from the grapes shipped from California (Lodi).

Chatham Hill winery produces a good number of different wines, both dry and sweet, with the total production of about 5,000 cases per year. With this production, it is considered a “medium size” winery by the North Carolina standards. I tasted through many wines the winery offers, but took rather scarce notes, so for what it worth, here is a roundup:

Chatham Hill Winery Whites

2013 Chatham Hill Winery Chardonnay Yadkin Valley North Carolina ($18) – a bit unusual, big body, good balance, nice overall

2015 Chatham Hill Winery Riesling Lodi California ($16) – not a traditional style, doesn’t speak Riesling to me, but still quite drinkable

2014 Chatham Hill Winery Perfect Harmony Yadkin Valley North Carolina ($25, unoaked, 70% Chardonnay, 30% Viognier) – dry, playful, tropical fruit notes

Chatham Hill Winery Reds

2012 Chatham Hill Winery Cabernet Franc Yadkin Valley North Carolina ($20) – soft, round, very pleasant

2014 Chatham Hill Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Yadkin Valley North Carolina ($20) – beautiful, smooth, blackcurrant on the nose and the palate, layered, great extraction, excellent wine overall and lots of wine for the money. Clearly my favorite wine from the tasting.

2013 Chatham Hill Winery Merlot Yadkin Valley North Carolina ($16) – excellent balance of fruit and acidity, dark fruit on the palate, very good overall

2015 Chatham Hill Winery Malbec ($18) – a bit sweeter than previous few wines, but refreshingly light for the Malbec and very pleasant overall.

2015 Chatham Hill Winery Petite Sirah ($22) – good fruit, good acidity

Chatham Hill Winery Muscadine Yadkin Valley North Carolina (11.5% ABV, $15) – Not sure what the vintage was, the wine was just released and not available yet for the public – raisins and dry fruit medley on the nose, touch of Isabella grapey profile on palate, clean acidity – very nice effort

I find trying local wines to be truly a humbling experience, always bringing out great surprises – that Cabernet Sauvignon was just a pure, varietally correct, stand out – would happily drink it again in a heartbeat.

The wine is simply an expression of passion and art, and there are truly no limits to the creativity and obsession wine lovers share, anywhere you go. Drink local, my friends!

 

 

 

Stories of Passion and Pinot: Knudsen Vineyards

November 6, 2017 13 comments

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

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

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

Knudsen Vineyards, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Knudsen Vineyards, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon

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

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

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

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

Knudsen Second Generation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knudsen Vineyards wines

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

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

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

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

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

Drink Local, Colorado Edition (and Don’t Lose Hope)

August 21, 2017 18 comments

I’m an eternal optimist. Even when I’m worrying about something, deep inside, I still believe that everything will be okay – one way or the other (sometimes we really have to look for this “okay”, but this is a subject for the whole other post).

This “life’s attitude”, of course, reflects on my approach to wines. Particularly, a belief that in today’s world, good wines can be made everywhere and anywhere – not only in a few places we know can produce the good wines. And anywhere I travel, I’m always looking to prove myself right – which I call “drink local”.

This time, my travel took me to Denver, Colorado. Colorado sounds as good as any other state in the US to be able to produce wines, so once I situated at my hotel in downtown of Denver, off I went to the closest liquor store in Denver.

While walking to the store, literally few steps before it, I saw a sign for the “Wild Women Winery” – I couldn’t even believe my luck, to find a city winery short walking distance from the hotel, also with a very cool sounding name. So I walked in and situated at a bar table, looking at the bottles with super-creative, super-colorful labels.

Talking to the bartender, I learned that while the winery is located in the Colorado (downtown Denver, to be precise), they make wines from the grape juice which they get from California Central Valley, as the winemaker believes that local Colorado grapes are too young to produce a good wine. Fine – the proof is always in the glass, right?

I decided to try 3 wines for $5 (happened to be an extremely wise decision, as opposed to trying 7 for $10, you will understand why in a minute).

The first wine was Viognier – a touch of overripe Apple with sage on the nose. Good fruity palate nice acidity, golden delicious apples. Not my favorite, but not bad. Not amazing, but drinkable.

My next choice was Cab/Merlot blend and that wine really threw me off – too sweet all around, no balance, no acidity, just a sweet fruit. Don’t remember when was the last time I disliked the wine so intently.

At that point I realized that all of the wines the winery offers are non-vintage wines, so I tried to discuss it with the bartender, but unfortunately, she didn’t know what “vintage” means, and I had to face the issue that certain basic concepts we, oenophiles, take for granted, are not so easy to explain in the simple terms. Nevermind.

The last wine, Petite Sirah, had a sweet chocolate nose, bitter-sweet type. Sweet fruit compote on the palate, definitely too sweet, but more acidity than the previous wine. Mostly plum notes with the equivalent acidity of just ripe, but not overripe plum. A marginal improvement.

This visit really left me at the feeling of deep disconcert – I see a lot of passion on the labels, but the soulless concoctions inside the bottles were really conflicting with the bright images.

I gladly left the winery and headed over to the liquor store. Here I had another surprise – a sticker shock. I understand that the wine store is located in the downtown of Denver. But Colorado wines aren’t that well-known, aren’t they? There was a good selection of the local Colorado wines present, none of them cheaper than $20 (okay, $19.99 if it makes you feel any better). Really? On my recent trip to Canada, I had a phenomenal selection of tasty wines under $15. Now, especially after the first tasting fiasco, I had to spend $20+ for a bottle which I might just have to pour down the drain?

After going back and forth and trying (unsuccessfully) to obtain an advice of the store clerk (”I tasted only this one wine”, “yeah, yeah”, “huh, you don’t like sweet wines? Really?”), I settled on the bottle which looked the most Colorado-authentic while still staying in the low $20s- Two Rivers Syrah – at least the information on the back label suggested that the grapes were harvested in Colorado.

Two Rivers Syrah Colorado

The wine was definitely an upgrade over the previous experience, but still no cigars. As this was nevertheless a better wine, here are my typical-style notes:

2015 Two Rivers Château Deux Fleuves Vineyards Syrah Mesa County, Colorado (14.1% ABV, $22.95)
C: dark garnet, nice visible legs
N: blackberries, tar, tobacco, sage, medium to high intensity
P: sweet berries, tobacco, good acidity
V: 7-, it is drinkable, but sweetness too prevalent.
7 on my the second day – sweetness subsided a bit, and roasted meat notes showed up. Still, the finish is mostly sweet fruit with a touch of tobacco.

On the last day before leaving Denver, I still had a bit of the free time and decided to give Colorado wines one more try. I found another wine store, still within short walking distance from the hotel, with good reviews on Google, and took 20 minutes walk. This store had a much smaller selection of Colorado wines, but a little bit better prices (by a few dollars, nothing major), and incomparably better, knowledgeable service. I left with the bottle of The Infinite Monkey Theorem Cabernet Franc – The Infinite Monkey Theorem is another city winery – but unlike Wile Women Winery, this one I would be happy to visit if I had more time.

Infinite Monkey Theorem Cab Franc

Remember I told you about eternal optimism? It finally worked, as this Cabernet Franc was well worth of writing home about:

2015 The Infinite Monkey Theorem Cabernet Franc, Colorado (12.9% ABV, $21)
C: dark ruby
N: tobacco, sweet bell peppers, freshly crushed blackberries
P: bright, fresh, freshly crushed berries, intense sweet tobacco, a touch of pepper, clean acidity, vibrant.
V: 8, outstanding. Would gladly drink that every day.

There you have it, my friends – my first real encounter with Colorado wines. I was happy to prove myself right and find a good wine made in Colorado. As a collector of experiences, I was also happy to add another checkmark to the list of states I tried the wines from – if you are like me, feel free to compare your records 🙂 Have you had the wines from Colorado? Express yourself in the comments section below. Cheers!

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

July 15, 2017 2 comments

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

Wairau River Vineyards

Source: Wairau River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wairau River Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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