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One on One with the Winemaker: Luke McCollom of Left Coast Cellars, Oregon – Part 2

November 9, 2015 2 comments

Left Coast Cellars Bottle TopsWelcome back to Oregon – we are continuing the conversation with Luke McCollom, Founding winemaker, Viticulturist and General Manager of one of the largest estates in Oregon, Left Coast Cellars. First part of our conversation was focused on the history of the estate, its name, its logo, and selection of the grapes which comprise 150 acres of the vineyards. Now we are going to talk about growing the grapes, sustainable viticulture, mother nature and some of the personal favorites. Here we go:

Can you elaborate a bit on the sustainable viticulture you are practicing in your vineyards?
We are certified by a third party Audit as LIVE Sustainable.  This is a whole farm approach which uses scientifically proven methods to reduce inputs into the vineyard and reduce impact on our land and environment.  LIVE also monitors the treatment of people, carbon footprint, energy, and water usage.
Both the Vineyards and Winery are certified LIVE sustainable  For example:  we are also certified Salmon Safe…this means we do not spray or use any chemicals which are toxic to or can harm fish.  We do not use chemicals that can run off or enter water ways.  We use a permanent, no-till, cover cropping system in the vineyards which great reduces dust, sediment, and run-off that pollutes our water ways.
We of course are mostly Solar Powered…100% of our irrigation system is powered by Solar.  The irrigation system is also gravity fed with a pond located on top of one of our highest hills.  So, water is pumped up via solar and runs down into the vineyard drip irrigation systems via gravity.  We also collect our winery rinse water into tanks where we can re-use the water for irrigating landscaping.  All of the “grape waste” from the winery is composted on-site and returned to vineyards and gardens.  Our property is shaped like a bowl, so there are no other source of outside contaminates or pollution entering the property.  All of the water in our Lakes comes from our property only.  We also have steelhead and trout in these lakes…so anything we do can and will directly affect our own water source.

Do your sustainable practices also include dry farming and natural yeasts?
All of our vineyards have the ability to be irrigated with their drip systems if needed!?  Of course, we only irrigate vines if and when they need water.  We believe with future changes in our climate that water is one of the most important factors in the quality of our wines.  Our water is sustainably collected in the wintertime from rainfall runoff.  Our 100 acre foot lake is the life blood of the Estate.  With our sustainable methods of using this water our combined peak usage of water and electricity costs $11.70/mo  a typical water and electric bill on an Estate our size would be anywhere from $10,000-$15,000/mo.  This gives an idea of the power of Sustainability and the power of harnessing the sun.  Yes, we use natural yeast and we also use commercially available yeasts to make wine.

Do you have any plans to go beyond sustainable into full organic or may be even biodynamic?
Yes, we would like to eventually have wines bottled as sustainable, organic, and biodynamic so people can taste the comparisons.  We currently spray almost exclusively organic sprays and utilize many biodynamic practices although do not have certifications in either.

I’m sure that some of the hard core Oregon Pinot fans are familiar with Van Duzer effect, but can you give a short explanation of it to those who don’t?
The Van Duzer Corridor is the main path by which cool Pacific Ocean breezes enter the Willamette Valley.  We are in the Heart of where the corridor opens into the Center of the Valley.  We are currently involved with a group working on a “Van Duzer Corridor AVA”.  The effects of these ocean breezes are critical in producing the highest quality Pinot Noir.  On a warm summer day at the Estate, our day time temperatures will reach 90 degrees. In the evening, the Corridor ushers in the cool ocean breezes and our night time temperatures fall to 40 or 50 degrees!  A huge temperature swing!  The result is sort of like a refrigerator…at night, when the vines are not producing sugars, the Pinot grapes are preserved with the cool outside temperatures.  What this means is…the grapes will retain freshness, acidity, and increased wine ageability because they respire less and are preserved with the cool night air.

Out of all Pinot Noir which you produced so far, do you have the most favorite wine from the favorite vintage?
My favorite Left Coast wine is the 2010 Suzanne’s Estate.  This is the first vintage Luke and Joe Wright worked together making wine.  We hand selected small lots of grapes from the vineyards and made them in small batches with minimal influence and impact from Winemaking.  The result is a very cool vintage Pinot with minimal manipulation in the Winery and a 92pts. Wine Spectator rating.  It was very rewarding for me to receive an outstanding rating when the wine was selected in the field and winemaking was at a minimum.

When you are not drinking your own wines, what are the other Oregon producers you would be happy to drink wines from?
We enjoy drinking many of our Neighbors wines including Bethel Heights, Cristom, and Witness Tree just to name a few…

And the same question, only going outside of the Oregon – any favorite wines and producers?
Reaching in and out of Oregon we have always kept an eye on Maison Joseph Drouhin.  Locally, Drouhin of course makes Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot, but from Burgundy continues to offer an incredible range of wines from very affordable negociant blends to very expensive premier and grand crus from individual Domaines.  We believe Drouhin continues to make and blend wines which celebrate classic Burgundy.  Of course this is what intrigued us to try and grow World Class Pinot Noir in Oregon…it was Burgundy!  We wanted to try and replicate the classic Terroirs of Burgundy and now we are trying to beat Burgundy with our classic Terroirs of Oregon and the Willamette Valley!  Viva The Left Coast!

I don’t know about your take, but I think Luke McCollom did an excellent job answering my questions – I had a real feeling of being in the same room with him and looking out at the same vineyard. It is definitely very interesting to learn about sustainable viticulture and how it is done at the Left Coast Cellars – the example with $11.70 monthly electric bill versus potential $10,000+ was extremely impressive.

Of course the proof is in the glass, right? In the previous post, I shared my thoughts on estate’s The Orchards Pinot Gris and Cali’s Pinot Noir. To round up this portion of the interview, I had an opportunity to taste Chardonnay and another Pinot Noir. Before I will talk about the wines, I have to mention the bottles – as the saying goes for the food world “we eat with our eyes first”, same holds true for the wine. Talking about Left Coast Cellar wines, I really enjoyed holding the bottles in my hands – somehow they felt very promising in terms of their content. All four bottles had very nice punt, which would make elegant pouring of the wines an easy job. And the labels are perfectly design and spell “quality” with their look and feel.

Okay, okay – I’m sure you are ready to drink something – here are my notes on the two wines:

Left Coast Cellars Chardonnay and Pinot Noir2014 Left Coast Cellars Truffle Hill Chardonnay Willamette Valley, Oregon (13.5% ABV, $24)
C: light golden
N: white ripe fruit, intense, touch of vanilla, caramel, touch of flowers
P: unusual, plump, medium to full body, hint of white peach, pear, supporting acidity, Burgundian elegance
V: 8, very unusual Chardonnay, with a style of its own, and overall delicious wine

2013 Left Coast Cellars Latitude 45 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon (13.5% ABV, $50)
C: garnet
N: intense, crushed red berries, lavender, sweet plums, vanilla, hint of chocolate, Bing cherries
P: wow, very unusual. Herbal profile with some fruit, initial tannin attack, almost light and effervescent on the palate, but tannins are very assertive. As I don’t have enough experience with red burgundies, my best analogy is wines of ArPePe, which are some of the most elegant Nebbiolo wines in existence. Clean, pure and unadulterated Pinot Noir. Just wow.
V: 9-, truly unique and different

Sustainable viticulture. Passion. Unique and different wines. Simple recipe for success, isn’t it? I can let you in on a secret. Quite often, I don’t finish a bottle of wine on the same day. Especially if I have a few open at the same time. So I happened to drink Cali’s Pinot Noir I mentioned in the previous post over 4 days. Just closing with the same screw top every night. And the wine was delicious, every day. I think folks at the Left Coast Cellars know what they are doing, and their wines are well worth seeking. Follow the passion, my friends. Cheers!

 

One on One with the Winemaker: Luke McCollom of Left Coast Cellars, Oregon

November 5, 2015 5 comments
Left Coast Cellars Label FragmentLet me tell you something – I really liked the concept of my first “one on one” post. Which means that I will try to make it into a feature and a series in this blog. And today I invite you to travel with me to the Oregon, third largest grape-producing state in the US. Our destination is Left Coast Cellars estate, home to one of the largest contiguous vineyards in Oregon, focused on sustainable viticulture and precisely focused wines. I had an opportunity to “sit down” (yes – virtually) with Luke McCollom, Founding Winemaker, Viticulturist and General Manager of the Left Coast Cellars, and ask him whole bunch of questions. I really asked  lots of questions – and I got lots of great answers. I actually will have to split our conversation into two parts, just not to overwhelm you, my reader.

Without further ado, please pour yourself a glass of (Oregon, of course!) wine – here is our conversation with Luke McCollom:

Why “Left Coast Cellars”?
Well, we want to represent and paint a picture of our sense of place.  The “Left Coast” can be seen on our Lewis and Clark Map rendered Labels.  When you’re looking at a Map of the United States… we are on the Left Side!  Also, of course… Left Coast is Family owned and 3 of the Family members running the Estate are Left Handed.  When visiting Left Coast, coming from the closest Major city….The State Capitol Salem, you need to make Left Hand turns to get to the Winery.  The Winery and Tasting room are both on the Left Side of the Drive.  The term Left Coast not only describes our location, but our wholesome, casual style, and creative ability to artistically craft… unique, exquisite, Estate Grown handmade wines.  Not to mention, the heavy “Coast” Influence brought in daily by the Van Duzer Corridor.
[TaV comment: I asked this question rather matter-of-factly, expecting the explanation about Left Coast, but it appears that there is so much more to this name]

Your logo looks very interesting. Is there a story behind it?
The “Sun” Logo is from a large Copper Sculpture which can be seen as you enter the property.  The Sculpture was a gift given to Suzanne by husband Robert for an Anniversary.  It is a beautiful, unique piece created by a Hawaiian artist named Abe Santoro.  Santoro’s work can be seen at places like the Smithsonian.  I believe Santoro is nearly 90 years old and is referred to as a Treasure of Hawaii.
For us it represents the Founders love for each other and the commitment of life partnership which led to a beautiful family, with passion for food, and wine.  The logo is a symbol of the vision created together to Build an amazing Estate in The Willamette Valley.  This “Circle of Life” logo also represents their commitment to Sustainability, the Earth, the Sun and the cycle of every vintage of wine.

When you started the winery in 2003 and purchased the land, were there any vines planted already or did you have to start from scratch?
When the Family purchased the property there were 25 acres of Pinot Noir.  The first vintage crafted from these young Latitude 45 Vines received an 88pts. in Wine Spectator.  This was very exciting because the vines where only 3 years old!  Other than that, there was a large spring fed lake and most of the property was overgrown with poison oak and black berry bushes.  All of the extensive gardens, landscaping, buildings, infrastructure, and design were created by the Family from scratch.  Since then we have also planted another 115 acres of vineyards including 11 different types of Pinot Noir as well as some of the most extensive white wine grape plantings in Oregon.

According to the information on your web site, there are 8 distinct microclimates across your vineyards. Do your wines today already showcase the different microclimates or do you plan to expand on that in the future?
Yes, we constantly strive to showcase our different micro climates and to bottle distinct unique wines.  Probably the best example of this is in the Vineyard Designate Pinot Noirs…(Right Bank Pommard, Truffle Hill Wadenswil, and Latitude 45 Dijon Bottlings).  These Pinot Noirs are planted in locations best suited for their type of micro climate.  Each Vineyard Designate Pinot is hand made in small, open top, French Oak Wine Vats.  Each wine is made using different yeast and different dedicated barrel coopers selected to exemplify the Clone and Micro climate of each wine.  For example, the Truffle Hill is a Swiss type of Pinot Noir, grown on one of our cooler sites (sort of like Switzerland) We use only Swiss Yeast in making the wine to showcase the tradition of the clonal selection and create distinct style and flavor.  The Truffle Hill is aged using specific barrel cooperage which does not dominate the complex nuances of the Wadenswil Selection Pinot Noir.  In the future, we would like to expand our showcasing of different soil types from the property comparing Sedimentary Soils to Our Volcanic Soils.

You grow Pinot Meunier, Syrah and Viognier – how do you use those grapes?
Pinot Meunier is used as a base in our Sparkling wines and is also made into a Field of Dreams Pinot Meunier still red wine.  This year the Meunier was crafted into a sparkling Brut Rose and a couple hundred cases of still red wine.  Meunier of course means “miller” in French like flour miller…because the vines are covered with white fuzz that makes them look like they were dusted with flour.  Meunier is a mutation of Pinot Noir and loks like a “wild” Pinot Noir vine.  The Meunier still wine sort of tastes like a wild pinot noir with it’s firm structure tannins and distinct brambly and pomegranate flavors.
Syrah and Viognier are also made into Field of Dreams Varietal wines for Wine Club and Tasting Room.  The warm 2014 and 2015 vintages are good vintages for perfectly ripe Rhone Varietals in our climate.  These vintages also make good quantity of these varietals for potential availability in the National Market.  For 2015 Look for Left Coasts’ own Left Cote du Rotie…this is a Syrah co-fermented with up to 25% of Viognier.  The Viognier has an enzyme in the skins which creates more extraction of color and flavor in the Syrah fermentation.  Very Cool!  Northern Rhone style wines which pair beautiful with food.  We are a Pinot House, but the 45th parallel where we sit aligns exactly with Northern Rhone…this is why we grow small amounts of these varieties on the Estate.  Another small celebration of Terroir, Microclimate, and Unique sense of place.
[TaV comment: this was a really a “duh” moment for me – and a clear showcase of deficiency of the virtual conversation – I forgot that many wines can be made in such a small quantities that they will be available at  the winery only and never show on the web site, duh…]

to continue previous question – do you have any plans for single varietal Syrah wine?
Our first varietal vintage of Syrah was 2008…we recently opened a bottle to taste and the wine is incredible… still very youthful!
[TaV comment: “duh” moment didn’t stop with the previous question, right?]

It seems that Chardonnay is a rising star in Oregon – I see that you now offer Chardonnay wines for the past few vintages. What do you think of Oregon Chardonnays? What makes them unique? What is your chardonnay style?
Yes, we have committed some of our best land to growing Chardonnay.  We have some of the largest modern plantings of Chardonnay in Oregon.  The reason being, most people were ripping out Chardonnay when we were developing the vineyards, while we were planting it.  We see Chardonnay as going hand in hand with Pinot Noir.  Our 2005 Chardonnay was selected by the Oregon Wine Industry in 2010 as a “World Class Ageable White Wine” by our peers at the Oregon Wine Symposium.
We think this shows the potential of Chardonnay in Oregon and the potential of the Left Coast Estate.  We strive to create a balanced Chardonnay with equal parts acidity, minerality, fruit, and oak.  We believe we hand craft a Chardonnay which is very Oregonian in style meaning a wine which is clean, not oak dominated, will please non-chardonnay drinkers, and of course pairs well with Northwest Cuisine.  For lack of description we try to craft Oregon Chardonnay as somewhere halfway between California and Burgundy.  We love Oregon Chardonnay!!! and often ferment ours half in Stainless Steel Vats and Half in French Oak barrels.  We believe the stainless portion of the fermentation preserves the fruit and acidty and the French Oak fermented portion provides subtle oak flavors with round mouth feel and volume.  These wines are blended, married, and bottled together as one.  We also have an extremely distinct Musque Clone Chardonnay that is concrete fermented and bottled for Wine Club.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely need a glass at this point, so here are two of the Left Coast Cellars wines I had an opportunity to try (as samples, courtesy of Donna White PR):Left Coast Cellars Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir

2014 Left Coast Cellars The Orchards Pinot Gris Willamette Valley, Oregon (14.2% ABV, $18)
C: straw golden
N: fresh flowers, fresh white fruit, candy, bright, exciting
P: nicely restrained of the palate, quite a contrast with the nose. Lemon zest, touch of grass, medium body with nice mid-palate weight, wine is nicely present, tart finish
V: 8-, should develop interestingly with time

2013 Left Coast Cellars Cali’s Cuvée Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon (13.5% ABV, $24)
C: garnet
N: typical Pinot Noir, sweet plum, violet, touch of licorice and vanilla
P: delicious. Sweet cherries, touch of eucalyptus, medium body, firm, touch of smoke, good acidity, good balance, very (very) long mouthwatering finish
V: 8, dangerous wine – once you start, it is very difficult to stop

That’s all I have for you for today. To be continued…

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