Archive

Posts Tagged ‘oregon pinot noir’

One on One With Winemaker: Ken Wright of Ken Wright Cellars

September 8, 2016 15 comments
Ken and Karen Wright

Source: Ken Wright Cellars

Grape grower. Pioneer. Visionary. Winemaker. Mentor. Teacher. Philanthropist.

It makes perfect sense to start our “Stories of Passion and Pinot” series by conversing with Ken Wright. After starting making wines in Willamette Valley in Oregon in 1986, Ken came to the realization of a tremendous diversity of soils and microclimate conditions in the region. Ken was instrumental in establishing 6 AVAs in the region; he also focused his winemaking on showcasing terroir through single-vineyard bottlings. The rest is the history which you can read on Ken Wright Cellars web site and various publications, such as Wine Spectator May 2015 issue.

I have limited exposure to Ken’s wines – the production is small, and there are lots of people who love to drink his wines. But even my limited encounters resulted in long-lasting impressions – and not only the wines but also the labels which you need to see only once to remember forever. Thus when I had an opportunity to ask Ken a few questions, albeit virtually, I was very happy to do so – and the outcome of our conversation you can see below. This might be a tad long, so arm yourself with a nice tall glass of Pinot  – and enjoy!

savoya-vineyard

Source: Ken Wright Cellars

  1. When it comes to the winemaking, is there someone who you would name as your mentor or a teacher?

KW: My first position was in California and included working with Dick Graff of Chalone on their Gavilan brand.  Dick started a research group, in 1979 I believe, that met once a month at Mount Eden Vineyards.  The group included many of the best wineries in the state including Mt. Eden, Kistler, Calera, Sanford, Acacia, Forman, Chalone and the Paragon group among others.  The opportunity, as a novice winemaker, to be part of that group of successful producers allowed me to be part of cutting edge winemaking discussions.  Ears were perked, respectfully my mouth was generally closed.  I was a sponge.

  1. As a pioneer and a long standing and successful winemaker, I’m sure many young winemakers look up to you and want to learn from you. Are there any winemakers who you would call your students?

KW: Once I moved to Oregon, in 1986, to pursue the production of Pinot noir I had a learning curve to understand the new area that I was in.  During those early years I fell in love with the ability of Pinot noir to connect myself and our buyers with the qualities of individual sites.  After blending sites for several years I began in 1990 to produce site specific wines that connected us to place.

In the mid 90’s I was part of a group we created, quite similar to the California research group, that focused on research both in the vineyard and winery.  My partners were Bethel Heights, Cristom, Solena and Penner-Ash.  Beaux Freres joined at a later date.  Our experiments provided a volume of information that I believe changed the way in which we all grew grapes and made wine.  That information was openly shared with anyone who cared to ask.  Many viticulturists and winemakers are now approaching their craft with the lessons we learned whether or not they are aware of where this information came from.  I would not want to take any personal credit for the success of those that have benefited from this work or from my many direct relationships.  Information comes from so many sources.  If I have benefited someone along the way that would be great but I would only be one of many.

  1. You personally helped to define 6 AVAs in Oregon. Do you think there are still areas in Oregon which would benefit from their own designated AVAs?

KW: It is a natural evolution for regions to define themselves.  All areas must first identify which wine varieties have inherent superiority.  It’s a process.  What is clear at this time is that the Willamette Valley, particularly the area of the six new AVA’s, is world class.  We are producing Pinot noir that is riveting.  While there are regions that can say they are older there is no area on the planet that can say they are better, period.  I suspect there will be new AVA’s within the six new identified AVA’s that will further define each region in more detail.

  1. In the description of the Freedom Hill vineyard, there is a mention of Phylloxera. How did it come around? How difficult was it to contain it and deal with it? Is that the only one of your vineyards which was affected?

KW: Phylloxera reared its ugly head in 1990 at Fuqua Vineyard in the Dundee Hills.  With the first inexpensive own rooted plantings of Eyrie in 1966, the industry coasted until this time with the hope the blight would never come.  But it did.  It is impossible to know what the source of the “infection” may have been.  This was an older vineyard so unless they were purchasing replacement vines on a regular basis from a nursery that had an issue it would be hard to assign blame on the source of vine material.  Not impossible though.

Phylloxera became real in the mid 90’s.  Freedom Hill began to fail.  Guadalupe began to fail.  Shea began to fail.  There were a number of others.  Vineyard owners, hoping to forestall the infection, did whatever they could to protect their sites.  At the time the concern was that the insect was being transferred on soil.  We had chlorine foot baths.  Incredible cleaning of vineyard equipment.  It did not help.  It is only my opinion but I believe most of the “infection” was directly from the replacement vines from nurseries that had the bug in their soil material that came with new or replacement vines.

  1. Can you make parallels between any of your vineyards and Burgundy vineyards, in terms of wines which they are capable of producing?

KW: Burgundy could only hope to make wine that consistently produces the quality of wine that we produce.  They are in our rear view mirror.  It’s sad that people automatically assume age of region is related to quality.  Do truly blind tastings and you will not be able to assign label prestige to the result.

  1. Same question regarding your wines – would you compare any of your wines with any of the wines from Burgundy, and if yes, which with which?

KW: If there is any comparison I would say that Oregon Pinot noir has a perfect fresh fruit profile. Burgundy tends to be more acidic, angular in youth and less forward.

  1. It seems that you only produce Pinot Noir from all of the vineyards you are working with, and the only white wine you are producing comes from Washington. Is there a reason why? Have you ever thought of planting white grapes in Oregon?

KW: As a business, anything we produce that is not Pinot noir is harder to sell and less profitable.  The entire world recognizes the quality of Pinot noir from our region but no other variety resonates.  We have a half acre of the Chardonnay Dijon 548 clone at Savoya.  It is delicious but only sold to our mailing list. We will not plant more Chardonnay in my lifetime.

  1. I find your wine labels fascinating. How do you come up with the designs? Are you making those yourself or you are working with an artist? Do you change any of the labels from vintage to a vintage?

KW: The artist that created our labels is David Berkvam, a Portland native.  He is a dessert chef at a local Italian restaurant named Geno’s.  The original artworks are 100% beeswax carvings.  Incredible depth that we attempt to relay on paper.  Our relationship with David began with seeing his work at a gallery in 1999 in Portland.

Our original label for Ken Wright Cellars was a clean, straightforward text only label.  It was not memorable or noticeable.  My wife Karen and I decided to make a significant change to the look of our label.  We asked David to produce a label that showed the efforts of the Mexican laborers in our vineyards during the difficult time of winter pruning.  There was no other labor that would do this work.  Yet the Mexican women and men who did this work did so with graciousness and humor.  That was our first label with David.  Now each vineyard has its own artwork from him and each is quite personal for us.

  1. What is your approach to the oak aging? For how long do you typically age your wines? What type of oak do you use most often?

KW: Unfortunately, we have to use French oak for our wines.  Would prefer to buy from the US but our native oak species are very resinous which does not rhyme with Pinot noir.   Pinot noir spends 11 months in oak before bottling.

  1. Based on the information on the web site, your general philosophy around winemaking is “minimal intervention”. Did you ever consider going into organic or even biodynamic wine production?

KW: Winemaking has nothing to do with your farming approach.  Yes, the winemaking at the highest level is minimal intervention, assuming a very high level of professional babysitting.  All inherent quality comes from the vineyard.  Any winemaker at the highest level knows they are subservient to the quality of what they receive.

  1. You’ve been making wine in Oregon for the very long time. Did you have any scary (okay, most difficult) moments you can share with us?

KW: The beauty of our area is that we do in fact have “vintages”.  No robotic wines.  The year is reflected in the wine.  A great example of a “scary” vintage was 1991.  A cool year that produced wine that was at first reticent.  With age this vintage proved to be perhaps the best of the decade for most producers. 

  1. Among all the wines you made in Oregon since the beginning, can you share a few of your most favorite vintages and particular wines?

KW: 1990 was the best vintage I have seen in Oregon.  An unusual year in that it was amazing for so many regions in the world, Germany, Italy, Champagne, Burgundy and more.

  1. Do you export your wines outside of the US? If yes, what are your top export destinations?

KW: We export to all provinces of Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, South Korea and of course Luxembourg.

  1. Today, Oregon wines are well known and well recognized by the wine lovers. What is ahead for the Oregon wines? What are the latest trends and new directions for the Oregon wines?

KW: We will always hang our hat on Pinot noir because we truly have a world treasure with this variety.  As world markets emerge we will find a place at the table in each of these markets.

  1. You have a very extensive list of charities you support. How do you go about deciding which charities you are going to support?

KW: Karen and I normally choose to support local charities that keep our immediate area healthy.  We have hosted Flavors of Carlton for 15 years which is by far the most impactful event that keeps the pre school, after school, summer work experiences, 12 sports programs and more financially sound.  We are founding sponsors of Salud, started in 1992, which is a combined effort of Wineries, hospitals, clinics and Medical Teams International that has provided health care for vineyard workers. Karen and I were the initial 50K endowers of the local Community College program for their vineyard curriculum.

We partnered with the local FFA Alumnae, High School FFA teacher, YC Board, the curriculum writers from the local college and members of our AVA board to create a path for our local young people to get real world experience in growing grapes.  We created a 1.5 acre vineyard on the high school property so they would have real world experience, not book knowledge.

Source: Ken Wright Cellars

Source: Ken Wright Cellars

We are done – and I hope you are still here, as there was a lot to read (and I thank you for that). Hope you found this interesting, and now have an increased desire to drink Ken Wright Cellars Pinot Noir (good luck with that unless you already have one in your cellar). I also believe that this was an excellent opening into our Stories of Passion and Pinot – you can clearly feel passion and pride in every word of Ken’s answers…

We will continue our series next week, so for now – cheers!

To be continued…

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

Stories of Passion and Pinot

September 1, 2016 27 comments

It is easy to declare this grape a king. It is a lot more difficult to have people agree to and support such a designation. And here I am, proclaiming Pinot Noir worthy of the kingship, despite the fact that this title is typically associated with Barolo (made from Nebbiolo grape) or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Barolo might be a king, why not – but its production is confined strictly to Italy, and can be considered minuscule in terms of volume. Cabernet Sauvignon is commanding attention everywhere – but I would argue that it is more because of the ease of appeal to the consumer and thus an opportunity to attach more dollar signs to the respective sticker. Don’t get me wrong – I love good Cabernet Sauvignon as much or more than anyone else, but having gone through so many lifeless editions, I developed a healthy dose of skepticism in relation to this noble grape.

Pinot Noir Vidon Vineyards

Pinot Noir grapes. Source: Vidon Vineyard

Talking about Pinot Noir, I’m not afraid to again proclaim it a king. If anything, it is a king of passion. Hard to grow – finicky grape, subject to Mother Nature tantrums, prone to cloning, susceptible to grape diseases – and nevertheless passionately embraced by winemakers around the world refusing to grow anything else but this one single grape – year in, year out.

Historically, Pinot Noir was associated with Burgundy – where the love of the capricious grape originated, and where all the old glory started. Slowly but surely, Pinot Noir spread out in the world, reaching the USA, New Zealand, Australia, Chile and Argentina – and even Germany, Italy, Spain, Canada and South Africa are included in this list. Looking at the USA, while the grape started in California, it then made it into Oregon, and now started showing along the East Coast, particularly in Hudson Valley.

I don’t know what makes winemakers so passionate about Pinot Noir. For one, it might be grape’s affinity to terroir. Soil almost always shines through in Pinot Noir – it is no wonder that Burgundians treasure their soil like gold, not letting a single rock escape its place. While soil is a foundation of the Pinot Noir wines, the weather would actually define the vintage – Pinot Noir is not a grape easily amended in the winery. But when everything works, the pleasures of a good glass of Pinot might be simply unmatched.

However important, terroir alone can’t be “it”. Maybe some people are simply born to be Pinot Noir winemakers? Or maybe this finicky grape has some special magical powers? Same as you, I can’t answer this. But – maybe we shouldn’t guess and simply ask the winemakers?

Willamette Valley in Oregon is truly a special place when it comes to the Pinot Noir. Similar to the Burgundy, Pinot Noir is “it” – the main grape Oregon is known for. It is all in the terroir; the soil is equally precious, and the weather would make the vintage or break it. And passion runs very strong – many people who make Pinot Noir in Oregon are absolutely certain that Oregon is the only place, and Pinot Noir is the only grape. I’m telling you, it is one wicked grape we are talking about.

Youngberg Hill Vineyards Aerial Photo

Aerial view of Oregon vineyards. Source: Youngberg Hill Vineyards

I see your raised eyebrow and mouse pointer heading towards that little “x”, as you are tired of all the Pinot Noir mysticism I’m trying to entangle you in. But let me ask for a few more minutes of your time – and not even today, but over the next few weeks.

You see, I was lucky enough to have a conversation (albeit virtual) with few people who combined Pinot and Passion in Oregon, and can’t see it any other way. What you will hear might surprise you, or maybe it will excite you enough to crave a glass of Oregon Pinot Noir right this second, so before you hear from a pioneer, a farmer, a NASA scientist and a few other passionate folks, do yourself a favor – make sure you have that Pinot bottle ready. Here are the people you will hear from:

I would like to extend a special note of gratitude to Carl Giavanti of Carl Giavanti Consulting, wine marketing and PR firm, who was very instrumental in making all these interviews possible.

As I publish the posts, I will link them forward (one of the pleasures and advantages of blogging), so at the end of the day, this will be a complete series of stories. And with this – raise a glass of Pinot Noir – and may the Passion be with you. Cheers!

P.S. Here are the links to the web sites for the wineries profiled in this article:

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

 

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!

 

Daily Glass: France, New Jersey, Oregon

April 25, 2015 18 comments

Old York Cellars WinesGlass of wine (or two, but who’s counting) is a standard daily routine at our house (most of the time anyway). Hence these “Daily Glass” posts, where I talk about those “everyday” wines. What I’m trying to stress here that it is really an “everyday” wine phenomenon, as opposed to the wine dinners, birthday, holidays and other special occasions.

In today’s post I want to talk about my recent “everyday” wine experiences, which included wines from France, New Jersey and Oregon. I’m sorry, what are you saying? You never heard of the New Jersey wines? Really? Okay, fine, you got me. New Jersey wines are not my everyday wines either. But the wines are made in New Jersey, and some of them are pretty good wines, I have to admit.

Anyway, let’s talk about those recent “everyday” wines – shall we?

Domaine Rolet Chardonnay Arbois AOC JuraLet’s start with the two wines from France. First, 2005 Domaine Rolet Chardonnay Arbois AOC, Jura (13.5% ABV, $20?) – yes, a pretty rare bird – the wine from Jura. I got two bottles few years ago at  the store in Massachusetts.  This was my second bottle, and while I’m sure the wine would still can go on and on, I thought that 10 years should be good enough to open it. After initial whiff of oxidation on the nose (quite typical for Jura), the wine opened into delicious, balanced Chardonnay. White fruit on the nose, touch of vanilla. Clean acidity, Chablis-like minerality, touch of lemon and Granny Smith apples, perfectly fresh and balanced. Drinkability: 8-

Chateau Lilian Ladouys Saint-EstépheNext wine was really an unexpected treat. I have to admit – I rarely drink Bordeaux. Inexpensive Bordeaux often under-delivers. And I really don’t want to experiment with $50 wines; $120+ wines are out of my league for the everyday consumption. But with this particular wine, the story was much simpler – “try before buy” is the best thing since the sliced bread, people! Stopped by my local favorite wine store, Cost Less Wines, for the traditional Saturday tasting. Lester, who usually runs the tastings, poured the wine from the decanter and warned me – “you might not like it”. 1994 Chateau Lilian Ladouys Saint-Estéphe (12.5% ABV, $15) – this is just a tasting, how bad can it be? First smell – amazing, mature wine with complex, fragrant bouquet. First sip – wow, dried fruit, hazelnut, spices, distant hint of cinnamon, fresh acidity – a perfect package. Turns out that the first bottle opened for the tasting was somewhat off, this is what prompted Lester’s warning. This wine was decanted for 2 hours, and it was perfect – I don’t know how much life it still has, but considering the way it was drinking, it definitely has a few more years to enjoy it. Drinkability: 9

And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for – New Jersey wines. Let me ask you something – what would be your expectations of the New Jersey wines? Yes, New Jersey is better known for its humongous malls, Jersey Shore or evenly spaced, monotonically numbered highway exits. Wines? Not something people would readily associate with the Garden State. I also had sad prior experience with one of the New Jersey wines, which I simply deemed “undrinkable”, so when I was asked if I want to participate in the virtual tasting of New Jersey wines, my first inclination was “thank you, but no”. After a second (or a fifth) thought, there was “well, may be?” moment, so I said – sure, will be glad to.

You would understand my skepticism even better if I will tell you that the wines offered for the tasting were not anything less than the classic varietals – Chardonnay and Merlot. I’m very particular with the flavor profile of both, as from my experience, it is very easy to screw up the respective wines. Okay, so the winery in point – Old York Cellars. Vineyards at Old York Cellars were planted in 1979, and the winery was first to produce commercial wines in New Jersey in 1981. Today winery produces about 6,200 cases from the 18 different grape varieties with Vidal Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Marechal Foch been most popular among the customers. We learned these and many other interesting facts during the #VirtualVines twitter session with winemaker Scott Gares, who had been making wines for more than 20 years – “it’s the family business” he twitted.

Old York Cellars ChardonnayNow, let’s talk about the wines. First, 2012 Old York Cellars Chardonnay (under 12% ABV, $18). When I just pulled the cork and poured wine into the glass, the first sip was simply not good. There was lots of salinity and soap, so my first thought was “here we go again” (referring to my prior experience with NJ wine). Oh well, let’s see what will happen. 30 minutes later, it was totally different wine. Touch of vanilla showed up on the nose. On the palate, the wine opened up into a clean, classic Chardonnay, plump, medium to full body, vanilla, apples and touch of butter on the palate, excellent balance. Don’t know why the wine started like it did, but the transformation was very impressive. I was upset when the bottle was finished, would love to have another sip. Drinkability: 8

Old York Cellars MerlotNext wine was 2013 Old York Cellars Merlot (15.5% ABV, $18). From get go, this was one tasty wine. Dark fruit on the nose (without characteristic cassis though). On the palate, very interesting smoke and spice, with undertones of mudrooms and forest floor, and well present sapidity. A thought provoking red wine. Full bodied and concentrated, with excellent balance. What was also very interesting is that at 15.5% ABV, the alcohol was extremely well integrated – it was not showing on the nose or on the palate. Drinkability: 8-

So here are two wines which greatly exceeded my expectations – you know, it is the sip of the wine which becomes an ultimate truth. Perception holds a lot of power in the world of wine – but more on this later in the separate post. For now I can only recommend that if you will have an opportunity, try the Old York Cellar wines – at least I plan to continue doing that.

Brick House Pinot Noir OregonThe last wine for today – 2011 Brick House Vineyards ‘Cuvée du Tonnelier’ Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge, Oregon (13% ABV, $45). Lately, I come across many wines made with biodynamic grapes – most of them are really good wines, but I’m still trying to form an opinion if those are just lucky accidents or a trend. Also, label specifically says that the wine is made with Biodynamic® grapes – Biodynamic with upper case and registered trademark symbol next to it – is “Biodynamic” like “Champagne” now? Anyway, the wine was delicious – a classic Pinot Noir nose with smoke and mushrooms, bright fresh fruit on the palate, very clean, round, perfectly balanced – a new world wine, yes, but perfect finesse and elegance. Biodynamic or what, but it was one tasty wine.  Drinkability: 8

And we are done here. Have you had any of these wines? Have you ever had wines from New Jersey? What do you think of Biodynamic wines? If you are willing to talk, I’m ready 🙂 Cheers!

Note: Old York Cellars wines where supplied as a media sample. All opinions are my own.

Daily Glass: First, There Was A Smell

February 9, 2015 9 comments

Drinking wine is a sensual experience. Okay, I can’t speak here for all the people who drink wine at one time or the other – but I’m sure that this selectively crazy passionate group, oenophiles, would wholeheartedly agree. Once the wine goes into the glass, of course the color matters first – but color is mostly a technical characteristic. The color can tell you what to expect – for instance, if a Chardonnay has rich golden, yellow color in the glass, you should prepare for the worst (the wine which will be well past prime). Or if a red wine looks almost black in the glass, get ready for the tannins encounter. Still, the most pleasure you can get from the color alone is to get excited  – “look at this beautiful color!” type excited.

Your hedonistic pleasure starts with the smell. Technically, it starts and ends with the smell, as our taste buds don’t go beyond 4 (or 5) basic tastes, and even when you take a sip of the wine, it is still the sense of smell which leads you to the strawberries in that sip – but let’s not get technical here, we are talking about the pleasure. Yes, you start with the smell – it is the smell which takes you away and makes you go “wow”. It is the smell which grabs your attention and captivates you, and forces you to smell that wine again, and again and again. It is the smell which builds up the excitement and expectations of the first sip.

The first sip afterwards is a moment of truth – if you are lucky, the taste will match the smell and will take you to the oenophile’s heaven, at least for a moment. It doesn’t always work like that – more often than not, the excitement built by impeccable aromatics instantly dissipates after the first sip. But when you are in luck, this is how the wine memories are created.

What prompted this post was my undoubtedly lucky experience few days ago with two wines in the row, delivering that incredible combination of aromatics and taste. Sorry, I’m getting overly excited here, but the smell of the 2013 Hanna Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley ($15) was, in a word, spectacular. In the New World renditions, Sauvignon Blanc is very aromatic more often than not – but it would be typically aromatics of grapefruit and lemon, Here, from the get go, the glass was exuding with the aromas of the fresh cut grass and cat pee. Yes, I know that many people jump when the cat pee descriptor is used, but anyone who had owned a cat would perfectly understand what I’m talking about. And yes, cat pee is a known classic profile of Sancerre, the most classic Sauvignon Blanc of all. So this wine had it all, clean, bright and present on the nose – and the palate was beautiful, medium to full body, with fresh cut grass and touch of lemon peel. Definitely an outstanding example of California Sauvignon Blanc, now squarely engraved in my memory, right next to the Honig and Mara White Grass, which are always California Sauvignon Blanc staples for me. Drinkability: 8+

And then there was 2011 Antica Terra Ceras Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($75). I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about the winery – you can should read interesting stories on Antica Terra web site on your own. But this wine… Talking about attractive color, the wine was ruby with the light pinkish hue in the glass. And then the first smell… It was surreal. Here is where I fail as a wine writer, as I can’t give you the right set of words to describe the impressions from this wine. The smell had everything in it – the cranberries, forest floor, herbs and mushrooms – light, delicate and seductive, saying “and now, let’s take a sip…”. The palate was a natural, precisely fitted extension of the smell – all the same component, now packaged together. More cranberries, shallots and truffles, sage and lavender, minerality and whiff of the forest floor, effortlessly rolling off your tongue, delicate and present, with perfectly noticeable, silky texture and needless to say, perfect balance. This was for sure one of the most sensual wines I ever had. And yes, if you want to take this tasting note as an example “look at another moronic wine review” – I will still stand behind it, as this wine delivered lots and lots of pleasure. Drinkability: 9/9+

There you have it, my friends – two wines which will be etched in the memory for the very, very long time. I wish you all to have lots of sensual wine experiences and memorable wines. Cheers!

J Wrigley #WineChat – Continuing Oregon Pinot Noir Deep Immersion

May 1, 2014 3 comments

DSC_0694Last Wednesday, April 23, the virtual tasting room opened its #winechat doors to discuss for the third time in the row the endless subject of Oregon Pinot Noir. Presiding over in the hot seat was John Wrigley, the grape grower and winemaker at the J Wrigley Estate in McMinnville AVA in Oregon.

Let me start from the conclusion and tell you what I learned. The terroir, the soil, the elevation, and the winemaker are all matter. Duh, you wanna say? Well, yes, this sounds very pedestrian for the oenophile, like teaching an alphabet to the fifth-grader. However, when you drink the wine made with the soul, when you drink a thought-provoking wine, and when you also get a chance to discuss that thought-provoking wine with the someone who actually made it, and the group of like-minded people, the concept of soil and terroir stops being abstract, and rather becomes something you can…put in your mouth and taste!

We learned a lot during this #winechat. Once again we heard about the peavine soils, which make vines work really hard. We also heard about volcanic rocks and marine sediment soils. You can learn about the soils too – here is the link to the very interesting article about J Wrigley wines, which also includes the video of John Wrigley talking … dirt (not as a matter of speech, but as a substance).

We learned about something called Van Duzer effect. Ever heard of it? A narrow stretch of open land, called Van Duzer corridor, connects Willamette valley to the ocean. Every evening, the cold ocean air runs through that open space to cool off everything in the valley, especially all the grapes growing on elevations. The temperature drop can be in the range of 20°-30°, making grapes to ripen slowly, to retain acidity and concentrate sugars, which in turn means … better wines for us! Here is an article where you can read about Van Duzer effect in far more details.

We also learned about very interesting experiment, called the Cube Project. 3 wineries, 3 winemakers, 9 wines. 3 wineries – Anne Amie from Oregon, Bouchaine from Carneros and Lincourt from Sta. Rita Hills, each took their best Pinot Noir plots, capable of producing at least 6 tons of grapes each, and divided it into 3 equal parcels. Each winemaker had an opportunity to make wines from all three parcels, thus producing 9 different wines. When the wines were tasted by the group of professionals, it was concluded that winemaker style prevails over the terroir – the wines from different plots made by the  same winemakers tasted closer than the wines made within the same parcels. I would really love to try all those wines by myself, or at least learn more about how the tasting was conducted – were the wines tasted blind, how many people tasted the wines and the number of other factors would all matter to me. But – as I can’t report first hand, here is a link to the article which explains the experiment in lots of details.

JWrigley Setup

J Wrigley Pinot Noir and tools of the trade

Yes, we learned a lot, but how was the wine, you are probably wondering? This time around, I didn’t play with the temperature, I only measured it once – it was at 22.3°C/72°F. I played a bit with rapid decanting using VersoVino. This 2012 J Wrigley Estate Pinot Noir Proposal Block McMinnville AVA (14% ABV, aged 10 Month in French oak, 250 cases produced. $45 SRP) was very supportive of our conversation. Oh, by the way, can you guess where the name “Proposal Block” comes from? There is a good chance that you guessed it – this was the very first Pinot Noir planted vineyard at the estate, where John Wrigley proposed to his wife (wine and romantics – unbeatable!).

Now, here are some notes regarding the wine:

Color: Garnet

Nose: Fresh, ripe raspberries, floral notes, chocolate, mocha. Smokiness showed up later on.

Palate: Soft, round, good acidity. nice earhiness, dark fruit, very balanced. After a while, smokiness showed up in the back, and the the roasted notes.

Verdict: powerful and balanced Pinot Noir. Will drink well by itself, and can be well paired with food. For the full enjoyment, about one hour decanting is recommended. Will also age well for the next 10-12 years (or may be more, my crystal ball is broken, so I can’t be more precise). Drinkability: 8-

That conclude my report about J Wrigley #winechat and it also concludes the overall Oregon Pinot Noir series – definitely was learning, fun and entertaining experience for me. Don’t be shy – you should really try the #winechat for yourself (every Wednesday, at 9 PM Eastern/6PM Pacific) . Until then – cheers!

 

 

When The Vines Work Hard – #WineChat with Lenné Estate

April 14, 2014 6 comments

Lenné_Estate_Pinot Noir“You’ve got to work hard, you’ve got to work hard, if you want anything at all” – one of my favorite lines from the song by Depeche Mode, a popular electronic music band from the 80s. Yes, the notion of ‘working hard” is half banal, half extreme, and half misunderstood (I’m sure you are admiring my math skills here with three halves, aren’t you). People often (mostly?) achieve the best results when faced with adversity, when they need to overcome something, work against difficult circumstances, work hard. Give people everything they want – and they stop growing. Vines are like people. When water and sun are plentiful, the vines can produce a lot of grapes – but those individual grapes can be pretty dull. When the vines need to fight for survival, those much fewer grapes the vines will bear, will have the flavor and finesse almost unachievable in the “nice and easy” setting.

When Steve Lutz, the proprietor and winemaker at Lenné Estate in Yamhill-Carlton district in Willamette Valley in Oregon, planted the Pinot Noir vines for the first time back in 2001, 35% of those vines died. Ever heard of Peavine soils? In today’s age of internet, you can easily learn anything you want – so if you want the exact definition of Peavine, you can find it here. But, in the simple terms, Peavine is a mixture of clay and rocks – yeah, not your ideal agricultural setting. So the vines had to work hard to survive, go deep into the soil to find water and nutrients. The payback for all the hard work? A great fruit, the grapes which render themselves to the complex and intriguing wines.

Last Wednesday, April 9th, I participated in my second #winechat – a guided virtual tasting which takes place most of the Wednesdays at 6 PM Pacific/9 PM Eastern, in the Twittersphere next to you. The theme of the wine chat was, as I’m sure you guessed already, the wines of Leniné Estate. Steve Lutz was participating in the #winechat, explaining about Peavine soils, talking about his Pinot Noir wine and answering numerous questions (#winechat conversations get generally quite active, with #winechat being among top trending topics on Twitter).

In addition to been able to talk to the passionate people with vast knowledge of the subject, what I personally like about the #winechat is that I get to spend dedicated time in my grape geek setting, my grape laboratory. I get to play with the wine and take detailed notes. Coming to the Lenné Pinot Noir tasting, I read in the technical notes that the wine is expected to age well for the next 8-12 years. To me, the immediate thought was – let’s decant!

DSC_0375I decanted a small amount of wine about 2 hours before the tasting and put cork stopper into the bottle.

2 hours later, we started the #winechat – 2010 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton AVA, Oregon (14% ABV, $45). I started with the wine in the bottle, which was at 21°C/70°F.

Color: Dark Ruby

Nose: Smoke, raspberries, touch of mint, nice, open

Palate: Beautiful sweet fruit in the back, touch of dark chocolate.

Next, I made a big mistake. I decided that I need to chill my Pinot Noir slightly, so I put the wine chiller on. Of course I got carried away with the chat twitter stream, so when I said “oh, crap” and removed the chiller, after about 5 minutes on the bottle, it was already too late. At 12°C/53.6°F, the nose became completely muted, and wine became mostly sweet with some acidity, but the complexity was gone. For the rest of the chat, I kept waiting for the wine to come back to me – chilling is easy, but you can’t play any tricks with warming the wine up, you just have to let air to do its [slow] magic. At 16.2°C/61.1°F , the classic nose came back, together with the palate of cherries and ripe strawberries. Meanwhile, the decanted wine also played in somewhat of a strange way – the wine was showing smooth and elegant – but every sip was leaving me wanting more acidity.

The #winechat was over, so I pumped the air out with VacuVin (my standard routine) , and put the bottle aside, to be continued the next day. And the next day – without decanting or any temperature games – the wine was shining! Beautiful nose of cranberries and cherries, with touch of smoke and barnyard – call it funkiness or earthiness, I call it barnyard – just a touch. Beautiful palate with acidity, strawberries and cranberries in the front, then soft, but very present tannins started to gently grip the front of the mouth, and mocha and sweet cherries showed in the back, with pleasant minerality. The finish was lasting almost a minute. Overall this was the perfect example of balance and finesse which may be only Pinot Noir is capable of.

Verdict: this was beautiful wine, which can be enjoyed now (just don’t do anything stupid with the temperature), but will deliver even more pleasure with time. Drinkability: 8+

That’s all I have for you for today. Now you know – Wine Wednesday is always better with #winechat – join the conversation! Cheers!

 

 

Daily Glass: Value Wines Project – Portugal, Italy and Oregon

March 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Here is another Value Wines project update. We had French, Portuguese and Italian wines covered in the project. Today’s update is bringing in a new region – Oregon.

So far I would say that the outcome of the project is very encouraging – a lot of good, very drinkable wines from all regions mentioned above, all priced very well. The wine from Oregon, 2009 Primarius Pinot Noir, however, I would have to call the biggest surprise of the project. Why so? It is not surprising that we can find good and inexpensive wines coming from Portugal, for instance – wine region is grossly ignored and underrated ( this is changing, though), so the winemakers have to price their wines accordingly. Oregon wines, on another side, are well known worldwide as a source of the Pinot Noirs, rivaling those of Burgundy – and so far my experience with any Oregon Pinot Noir under $15 had been largely negative (wimpy and diluted wines).

All in all, Primarius Pinot Noir ($11.99) was very good wine – smokiness and finesse of the classic Pinot Noir, layered and restrained fruit and very good balance – I think this is a great wine for the price (and even in general). I will put Drinkability at 7+.

Next wine comes from Italy – 2009 Tedeschi Valpolicella Classico ($10.98), and it has both good and bad sides. For the bad side – the wine never came together in a glass. It tasted as all the taste elements – fruitiness, acidity, tannins and alcohol were pulling in the different directions. The wine is drinkable, but not really enjoyable – by itself. I would guess this is a food wine – paired together with some homemade marinara sauce over fresh pasta, it should taste ( and fare) quite differently. For now, I will put Drinkability at 6+. For the good side, I’m adding 3 new grapes with this wine – Rossignola, Negrara and Dindarella, so the total count increases to 312.

Three more wines from Portugal – 2009 Caves Vale do Rodo, Douro DOC ($6.98), 2003 Primavera Douro DOC Reserva ($6.98) and 2007 Monte Da Cal Vinho Regional Alentejano ($6.47). All three are very nice and simple wines, easy to drink and pleasant – and great value for the money. I will put Drinkability at 7 for all three.

This concludes Value Wines project update for today. Few more wines are left to try in the current batch – as usual, the report will be coming soon.

%d bloggers like this: