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Passion and Pinot Updates: Utopia Vineyard

January 3, 2022 1 comment

And then we arrived in Utopia.

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

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

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

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



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

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

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






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

Time to talk about wines – here are my notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passion and Pinot Updates: Lenné Estate

December 30, 2021 5 comments

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

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

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

More grapes:

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






Yes, it is steep!

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

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

View from the tasting room

We started tasting with the Chardonnay, which was excellent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passion and Pinot Updates: Youngberg Hill Vineyard

December 29, 2021 2 comments

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passion and Pinot Updates: Le Cadeau Vineyard

December 28, 2021 4 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

We also saw Chardonnay grapes growing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Re-Discovering Oregon

December 11, 2021 3 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all about the rocks.

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

Clones Rule!

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

The grape juice is clear

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

The bubbles are everywhere

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

Oh yes, the wine clubs!

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

Don’t hope for Rosé

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

The view from Lenné vineyards

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

Alit Wines – Follow The Flow. Lava Flow

December 9, 2020 3 comments

Here is a question which can never be answered: where the wine is made, in the vineyard or in the cellar?

There are many arguments towards the vineyard being The Place where the wine is made. Mother Nature offerings are everchanging – they change every year, never repeating themselves. But it is not only the climate that never repeats itself – the land which seems to present itself as chunks of sameness is very far from it. Only identifying different pieces is the work of art – the mastery of the winemaker.

Alit Wines is a very young winery, by all means – it was founded only about 5 years ago, in 2016. You would not think that once you taste their wines, which come through elegant and mature – but we need to keep in mind that Alit is only one piece to a bigger story.

Oregon is often compared with Burgundy – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are stars in both regions, and both regions produce well ageable wines of finesse. Burgundy is built on the concepts of terroir and soils – I’m sure you’ve heard the stories of Burgundian vignerons going any distance to protect their soils from erosion and any sort of loss. The whole concept of Crus is based on terroir differentiation, and it took Burgundy centuries to find their best of the best parcels which earned the right to be called Grand Crus.

If you ever listened to the Oregon winemakers, they often talk about soils, first in monolithic terms, in terms of big blocks. But with every subsequent harvest, they start seeing differences between different plots in the vineyards, and those become specific plot-designated wines. This is Oregon’s path towards finding their Grand Crus.

We probably shouldn’t speak for the whole of Oregon, as Alit’s approach to this Grand Cru quest is different. Let’s get back to our “bigger story” around Alit. We usually think that wines are all about grapes, but they are actually all about people – people who stand behind those wines. In the case of Alit, the first person we need to mention is Mark Tarlov. After leaving his first successful wine project, Evening Land (a unique enterprise, if you ask me, making wines under the Evening Land label both in Burgundy and Oregon), Mark continued his wine endeavors with Chapter 24 Vineyards, which he started in 2012. Chapter 24 wines are extremely terroir focused – if you will look at the Chapter 24 Vineyards website, you will see that it produces only two wines –  one called The Fire which comes from the volcanic soils, and The Flood, with the grapes coming from vineyards planted in riverbed soils.

In 2015, Chapter 24 Vineyards opened the “last chapter” as it is called – Rose and Arrow winery, as well as the subsequent (2016) “sister” operation  – Alit. In case you are curious, the “About” page explains the Rose and Arrow name: “The “rose” and “arrow”, innately connected yet conflicting, each defined by the existence (or absence) of the other. Our favorite wines make us appreciate the harmony of opposites: acid/sweet, simple/complex, solid rock/sprouting vine. The latter is where our narrative begins, as every great wine is ignited by unique tensions in the rock of its origin.“. Also in 2015, Mark Tarlov was joined by Chilean winemaker Felipe Ramirez, who became the winemaker for Chapter 24, Rose and Arrow, and Alit wines, working together with consulting winemaker Louis Michel Liger-Belair.

Remember, we need to follow lava flow, as these wines are all about soils, basalt soils, rich in unique nutrients. Enters Dr. Pedro Parra, who wine writer LM Archer called Terroir Whisperer. Dr. Parra is one of the leading soil specialists in the world. Explaining Dr. Parra’s methodology would require a long, very long, and dedicated post, so instead, you should read Lyn’s article where she does a great job explaining what Dr. Parra does – but in essence, he is capable of identifying microsites, some can be 0.5 acres or less, capable of producing wine with very specific characteristics – all of it based on soil and climate analysis before (!) the vineyards are planted. To make it all practical, one of the first projects at Rose and Arrow was the vinification of about 100 wines harvested from such microsites – this is what makes Rose and Arrow wines unique.

When you think of “vineyard plots”, what image comes to mind? My imagination stops at squares or rectangles – but in our case, a correct answer is a polygon. Chapter 24/Rose and Arrow/Alit all operate with polygons, where the shape of microsites can be very complex. Here is the snapshot from our zoom call with folks from Alit where Felipe Ramirez shows the map of one of the sites (sorry that you can’t see Felipe):

How these microsites are identified? Using a method called electrical conductivity. Measuring the electrical conductivity of soil allows to create maps – this is exactly what the folks from Alit and Rose and Arrow are doing. Once you have a map, the rest is easy 🙂 now it is all about mastery of the winemaker – harvest each microsite (polygon) separately, vinify separately – and create the magic.

Now that we understand how the road to the Oregon Grand Crus looks like, let’s discuss the role Alit is playing in this quest.

Talking about Alit wines, we need first mention the Collective. Alit Collective is similar to the wine club, but it is very different from the typical winery club. To become a member of the Collective, you need to pay a $100 annual membership. After that, you can buy Alit wines at a cost – however, it is you who decide what to buy and when. To give an idea of the cost, Alit Pinot Noir (2015) costs $15.10 for Collective members and $27.45 for non-members – this means that once you buy 8 bottles, you will recoup your $100 investment, and every bottle afterward gives you great savings. How does selling at cost makes sense, you probably wonder? It wouldn’t if Alit would be on its own, but in conjunction with Rose and Arrow, it does make sense, as it helps to finance the overall operation.

What else can I tell you? Ahh, the wines, let’s not forget about the wines!

We tasted two of the Alit wines, Rosé (of Pinot Noir, of course), and Pinot Noir.

2019 Alit Rosé Willamette Valley (13% ABV) had a salmon pink color. Gunflint (volcanic soils!), strawberries, and onion peel on the nose. Nice touch of fresh strawberries and lemon, crisp, refreshing, nicely restrained, and well balanced with lemon notes on the finish (Drinkability: 8) – unquestionably delicious any time you want a glass of light, refreshing wine.

2017 Alit Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (13.6% ABV, native yeast fermentation, 10-12 months in oak) – beautiful bright ruby color – it is seldom for me to see a red wine of such a beautiful color. Beautiful nose, herbal, open, inviting, with mint, cherries, and a touch of the barnyard. Now, I have to say that the palate made me work for it. During the tasting, with the freshly opened bottle, the wine showed light, with red and blue fruit, good acidity, fresh, food-friendly, and restrained – we can even say “under-extracted” (Drinkability: 7+/8-). Over the next two days, the wine opened up, it obtained body, became round and supple, and became an object of pleasure (Drinkability: 8+). Definitely needs time, either in the cellar or in the decanter if you are in a hurry.

Alit Wines and Rose and Arrow enterprises are definitely something to watch. Mark Tarlov believes that sometime around 2030, it will be possible to understand if his quest for the Oregonian Grand Cru was successful. As for me, I practically always enjoy the journey more than the destination, so I will be happy to tag along, and yes, actually enjoy the journey with Alit wines – hop on, we can follow the lava flow together.

Stories of Passion and Pinot: Bells Up Winery

May 31, 2019 10 comments

Do you know by any chance what “bells up” means? If you do, you can already pat yourself on the back and pour yourself a glass of wine. If you don’t – you can pour yourself a glass of wine and ponder at the question for a bit – the answer will follow.

Meanwhile, let’s talk about the passion, an indelible component of winemaking, possibly even a key ingredient in a delicious wine.

Dave Specter started making wine in the basement of his home back in 2006. By 2009, he realized that passion for winemaking trumpets his (successful!) career of a corporate tax attorney, and Dave decided to let his passion lead the way. In 2012, Dave and his wife Sara found themselves in Newberg, Oregon, purchasing a dead Christmas tree farm in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, where they started planting their estate vineyard. The rest is history – of passion and Pinot, there is.

BellsUp-Pinot Harvest

Bells Up vineyards. Source: Bells Up Winery

Before there was wine, there was music. For more than 20 years Dave had been playing the French horn. In classical music, there is always a moment which needs to be stressed – “Bells up” is the conductor’s instruction to the French horn players to lift the bells of their instruments and produce the sound of maximum intensity. “Bells up” became Dave’s motto in life, and it also gave the name to his winery – now you have your answer in case you are still wondering.

While Pinot Noir was the first grape planted at the newly minted Bells Up winery, the passion also led Dave to plant half an acre of Seyval Blanc, the grape he successfully used back in Ohio. That Seyval Blanc planting became the first in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, and second in Oregon. If you look at Bells Up winery website, you will see that the winery bills itself as micro-boutique and un-domaine – planting Seyval Blanc and not Pinot Gris in Oregon is clearly an un-domaine move. By the way, the “un-domaine” was one of the words which caught my eye while researching the Bells Up winery information. So I took the opportunity to sit down (virtually, albeit) with Dave and listen to him share his passion for wine. Here is what transpired in our conversation:

[TaV]: What kind of wine(s) did you make in your basement in Cincinnati?
[DS]: In the beginning, when my wife Sara and I started making wine in 2006 as a couple’s activity for our fifth wedding anniversary, we started with kit wines—juice in a bag, essentially. When I moved on to grapes, I sourced from both local and regional vineyards for Seyval Blanc, as well as through a Cincinnati vintners club that would truck in fruit from vineyards in California. From that I made Syrah, Petit Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot—even a Pinot Noir, although that fruit was sourced from Lodi, and was completely unlike the Pinot I work within Oregon today. Essentially, it was a hobby that grew out of control.

[TaV]: Why Oregon? As a young winemaker, you had many options – what made you decide to go to Oregon?
[DS]: First, thank you for calling me young. We were a whole lot younger when we started this journey. After that first kit wine, I was hooked on the process and wanted to learn more. Sara graciously let me take over the basement, then the garage, then the dining room. And we started taking wine vacations to “hidden gem” wine regions—Texas Hill Country, Finger Lakes, and finally Oregon in 2008.

We had already visited Oregon briefly in 2004 and loved it. In 2008 we spent two weeks roaming the state, with the last few days in Newberg at a bed and breakfast just 400 feet up the mountain from the property that is now ours. We fell in love with Oregon, the scenery, the climate, the wines, and the intimate experiences tasting wines at the tiniest wineries with the winemaker. We decided then that this was the place for us.

[TaV]: Seyval Blanc is one of the most popular grapes in the Eastern US. But why Seyval Blanc in Oregon?
[DS]: When we moved to Oregon in 2012, we knew we wanted to plant a vine that connected to our story. I’d been working with Seyval Blanc for years in Ohio and when I won two amateur national winemaking competitions in 2011, one was with a 2010 Seyval Blanc. So, it was a great tie-in.

But also, we see an opportunity to differentiate ourselves with a white wine that nobody else has in the Willamette Valley—and only one other winery has in Oregon. Plus, we believed it would grow well here, and after two small harvests that resulted in some beautiful wine, we’re happy to be proven right. Note, however, we didn’t plant a lot of it: only about 250 vines (and not all of them made it—so Sara’s been propagating like crazy ever since for replants). We figured if it was a failure, we could always graft over it.

[TaV]: Any future plans for more mainstream Oregon white grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling?
[DS]: From a business perspective, we’ve taken a really close look at what other wineries in the area are making, and for a 500-ish case production winery like ours it’s best to have just one white wine available for sale at a given time. That’s because we don’t move enough volume and the whites generally don’t age as long as reds.

We currently make Pinot Blanc and we like it quite a bit. It’s a bit rarer in these parts than Pinot Gris or Chardonnay, which again helps to differentiate us. But as for expanding our white wine program, the ultimate plan is to phase out Pinot Blanc for Seyval Blanc and that will be the only white in our line-up. There are a lot of similarities between my Pinot Blanc and my Seyval
Blanc, so the transition from one to the other won’t be as jarring as a shift from another white varietal, such as Chardonnay.

Bells Up Wines in the cellar

Bells Up wines. Source: Bells Up winery

[TaV]: Today you already make white, rosé, and red. Any plans to join seemingly the hottest Oregon trend and start producing sparkling wine?
[DS]: No. I know I keep coming back to the numbers, but I’m a finance guy with an MBA and a corporate tax law career. While we think there’s a place in the market for adding bubbles to still wines, if I made a sparkling wine I’d want to do it the right way (traditional method). That takes time, space and money. And at our volumes, what we’d have to charge per bottle to justify that type of investment is more than what the market would reasonably bear.

[TaV]: Continuing the same question – as you already produce Seyval Blanc, which makes very good dessert wines, any plans for some Late Harvest Seyval Blanc goodness?
[DS]: Don’t give Sara any ideas! Actually, we’ve been so focused on just getting these Seyval Blanc vines established and proving that our concept had legs that we really haven’t thought much farther than straight up Seyval Blanc. Our 2017 harvest yielded 100 pounds and made 23 bottles (yes, bottles)! Our 700-pound 2018 harvest produced 15 cases and we’ve made that available exclusively to our wine club members on a 2-bottle allocation. Give me a few years when I’ve got Seyval Blanc growing out of my ears and I’ll get back to you on a Late Harvest version.

[TaV]: Who are your winemaking mentors (if any)?
[DS]: First and foremost, Joe Henke of Henke Winery in Cincinnati. Joe took me under his wing as a basement winemaking hobbyist. He offered me a position as an unpaid cellar rat but promised he’d teach me everything he knew—open book—and he did. He even showed me his books because he wanted me to understand what he called “the good, the bad and the ugly of being a professional winemaker.” He’s an award-winning winemaker who makes 2,000 cases across roughly 15 different types of wines (including a phenomenal sparkling Chardonnay and an incredible Norton) in the basement of a 100-year-old house in an urban neighborhood with the bare essentials: barrels, a pump, a press, a pallet jack. I learned so much from him about the process of winemaking and the business of winemaking; that you don’t need a bunch of expensive equipment to make incredible wines. You just need to do a ton of cleaning. Amazing mentor.

Additionally, I did a harvest internship in the Fall of 2012 at Alexana in Dundee, Oregon under Bryan Weil. It was Bryan’s first harvest there as winemaker and Lynn Penner-Ash of Penner-Ash Wine Cellars was still working alongside Bryan, as she had been consulting winemaker for the label prior to Bryan coming on board. I soaked up as much as I could about working with Pinot Noir from both of them. Because, at age 39, I was not your typical harvest intern—plus I had three years of time at Henke Winery under my belt—Bryan was gracious enough to build my internship around what I needed to learn. He put me in the vineyard for sampling fruit, for example, something I’d never had the opportunity to do before. He had me set up the lab for him and run lots of testing because I knew how to do it. We’re still very close today and I appreciate everything he was gracious enough to share with me.

As far as winery business mentors, there have been so many people in the Willamette Valley who have generously offered advice and shared their successes and failures that it would be impossible to name them all. But they know who they are.

[TaV]: What is your view on sustainable viticulture, dry farming, organic methods?
[DS]: That’s what we do here in our own vineyard and at the vineyards we source from. We think it’s very important to be good stewards of the Earth—we’re farmers now! It also produces stronger vines that develop more flavorful grapes and ultimately better wines.

[TaV]: How did you choose the music pieces as the names of your wines? What was your thought process, what criteria? What message are you trying to convey with those names?
[DS]: Let me start by explaining the name of the winery. I played French Horn for more than 20 years (I’m horribly out of practice now—Sara says I only make noise) including after business and law schools, so it was a key part of my life. When it came time to name the winery, we wanted to name it something personal that wasn’t our last name (people are terrible at remembering names!) and I really wanted to tie it into the French Horn. Coincidentally, the property Sara found was on Bell Road in Newberg. So that tied in perfectly to the term “Bells Up,” which is a notation by the composer in the score of a piece of music. At a dramatic moment, it directs the French Horns to lift the bells of their instruments to project their sound with more intensity. It’s our time to shine—which is why I say the winery is my #bellsupmoment.

The pieces of music I chose to name each wine are all ones that prominently feature the French Horn, as well as epitomize the wine itself. George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” inspired our Pinot Blanc to be named “Rhapsody” because it’s a jazzy, energetic white wine. Gustav Mahler—the French Horn player’s best friend because his pieces tend to be horn-heavy—wrote his Symphony No. 1 in D Major, called “Titan,” and it’s become regarded as his flagship work. Therefore, our Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, which we consider to be our flagship Pinot, is “Titan.” And so on. There’s a link at the top of our wines page to a playlist of all the pieces for those interested in hearing them.

[TaV]: Why “un-domaine”?
[DS]: It was a term that came up as we were discussing how to describe our casual tasting room vibe, our keep-it-simple winemaking approach, and our distinctive brand with a good friend who happens to be a wine writer. A couple of years ago after we opened our doors in 2015 there was a trend of new wineries opening in the Willamette Valley with the word “Domaine” in their name. We just aren’t. Our property is humble, our tasting room is a converted pole barn, you won’t find a marble fireplace. While Sara and I enjoy wine, nobody would ever confuse us with wine snobs.

Does “un-domaine” mean we’re not for everyone? Absolutely. There’s no cachet associated with owning or drinking a bottle of Bells Up wine. And that’s perfectly fine with us. We’d much rather be the bottle on your table every day of the week than the one gathering dust in the wine rack because you spent a ton of money on it and are waiting for a special occasion—and friends who will appreciate it—before it’s opened.

[TaV]: Did you have a pivotal wine in your life, the one which changed your wine worldview?
[DS]: Not so much a specific wine but a wine experience I had very early on. I had the pleasure of visiting some friends in Europe after graduating from law school and they took me to Beaune (in the heart of Burgundy) for a weekend. We did a lot of tasting in the touristy cellars, but also in garages and co-operatives where the atmosphere was much more down-to-earth. I knew absolutely nothing about wine prior to that but I was in awe of what I saw, smelled, and tasted. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but I was in the heart of a culture that valued wine as an everyday experience—that part really resonated with my soul. Looking back, I’m sure that I would appreciate that experience more fully if I took the same trip now, but that time in Beaune has fueled my passion for wine ever since.

[TaV]: With the exception of your own wines, what are your favorite Oregon wines and /or producers?
[DS]: We truly have an embarrassment of riches here in the Willamette Valley—so many quality producers call this place home that a list of my favorite producers would fill about 3 dozen barrels. With every producer having their own unique style—plus the trailblazing nature of the Oregon wine industry—innovation is happening all the time: new grapes, new techniques, and so on. I think many people assume that a winemaker drinks only his or her own wine at home, but the truth is I almost never drink my own wines outside of the professional setting. I’d much rather be exploring the styles and fresh ideas that other winemakers here are creating and perhaps get inspired to try some of those ideas myself!

[TaV]: What are your favorite wines and/producers outside of Oregon?
[DS]: Again, way too many to answer! The wines I enjoy most are ones where I have a personal connection in some way and I’m fortunate to have so many talented friends in other parts of the winemaking world. Back in Ohio, my mentor Joe Henke at Henke Winery, of course, but also my friends Greg Pollman of Valley Vineyards and Bill Skvarla of Harmony Hill Vineyards make fantastic wines from grapes grown locally and regionally. Up in Woodinville, Washington my friend, Lisa Callan of Callan Cellars is making a name for herself with her Washington-focused program. And up over the border in Naramata, British Columbia my friend Jay Drysdale has founded Bella Sparkling Wines, BC’s only winery dedicated to sparkling wines. I know that some other friends have projects in the works and can’t wait to brag about them in a few years too.

[TaV]: Where do you see Bells Up Winery in 20 years?
[DS]: Not in the grocery store. Our customer base is national, but we have no aspirations for retail distribution. We’re perfectly content to sell direct-to-consumer and to a couple of local restaurants and a wine bar in Downtown Portland. When we hit 1,000-case production, that’s it. We won’t make any more than that annually because we both enjoy and believe wholeheartedly in the micro-boutique winery experience we’ve created. We want to have personal relationships with our customers. We specifically don’t have an online ordering portal because we want to have a conversation with our buyers either by phone or email. Making and maintaining those connections is really important to us, and we hope to grow those relationships over the next 20 years and beyond.

I’m sure you are ready to taste some wine by now. Before I will share with you my notes after tasting 3 of Dave’s wines, I want to bring something to your attention. By now you know that Bells Up wines are named after different musical compositions. In case you want to experience those musical compositions, either by themselves or together with the wine, Dave has a link to Spotify playlist of all the relevant music pieces available on the winery website. And now, here are my notes:

2018 Bells Up Helios Seyval Blanc Chehalem Mountains AVA (13.1% ABV, $38, 15 cases produced)
Light golden
Restrained, minerality-driven, touch of gunflint, a touch of fresh green apples
Excellent acidity, Granny Smith apples all the way, crisp, fresh, good texture. Has traits of Seyval Blanc (tropical fruit intent, I would say, like a hint of guava without any fruit notes), but put on a different core
8-, very interesting, thought-provoking and food friendly wine (acidity lingers on the finish for a good couple of minutes)

2018 Bells Up Prelude Rosé of Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains (13% ABV, $22, 126 cases produced)
Light red
Medium plus intensity, distant hint of the barnyard, underripe cranberries, herbal notes
Bone dry, crunchy cranberries, excellent acidity, food-friendly wine, fruit showing up a bit later, excellent balance
8/8+, delicious and dangerous. I can keep drinking it until the bottle will be empty

2016 Bells Up Titan Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (13.1% ABV, $40, 12 months in French oak (39% new), 131 cases produced)
Dark ruby
Plums, a hint of smoke, violets
Slightly underripe plums, crisp cherries, sage undertones, good acidity, light to medium body,
8-, light, easy to drink, food friendly. Should improve with time.

Dave Specter conducts Bells Up-Private Tasting

Dave Specter conducts the private tasting. Source: Bells Up Winery

Here you are, my friends. Another story of Passion and Pinot.

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, Ghost Hill Cellars, Ken Wright Cellars, Knudsen Vineyards, Lenné Estate, Tendril Cellars, Youngberg Hill Vineyards, Vidon Vineyard

WBC18: Speed (Live) Tasting – White and Rosé

October 23, 2018 2 comments

In the previous post, I told you about our speed tasting session of red wines at the Wine Bloggers Conference 2018. During the second full conference day, we had a session for white and Rosé – only we didn’t get any Rosé at our table, so it was all for us (it is still 20+ different wines been presented around, but you only can taste just 10 during the allotted time.

If you read any of the previous posts or maybe attended the event, you know the drill. Snap, swirl, smell, sip, spit, share. Hmmm, next time I will call it a 6S exercise. You (1) snap a photo of a bottle. You (2) swirl the wine in your glass. You (3) smell it. Then you (4) sip it. Then you (5) spit it (well, there might be an exception to this rule, but you have to tread carefully here – if you can’t spit the wine, the wine bloggers conference is not for you). Lastly, you (6) share your notes with the world. All in 5 minutes. All repeated 10 times. There you have it.

Before I share the WBC18 wines with you now in this summary post, I will give you links to the WBC14, WBC16, and WBC17 I attended in the past, just in case you want to see what was happening there.

WBC18 speed tasting whites, here we go:

Wine 1: 2017 Desert Wind Chardonnay Heritage Series Wahluke Scope Washington (12.7% ABV, $28)

Wine 2: 2017 Bodega Bouza Albariño Montevideo Uruguay (13.5% ABV, $20)

Wine 3: 2016 Baroness Cellars Riesling Red Mountains (12.4% ABV, $25)

Wine 4: 2016 Rodney Strong Chardonnay Chalk Hill AVA (14.5% ABV, $22) – classic California Chardonnay, good wine at a good QPR.

Wine 5: 2016 Cadaretta SBS Columbia Valley (13.5% ABV, $23, 67% Sauvignon Blanc, 33% Semillon) – SBS stands exactly for Sauvignon Blanc Semillon. An excellent wine for a summer day? Well, I think I can drink it on a winter day too…

Wine 6: 2016 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Carneros (14.4% ABV, $30)

Wine 7: 2016 J. Bookwalter Double Plot Chardonnay Conner-Lee Vineyard Columbia Valley (13.8% ABV, $40)

The next wine was presented with the statement to all of the Riesling haters – as shown here by Clifford Robben:

If you don't like riesling you are a

Wine 8: 2016 Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling GG Alte Reben Mosel (12.5% ABV, $56) – you can’t argue with greatness – this was one delicious Riesling

Wine 9: 2015 Brokenwood Semillon Hunter Valley (10.5% ABV, $22) – Hunter Valley Semillon might be one of the biggest secrets lucky attendees of WBC19 will discover. The wine might show as overly acidic when young, but with some age on it, it becomes an impeccable thing of beauty…

Wine 10: 2016 Brooks Ara Riesling Willamette Valley (12.8% ABV, $38) – another beautiful wine from the Brooks winery. From the tasting of the reds, Borrks Rastaban was my favorite wine. Now this Ara Riesling was equally impressive – and I didn’t know that Riesling was even made in Oregon. A delicious surprise.

There you go, my friends – the summary of one of my favorite exercises at the wine bloggers conference. Sorry, Chardonnay – the Riesling totally stole the crown this time. Cheers!

WBC18: Speed (Live) Tasting – Reds

October 20, 2018 10 comments

Rapid fire. Lightning talks. Speed dating. We like to create extra-pressure situations for ourselves, I guess we think that we are functioning better when we have no option to prolong whatever it is we need to do or decide upon. Wine tasting is typically not a speed exercise – unless you are attending a live tasting session at the Wine Bloggers Conference.

50 minutes. 10 winemakers. 5 minutes to present the winery and the wine and answer questions – for winemakers. 5 minutes for bloggers to take pictures, smell and taste, ask questions, take notes, and ideally, post on social media about the wine – for 50 minutes in the row. Some people simply refuse to do it. And for me, this is one of the favorite sessions of the conference – and the one I get to consistently post about afterward, collecting all my individual tweets from the live session into one post – as it was done at WBC14, WBC16, and WBC17 – the three I attended in the past.

Unlike previous years, the first live wine blogging session at WBC18 was for the red wines (we always started with White and Rosé before). I guess it makes sense, as reds is what Washington is first and foremost known for. This time, I also tried to include some picture processing into the same 5 minutes – that makes the whole process even more challenging. Oh well. For what it worth, here are the wines and my notes, mostly in the form of the tweets:

Wine 1: 2013 g. Cuneo Cellars Ripasso Walla Walla Valley ($45) – Everything is possible in Washington – even the classic Italian wines.

Wine 2: 2017 De Lucca Tannat Reserve Canelones Uruguay ($15)

Wine 3: 2016 Fullerton Pinot Noir Bella Vide Vineyards Dundee Hills Oregon (13.5% ABV, $65) – great Oregon Pinot

Wine 4: 2016 Rodney Strong Vineyards Upshot Red Sonoma County (14.5% ABV, $28, 37% Zinfandel, 30% Malbec, 27% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 3% Riesling) – I love this unorthodox blend, an excellent wine for any special occasion, like Tuesday, for example. I also love the label. Forgot to include the picture in the tweet, so it is attached on its own here.

Rodney Strong Upshot Red

Wine 5: 2015 Browne Family Vineyards Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley (13.7% ABV, $35, 22 months in French oak) – beautiful Cab Franc specimen.

Wine 6: 2014 Dama Wines Collage Walla Walla Valley (14.7% ABV, $55, 69% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc) – beautiful wine, beautiful label.

Wine 7: 2014 Dunham Cellars XX Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley (13.8% ABV, $45, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon) – 9th winery in Walla Walla, 20th vintage (hence XX), and one of my most favorite from the tasting. Would be happy to drink every day.

Wine 8: 2015 Mansion Creek Cellars Red Dog Red Mountain AVA ($46, 70% Tinta Cão, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Grenache-Syrah) – it is not every day you can taste a beautifully done Portuguese wine – made in the USA.

Wine 9: 2015 Brooks Rastaban Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills Oregon (14% ABV, $60) – stunningly different expression of the Pinot Noir. It evokes the same magic as tasting Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc and thinking “this can’t be New Zealand Sauv Blanc”. Same is here. It is simply unique and different and in a class of its own. Probably my favorite wine of the session.

Wine 10: 2016 Troon Vineyard Cuvée Pyrénées, Estate Tannat/Malbec, Kubli Bench, Applegate Valley Oregon ($60, 62% Tannat, 38% Malbec) – organic, biodynamic, minimal intervention wine. Craig Camp lets the grapes speak, offering us a beautifully balanced wine.

There you go, my friends – the summary of one of my favorite exercises at the wine bloggers conference. This was definitely fun, and I will be delighted to do it again and again. Do you think 5 minutes is enough to learn about the wine and fall in love with it? Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – WBC16, Up and Coming in this Blog and more

August 10, 2016 4 comments

Meritage Time!WBC16 logo

First and foremost – Wine Bloggers Conference 2016 (WBC16) is starting this Thursday, August 11th in Lodi, California. Most importantly – I’m flying Thursday morning to attend it! While wine is of course an important part of the event, what I’m really looking forward to is connecting with fellow bloggers. Being around of wine blogosphere for 6 years allowed me to make many friends. While I met some bloggers in person, many are still only virtual, and based on registration list I hope to add some faces to the names.

I’m also looking forward to learning more about wines of Lodi, which I have rather a limited exposure to. And the so called “Speed Tasting/Live Blogging” sessions are something I enjoyed very much at WBC14, so I’m definitely looking forward to doing it again. I will do my best to report on the WBC16 escapades, but it will not be easy, as an event gets quite overwhelming. In any case, if you are attending WBC16, I hope to meet you face to face.

Now, I need to tell you – lots of Pinot Noir is coming to this blog in the near future. I just finished working on the series of interviews with Oregon winemakers, and we all know that Oregon is a Pinot Noir capital of the United States. There is lots of passion, wit and hard work, which I can’t wait to share with you all – along with some tasting notes. Expect to see this series posted throughout September/October time.

Talking about blogging plans, we will be also talking about Italian wines. And not just Italian wines in general, but one of my most favorite Italian wines – Amarone. Cesari Vineyards, a family-owned winery in Veneto, was one of the Amarone pioneers, formed in 1936. To celebrate 80 years of producing great wines, Cesari Vineyards reached out to the group of wine bloggers, so look for the blog posts, tweets and pictures coming out under the hash tag of #IAMarone.

And we are done for today. The glass is empty – and it takes a lot more time for the refill to arrive nowadays – but the refill is still on the way. Cheers!

 

 

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