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WMC21: Day 1 Highlights

August 11, 2021 1 comment

Wine Media Conference 2021 was distinctly different from all of the previous years. The conference started in 2008 in Sonoma, so this was the 13th annual conference bringing together a bunch of people who love talking about wine – for passion and for business. 2021 was a special year, having everyone battle through the 2020 pandemic, so quite expectedly, the attendance and conference program took a toll – but I sincerely believe that those of us who attended for their love of wine definitely got at least their money worth, and lots more, as you can’t put a price tag on the camaraderie of the wine people.

View from Valley River Inn

This is the second time the conference took place in Oregon. In 2012, it was hosted in Portland with most of the attention focused on the Northern Willamette Valley. 2021 conference took place in Eugene, a town about 120 miles down south from Portland and home to the University of Oregon, hosted at the Valley River Inn. While the previous Oregon conference focused on the wines of Northern Oregon, going down south allowed everyone to explore the lesser-known wineries of the South Willamette Valley and even much further beyond.

Before we get to talk about Day 1, we have to talk about Day 0. First, there was an opening reception and walk-around tasting. There were a few interesting wines – particularly, I want to mention two of the California wines. 2018 Cuda Ridge Petit Verdot Livermore Valley was a perfect example of 100% Petit Verdot, with the concentrated power of the dark fruit, supported by well-integrated tannins. Then there were Knotty Vines – a new line of wines from Rodney Strong, made to be playful and accessible. I tasted 2018 Knotty Vines Chardonnay California which was simple and elegant, having all the Chardonnay traits (vanilla, green apple, a touch of butter), neatly packaged together. At $15, it is your perfect everyday wine. 2018 Knotty Vines Cabernet Sauvignon California was a great example of a well-made California Cabernet Sauvignon suitable for any budget – perfectly noticeable cassis on the nose and the palate, easy to drink, and delightful wine.

Now, for the most important part of the Day 0 – parties. There were at least two of such parties taking place. The first one was at the house of Neal Benson and Alyse Stone who live in Eugene and run the service called Winery Wanderings. Alyse and Neal graciously invited what seems to be a whole conference to their backyard and everyone was able to find a spot. There were lots of wines, lots of hugs, and conversations. While there were lots and lots of bottles opened and consumed, my unlikely favorite was 1971 Fontanafredda Barolo, brought by Jeff Burrows – the wine still had enough fruit left, and the palate gently evolved toward dried fruit – lightweight, but very pleasant.

The second afterparty was kindly hosted by Rodney Strong. Not only we had an opportunity to taste many of the Rodney Strong single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon wines (Rockaway, Alexander Crown, Brothers – all delicious), as well as Davis Bynum Pinot Noir, pure and classic, we also had a large selection of Voodoo Doughnuts, a local (Portland) crave and a cult. While Cabs and Pinot were excellent, my favorite wine of that evening was the 2018 Rodney Strong Chardonnay Reserve Russian River Valley, which was perfectly bright with vanilla and apple tones on the nose, and a hint of vanilla and butter on the palate. While doughnuts looked great, I really didn’t get the excitement and the cult status of these Voodoo doughnuts – they didn’t offer any special taste or flavor – but of course, they are fun to look at.

Day 1 started with the keynote from Cyrill Penn, the editor of Wine Business Monthly magazine, who primarily talked about the history of his publication and how it morphed over the years.

My favorite session of the Day 1 was delivered by Austin Beeman who works for the wine distribution company and runs a few of the wine blogs. Particularly, Austin was talking about the great difficulties wine shipping and logistics are facing right now and will continue having the issues for a while. I plan to interview Austin to discuss all of these in greater depth.

The next highlight was the tasting of the wines of the Troon Vineyard. Troon Vineyard is located in Southern Oregon, in Applegate Valley, and if there is one wine Troon doesn’t make it would be a Pinot Noir. But is not a major differentiator. Troon Vineyard is not only a certified biodynamic winery, but it is the second winery in the world to hold Regenerative Organic certification, which is a serious achievement in itself. I always loved Troon wines, and tasting them was always a major highlight of the WMC events, as Craig Camp, GM of Troon Vineyard, was always a big supporter of the conference, and he always brought a large assortment of Troon wines. And despite the fact that Troon wines were always pure and delicious, this year they manage to deliver even more.

Troon brought 3 sparkling wines, all made as Pet Nat (single fermentation in the bottle). While all 3 were delicious, my personal favorite was 2020 Troon Vineyard Kubli Bench Pet tanNat Applegate Valley, made out of 100% Tannat. Beautiful and clean cut-through acidity made this wine an ultimate refresher – and made me crave oysters right on the spot. My other two favorites were 2019 Troon Vineyard Estate Syrah Applegate Valley and 2019 Troon Vineyard Siskiyou Estate Syrah Applegate Valley, two beautiful expressions of the cold climate Syrah, clean, elegant, smell-forever Syrah wines with a perfect black pepper finish – best Syrah I’ve tasted in a long time.

In the afternoon, we had a good session on the wines of newly minted delle Venezie DOC from Italy, followed by the Wine Social Live tasting of white and Rosé, which was an adjusted version of the traditional speed tasting. Both sessions were very good and I plan to cover them in the later posts.

It is traditional to have winery excursions on the evening of Day 1. Out of the two options, I went with the tour of urban wineries in downtown Eugene. Before we went around the town, we gathered at the newly opened Gordon Hotel – it opened in late 2020, so I have to definitely tip my hat to the courage of the people behind this modern, ultra-contemporary hotel and the whole affiliated Market street complex.

A few of the highlights of the walk-around tasting were 2016 King Estate Brut Cuvée Willamette Valley, delicious sparkling wine with a toasty nose, and refreshing and crisp palate, and 2019 Iris Vineyards House Call Red Blend Rogue Valley, a round and delightful concoction made out of Cab Franc (50%), Merlot and Malbec.

Walking out of the Gordon Hotel we quickly stumbled upon the winery called Terra Pacem, which in translation from Latin means “Peaceful Earth”. Terra Pacem is not just an average urban winery – it is a winery with a great social mission. The winery employs adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and provides community, training, and employment for them. And I’m happy to say that Terra Pacem can boast not only about the great mission but also about delicious, very well made wines. We had “3 out of 3” success with our selection.

NV Terra Pacem Brut had a beautiful toasted nose, with similar toasted notes on the palate, crisp and refreshing, how you would want your sparkling wine to be. 2018 Terra Pacem Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley was concocted to be a perfect Old World example of Cabernet Franc wine – just enough of the bell pepper on the nose to know that it is there, with bell pepper and cassis on the palate, lean and delightful.

I was tasting the wines with Jeff Burrows, and we were both concerned if we would like the 2018 Terra Pacem Tempranillo Rogue Valley, as for both of us, Tempranillo means Rioja, and I’m very particular about the Rioja’s I like. The wine didn’t disappoint – fresh berries on the nose, same round berries with a hint of the cedar box notes – in a blind tasting, I would happily take it for a Vina Real Crianza, so this was one delightful wine.

And that concludes my report. If you are still with me – thank you, as I feel quite exhausted just by writing it. Until the next time – cheers!

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