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Stories of Passion and Pinot: Iris Vineyards

June 18, 2019 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

Richard Boyles Iris Vineyards

Richard Boyles

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

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

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

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

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

Iris Vineyards

Source: Iris Vineyards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cropped Bench Iris Vineyards

Source: Iris Vineyards

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

To be continued…

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

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

One on One with Winemaker: José Moro of Bodegas Cepa 21

January 6, 2017 7 comments

When it comes to Spanish wines, Ribera Del Duero is probably most iconic and best-known region worldwide  – I know some will say it should be Priorat or Rioja, but let’s leave this argument for another time. Hold on, here is a bit of stats to support my statement. If you will look at the Wine Spectator Classic ratings (95-100, best of the best), you will find 38 wines from Ribera Del Duero, 24 from Rioja and only 11 from Priorat rated in that category. And while in Ribera Del Duero, do you know which wine has the top Wine Spectator rating of all times? 2004 Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero Malleolus de Sanchomartin.

No, this is not the wine we will be talking about here, but – it is perfectly connected to our story. First commercial wine under Bodegas Emilio Moro name was released in 1989 – however, Moro family’s viticultural traditions and experience go all the way back to the beginning of the 20th century, starting with Don Emilio Moro, a first generation vigneron. Today, in its third generation, Bodegas Emilio Moro continues to build upon a century of traditions and tried and true techniques. And now we are getting to the actual subject of this post – the latest venture of the Moro family – Bodegas Cepa 21.

Bodegas CEPA 21

Photo Source: Bodegas CEPA 21

Bodegas Cepa 21 was created by brothers José and Javier Moro, the third generation vignerons. It is located in the heart of Ribero del Duero region, in the area known as “The Golden Mile”. It is worth noting the Ribera Del Duero comprise highest altitude vineyards in Spain, located at 2,400 – 3,300 feet above sea level. Bodegas Cepa 21 farms 125 acres of estate vineyards, and has another 125 acres under direct control through the agreements with wine growers. All 4 wines produced at Bodegas Cepa 21 are made out of one and the same grape – Tempranillo, albeit it is their own “Moro clone”, cultivated for more than a century.

Instead of inundating you with more information which you can easily find at Bodegas Cepa 21 website, I had an opportunity to [virtually] sit down with José Moro, an owner and winemaker at Bodegas Cepa 21, and inundate him with the barrage of questions – and now I can share that conversation with you:

[TaV]: Cepa 21 name implies that this is the winery for the 21st century. By the time when Cepa 21 was created, Emilio Moro was well known and very successful business. What was the motivation for the creation of the Cepa 21 winery and the brand overall? What sets Cepa 21 apart from the Emilio Moro?

[JM]: Cepa 21 is the project of the third generation of the Moro Family. We were eager to experiment with a different terroir and a diverse expression of the Tempranillo variety. Our goal was to find the maximum expression of the Tempranillo variety, respecting the finesse and elegance of the grape.
In that sense, Emilio Moro and Cepa 21 have several differences. For starters, Cepa 21 vineyards are orientated to the north whereas Emilio Moro vineyards have a southern orientation. The climate is another differentiating factor (colder in Cepa 21) and the way we classify our wines also differs. In Emilio Moro we classify attending to the age of the vineyard and its vines, whereas in Cepa 21 we classify according to the altitude of the vineyards.
The result: Cepa 21 wines are subtle but structured, fresh and yet complex, elegant and full of personality and they have an interesting aromatic palate.

Cepa 21 Winery

Cepa 21 Winery. Source: Bodegas CEPA 21

[TaV]: What is 21st century winery and how Cepa 21 fits into that image? Are you also trying to appeal to millennials with this wine?

[JM]: From the moment people see the building in Cepa 21, a black and white minimalist structure with an air of “chateaux française” raising among vineyards, they realize they are about to discover something made for this century.  Innovation has also been one of the key values throughout the winemaking process. It’s this union of modernity and our unique Tinto Fino clone that turn Cepa 21 wines into a traditional and yet modern wines made for today’s consumers. I believe it is them who define modern winemaking, and not the other way around… And in Cepa 21 we make a continuous effort so our wines exceed the expectations of these new consumers.

[TaV]: It seems that previous vintage for Cepa 21 was 2011, and now the current vintage is 2014. Does it mean that Cepa 21 wines are only produced in the best years?

[JM]: We have maximum quality standards for our wines, so if a vintage doesn’t have enough quality, we simply don’t bottle it. This is a way of guaranteeing consumers that if they buy a bottle of our wine, it will meet their expectations, whatever the vintage they choose to purchase.

[TaV]: Ever since the inception of Cepa 21, what were your most favorite and most difficult vintages and why?

[JM]: 2011 was an excellent vintage, one of the best in the Ribera del Duero. The climatology was perfect for our variety, with sequential rainfall that resulted in a powerful vintage of great quality wines. 2015 was also an outstanding vintage; hot temperatures and hard work resulted in very promising wines.
2009 was a really difficult vintage. It was extremely rainy and cold, with frequent hails that stopped the vegetative cycle of the plant. It was a vintage to forget.

[TaV]: What are your biggest/most important markets for Cepa 21?
[JM]: Cepa 21 is a young winery, but its growing at a fast pace. We export our wine all over the world, from Asia to the United States, and we continue to grow internationally. The US is one of our key markets this year, but we also focus in European countries and in our own, Spain.

[TaV]: Along the same lines, do you sell in China, Cepa 21 or Emilio Moro wines? Even broader, are Ribera del Duero wines known/popular in China?

[JM]: Yes, we do sell in China and we are proud to say our wines are very well regarded in this market, although we recognize there is still a lot of work to be done. I often visit China and talk about the potential of our DO, which is popular in China but still has a lot of potential.

[TaV]: Do you grow any other grapes than Tinto Fino at any of the Emilio Moro/Cepa 21 properties? If you don’t, do you have any plans to start growing any other grapes?

[JM]: We recently announced in Spain that we are starting a project in El Bierzo. We are looking into producing a white wine that’s 100% Godello, a grape that stands out for its elegance and finesse. We are only in the initial phase, but we are sure of the potential of this relatively unknown grape.

[TaV]: It seems that Tinto Fino is one and only grape used at Cepa 21 (and also at the Emilio Moro too). Do you ever find it limiting (the fact that you only have one grape to work with)?

[JM]: Tempranillo is king in Spain, it is the national grape, and our Tinto Fino clone we use to graft each and every one of our vines is what moves us, our reason of being. No, we don’t find it limiting at all.

[TaV]: On your website, I saw a reference to “Moro clone” – is Tinto Fino from your vineyards actually different from the mainstream Tempranillo?

[JM]: Definitely. We grafted our vines with a unique Tinto Fino clone to achieve the maximum expression of the variety. It allows us to produce wines that age beautifully, that embrace the flavors given by the barrel during ageing and of great quality.

The cluster is smaller and looser, the vines produce less grapes – For us, quality is more important than quantity – but offer fruit that ages beautifully in the bottle.

[TaV]: Are the general challenges facing Ribero del Duero region, or is everything great in its winemaking world?

[JM]: We had to reinvent ourselves due to the economic crisis that Spain has been experiencing for the last years. The Moro family embarked on a new project with Cepa 21. It was a winery that was only going to produce the wine that bears its name, but during the worst part of the crisis we launched “Hito”. It means “milestone” – And it definitely was one. We have never stopped evolving since then.

[TaV]: To the best of my understanding, Cepa 21 practices what is called a “sustainable viticulture” – dry farming, etc. Do you have any plans to advance to organic methods, or maybe even biodynamic?

[JM]: Not at the moment. But we respect the climate 100%… We only work with what our environment gives us, and we use no artificial irrigation.

[TaV]: When it comes to the wines of Ribera del Duero, outside of your own wines, do you have any other favorite wineries?

[JM]: The Ribera del Duero is an area known for its viticulture tradition. There are many great wineries in this area – Apart from Emilio Moro and Cepa 21, I wouldn’t be able to pick a favorite.

[TaV]: The same question, now going beyond Ribera del Duero – any favorites in Rioja and Toro?

[JM]: I enjoy drinking wines from Bodegas Muga, Bodegas Eguren, and Bodegas Sierra Cantabria. They all produce amazing wines.

[TaV]: Are the Cepa 21 wines made for the immediate consumption or will they benefit from some age?

[JM]: Hito Rosado and Hito are our rosé and our young wines and, as such, they are better when drunk shortly after they are released. Cepa 21 and Malabrigo, even though they can be enjoyed when they are released, will greatly benefit from ageing in the bottle: They will evolve beautifully.

[TaV]: What is next for you? Are there any new projects in the making, maybe even outside of Ribera del Duero?

[JM]: Like I said before, we do have a project in El Bierzo with 100% Godello grape. Until we release that wine, whenever that may be, we will continue promoting our wines abroad to show the true potential of the Spanish Tinto Fino and our unique clone.

Cepa 21 tempranilloNow, after reading all this, it is time for some wine! 2011 Cepa Tempranillo made it to the Wine Spectator 2016 Top 100 list, so obviously it instantly disappeared from all of the stores. I was very happy to try the 2014 rendition, which now should be getting into the stores near you:

2014 Bodegas Cepa 21 Tempranillo Ribera Del Duero (14% ABV, $25, 100% Tempranillo, 12 months in French oak)
C: dark garnet, inky
N: lavender, fresh blackberries, cigar box, typical Tempranillo nose
P: ripe plums, well integrated, dusty tannins, eucalyptus, smooth, clean acidity, excellent balance.
V: 8/8+, excellent now and will evolve.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. Great history, great present, great future – all through the hard work and passion. And luckily, we all get the wine we can enjoy. Cheers!

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