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The Vineyards of Eyrie

With the 2012 vintage, Eyrie Vineyards bottled separate Pinot Noir cuvées from each of their five vineyards for the first time. They have previously bottled Sisters, and Daphne in select vintages, and consistently offer the Original Vines Vineyard on its own as well.

The warm ease of 2012 in the Willamette Valley brings fruit to the fore of Pinot Noir in a region that readily celebrates notes of cedar and earthiness. It was a year that winemakers easily could have gone for riper, plush styles. For Eyrie, president and winemaker Jason Lett, kept the focus on the vibrant fresh acidity Eyrie is known for, thus allowing the fruit of 2012 to carry liveliness, and show in concert with earth elements, silky texture and ultra long finish.

Refined rhubarb and earth in a mouthwatering and lean presentation describes how I think of the hallmarks of Eyrie Pinot. The combination first drew me to following their wines. Seeing the vineyard designates of 2012 side-by-side layers in fascinating surprises.

Citrus elements lift from the glass in many of these wines, ranging from hints of lime blossom, into grapefruit, and all the way to the nose tickling pith of pomelo. The red fruit includes cherry blossom in some cuvées, and mixed red with white cherry fruit in others. The hallmark rhubarb resonates in some sites with berry fruit, and in others just with cherry.

The great secret of Eyrie wines rests in them staying open for as much as a week, if you can last that long, getting better in the glass as time goes on. The third day sings where the first day is still waking up. I hold high admiration for the life Eyrie shows through in the glass. It’s a shame more wine tastings, or tasting notes don’t allow such time with a wine, to celebrate this side of wine.

The Individual Wines and Vineyards

Eyrie Pinot Vineyard Bottlings click on image to enlarge

In tasting these wines together, it is the energy and muscle that changes most clearly between them. In August, my sister Melanie and I walked the Dundee Hills with Jason, visiting each of the Eyrie vineyards. Following are notes on each cuvée bringing tasting and walking notes together for each.

The Original Vines Reserve

*** The Original Vines Reserve brings such complexity, energy, and pleasing palate tension thanks to those gorgeously knarled, own root vines planted in 1965. The Original Vines Vineyard was the first to be planted by Eyrie founder, David Lett, at 220′-400′ elevation. Hidden mid-hill near the center of the Dundee Hills, the site stands along the bathtub ring of the Missoula flood. As a result, the site shows the greatest soil diversity of the Eyrie vineyards.

Near the top of the hill (where the oldest vines grow, and the greatest varietal variation as well — all the first Eyrie plantings are there) the red volcanic Jory soil that defines the Hills puts a red dust patina on the wines. At the bottom of the slope, in what is called the South Block, it is more of a taupe colored sedimentary earth deposited from the Missoula floods. The vineyard as a whole comes with chunks of Jory coupling alongside sedimentary in a patchwork of color.

The Original Vines Reserve carries lithe ease of strength — neither sinewy nor muscular, neither soft nor too tight. Aromas and flavors bring together rose petal with white cherry, rhubarb and raspberry, and light cedar through a wonderful energizing palate tension, and ultra long finish.

Outcrop Vineyard

* The newest of the Eyrie vineyards, Outcrop Vineyard grows around 250′ elevation planted between 1982 and 2000 by the Eason family, then purchased by Eyrie in 2011. It grows a little under 5 acres entirely of Pinot Noir and stands adjacent to the lower portion of the Original Vines plantings. The Outcrop Pinot brings the most masculine structural presentation of the wines, while at the same time showing the most apparent pink and red berry notes. There is a lot of complexity here with layers of cedar and forest, alongside red cherry and berry, coupled with lime and grapefruit accents. The Outcrop carries an almost sinewy leanness, that expands into incredibly focused length with air.

Sisters Vineyard

*** Sisters Vineyard has consistently offered a beautiful delicacy in its single vineyard bottlings. There is a gracefulness to the fruit from this site that at the same time offers great persistence on the palate. The vineyard itself stands at 200′-360′ elevation, and is the most unique of the Eyrie sites, growing not only Pinot Noir but also a range of varieties not otherwise associated with Eyrie. First planted in 1987, the site originally was known as Three Sisters for its first vines of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Gris. As the varietal collection expanded, the name shifted to just Sisters.

Sisters Pinot is one of those wines I want to enjoy through the course of a day — a languid afternoon with just one bottle. There is so much sapidity here, coupled with floral elements, and that refined rhubarb, all touched by a volcanic patina, and refreshing evergreen accents.

Rolling Green Vineyard

* Up the road, Rolling Green Vineyard was established at 6 acres to Pinot Noir, with a small portion of Pinot Gris in 1988 at 540′-700′ elevation. The sloped site grows from more iron rich Jory soil than seen at the Original Vines site, with worn stones of basalt throughout producing a lean profile of lithe strength, with some of the masculine structure of Outcrop, but more pine, citrus, white and red cherry tension followed by a long saline crunch mineral finish. It tastes like that satisfying moment after a hike, drinking a citrus and cherry margarita on the porch of a cabin in the middle of a pine forest.

Daphne Vineyard

** Established in 1989, at the top of the hill, Daphne Vineyard grows Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Meunier in even darker iron rich Jory than Rolling Green, at an elevation of 720′-820′ elevation. The Pinot Gris from Daphne serves as the core of Eyrie’s Estate bottling. For the Pinot Noir, Daphne vineyard, with its slightly rounder, though still gracefully focused palate has been bottled on its own in select vintages.

Here the vines offer a bit fuller flavor, and exuberance than the quieter grace of Sisters. The flavors come in as mixed red fruits and citrus alongside a touch of cedar and pine cascading into an ultra long, stimulating finish. It’s a wine that can’t help but light you up.

Oregon Pinot Noir

* Bringing together a blend of Pinot from each of the sites, the Oregon Pinot Noir bottling is effectively Eyrie’s Estate Pinot. A little snug on first opening, this wine loves air, showing better with time open. It brings together rose petal with ripe cherry and lime powder accents, on a body of wet rock, light saline, and a red volcanic patina for an ultra long finish with lots of focus.

The 2012 Oregon Pinot Noir is available now. Eyrie is planning a late Fall/early Winter release for the Vineyard designates.

***

Thank you to Jason Lett.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

 

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Respect for Pinot Gris

Pinot gris, aka. Pinot grigio, proves to be one of the most under celebrated of grapes. Thanks largely to a trend towards light touch, or sweet style mass produced wines from the variety, the grape now is often thought of as bland, or lifeless.

Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, however, disagrees, naming Pinot grigio one of the noble varieties, capable of transporting direct expression of its site through its wine. Travels through Friuli support Stuckey’s view. Heritage houses in the region respect the grape. With the local tradition of Ramato style wines, for example, a little skin contact can go a long way to carrying not only copper toned colors, but richer flavor, and stimulating mineral expression. Or, a little lees time, and greater complexity with richness appears.

In Oregon, David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards too believed in the value of Pinot gris, establishing the first plantings of the variety in the new world in 1965, and the first vintage in 1970. In 1976, and then again in the late 1980s, Lett established further plantings of the grape. Lett’s belief was that when grown well, and vinified to allow varietal expression, Pinot gris could produce fresh, flavorful wines.

Eyrie 2012 Estate Pinot Gris

Eyrie’s Estate Pinot Gris consistently offers ridiculous value. Part of its secret rests in vine age, with a huge portion of the fruit coming from vines planted in the 1970s, giving flavor concentration and complexity. Lett’s vision placed Pinot gris as the perfect pairing for salmon, rather than Chardonnay, illustrating Eyrie’s ability to combine flavor with fresh acidity, and mineral length through the variety.

The Eyrie 2012 Estate Pinot gris offers the expressive fruit liveliness of the vintage, with lots of freshness, and mineral crispness at only $15-19 per bottle. It’s sick. Expect fresh melon, accents of lily with greenery, and a hint of rhubarb on tons of crunchy mineral length. This wine is all about palate stimulation, and making your mouth water without gouging your pocket book.

Eyrie 2012 Original Vines Pinot Gris

Eyrie Pinot Gris Original Vines 2012click on image to enlarge

In 2011 Eyrie President and Winemaker, Jason Lett, launched a special bottling of Pinot gris made only from fruit of the original Eyrie Pinot Gris planting established in 1965. It proved to be one of my favorite wines of last year.

For 2012 he continued the project, again vinifying juice from only the original vines for their own cuvée. The wine is aged in old, large wood casks, or tun, remaining on lees for a year, with slow malolactic fermentation to bring a mid-palate creaminess to the intense vibrancy of the fruit.

The 2012 Original Vines proves to be ultra stimulating, offering thrilling acidity and freshness coupled with loads of flavor. The fruit forwardness of the vintage shines here on the wines pink-lightning structure. This wine has definite perspective. No questions asked. Just fresh fruit, mineral-zing truth. I am in love.

If you’re near Oakland, Bay Grape on Grand carries the Original Vines Pinot Gris. It’s a super secret, ultra limited stash so get there quickly and shh…

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

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Antica Terra with Maggie Harrison

Maggie Harrison in Antica TerraMaggie Harrison in the Antica Terra Winery, visit August 2012

Two weeks ago, Jamie Goode and I spent the evening visiting with Maggie Harrison, tasting her Antica Terra wines after walking the vineyard. Jamie writes up her Antikythera 2011 Pinot Noir here. A write-up on our time in the vineyard is here.

Two years ago, Maggie and I met and discussed her views of Chardonnay, among other things. An evolution in the Antica Terra Aurata Chardonnay has been developing since, including a site change on the fruit. In the recent tasting, I couldn’t get enough of the 2012. It carried expressive, plush fruit with defined edges, and great focus — such an example of the potentials of ripeness kept in balance by precise lines and steady margins. The image I kept getting was of wine with burnished edges, a polished liquid, as if the fruit itself had gold leaf.

Maggie speaks with a similar voice as her wines — plush passion, with precise lines and lots of focus. Following are a few insights from Maggie about wine, and winemaking, specifically focused on her Chardonnay, gathered from the time tasting with she and Jamie.

Maggie Harrison, Jamie GoodeMaggie Harrison and Jamie Goode in Antica Terra Vineyard, visit July 2014

“I didn’t go to school [for winemaking]. All of it is just intuition, just deciding what the most beautiful thing that can be done is, and then going for it.” Jamie asks Maggie to comment on her previous work at Sine Qua Non. In responding, she further develops her point on intuition. “The thing that Manfred and Elaine [Krankl] gave me is, you look at what is in front of you, and you decide, what is the most lovely thing you can do?, and you go after it without compromise.”

She then further explains by describing her relation to the fermenters during and after harvest. “Having large tanks, for me, would create a level of remove that would mean I wouldn’t know how to make decisions any more. A temperature number? I don’t know what do do at that temperature by its number. The only rule here is that the fermenter can’t be taller than 50″ because I need to be able to walk around, and see everything, and, if I need to know the temperature, put my arm in it in seven different places.”

When Maggie and I met in the summer of 2012, the fruit was not yet in. It was unclear how the vintage would show in the cellar, let alone finish on the vine. At that time she spoke of Chardonnay in relation to the colder vintages of the years prior. She commented then, “The year we’re able to get too much from the fruit… well, I hope I’m here to see that. I welcome it.”

2012 would turn out to bring a sense of warmness not seen in the previous two years in Willamette Valley. The 2012 wines of Oregon are all about up-front fresh fruit. It’s a vintage character across the Valley that comes front and center to the glass such that right now the vintage shows first before site or the cellar. (I’m curious to see how this will shift in three to five years to reveal more of the underpinnings of the wines but for now its a vintage with fresh fruit and baby fat compared to the very cold years prior.)

Sitting down at the table this visit, we begin our tasting with the Chardonnay. Maggie describes her views to us. “I take a little bit of a different approach to Chardonnay. I feel Chardonnay is a total monster. It is so incredible, interesting, and monstrous even in the vineyard. It wants to give so much. When you grow it in a place with sun, it can get weird and tropical. I get it. But everyone is leaning against it. Maybe I am just whipped, or smug coming from California. But I feel we can do things differently to make it really beautiful here in Oregon. In 2010, and 2011 [when it was so cold in Oregon], it was easy to talk like this. 2012 was the year we could have totally eaten our words.”

We turn to discussing the Aurata specifically. “What I want in Chardonnay is that feeling of goldness, of being illuminated from within, without the wine itself in fact being golden. This wine is Shea Vineyard fruit. We had to change sites, and so spoke with Dick Shea. [The fruit] It goes to a place in our cellar where we see real intensity. I wanted to see what that felt like, to go there and see what that’s like in Oregon.”

The 2012 Aurata takes advantage of the vintage’s fresh fruit quality bringing Harrison’s sense of polish to it. After we discuss the vintage, and Aurata’s relationship to it, Harrison responds. “I might not go there every year, but it’s a wine that carries that vintage.”

***

Thank you to Maggie Harrison.

Thank you to Jamie Goode, and Michelle Kaufmann.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

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A Visit to Antica Terra w Maggie Harrison

Jr acting normal in Antica Terra Vineyardwith Jamie, Maggie, and Rachel at the top of Antica Terra, July 2014

It’s early evening at the end of a full day of wine tasting. Jamie Goode is driving, my daughter, Rachel in the back seat. I am trying to help navigate our way through country roads where street numbers do not show clearly. We’ve driven past our destination.

A half mile on, Jamie finds a driveway where we can turn around. As we turn, I’m scouting the horizon hoping to spot where we are headed in order to confirm the proper turn. Then, atop the hill high above us, I see it, and I can’t help but call out pointing. “Oh my god! Is that where we’re going? Look at that vineyard!” It’s Antica Terra high atop the hill. The vines clutch to steep slope side almost glowing in evening light. I make a phone call, and Maggie Harrison drives down the hill to meet us. We’re climbing the dirt road into Antica Terra.

Maggie Harrison, Jamie GoodeMaggie Harrison and Jamie Goode near the top of Antica Terra, July 2014

In the late 1980s, near the top of a hill in Eola-Amity, two New Yorkers paired up and planted Antica Terra vineyard to Pinot Noir, the steep, rolling slopes a call to complexity and concentration in the cooler reaches of Southern Willamette Valley. In 2005, after a few years making wine themselves, the pair decided to sell the site to a trio of friends, that would then also bring in Maggie Harrison as partner and winemaker.

At the time, Harrison was happily installed at Sine Qua Non in Santa Barbara County, working as assistant winemaker to Manfred and Elaine Krankl, while also making her own celebrated Syrah, Lillian. The Antica Terra team offered Harrison the winemaking post but she had no interest in moving. Wanting to convince Harrison, the Antica Terra partners chose to act covertly, asking her to visit the site simply to advise on viticulture for the upcoming season, hoping a glimpse of the vineyard would change her mind.

She flew to Portland, and with one of the partners, drove the length to Amity along suburban then country roads. Not until, but immediately upon arrival to the vineyard hill she knew. Within minutes, she tells us, she stepped behind one of the giant oak trees on the property for privacy, and called her now-husband to tell him, “we’re moving to Oregon.”

We’re standing at the top of the vineyard as she recounts the story. “This place has something to say,” she tells us. We’re looking into vines impossibly small for their age, but the canopy across the original sections is consistent and healthy. Harrison is explaining her attachment to the place in her characteristic humility. “I don’t know that I’ll be the person to best capture this place in the long run, but I had to work with it given the chance. I wanted to be part of it.”

Maggie Harrison, Jamie Goode, and Rachel walking the slopes of Antica TerraMaggie, Jamie, and Rachel walking the slopes of Antica Terra, July 2014

Harrison’s work with Antica Terra has helped deepen vine health too, thus bringing greater overall balance to the vineyard. While the original owners put in ample work establishing and cultivating the site, by 2006 there were still some sections they’d not been able to bring into total balance.

Standing near the top of Antica Terra, Harrison would look out over the top of the vines and see stress bands running the vineyard, waves of yellow leaves blowing through the canopy. The difficult sections did not seem to correlate with any particular element of planting — it wasn’t consistent to clonal type, vine age, or training method. No one knew for sure what was happening.

Harrison took an unconventional approach to treating the stressed portions of the vineyard initially. “It was like standing there with a sick kid. I needed to do something. So, I would walk the rows and put a teaspoon of molasses at the base of each vine.” Harrison explains. At Sine Qua Non, Harrison and Krankl collaborated for years with Austrian winemaker Alois Kracher. “Kracher told me molasses had the most available nutrients for the vines, so I tried it. I don’t know that it helped, but it was something I could do.”

The approach, while surprising, illustrates Harrison’s ideas of intention. Whether the molasses itself assisted the vines or not remains unclear, but the time walking and tending the vines one-by-one everyday gave Harrison insight into the site.

Antica Terra at Sunsetview from the top of the hill at Antica Terra, July 2014

As Harrison walked the vineyard she tracked the range of the stressed sections, and apparent soil changes. Eventually she placed flags in what turned out to be 38 spots where the team would later attempt to dig soil pits. Bringing in the backhoe gave insight. Topsoil proved less than 18″ in most spots, with vine roots clutched together in a ball above bedrock. Stress bands showed through those sections with shallow roots anytime temperatures rose too high. The roots had no way to find their water.

Though the decision was difficult — Harrison’s preference is to leave soils largely as found other than planting — they chose to rip ground down the middle of each row to a depth of 5 and a half feet. “It was horrible at first.” She admits. In ripping the ground to gain greater long term access for the roots, the roots that were in place were cut. “After a while though we started to recoup the vineyard.”

At the same time, the Antica Terra team chose to go organic. The initial change from conventional to organic farming is not easy. Vineyards tend to hyper-react initially to the change, over-growing weeds or fungus, taking a year or two to adjust depending on site.

Harrison’s view of going organic parallels the response to shallow soils in the vineyard, it’s a philosophy tempered with utility. “I believe in making a choice, saying, here is my intention. At the same time, I reserve the right to do whatever needs to happen to preserve the vineyard.” She explains. “So, in 2006, I said, we are going to go organic, unless I am going to lose the entire vineyard. Then, we’ll need to talk.” Though it was hard at first, the gamble worked. By 2007, the team was successfully farming organic.

Antica Terra Pinot NoirMaggie Harrison showing a Pinot Noir cluster in Antica Terra, July 2014

The promise of concentration and complexity spotted by the original owners of the site, proved true. The vines from Antica Terra produce few clusters, all of them small, with lots of hens and chicks throughout. The clusters tend to predominately hold berries without seeds, evidence of the challenged conditions growing in bedrock. The 2014 vintage, Harrison explains, offers the highest fruit production she’s seen from the site since 2006, though walking the rows with her, it’s clear the cluster count is still low compared to lower elevation plantings.

The reduced seed count offers an advantage in the cellar for Antica Terra wines. Seed tannins tend to be harsher than skin tannins. With fewer seeds present per cluster (and these clusters that often hold thicker skins) Antica Terra Pinot can expect still ample tannin presence, but worry less about tannin bitterness.

In the cellar of Antica Terrain the cellar of Antica Terra, July 2014

Beginning in 2009, Harrison bottled some of the Antica Terra vineyard fruit on its own. Back in the cellar, we’re tasting from the 2011 Antikythera, Antica Terra’s Estate Vineyard Pinot noir. It shows the dark concentrated elements of the vineyard cupped with multi-colored fruit edges, and a light dust patina. Though the wine is not lacking in fruit, fruit doesn’t seem to be the point. Instead, it’s a wine of elegant strength, with a core of precision and a lifting, lifting long finish.

***

For Jamie Goode’s write-up on the Antikythera: http://www.wineanorak.com/wineblog/oregon/the-lovely-antikythera-pinot-noir-2011-antica-terra

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I’ll be writing more about Antica Terra wines in a future post (I’m kind of crazy for the 2012 Aurata Chardonnay — and listening to Maggie’s views on Chardonnay proves interesting).

***

Thank you to Maggie Harrison.

Thank you to Jamie Goode.

Thank you to Michelle Kaufmann.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

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Touring the Willamette Valley with Jamie Goode + Jr

Jamie Goode and I were able to spend a day doing visits in the Willamette Valley. Jr accompanied us and did some filming along the way. Following our a few photos from our stops.

Jamie GoodeJamie Goode in Adelsheim‘s Calkin’s Lane Vineyard David PaigeDavid Paige, winemaker Adelsheim AdelsheimAdelsheim vineyard designate Pinot NoirClare CarverClare Carver, Big Table Farm Jr feeding cattleJr feeding cattle at Big Table Farm Brian MarcyBrian Marcy, Big Table Farm David Aubrey and Jamie GoodeDavid Aubrey and Jamie Goode, Westrey Wines WestreyOracle Vineyard Pinots, Westrey WinesBaby Lucy, Walter Scott Winesbaby Lucy, Walter Scott Wines Lucy Walter Scott Winesbaby Lucy, Walter Scott Wines Walter Scott WinesWalter Scott Pinot in barrel Dan RinkeDan Rinke, Johan Wines Dag SundbyDag Sundby, Johan Wines Johan Johan Wines Maggie Harrison, Jamie Goode, JrMaggie Harrison, Jamie Goode, Jr Maggie Harrison, Jamie GoodeMaggie Harrison, Jamie Goode Antica Terrasmall Pinot Noir clusters, Antica Terra Vineyard Antica Terraview from the top, Antica Terra Yumyum Antica Terraa selection of Antica Terra wines

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

A Visit to Noel Family Vineyards
Lisa and Michael Noel
Lisa and Michael Noel, Noel Family Vineyards, Chehalem Mountains, July 2014

We’re sitting together at the farm table looking at family photos. Michael and Lisa Noel’s oldest was married this Spring and I expressed interest in the event. They’ve kindly offered me a collection of snapshots to look through. In the album, I’m struck by the easy closeness of the now-married couple, and the sweetness of the Noel’s son. As I turn the pages I can’t help but comment on how kind he looks. In one photo he stands hugging his grandmother. It’s clear he loves her being there, and she feels comforted. When I look up, Michael is beaming. Lisa and I have gotten almost weepy, our eyes watering.

I’ve driven beyond the pavement of King’s Grade Road on the Western side of the Chehalem Mountains to visit a tiny Pinot Noir planting at the top of the hill, and meet the family behind it. The site is 3 acres, with 2 planted to 6 clones of Pinot Noir, creating what is effectively a field blend of the variety. Noel Family Vineyards relies entirely on the 2-acre site for its fruit. They source from no other growers.

Looking West from Noel Family Vineyardslooking West into Ribbon Ridge AVA from Noel Family Vineyards, July 2014

From the site, the Noel’s garner a perfect view. Facing south near the house, we look to the Dundee Hills, the first planted area of Willamette Valley. At the other side of the property, the vineyard itself slopes west. We stand firmly within the Chehalem Mountains AVA, but look towards the Ribbon Ridge AVA, and the coastal mountains that form the western boundary of the Willamette Valley. Standing in the view, a slight breeze picks up. By the time I leave, it is persistent.

Falling in Love with Wine

Noel Family Photo Album of Valpolicella, 1996a page from Michael and Lisa’s 1996 photo album, trip to Valpolicella

It was 1996 when the door opened to wine for Lisa and Michael Noel. The couple met in college at Carnegie-Mellon, eventually moving to Alabama for work. Lisa’s family, however, originates in Italy, and some still live there in Verona. The local culture of the region relies on neighborhood wineries where table wine comes from refilling the growler at your favorite cellar door.

In the midst of a visit with family, Lisa and Michael accompanied their relatives on an errand to refill the growler with Valpolicella from a local winery. Soon after arrival, however, the winemaker offered an invitation.

“Dip your glass into the vat to get some wine, he told me,” Michael explains. Michael climbed to the top of a ladder, drawing wine from the cement fermenter with his cup. “Then he asked, do you want to come inside the house?” Michael adds. He’s giddy as he describes the experience now almost twenty years old, “We weren’t even wine people at the time but were so excited to go there. I was leading the way [to the house],” he tells me smiling.

The family spent hours together tableside with the winemaker and his family enjoying wine, food, sharing stories. The experience changed their perspective. “It wasn’t even about the wine,” Michael explains. “There we were sitting in his home with him.”

The experience in Italy was a sort of first step to wine. Upon return to the United States they began exploring American wine. In the meantime, work had brought them to Oregon.

“Michael wanted to drink local,” Lisa tells me. Lisa enjoyed wine too but at first wasn’t drawn to the lighter body of Pinot Noir. She’d gotten used to the 1990s style of California Cabernet. “I wasn’t excited about Pinot Noir at first but he was persistent. So we drove around together tasting, and learning about local wines.”

Eventually the passion for learning pushed a more hands-on interest. Michael began making wine in their garage while they also started looking for affordable property they could plant to Pinot Noir. “Michael doesn’t do anything half-heartedly,” Lisa tells me smiling. By the mid-2000s the couple had found their property in the Chehalem Mountains and together cleared the land, and planted vines.

At Home in the Chehalem Mountains

Noel Family Vineyards Pinot NoirMichael unabashedly admits to liking pretty wines. In pairing with a winemaker, and vineyard manager both he sought to develop with them an expression of the beauty he sees in the place they now grow their wine. The result holds.

Noel Family Pinot are lovely wines both characteristically Chehalem while also their own — pretty, delicate with integrated, and distinctive spice elements, carrying nice tension and depth, all about red fruit, and a Northern forest aroma and flavor held in fine boned balance.

With the abundance of the 2012 vintage, Michael and winemaker Todd Hamina decided to satisfy Michael’s curiosity and work with new coopers. The result generated Noel Family’s classic Estate style Pinot Noir, alongside a special vintage bottling named, Night. Night carries a darker core, aroma and palate profile compared to the Estate, bringing in light blue and black fruit accents, with a bit more apparent tannin, and strength of presence. It’s a wine for wine lovers still finding their way into Pinot, and pairs well with stronger food flavors like truffle accents or funky cheeses.

To taste the wines, the three of us sit around the table of Michael and Lisa’s home enjoying food and family photos. They designed their table as a center piece to the home. It’s in homage, Michael explains, to their early experience in Italy. We’re surrounded on two sides by windows, some looking south to Dundee, the rest west to Ribbon Ridge. The windows were largely added to the home during renovation — the table, surrounded by windows, to be shared in appreciation for the advantages of growing local.

***

For more information on Noel Family Vineyard and Wines: http://noelfamilyvineyard.com/

***

Thank you to Michael and Lisa Noel.

Thank you to Jill Klein Matthiasson.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

The Rise of the Rhone Garagiste Rhone Rangers Seminar

This past weekend the Rhone Rangers hosted a panel of eight “Garagiste” winemakers each producing less than 3000 cases of wine for their individual label. Luke Sykora facilitated the discussion crossing a range of wine types and locales. What the wines, selected by the Rhone Rangers Education committee from membership submissions, shared was a well made, food friendly character.

The Rhone Rangers celebrates wines made from Rhone varieties within the United States. Though the largest concentration of winery membership arises from California, Oregon, Washington, and Virginia also join the organization. Membership offers the opportunity to support and select research on Rhone varieties, and participation in both local and national events. The recent Rhone Rangers weekend marked their largest annual event with the largest Rhone wine tasting in the country.

In circumscribing its domain, the Rhone Rangers include 22 grape varieties within their description of Rhone wine. The 22 varieties predominately arise from the Rhone region of France, and include not only the widely planted and better known reds and whites of the area, but also grapes historic to the Valley. Additionally, the group includes Petite Sirah among their allowable grapes. The variety originates as a cross between two Rhone grapes developed in France in the 1880s. Though the variety is not today seen in the Rhone Valley, because of its Rhone parentage, and history of planting with other Rhone grapes in California it is included.

The Rhone Valley has a strong history of blending and co-fermentation of varieties. With that in mind, the Rhone Rangers count wines that blend any of the 22 grapes, as well as wines made to be at least 75% from Rhone varieties.

Most of the 22 Rhone varieties are planted in very small number within the United States. The truth is that Rhone wines still represent a small portion of the overall wine market with far more plantings rooted in the popular varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, as two examples. As a result, Rhone varieties are generally planted to small acreage.

For larger producers such small plantings are often used as a sort of spice box accent within a larger blend, sometimes still named by its predominate variety. A Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, might be given extra heft by an accent of Petite Sirah. However, the fruit of lesser known varieties often sells for far less than the commonly known types. For smaller producers, it can be almost impossible to afford the cost of well-known grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. Small plantings of unusual grapes, then, offer a more affordable option, but also the chance to work with something new without the pressures of market expectation. The Garagiste winemaker, then, represents the unexpected freedom of experimentation given by a shoestring budget, and a glimpse into the still uncharted possibilities of quality wine.

The Wines of the Garagiste Rhone Rangers Panel

The Rhone Rangers Garagiste panel offered the chance to taste from the range of 22 varieties and their blending opportunities, including some of the lesser known of the Rhone grapes, as well as some of the classics. As mentioned, what the 8 wines selected shared was a well made, food friendly character. Pleasing juiciness was a common theme across the tasting. Following are notes on the 8 wines.

Acquiesce Winery, Lodi, 2013 Picpoul Blanc Estate
presented by Sue Tipton, 65 cases

Offering a 100% Picpoul for her 2013 bottling, Acquiesce Winery‘s Picpoul Blanc showcases the “lip sting” element definitive of the variety through tons of juiciness. However, the wine surpasses the singular acid focus often found with the grape, to give a vibrant lift through the palate with a softening finish. The 2013 brings a nice range of fruit characteristics including white and pink grapefruit peel with touches of pear blossom and a lightly floral musk finish. The flavors couple with the juiciness to tumble across the palate into a long finish.

Caliza Winery, Paso Robles, 2012 White Blend “Sidekick”
presented by Carl Bowker, Roussanne/Viognier, 125 cases

The Caliza Winery white blend comes from limestone and shale soils near the cooler Templeton Gap of Paso Robles. The wine offers floral chalk and dried floral aromatics and palate moving through a juicy mid-palate and into a long, increasingly juicy, cracked white and green pepper finish. There is nice tension through the palate here and a good balance of rounded flavors with long energetic lines.

* Stark Wines, Healdsburg, 2012 Viognier
presented by Christian Stark, 125 cases

Based in Healdsburg but sourcing fruit from the granite soils of the Sierra Foothills, Stark offers a nicely focused, well balanced expression of Viognier giving just a kiss of tropical flower Viognier is known for without any sweetness. The floral elements show in softened, clean presentation run through with a nerviness throughout, carrying into an ultra long juicy finish. There is a nice blend of elements here — great juiciness with a softened aromatic, and a light pinch of dryness on the finish.

* Two Shepherds, Santa Rosa, 2013 Grenache Gris Rosé
presented by William Allen, 35 cases

Drawing from 100+ year old, dry farmed vines in Mendocino, Two Shepherds delivers a pink-red fruit-and-floral spiced example of the uncommon variety. The wine offers delicate (without weakness) flavor complexity with a slippery mouthfeel and crunchy, lightly drying finish. The focus here is on clean fruit expression and juiciness with integrated natural fruit spice.

Ranchero Cellars, Paso Robles, 2010 Carignan, Columbini Vineyard
presented by Amy Butler, 150 cases

Based in Paso Robles, but sourcing Carignan from 90+ year old vines in Mendocino County, Ranchero Cellars delivers vibrant while dark aromatics with a body of earthy fruit and flower of wild rose and dark floral musk, touched by a faint mint lift. This is a super juicy wine with easy tannin grip and a moderately long drying finish.

Folin Cellars, Gold Hill, 2010 Red Blend “Misceo”
presented by Rob Folin, 40% Syrah 40% Mourvedre 20% Grenache, 225 cases

Celebrating Rhones in Southern Oregon, Folin Cellars gives a classic, well balanced Rhone red blend with a focus on dark fruit and floral accents, integrated through with natural fruit spice character and a moderately long cracked pepper finish. There is nice palate tension and texture on this wine. It’s offers a drying palate, juicy enough for movement, and clean fruit expression. This is a wine perfect for salumi.

* MacLaren Wine Co, Sonoma, 2010 Syrah Judge Family Vineyard
presented by Steve Law, 122 cases

With fruit from Bennett Valley, the MacLaren Wine Co offers a ton of yes!-ness in really a pretty, while hard to describe Syrah. The wine opens to pretty, round aromatics with menthol accents, then turns into a super juicy palate of dark rock and quartz mineral crunch, and savory earth elements brushed through with floral lines. The wine gives a surprising, clean, floral presentation with an earthy underbelly and integrated spice and herbal elements. I vote yes!

Kukkula, Paso Robles, 2012 Red Blend “Noir”
presented by Kevin Jussila, 86% Syrah 14% Counoise, 149 cases

From the Westside of Paso Robles, the Kukkula red blend presents dark cherry and alpine strawberry fruit candy aromatics moving into a juicy palate of dark plum with blossom, wild violet musk, and menthol with cracked pepper finish. The wine moves from floral aromatics into a musky juicy palate. There is just enough tannin grip for a pleasing mouthfeel but the focus is on juiciness and length.

***

Thank you to the Rhone Rangers and Luke Sykora.

Thank you to William Allen.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

4

West Coast Grenache Noir

This recent weekend the Rhone Rangers hosted their Spring event featuring the largest U.S. Rhone-focused tasting in the country, the induction of Tablas Creek founder Robert Haas into their Hall of Fame, and two educational seminars. The second seminar focused in specifically on West Coast North American iterations of Grenache Noir, looking at the work of eight winemakers from distinctive regions, and moderated by Luke Sykora of Wine and Spirits Magazine.

Grenache Noir Characteristicsclick on image to enlarge

In selecting Grenache as a focal point, the seminar turned its attention to characteristics of the world’s most planted Rhone variety. Depending on site and winemaking style, the grape offers a medium bodied wine ranging from bright red juiciness with supple tannin to more weighted fleshiness and darker red-to-purple flavors.

Though the variety is prone to dropping acid, it can offer a wash of flavor with lots of juicy flow when picked before acids drop. The tannin of the variety too tends towards the lighter side, analogous to Pinot Noir in tannin presence. Many winemakers take advantage of the characteristic to offer more delicate expression, but in good Southern Rhone tradition blending with even a touch of other varieties such as Syrah can increase the heft of the final wine.

In selecting the wines for the panel, the Rhone Rangers Educational Committee chose to pick wines from distinctive regions. Though Grenache proves to be the world’s most planted Rhone variety, its development in California and Oregon vinification is still in its earlier stages. As a result, a number of the wines shown represented the first vintage of working with the grape, even from experienced winemakers.

Bob Lindquist of Qupé opened the panel expressing his affection for the variety. He brings a wealth of experience with Rhone grapes from Santa Barbara County to the table. As example, because Grenache varieties are prone to oxidation their aging before bottling needs to be carefully considered. However, as Lindquist discussed, Grenache does better texturally with some slow oxygen exposure. With that in mind, it is rare to see Grenache aged in Stainless. Most winemakers choose oak, though some are also starting to use concrete, to allow for slow air exchange.

The delicacy of Grenache favors neutral oak. However, making the point about the importance of site, Chris Cameron of Broken Earth on the Eastside of Paso Robles explained that, with the warmer temperatures of their region, small portions of new oak help showcase more flavor complexity in the wine.

The Rhone Rangers Grenache Panel Wines

The panel showcased well-made examples of Grenache from a range of growing conditions. Half of the wines presented as still quite tight in their presentation currently due to age, thus wanting more time in bottle or more air before drinking. Following are notes for each of the wines.

Quady North, Jacksonville, Oregon, 2012 Grenache “Bomba”presented by Herb Quady (95% Grenache 5% Syrah)

From Southern Oregon, the Quady North Bomba offers a rocky rusticity with lots of palate tension moving through a long juicy finish. The wine is quite young right now wanting more time in bottle to open but showing structure that speaks well for its future expression. The aromatics give dark cherry musk moving into a brighter palate with the full range of cherry elements–red cherry, cherry blossom musk, branch and leaf oil–all accented by hints of pink grapefruit oil. The palate is tight right now but carries a pleasing tension, and good juicy length.

Mounts Family Winery, Healdsburg, CA, 2011 Grenache Estate
presented by David Mounts

Using fruit from Dry Creek Valley, the Mounts Estate steps out of the glass with a mixed red fruit carbonic lift moving into a darker fruit palate. The wine is still tight on the palate wanting more time in bottle. It moves from smashed red cherry and raspberry blossom into floral musk accents on a line of cracked pepper and a perfumed, lightly drying finish. The nose right now is rather singular and lightly cloying, but there is a nice textural element to the moderate tannin and good tension through the palate.

Campovida, Hopland, CA, 2012 Grenache, Dark Horse Vineyards
presented by Sebastian Donoso

Their first vintage working with Grenache from Mendocino, the Campovida Dark Horse Vineyard brings an integrated fruit-earth-floral aromatic forward into the palate. The wine offers both red cherry and blossom, with floral powder notes showing through a savory cracked pepper mid-palate and accents of pink grapefruit zest. The wine is still tightly focused in its presentation but gives a nice juiciness to tannin balance and good length.

Miner Family Wines, 2012 Grenache, Hudson Vineyards
presented by Maura Christoffers

The Miner Family showed their Grenache sourced from Hudson Vineyard in the cooler Napa region of Carneros, the first crop yield year for the fruit. The wine gives soft red cherry with wild pink rose through a spiced and mint lift aromatic carrying forward on the palate with a light cherry powder mid-palate and clay finish. The wine offers an easy acid-tannin balance, and long finish.

Baiocchi Wines, Fair Play, CA, 2010 Grenache, Sharon’s Vineyard
presented by Greg Baiocchi

With fruit from a small, high elevation planting in El Dorado county region of the Sierra Foothills, the Baiocchi Sharon’s Vineyard gives the nervy tension characteristic of granite slopes. The aromatics here offer feminine perfumed lift with accents of green chili. The palate offers a smooth powdered cherry blossom and cracked pepper mid-palate with powerful flavor, strong structural tension, and a round floral finish. There is a ton of presence to this wine, with textural tannin and plenty of juiciness to keep it moving through a long finish.

* McCay Cellars, Lodi, CA, 2011 Grenache
presented by Michael McCay

My favorite of the wines on the panel, the McCay Grenache offers a sense of completeness that makes it ready to drink now with a distinctiveness that stands out within a line-up of Grenache. Showing alpine strawberry and wild cherry throughout, on the palate the wine gives the suave tannin of a sandier site with nice juiciness. There is a beautiful flavor-to-feel balance, and nice palate contact-to-movement dance, that both carry through with lots of delicate (without being weak) prettiness.

* Qupe, Los Olivos, CA, 2011 Grenache, Sawyer-Lindquist Vineyard
presented by Bob Lindquist

Growing their fruit in Edna Valley, Qupé‘s Sawyer-Linquist Vineyard offers nice complexity with ease and a great focus on grounded juiciness. This is a nicely made wine giving lifted perfume of red cherry tree, touches of strawberry, and menthol accents carrying forward into a light pleasing palate with ruby grapefruit peel and integrated fruit spice through a long juicy palate. This wine is full of mouthwatering flavor.

Broken Earth, Paso Robles, CA, 2012 Grenache Estate
presented by Chris Cameron

From the warmer side of Paso Robles, the Broken Earth Estate carries the most overt accessibility with a spiced finish of the wines on the panel. This Grenache focuses in on the pinker side of red fruit aroma and flavor carrying red berry candy powder elements through the mid-palate and accents of ginger powder with light clove touched by black pepper through the finish, all on a body of melting tannin and juicy length. I have to admit that this wine is not my style as its focus stays more on sweet (not sugary) pink-red fruit flavor but it is a well done example of its type.

***

Thank you to the Rhone Rangers, and Luke Sykora.

Thank you to William Allen.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

5

Drinking Eyrie 2000 Marguerite Pinot Noir

In the year 2000, one of the founders of a U.S. American wine region celebrated the birth of his first grandchild by creating a special cuvée of Pinot Noir from the best of his vineyards. He named the wine Marguerite, for his granddaughter.

A large part of my admiration for wine rests in the way heritage, creative expression, agricultural abundance, and dedication all coalesce, dancing together in one bottle–the glass poured, then, also bringing together the best of our senses with our intellect. In the most beautiful wines the power of such intersections shine lit from the glass–unspoken and alive on the palate, enlivening too the heart of the person enjoying.

The Eyrie Marguerite

click on illustration to enlarge

In the year 2000, in recognition of the birth of his first grandchild, Marguerite, David Lett reserved a special Pinot Noir cuvée from the best of his vineyards. This year, Jason Lett released the wine.

The Eyrie Vineyards Marguerite carries an elegant and beautiful nose atop a delicate palate. It’s a wine that rests in subtlety, that does not exert itself but instead opens over time, gaining richness and life over the second, and on into the third day.

The wine dances with homemade beef and mushroom broth, caramelized peaches, and spearmint coupled by accents of rose petal, blueberry bramble, and herbal lift on a frame of easy reverie. This is a wine that rests in this world and reflects easily into the next. It does not concern itself with tradition, yet arises from it. It knows itself too well to convince you. The love is already there. It was made from it.

***

Thank you to Jason Lett. This is one of the wines I give thanks for this holiday season.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

3

Tasting Brooks with Janie Brooks Heuck

A couple of weeks ago Janie Brooks Heuck and Revel Wine hosted a Brooks Riesling tasting at 18 Reasons in San Francisco. The event brought together a small group of writers and wine industry folks to taste through four flights including two dry Riesling verticals, one 2012 horizontal showing soil variation, and one off-dry to sweet style flight.

The grape has been planted through the Willamette Valley since the early stages of their industry, however, initial styles were largely unsuccessful. Most early examples are today jokingly compared to Sprite. The future of Riesling in Willamette Valley became uncertain, then, when many early planters of the variety began pulling vines to shift attention to the more sale-able Chardonnay.

Jimi Brooks, however, saw potential in the Valley’s cool climate viticulture for the grape. He wished to preserve the heritage Riesling plantings in the region, with the idea that older vines would also produce higher quality fruit. He spent years hunting old vineyards, and convincing vineyard owners if they kept their vines, he’d buy their harvest. Some of the oldest Riesling vines in Willamette, then, continue today thanks partially to Jimi’s work. Brooks Wines now owns one of the oldest Riesling vineyard in the region, planted in 1974 on own roots.

Following are drawn notes, and brief information for each of the four flights tasted.

Tasting Dry Rieslings

Brooks Willamette Valleyclick on illustration to enlarge

Brooks’ winemaker, Chris Williams, ferments everything in small lots, then generating the best blend.

The Brooks’ Willamette Valley dry Riesling consists primarily of Brooks’ Estate fruit, with some grapes from sites further up Valley as well. The Willamette Valley blend flight began with the 2004 vintage, Chris’s first vintage as winemaker for Brooks. The second wine, 2007, was the coldest vintage on record at the time, later trumped for depth of chill first by 2010, and finally by 2011, the current coldest on record. 2009, on the other hand, was one of the Valley’s hottest vintages, with consistently higher yields and higher alcohols throughout Willamette. The first flight, then, shows a generous range of climate impact on the Willamette Valley blend, with lots of youth still throughout the four wines. The Willamette Valley blend is considered one of Brooks’ flagship whites. It reliably offers intense juiciness and linear character. I am a fan of its focus on mouth quencing acidity.

Brooks Araclick on illustration to enlarge

Another flagship white for Brooks, the Ara offers pretty floral notes alongside juicy length, countering the more linear character of the Willamette Valley blend. The five-year span on the Ara flight showed how beautifully the wine ages, with 2005 carrying a still youthful presentation.

Brooks 2012click on illustration to enlarge

In order to showcase the soil variation expressed through Riesling, Janie and Chris selected a 2012 horizontal of their three dry wines. The Yamhill grows from sedimentary soils giving a complex, multi-fruit focused presentation consistently showing peach and green apple through vintages. The Estate fruit, however, grows from volcanic soils and moves to a more floral and citrus focus. The Ara offers a blend of both soil types bringing the advantages of each with plush fruit character, lifted floral aromatics, and long juicy lines.

Tasting Off-dry and Sweet Rieslings

Brooks Off-Dry Sweetclick on illustration to enlarge

Today, Brooks produces nine different Riesling labels ranging through each step of the dry-to-sweet range. Though the overall tasting was focused primarily on dry wines, the final flight offered insight into their medium-dry and sweet styles.

Chris likes to entertain the sweet-to-juicy balance, letting the acidity focus wash the residual sugar from the palate. Though my preference falls strongly in the dry category of Rieslings, Brooks off dry, off sweet, and sweet wines have consistently proven pleasant to drink. With the winemaker’s focus on keeping acidity up, and Willamette’s cooler climate supporting that goal, their wines with residual sugar move through the palate with lots of palate stimulation and juicy length. The final flight, as well as the dry flights, showed again the quality of Brooks’ Rieslings. I am a fan.

***
Thank you to Janie Brooks Heuck, Chris Williams, and Dan Fredman.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com