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pinot grigio

Tasting with Sandi Skerk

Sandi Skerk

Sandi Skerk and his 2009, 2010 Ograde White blend

Kevin Wardell of Bergamot Alley in Healdsburg, Cailfornia opened his doors early yesterday to a small industry tasting of Skerk wines. The event was guided by both Sandi Skerk himself, and importer Oliver McCrum of Oliver McCrum Wines, and hosted too by Kris Clausen of Vinifera Marketing.

The team selected side by side vintages of four wines central to the Skerk portfolio, as well as a preview of upcoming releases, and a not-for-sale passito.

Skerk originates at the Italy-Slovenia intersection of Karst (or Carso), so named for the geological formation of the same name that dominates the area. The region sits atop a bed of limestone, shaped and hollowed by movements of water, then layered over with shallow red-iron soils. Skerk’s own cellar rests along a limestone hollow with holes in the floor blowing fresh sea-influenced air from below.

Vineyards only a short distance from the Adriatic, and grown up hillsides North of Trieste, Skerk exemplifies the magical, quiet presence of the region. His wines and personality both showcase a steady persistence, carried on fine frame, with elegant aromatics, and savory delicate palate.

It is hard to describe the stimulation and life found in a glass of Skerk wine — they are simultaneously clean, and unexpected; at once pretty and yet carrying notes of meat; the palate persists through delicate frame full of sapidity and Italian salato. These are wines designed to showcase tradition and elegance both.

Skerk’s family carries a history of winemaking, though Sandi’s own professional training begins with mechanical engineering. Eventually choosing to return to the family business, Sandi began in 2000 experimenting with techniques practiced by his grandfather.

As Skerk explains, in his grandfather’s generation, winemaking typical to the region fermented all white grapes together on skins, and all reds together on skins. Macerated ferments normally lasted 10 days to two weeks, before being pressed and aged. Skerk’s father focused instead on straight-to-press practices, fermenting whites’ juice only.

In 2000, Sandi returned to experimenting with extended fermentation on skins lasting around 30 days. In his most recent vintages, Skerk has reduced maceration length to 2 weeks, bringing his approach closer to that originally used by his grandfather.

Grapes are picked based on taste, with beautiful juiciness and clean aromatics consistently showing through his wines. By utilizing only pristine fruit, Skerk is able to avoid sulfur additions until prior to bottling.

Skerk keeps his cellar techniques disciplined while also straightforward, choosing to keep a steady eye on helpmates like pristine picked fruit, CO2, and submerged cap. The wines are kept on lees until a month prior to bottling, to further support the wines’ own natural immune system. In this way, Skerk is able to keep free sulfur targets around only 20 ppm.

Tasting Skerk Wines

Skerk portfolio

Skerk Vitovska 2009 and 2010

Indigenous to the region, Vitovska grows with thick skins and big bunches. Skerk head trains his Vitovska in order to encourage smaller berry and bunch size, thus increasing the skin-to-juice ratio for his macerated ferments.

The aromatics of all Skerk wines are greatly increased from his reliance on skin contact. With scents of fruit-based (not oak) nutmeg and cardamom integrated into the apricot blossom and orange spice of the nose, the 2009 cascades into savory flavors of prosciutto, pepper and melon on the palate. This wine exemplifies the Italian idea of salato and sapidity–intensive mouth stimulation with savory, mineral salinity.

The 2010 drinks like picnic on the sea shore, with orange and apricot blossom laced through with clove aromatics, followed by prosciutto on a touch of melon and breadstick, hints of red berries and salty seagrass on the finish.

Skerk Malvazija 2010 and 2011

Made with the Malvasia Istriana grape, the 2010 Malvazija shows pretty aromatics of pink and yellow flowers, followed by a tightly focused palate that opens significantly with air to reveal crisp apple, quince, touches of red currant and black cap. The wine is both savory and floral, with beautiful integration, and long palate stimulation.

Malvazija 2011 gives apple blossom, pink tea rose, crisp apple, and quince, giving savory palate notes of rock salt, cracked pepper, and mineral crunch. The wine offers textural richness and a long finish. The 2011 Malvazija will be available for release in February 2014.

Skerk Ograde 2009 and 2010

Made in a cofermented blend of Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon, Vitovska, and Malvasia Istria, the Ograde offers the sophisticated, fine boned, complexity possible with a harmony of grapes. I enjoy Skerk wines very much generally, but this was my first taste of the Ograde. I especially enjoyed it.

Skerk 2009, 2010 Ogradeclick on illustration to enlarge

Giving pretty floral aromatics, followed by textural savory palate, the 2010 shows herbal aspects, to the 2009’s lightly jalapeno notes. Where the 2009 offers pink and fresh floral apects, the 2010 crisp white notes. These are beautiful wines.

Skerk Terrano 2009 and 2010

Made with the Teran grape, Skerk’s Terrano carries bright red fruit acidity coupled with savory plum, and touches of pickled cherry. The 2009 opens with pink floral and plum blossom, moving into prosciutto, black pepper, and long savory, salato finish. The 2010 offers plum and cherry blossom, alongside the savory palate, with pickled cherry, and refreshing cucumber moving with beautiful length. This is an ideal wine for crusted, medium rare, red meat.

(Not for Sale) 2010 Passito Terrano

We closed the tasting with Skerk’s hand-bottled Terrano passito. The wine offered a beautiful example of juicy-to-sweet balance, concentrated red currant, cranberry, and blackcap, moving into an impressive savory finish. A hand written home bottle is a special joy of mine. What a treat to enjoy this one all the way from Carso.

Thank you to Sandi Skerk, Oliver McCrum, and Kris Clausen.

Thank you to Sam Bilbro, Megan Glaab, and Kevin Wardell.

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


Last week I drew up and wrote up the wines of the Scarpetta portfolio, along with a summary of the lovely lunch that Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, and Bobby Stuckey threw for several of us at St. Vincent’s in San Francisco. Unfortunately, I was traveling without my scanner and so couldn’t properly place the tasting notes illustration for the wines.

Here’s the Scarpetta comic properly scanned. (I’ve also replaced the photograph of it in the original post.)


Scarpetta wines

click on comic to enlarge


Jr and I are back in Sonoma again returning to our regular schedule of me tasting and interviewing people in wine, and her going off to school. Though, not till she recovers from some nasty cold. Hope you’re all well and enjoying the move from Winter into Spring with all its fits and starts. Joy to all of you!

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

First of all, please forgive. I am currently traveling without my scanner, so after spending the day drawing I could only post my notes from Scarpetta’s current portfolio by taking a photo of it. I’ll reload the scanned-in image after I’ve returned to Sonoma next week. In the meantime, let the photo of the drawing suffice. Thanks! Updated with the scanned image!


Celebrating Friuli (w a little help from Barbera): Scarpetta & Frasca

Scarpetta wines

click on image to enlarge; click twice to enlarge more

Bobby Stuckey greets me at the door with a smile and a glass of pink bubbles. I’m happy I took the drive to San Francisco. After a few moments everyone has arrived and we sit. Lunch is going to begin.

Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, and Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson have traveled from Boulder, Colorado, home of their well-known and celebrated Frasca Restaurant, to share their love for Friuli. After establishing their Friuli inspired restaurant, the team expanded to begin Scarpetta Wine starting with Friulano, Friuli’s classic white.

Stuckey introduces the day’s activities. “I feel like I’m in the cool kids club. But it’s surprising too because I feel like I’m still punk rock, and I feel like I’m still a cross country running nerd, but I get to hang with you guys. So, thanks.” The event includes Sommeliers, Wine Buyers, and Wine Writers from around the Bay Area.

The Sparkling Rosé

Bobby Stuckey

Bobby Stuckey setting the stage

Stuckey continues, focusing on the wine. He explains that the rosé offered upon entry is made with the Charmat method using a slightly unusual blend for the style of Franconia (aka. Blaufrankisch) and Pinot Nero (aka. Pinot Noir). Though the Charmat method is often maligned for its association with poor quality versions of Prosecco, Stuckey explains the technique is more centrally all about capturing tenderness and aromatics. Combined with care, and old vine material, Stuckey believes it creates a unique sparkling rosé.

The wine is paired with a winter Friulano Salad of apple, radicchio, shaved horseradish, and shaved hard cheese. The salad is all lightness and zest alongside the savory, floral bubbles. A beautiful opening.

Love for Friulano

To put the wine Friulano in its proper context, Stuckey compares it to Chardonnay. Where the French grape offers a neutral palate that allows technique to be shown on top, Friulano doesn’t. Where the French grape has been cleaned up and clonally selected, Friulano hasn’t. Instead, Friulano carries distinctive, even funky aromatics that Stuckey compares to the “wild dog of agriculture.”

For all the funk Stuckey ascribes to his beloved grape, the Scarpetta version is a clean, refreshing offering of its wine–all lifted aromatics, rounded palate, and pleasing viscosity on a stimulating palate. (Truth is though, whatever funk Friulano may have, I’m simply a fan of the grape.)

The wine comes to us alongside Friuli’s Native food, Frico–a fried cheese dish bringing together dried firm cheese with a molten center of Montasio cheese. Last year during COF2012, a group trip to Friuli six of us were lucky enough to take, we ate Frico daily. Don’t hate me Italy, but Mackinnon-Patterson’s version is even better, all smooth, lush, pungent, and easy mixed with smoked ricotta and sprinkled with fresh green onion.

Tasting the Whites

Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson

Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson serving up his risotto

Over time, Scarpetta expanded its white focus stepping into International varieties that have become classics of Friuli in their own right, both giving a unique presentation in that region.

* Pinot Grigio

As Stuckey explains, Pinot Grigio, though often maligned, can give a sense of freshness, with seriousness and concentration. Stuckey tells us, Pinot Grigio properly understood is a vehicle for terroir. “It is that,” he says, “that makes it a noble grape.”

Mackinnon-Patterson comes out from the kitchen to serve his Risotto and builds on Stuckey’s idea by drawing a parallel between cooking food and making wine. For Frasca’s chef, cooking is all about layers of flavor made through treating the flavors with time. In listening to Mackinnon-Patterson explain the courses, while tasting the foods and the wine, what I find in common are delicate flavors with stamina and presence. Each course, like the wines, comes in lifted, dancey, and rich.

* Sauvignon

Stuckey considers the idea of Sauvignon Blanc in Friuli, there referred to as simply Sauvignon. In Stuckey’s view, Sauvignon is the secret weapon of the region. It is the Ponca, their calcium rich soil, combined with the marginal climate of the area that offers a unique opportunity for the grape to give a triology of fruits–orchard, citrus, and stone–layering the mouth in unexpected complexity. Such flavors alongside the great acidity indigenous to Friulian wines and Sauvignon gives something more than a simply refreshing white wine.

Turn to Barbera

Scarpetta wines

Our meal finishes with a surprising turn (if you didn’t already know the Scarpetta portfolio), a red from Piedmont. Stuckey explains why they decided to focus on Barbera, their only wine from outside Friuli. In his view, the grape is the gateway wine to drinking Italian reds. For people used to French reds, Italians come with a lot more traction. For those drinking New World reds, the earthy flavors are often surprising. Barbera, on the other hand, offers a textural and flavoral connection to other Italian reds in a lighter, juicier, food friendly physique. This wine we drink with meat.

While Barbera is most commonly made in the Barbera d’ Alba DOC of Piedmont, there the grapes play second fiddle to their more popular neighbor Nebbiolo. In the Barbera del Monferrato DOC, however, Barbera is the focus with the vines being planted in high density, steep vineyards, and given the chance for old vine age.

Stuckey describes how he thinks of the grape’s characteristics. “This is what I think about Barbera,” he tells us. “It’s tangular. This grape is tangy, and angular. So we give it no new wood. It’s all about letting it be noble–a vehicle for terroir. That’s tangular.”

Stuckey invites us to enjoy the wines and food with one final comment. “Here’s what I want you to know,” he says. “When it comes to Scarpetta and Frasca, I would like to meet you on the corner of drinkable and thinkable.”

Thank you to Bobby Stuckey, Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson for the food, wine, good company, and invitation.

Thank you to David Lynch for hosting the tasting at St. Vincent, San Francisco.


For great photos and more from the LA Scarpetta-Frasca tasting check out Whitney’s post over at Brunellos Have More Fun.

For more on the Seattle offering read Jameson’s post at JamesonFink.com.

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


Thank you to Eric Asimov for recommending this article in The New York Times Diner’s Journal “What We’re Reading”, February 19, 2013.


Circling George Vare: One Way White Maceration Ferments Came into California

George Vare, an investor with decades of experience in Napa wine, celebrates the work of experimental winemakers. For Vare, the passion of young people trying new approaches exemplifies the future of the California wine industry.

Operating outside the mainstream appears as a theme in Vare’s own history with the industry. In early 1995, Vare and Michael Moone decided to step outside the Cabernet and Chardonnay focus of 1980s and 90s Napa Valley and established a new company, Luna Vineyards. Vare had worked for decades already at scouting and expanding the commercial success of now historic Napa wine labels, including Geyser Peak Winery, Beringer Wine Estates, and others. In 1995, however, after considering the pulse of Napa wine, Moone and Vare realized there was room for taking their business in a different direction.


George Vare in his Ribolla Gialla vineyard, July 2012

George Vare in his Ribolla Gialla, Friulano vineyard

Though Italian immigrants had helped establish the original wine industry through the valley, by the end of the last century, little interest in Italian varieties could be found rooted in the area. Together, Moone and Vare decided to take advantage of that missing piece by making Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio.

The original goals of Luna were to make Italian varietals to rival old world quality. Early vintages were described as carrying “old world austerity and terroir, bolstered by new world fullness and verve” (Boca Raton News 16 March 2003).

In March 1995, Vare and Moone’s Luna purchased a Chardonnay vineyard at what were then the Southern reaches of the Silverado trail. What is remarkable about the story is that soon after buying the 82 acre vineyard they replanted most of the site to Pinot Grigio, establishing 44-acres of the variety by 2000, and increasing from there. At the time, the idea of pulling out Napa Valley Chardonnay and replacing it with Pinot Grigio, was surely crazy. So, the group renamed themselves the Luna-tics. Where Oregon had begun the Pinot Gris experiment as early as the mid-60s, Luna stood as one of the leaders of the grape in California. In this way, the intention to do things differently defined the beginnings of Luna. As John Kongsgaard once explained, the self-named Luna-tics even used to play classical music to the vines.

John Kongsgaard Starts the University

After 20 years of success in the Napa Valley wine industry, Kongsgaard was brought in to Luna in 1996 to establish the house’s winemaking style. Konsgaard had started his career making wines in 1980, side-by-side with Doug Nalle at the now defunct Belvedere Winery. By the mid-1990s, however, Kongsgaard had proven himself as an influential winemaker through his 13-years of work with Newton Vineyards.

In 1997, Kongsgaard and Vare began making regular trips to Italy, originally searching for “the holy grail of Pinot Grigio.” As Vare explained, they searched first in Alsace, and though they liked those wines, the climate didn’t suit Napa. Alto Adige also proved too cold. Finally Friuli gave a closer parallel, and a wealth of influence through small scale and experimental winemakers of the region.

Kongsgaard worked with Christopher Vandendriessche, of White Rock, as assistant winemaker initially. Together they helped establish what Abe Schoener calls a university environment in Luna’s winery. Schoener had begun working with the team at the end of the 1990s, gathering data on their vineyard sites, but also learning from Kongsgaard as Schoener’s mentor. Schoener makes clear too that Vare supported and encouraged the winery’s university methodology.

By allowing interns to make their own barrels of wine, while also doing their work for Luna, the facility trained a number of young wine enthusiasts that would go on to influence the area’s wine industry. But the approach also effectively expanded the experimentation witnessed by the mentors as well. Kongsgaard has stated that he fine-tuned some techniques he’d go on to use for his own label through the early investigatory period of Luna.

Schoener explains, Kongsgaard had a talent for standing back to let his mentees explore their interests in wine, while being there to facilitate a successful project at the same time. Vandendriessche operates with a similar approach in his work today at White Rock as well. The site served as Schoener’s first winery in establishing Scholium Project, and today facilitates the work of other new winemakers getting ready to release their work.

Learning from Radikon and Gravner

After Vandendriessche chose to move his attention to the White Rock facility, Kelly Wheat was brought in as the new assistant winemaker to Kongsgaard. Wheat began traveling to Friuli with Kongsgaard and Vare, who had already established strong relationships with the winemakers through Friuli and Slovenia. Wheat benefited, then, from the friendships already started with the likes of Stanko and Sasa Radikon, Josko Gravner, and others.

Radikon had begun experimenting with making his wines with extended skin contact in 1994, utilizing open top wood fermenters. Stanko Radikon’s father had talked about techniques used in Oslajve prior to the onset of more contemporary pressed wine techniques. Eventually Stanko decided to invest in using them.

Previously, Radikon explained, wines were made using all of the fruit, rather than removing the skins. The result was to develop wines with greater texture, aroma, and flavor, that also kept longer after being made. The skin contact style of winemaking, then, was historically situated–a normal approach for the technology of the time–but it was also economical–it made the wine last.

Drawing on Georgian winemaking history, Gravner began using extended maceration fermentation in clay anphora in 1996. He had helped introduce the focus and freshness of temperature controlled stainless steel vats to Friuli, thus introducing the winemaking changes associated with newer technologies. But after a friend brought Gravner a kveri (Georgian anphora), the winemaker experimented with the winemaking techniques of that region, known to be thousands of years old.

With both Radikon and Gravner there was an adjustment period while moving to the historical-but-new-to-them techniques. Each winemaker had developed expertise with their previous styles, and were known for making quality, terroir-driven wines. In shifting to the use of extended maceration, however, they also needed time getting to know the effects of the approach. In 2001, Gravner released his first fully anfora based portfolio (though bottlings as early as 1998 are still available for purchase in the United State). In establishing friendships with both Radikon and Gravner, the Luna-tics were able to learn new techniques both through direct witness at the Italian wineries, and through on going consultations had by phone.

Kongsgaard and Vare had befriended Radikon as early as their first trip to the region, meeting Gravner a few trips later. On one visit with Gravner, a barrel with a plexiglass side stood in the corner. Grapes were inside aging not only on lees, but skins, with the wine in such a state for over a year. The Americans were able to taste the wine from the experiment and were pleased at the result, not having heard of such an approach previously. As Vare described it, the wine had a nice weight and texture, without any bitterness.

Showing Skins: the practice moves to California

After returning from a visit with these winemakers in Friuli in 2000, Wheat decided to try the techniques himself and make extended skin contact lots for some of the white wines at Luna.

In 2000, Wheat began making a Pinot Grigio blend that sent 40% of the grapes straight to press before fermentation, while the rest were put through a crusher to allow more aromatic and textural contribution from skins.The technique loosely resembles the impact of older technology that broke up grapes more than simply pressing them, causing more skin and stem influence (and thus both more aromatics and more body) on the juice.

Wheat experimented further however, making small lots of white wine left to ferment like a red. Inspired by his time in Friuli, Wheat located some Friulano in 2001, sourced from the Hollister area (and grown in limestone) and fermented to dryness on skins, working similarly as well with Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grown in or closer to Napa. The most successful of these, Schoener believes, was the Fruilano.

Having worked with Luna in various capacities for several years, Schoener became winemaker there after Wheat’s departure in 2002. Witnessing Wheat’s trials with skin contact, Schoener encouraged the Luna label to make some skin contact bottlings. Having become more mainstream by that point (Vare was also no longer acting president), the board was resistant to investing in wines without more proven market success. Schoener stayed in the role at Luna long enough to help winemaker Mike Drash take up the reins in 2003, only ever intending to secure a smooth transition from Wheat to the new person. After Schoener dove into his Scholium Project, beginning to make a skin contact Sauvignon Blanc, the now oft mentioned Prince in his Caves, in 2006.

Luna would not be bottling skin-contact only white wines. However, drawing on Wheat’s experience with the approach, Drash continued making what Luna called their Freakout White blend. The wine included extended maceration of Sauvignon Blanc, as well as Friulano left to ferment to dryness on skins.

Looking for Texture: Pax Mahle experiments

Over in Sonoma County, independently of the work being done with the Luna-tics, Pax Mahle had started Pax Wine Cellars in 2000. The label had a central focus on Syrah, but made Rhone whites as well. Working against the norm at the time, Mahle was committed to making low alcohol white wines, without the influence of new oak. One of the downsides of whites made in this approach, however, is a textural change in the wine’s mouthfeel–they become lighter, with less weight, and to some people, less interest. Searching for a way to offer more textural interest without reliance on new wood, while keeping alcohol levels low, Mahle began experimenting with skin contact lots in 2003. Just like the adjustment period between a new technique and quality wine necessary for Radikon and Gravner, Mahle explains it wasn’t until 2007 that he bottled a skin contact wine. He wasn’t willing to put a label on something he couldn’t get behind. It took those several years to find a barrel he believed in as a stand alone wine. Prior to 2007 the experimental lots were blended back into other white blends.


To read part 2 in this series: The Butterfly Effect: How the death of a fad gave birth to beautiful color in wine, Part 2: Variety, Terroir, and Mind Scrambling

Part 3: The Butterfly Effect: How the death of a fad gave birth to beautiful color in wine, Part 3: The Craft of Wine Tasting, and the Question of Responsibility, Conversation with Two Sommeliers

To read last year’s series explaining Orange Wines beginning with how they’re made, then their presence in Georgia, Italy, and California, begin here: Understanding Orange Wines Part 1: A Quick and Dirty Look at How They’re Made and What Their Tannins Do To Our Saliva


Over the next weeks I’ll be exploring the work of contemporary skin contact wines from California and Oregon winemakers, both varietals and blends. I’ve been lucky enough to taste several dozen examples both bottled and barreled from a range of grape types in both California and Oregon, and to interview a range of people on the subject.

I’ll be traveling in Sydney, Melbourne, and Geelong as well, however, and so my posts here will be mixed in with updates from Australian adventures.


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


Hiking to the Top of Cristom Vineyards

I was lucky enough to spend the morning visiting Cristom Vineyards, with wine maker Steve Doerner. He hiked me to the top of the Cristom property in the Eola-Amity hills so that from the crest of the hill we could look over both sides of the valley–one direction towards the coast, the other across Willamette facing East with a view of Mt Jefferson and Mt Hood. In doing so we were able to visit four vineyard sites as well–Louise, Marjorie, Eileen, and finally Jessie–all Pinot.

view from the bottom of the Marjorie Vineyard looking out over Willamette Valley, about 550 feet elevation. Marjorie hosts the oldest vines for Cristom, relying on original plants placed there in 1982 on own roots. The lower vineyards–the bottom portion of Louise, and the other non-Pinot based vineyards, are on sedimentary soil. The upper vineyards–Marjorie, Eileen, and Jessie–grow from volcanic soil. Cristom is almost entirely dry farmed, with only a few rows on the property set up for rarely used irrigation–the rows that receive extra water have the shallowest soils.

climb towards the top, hiking alongside the Marjorie Vineyard. Each of the four estate vineyards at Cristom are named for family matriarchs.

heading towards the Eileen Vineyard, the highest point for Cristom. The vineyards are surrounded by forest. Visible here are plantings from the Christmas tree farm the property used to host. A small portion of Cristom land is still leased for Christmas tree sales.

view from the top, Steve Doerner

Steve Doerner has been the wine maker at Cristom since its inception in 1992. Widely respected for his work, and person both, Doerner has helped establish Cristom as one of the best in the region. His willingness to do small lot experiments with other techniques have led him to a more hands off approach in the cellar. Through Doerner’s guidance, Cristom is known for its consistent use of whole cluster fermentation, its good aging potential, and its simultaneously earthy and elegant, great acidity wines. Cristom was also one of the first to introduce Viognier and Syrah to the Willamette Valley.

Walking down the Jessie Vineyard–the steepest at Cristom

forest surrounding the vineyard

Voluntary cherry trees border the Marjorie and Jessie vineyards, the fruit now all too high to reach.

It has been a long standing tradition to grow roses along the rows of a vineyard as the plant is susceptible to many of the same ailments vines are, though to a slightly higher degree. Roses, then, act as the canary in the mine alerting vineyard managers to when the grapes may be at risk of conditions like mildew or freeze. These roses were planted in preparation for a Cristom family wedding held earlier this summer.

Christine and Tom, the Cristom namesakes, and second generation participants in the family business.

Doerner utilizes about 50% whole cluster fermentation, putting the clusters into the fermenter first, with the destemmed fruit on top. Then, he waits for fermentation to begin. The fruit experiences no intentional cold soak at the start, and the fermentation happens entirely through wild microbes. While some doubt the use of wild, non inoculated, yeast, Doerner feels the practice adds complexity to the end result. He also prefers a long, slow fermentation allowing the yeast to break down the clusters at their own pace. Once fermentation is done, the barrels are filled directly from the press with free run and press juice blended immediately. The idea is to go to barrel as quickly as possible to avoid any settling. Years of wine making showed Doerner that he always reblended all the free run and press juice in the end, and so now he saves the step by doing it at the start. Also, by blending free run, and press juice in the beginning, the wine experiences less handling in the long run. Doerner explains that Pinot Noir responds well to low maintenance in the cellar.

We taste through multiple barrels from the 2011 vintage, the latest harvest on record. The first two barrels we taste from volcanic soils–they tend to offer more red fruit in comparison, and a light red dust component. We then move to sedimentary soil barrels where the darker fruits and more perfume begin to show more distinctly. Each barrel is marked with the vineyard and row, the percentage of whole cluster, and data from each time the barrel has been checked.

The Pinot Gris plantings are the lowest elevation on the Cristom property. It was made with completed malolactic, and tank fermentation. The 2010 offers a lightly waxy, light blossom nose with hints of white spice and anise. The palate carries with peach and pink grapefruit touches, powder fruit patina, and white pepper. 13.5% alcohol, with medium+ acidity, and a medium-long finish.

The Germaine vineyard hosts Chardonnay Dijon clones, producing 3 barrels with 33% new oak. The wine has a light lime powder, zest and blossom pucker, with a waxy finish, and white pepper after finish. The alcohol is 13.5% with medium acidity and medium finish.

Cristom sources fruit put into two Pinot Noir blends–the Sommers Reserve, and the Mt Jefferson Cuvée. The label made the decision not to use vineyard designates on wines made with fruit not supervised directly at Cristom. Still, the fruit is selected for its quality.

The 2008 Sommers Reserve has a focused movement of red and black fruit, spice and pepper with a smooth nose, and juicy palate. There is a medium long pepper pinch finish here. Cristom wines age beautifully, and with more time I expect the spice here to integrate into other secondary characteristics. Still, I consistently enjoy Cristom Pinot Noir.

Mt Jefferson Cuvée is named in honor of the Cristom vineyards orientation towards Mt Jefferson–part of the view from the top. The 2009 offers a juicy and lighter presentation of black fruit and spice, light stem and earth, with a drying finish and juicy after finish. This wine spends 1 year in barrel. It is the only cuvée made with a pre-determined barrel age regimen. The others are bottled based on how they are showing ranging from 18 to 24 months generally.

Eileen is the youngest, and highest elevation of the Cristom vineyards, named for Eileen Gerrie. Paul and Eileen Gerrie purchased the estate and founded Cristom.

Cristom Pinots offer good complexity from their beginning, deepening into a richer, smoother, often velvety while clean presentation with time.

The 2009 Eileen is both smooth and juicy in the mouth with a spiced nose of smooth dark and underlying red fruit. The palate offers dried oregano and thyme with the fruit, as well as earthy and light stem notes. There is a drying tannin finish that then stretches long into pepper. The wine carries very light red dust notes.

Steepest of the vineyards, Jessie offers incredibly shallow volcanic soils at the top, with deeper soils down the sides due to erosion. The vines on this vineyard must be maintained and harvested by hand as it is too steep for tractor.

The 2009 Jessie carries a vegetal, lightly stemmy nose with bramble, light cocoa, red fruit, an overall drying balance with juicy finish.

Louise is the lowest elevation of the Pinot Noir vineyards at Cristom, sitting just above the winery building in very rocky ground. As a result of its elevation, the lower portions of the Louise vineyard are picked first of all the property. The upper portions are shaded and in shallower soils, leading to them being the last vines harvested in all of Cristom property. The Louise vineyard, then, carries a book end effect of early and late characteristics in the wine.

The 2009 Louise has the widest, though still delicate push through the mouth. There is a strong line of acidic movement here with fruit characteristics spreading across the palate from that structural backbone. The wine is more black fruit and light bramble with a red fruit and long pepper finish. There are lightly metallic qualities here as well.

Marjorie carries the lowest production levels of the Cristom vineyards. The vines sit on their own root stalk, and have developed phylloxera. Cristom has chosen to allow plants their natural life span through the ailment, replacing individual vines only when necessary. As a result, there is a concentration in the fruit coming out of the older vines of this vineyard. Marjorie is also a close second to Jessie’s steepness.

The 2009 Marjorie gives a kind of percolation of flavors rising from a dark base of earthiness, the fruit, and perfumed notes lifting as the wine moves over the palate. There is a rose bush nose here showing both the bramble and the flower, with touches of green herb and red fruit. The palate offers a drying berry presentation with dust notes, and a velvety texture.


Thank you so much to Steve Doerner for taking time to bring me up the vineyard property. The view over both sides of the Valley is beautiful, even on a hazy day.

Thank you to Christine and Tom.

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Seth Long and Destiny Dudley Throw an Alaska Salmon, Moose Meat, Oregon Wine Wakawaka BBQ

Thank you to Seth Long and Destiny Dudley for inviting together in one place the five things everyone needs–a wealth of good wines, Salmon, Moose Meat, Oregon Hazelnuts, and the good people of Willamette Valley. We had a wonderful time, and tasted, as I said, a wealth of good wines. Thank you!

wide angle lens photos taken by Destiny Dudley-thank you for sharing them!

Thank you to Destiny Dudley, and Seth Long for being such lovely and generous hosts!

Thank you to my family for sending me down with fresh caught Bristol Bay Salmon, and Moose Meat.

Thank you to Anneka Miller, Jason Lett, Andrew Rich, Jim Maresh, Joseph Zumpeno, Amanda Evey, Timothy Wilson, Drew Voit, Mike Primo. I apologize if I’ve forgotten anyone.

Thank you, finally, to our philosophical belly buttons. And to the hazelnuts.

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More on IPNC 2012 to follow. In the meantime, the visits in Willamette Valley wine have already started.


Downtown McMinnville hosts an up and coming winery zone called the Granary District. While Eyrie Vineyards winery has been located since its inception at the edge of the Granary District, several newer locales have opened in the area alongside a recent shift to include a few shops, and food venues plus markets. A few of us were able to do a walk around series of visits to three different wineries in or beside the Granary District, each opened by the label we tasted, and designed to host and support other wine makers as well. Finally, we tasted with a brand new, not yet released wine (drinking from an unlabeled bottle, it turns out, is one of my very favorite things to do).

Visiting the Granary District: Matello Wines, Dominio IV Wines, Remy Wines, and Burton Bittman


Matello Wines

Marcus Goodfellow of Matello Wines

“There are three rules for Matello, when possible: (1) The fruit is from North Willamette Valley; (2) It is non-irrigated; (3) It is farmed by people that own and primarily operate their vineyards.” –Marcus Goodfellow

2011 Pinot Gris, 2010 Chardonnay, 2010 Viognier, 2010 Clover, 2010 Whistling Ridge Blanc Blend

Pinot Noir: 2010 Lazarus, 2010 Homage, 2010 Souris, 2010 Durant Vineyard, 2009 Whistling Ridge



Dominio IV Wines

Patrick Reuter of Dominio IV Wines

“We started with 350 cases, and no capitol, and had to build it from there. We had been in Carlton Wine Maker’s Studio for seven years. It had just opened up. It helps wineries in their incubation stage, and it give us a 3-4 year window when we didn’t have to invest in capitol. But, eventually, we wanted to buy equipment to suit what we were doing, to how we make wine.” –Patrick Reuter

2011 Viognier, 2010 Pinot Noir Tapis, 2005 Tempranillo Tango

2007 Columbia Gorge Syrah You Write in Wine



Remy Wines, Three Wives

Remy Drabkin of Remy Wines

“Remy Wines follow rules–they’re all Italian, single vineyard, and varietal–single grape–wines. Three Wives is to play.” –Remy Drabkin

2010 Dolcetto

2010 Sangiovese

2009 Remy’s Red Blend; 2011 Pinot Gris Ramato



Burton Bittman

Anneka Miller of Burton Bittman

“The wine is named for inspiring strong women on my mother’s and my father’s side. My grandmother Burton never got to go to college, and she dreamed of being a journalist. The name, and the wine is partially for them.” –Anneka Miller

the first vintage: 2010, 595 bottles

waiting for the labels: 2010 Willamette Valley [Coury Clone] Pinot Noir


Thank you to Anneka Miller for inviting us to be among the first to taste your first vintage. I took notes and will be working on a comic of it! I really do love tasting from still unlabeled bottles.

Thank you to Remy Drabkin, Patrick Reuter, and Marcus Goodfellow–further write ups on each to follow. Congratulations on your new spaces in the Granary District!

Thank you to Jason Lett.

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Visiting Eyrie Vineyards Winery

the oldest vines in Willamette Valley, the South Block planted in 1966

beginning with a surprise–blind tasting 2989 Pinot Gris: nutty, (pleasing textural) oxidative notes, dried apricot

the Black Cap label, as Jason Lett explains it, is all about getting off the farm to see what other wine makers and farmers are doing; the Eyrie label is all about doing the best with the Estate’s own fruit

Mr. Dr. Who, Jason Lett

from left: fruit from the entire Eyrie estate; fruit only from the South Block original vines; fruit from Eyrie’s highest, Daphne Vineyard, all 2009

the Black Cap Pinot Noir blend 2009

Original vines, South Block Pinot Noir, 1980

the time machine–library bottles served in the tasting room

Eyrie Vineyards started with 30 new oak barrels. They still use 12 of those original barrels (they do repairs and replace the bands).

In going through the barrels of South Block Reserve from 1975 through 2007 (David Lett’s vintages of that presentation), barrels that were overly oxidized were lost. Those that showed oxidation but in a way that offered still interesting insight into the site were kept and blended together. 2011 juice was then added, and the remaining pressed grapes were sent to Portland to have custom brandy made with them. The wine was then fortified with the custom brandy to make a complete horizontal blend South Block Pinot Noir dessert wine. I did not spit this wine.

little barrels are kept in the Eyrie cellar to age wine made by the Lett daughters

an Eyrie Chardonnay dessert wine includes every vintage of South Block Chardonnay from 1970 through 2006. Juice from 2009 was added, and brandy made with the same fruit, then used for fortification. As Jason explains, we’re used to having wine blended from grapes in the same year over various vineyard sites. The dessert wine shows the South Block site over a long expanse of time. I did not spit the Chardonnay either.

the dessert wines will be bottled in the 500 ml clay Grolsch bottles. Since these bottles are not recyclable Eyrie will include the Grolsch closure with the bottle so that it can be reused.

the auger David Lett kept in the back of his car so he could take soil samples, as he toured Willamette looking for the right vineyard site.

“My father started this business. For a long time, Pinot Noir just ran through his veins. It was an incredible act of bravery, and generosity on his part to turn the winery over to me. It came after ten years of various changes at the winery. But then he said to me, “Jason, here are the keys. Don’t screw it up.” He was so deeply dedicated to his craft that for him to hand that over to me is a deep honor. At the same time, one cannot be too over awed, or you will get stuck in a mold and not move forward. What dad did was all about new direction. I want to keep tradition moving forward, while also keeping that tradition of trying new varieties, and new wines moving forward too.” -Jason Lett

Thank you to Jason Lett. Thank you to Diana Lett.

Thank you to Annica, and to Jacques!

I’m so grateful.

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Fruili-inspired Whites in California: Enrico Bertoz, and Arbe Garbe

Starting in the Central Valley of California, Enrico Bertoz kept moving North looking for the perfect place to make his wines. He found the sandy loam of the Russian River Valley, and stuck, beginning his label, Arbe Garbe. The focus is on a name sake white blend, with single grape varietals that showcase the best of the vintage.

the new 2011 labels–this photo is the first public viewing of them, designed by Enrico Bertoz

the tasting line up–2009 Ribolla Gialla, four vintages of Arbe Garbe (2009–2011), and 2011 Malvasia

four vintages of Arbe Garbe–2008, 2009, 2010, 2011. 2007 was the first, but it is no longer available for tasting. The Arbe Garbe blend is modeled after a Bianco style wine in Friuli–blending of white grapes changing depending on the vintage.The 2008, 40% Pinot Bianco, 50% Malvasia Bianca, 10% Viognier with flavors and bouquet of light beeswax, hints of dark nuts, toasted bread, and a zippy salinity. 14.5% alcohol.

the grapes that go into the Arbe Garbe blend are primarily from the Russian River Valley, though 2009 also included Ribolla Gialla from Vare’s Napa vineyard. The 2009 carried 85% Pinot Grigio, and equal portions Ribolla Gialla and Friulano. (the Malvasia Bianca was fried that year do to high heat late in the season.) The 2009 presentation carries a pickled lemon palate (pleasing salt with citrus), with a slightly smokey nose showing almost mackerel fishy notes–that is fatty sea fresh elements (again, this is pleasing)–and light beeswax plus incense, alongside citrus blossom and nut. This is a rich rendition of the blend. I love this vintage. 14.5% alcohol.

the 2010 vintage presents 50% Pinot Grigio, 40% Malvasia Bianca, and 10% Ribolla Gialla–the Ribolla Gialla with 36 hours of skin contact. The wine showcases the textural elements of the phenolic Ribolla Gialla, with the fragrant nose of the Malvasia Bianca. There is a pleasing salinity in the palate alongside the richness of nut skins, freshness of citrus blossom, and good acidity with a tickle-y mouthfeel. 14.3% alcohol.

2009 was a good vintage for Ribolla Gialla in Napa Valley. Getting excited about the quality of the fruit, Enrico Bertoz chose to do a single varietal bottling of the grape. This is a wonderful white with a nose of light wax, saline, and light citrus, showcasing a very active mouth and nice palate of warm wax, fresh citrus, and aged nut, plus the wonderful structure of Ribolla. 14.5% alcohol.

Enrico explains that he is able to make his wines thanks to the help of many others, including his meticulous and open minded vineyard owner and manager.

More on Enrico’s work to follow.

Thank you to Enrico Bertoz. I very much enjoyed tasting your wines, and meeting you.

Thank you to Dan Petroski.

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Touring the Castle and Tasting the Wines of Castello di Amaroso

Dario Sattui’s family had been making wine in California back in the 1800s, but, after a few generations, prohibition hit and the wine making industry through the state was largely lost. A fan of Medieval Italian history and architecture, Dario Sattui grew up to begin the well-established Napa Valley winery, V. Sattui. With its success, Sattui decided to fulfill a dream–a recognition of both his family history and his own love of Italy. After more than fifteen years of planning, design, and material scouting, Castello di Amorosa was born–a castle in the hills of Calistoga made with bricks of the Hapsburg Dynasty brought from Europe. Wines sold 100% direct to consumer. I admire the total dedication Sattui channeled into the building–full commitment to fulfilling a dream. Jim Sullivan was kind enough to give me a tour, and, with Assistant wine maker Peter Velleno, taste me through their Italian variety portfolio.

Thank you to Jim Sullivan, and Peter Velleno.

Thank you to Julie Ann Kodmur.

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