Willamette Wine 7: Jim Prosser at J.K. Carriere, the Birth of a Brand New Vineyard

Visiting a Brand New Vineyard, Meeting Jim Prosser

The charm of meeting wine makers at their own locale is that sometimes, after the tasting is done, and the talking has started, what you get is Italian sausage and a Corona. If I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that the best day of wine tasting really caps well with a cold one.

Enter J.K. Carriere, and owner wine maker Jim Prosser. Prosser has been making wine with sourced grapes since 1999. In 2007, he purchased property on the top of Parrett Mountain in the Chehalem Mountain AVA of Willamette Valley, planting vines there in 2008. 2012 will be the first vintage to harvest fruit.

the symbol of J.K. Carriere, Vespidae, a wasp known for loving grapes, and stinging vineyard and wine workers

purchasing the property that now hosts the J.K. Carriere vineyards arose from the search for a vintage, flatbed converted Ford truck. The man that sold Jim Prosser the truck also delivered him a tip on the property that Prosser would go on to purchase and plant with vines.

“How a person makes wine depends on a question. What do you believe about the world? I want to make wines that will play, that will play with the best in the world.” –Jim Prosser

The 2011 Glass, a Willamette Valley White Pinot Noir comes in at 12% alcohol, with medium acidity, and a medium long finish. The wine offers peach, dried green leaf and light dried rose, with dried sage. The palate follows with hints of white pepper, and a medium+ rose potpourri, wax finish.

“The Willamette Valley is all about small farms and families, very much like how Burgundy is. There are no corporation wineries here because it’s too hard to hang big fruit per acre. It’s hard to pull off rock bottom prices.” –Jim Prosser

The Provocateur Pinot Noir offers a non-vintage blend, this bottling a combination of the 2009 and 2010 vintages. Vintages in Oregon generally vary significantly from year to year. A non-vintage blend, then, can take advantage of the higher spice and fruit profile of a hot year, with the more apparent structure of a cold one, for example.

The fruit in this blend shows on the nose, and less so on the palate. There is a bouquet of fresh strawberry-raspberry, and rose bramble, while the palate holds a drying presentation and finish, showing pepper, stem, more buried fruit, a pepper finish, and a nutty after finish, coming in at 13% alcohol, with medium acidity and tannin, and a medium long finish.

The property Prosser purchased had never been planted with vines, a phenomenon still relatively common in the Willamette Valley. The risk in taking on such a venture is not knowing how the place will do for grapes, or which varieties and clones suit the ground and micro-climate best. The advantage in taking the risk today is that with forty years between now and the start of vines in Willamette, much more is known about which plants do best with which soil types, and exposures. Taking on raw vineyard land, then, today rests in the choice of a common sense guess, common sense gained partially through others’ trial and error.

In buying property, and starting a new Willamette vineyard property, Prosser explains, “We’re all in, going for longevity, but it feels good. You have to decide what you want your life to look like.”

The 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir carries both a nose and palate of concentrated fruits–date, fig, dried cherry, and sage with a pepper finish. The presentation is rich, with a current of still fresh fruit, and good acidity offering movement through the mouth. 2006 is considered one of the prize vintages of the Willamette Valley.

Vespidae represents the core blend of J.K. Carriere, made with the best examples from 6 vineyards. The 2009 shows a deep, rich bramble, dried cherry, with light caramel hints, date, and pepper on both the nose and palate. The alcohol comes in at 13.75%, with medium acidity and tannin, and a medium long finish.

“This year [when we harvest fruit for the first time] is when we start to learn if this is a Fool’s errand or not. It’s exciting, but I wish I could fast forward through it all. The reason to do all of this [with the vineyard] was not to build another bottle of wine, but to take it all the way through from roots to bottle.” –Jim Prosser

The 2009 Pinot Noir sourced from Shea Vineyard has a rich presentation with juicy movement and an opaque base, offering weight on the palate (though not heaviness), and the possibility of opening to new characteristics with age. The nose offers date, and dried rose, with a palate that adds layers of dried sage, dried cherry, and a pepper finish. There is nice acidity here, with medium tannin, and a medium long finish.

“We need to understand where we live, what the property has to offer, before planting too much. So, we’re starting slow, and small before knocking down trees.” –Jim Prosser

The J.K. Carriere site is 40 acres, with 9 planted entirely Pinot Noir relying on Pommard, and Wadenswil clones–the two historical founders of Willamette’s wine industry. Generally, Pommard is known for its structural and fruit offerings, while Wadenswil gives more herbaceous and earthy focused elements. In this way, the two complement each other, together giving a more rounded and layered presentation for a Pinot Noir blend.

“The vines are organic here from their beginning. Farming that way is all about the food web. The more that is available to the vines, well, you’re going to make better wine. This whole project, it’s all about getting grounded. Nothing grounds you more than having kids, and family, or starting a vineyard.” –Jim Prosser

The property also shows ways Prosser likes to enjoy himself. Falling in love with wood fire pizza, he had a wood fire oven installed by the winery. He and his crew also regularly grill on site during the warmer months.

Prosser tells me how he got into wine making. “I worked for the Peace Corp in the post-Soviet Union. When I came back I decided to get the wine monkey off my back, and then go back to school for architecture. I started working for a winery. It was hard work, with shitty pay, and I came home with a smile on my face every day. I’ve been in it ever since.”

What is consistent in Prosser’s wines is a sense of simultaneous weight and movement in the mouth. The wines are not fruit focused, yet offer fruit, along with earthier textures. He explains his view of wine, “The French completely screwed me up. Because of them what I understand is that wine is food, it is made for aging, and because it is meant to go with food, it wants good acidity. It’s all about bringing people together, and breaking bread around the table.”

“The intriguing thing about working with Pinot Noir is that you can be 108 and still learning about this grape. It’s hard to find things you can pour yourself into. For me, the reference is Burgundy. The soil is Oregon. Oregon can stand it’s own on the world stage. It’s cool climate Pinot Noir but it’s still different. What Oregon has to offer is the acid spectrum.” — Jim Prosser

Thank you to Jim Prosser for taking the time to meet with me.

Thank you to Cory, and to Peter.

I look forward to tasting the wines made from the J.K. Carriere’s vineyard birth vintage, and wish you the very best as you discover what the Parrett Mountain property has to offer.

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