Home Oregon Tasting the Visual, Sharing Influence: Patrick Reuter of Dominio IV Wine, Shape Tasting

Tasting the Visual, Sharing Influence: Patrick Reuter of Dominio IV Wine, Shape Tasting


Patrick Reuter’s Shape Tasting

close up of Dominio IV 2008 “In the Valley of Angels” Syrah, by Patrick Reuter

Studying aspects of wine or viticulture at UC Davis, it was standard practice for students to participate in regular wine tastings, taking notes on flavor and structure while tasting. Over time, substantial catalogs of wine notes were recorded, each student with their own notebook listing aspects of a wine experience.

During his studies, Patrick Reuter, co-owner and wine maker of Dominio IV Wines in Oregon, developed his own log listing characteristics of wines from weekly in depth tastings. Over time, however, he recognized that when he reviewed this information he’d recorded, he had no clear recollection of the wines themselves. The lists began to look remarkably the same–standard wine notes naming fruit, acid and tannin made no genuine impression on his memory.

close up of Dominio IV 2008 “In the Valley of Angels” Syrah, by Patrick Reuter

Reuter began experimenting with what impressions from wine did make sense to him, and found himself sketching notes of wine rather than listing attributes. What he found was that when he recorded the visual experience he had of a wine’s flavors, the memory of the wine remained. Looking back over his drawings of a wine experience, Reuter could more readily recall the wine he’d tasted, even long after.

close up of Dominio IV 2008 “In the Valley of Angels” Syrah, by Patrick Reuter

Eventually Reuter realized he could use his wine sketching as a tool for his wine making. One of the challenges with listed tasting notes is in how they treat wine as a static snapshot in time, as if all flavors and the structure present simultaneously. That is, tasting notes generally offer only a limited description of a wine, they do not show how the presentation changes in your mouth. But, by incorporating a sense of time and duration into his drawings, Reuter could record and then analyze a sense of the structure and layout of the wine as a whole. He could draw for himself an image of the wines presentation–whether it was all fruit up front; how full or not the mid-palate was; how long the finish carried and whether different flavors arose there. In doing so, he could then also see where a particular wine might be deficient, or overly powerful.

When it came to blending, he could draw the presentation of different barrels and then go back over the images to see where different barrels might best complement each other to produce a better blend. As Reuter explains, “you might have a barrel that is fruity up front, but then there is a gap [where the flavors fall away]. Visually you can see the gap. But another barrel, it might fill that gap. In the drawings, you can see that, and then use it for blending.”

Dominio IV 2008 “In the Valley of Angels” Syrah. Click on image to enlarge.

Moving from left to right shows the development of the wine over time. The width of the image from bottom to top shows how full the wine presents on the palate, and where the flavors and structure offer the most concentration.

Developing Shape Tasting

Dominio IV 2006 Tempranillo.

An early shape tasting image by Patrick Reuter

The image still shows the wine over time, with the large circles representing the late mid-palate, but Reuter had not yet incorporated text, or more subtle drawing elements into his tasting notes. As Reuter describes the experience of this tasting image–“The wine starts and you are rolling in texture. You come to the mid-palate and it’s so big you don’t know if you are going to come out the end of it. Then, suddenly it’s all finish.”

In recognizing his own interest in presenting wine visually, Reuter began reading more about synesthesia, a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory pathway, like taste, triggers a response in another sensory pathway, like vision. The experience of synesthesia is such that people will do things like see flavors, or recognize certain letters with a particular color. Studies have shown that synesthesia is incredibly common in children, and that with acculturation the experience lessens for most people into adulthood. However, for some people, some synesthetic experience remains into adulthood. It also appears possible that such experiences can be cultivated.

A Shape Tasting Workshop for Wine Distributors led by Patrick Reuter. Photo by Patrick Reuter.

After developing a clearer sense of his own Shape Tasting method–an image shows wine presentation over time, left to right; rounder shapes represent fruits; colors purposefully reflect flavors; lines are acidity; x’s and checks are tannin and texture–Reuter was encouraged to share the process with others.

Recently, a visit from wine distributors getting familiar with Oregon wine was planned, and a visit to taste with Dominio IV was included for them. Reuter decided the best way to make his wines memorable for the visitors was to help them go more deeply into the experience, rather than just focus on a typical high speed tasting style. He prepared, then, to have them perform their own Shape Tasting process. After briefly tasting each of the wines, Reuter asked each person to select the wine that spoke to them most strongly, then to receive another pour of that wine and spend more time with it. He guided them through the Shape Tasting process and then everyone took half an hour to draw their experience of the wine, leaving then, with their own graphical representation of their favorite Dominio IV wine.

Dominio IV 2006 “Song” Syrah

In talking through Shape Tasting with Reuter, something amazing happens.

I’ve been asking him to walk me through how his experience of visually tasting wine works, and then too to tell me the steps he went through in developing his tasting images. The most recent ones (like the 2008 Syrah that opens this post through several close-ups, and the 2011 Viognier that follows next) I find so beautiful.

He tells me about work he did with Skip Walter in Seattle to get clearer on thinking of his Shape Tasting drawings as a kind of artistic graph. It is this combination of careful precision to drawing an accurate image of the wine’s duration and fullness of presentation, with the artistic expression of that, that fascinates me. Because of the determination to graph the process of tasting wine, the drawings offer a sort of mathematics of experience.

But then, unexpectedly, he pulls out the 2006 “Song” drawing (above) and points to the words incorporated into the image (the earlier images, like that for the 2006 Tempranillo, shown earlier above, notice have no text), and says, “that’s when I found your website.” I am stunned. And then he tells me how seeing my wine comics made him realize he could further develop his Shape Tasting images to be both more accessible, or readable to people in general in how they show others the experience of the wine, and to do so by offering something to both visual and textual learners. What he’s developed through this incorporation since is a pleasing aesthetic balance in the images. These drawings look to me at home in themselves.

I have been fascinated from the beginning by Reuter’s idea of Shape Tasting. I am generally interested in how others experience what they love (and the truth is, I don’t just get a list of flavors and attributes when I taste wine either). But, the drawings he has done most recently, I find the most beautiful both for how they integrate drawings with text, but also for how at ease with themselves they read to me. The 2011 “Still Life” Viognier drawing, shown below, and the 2008 “In the Valley of Angels” Syrah, at the top above, both understand what they’re doing in a way that makes the presence of the wine accessible as well. The same comfortable, while dynamic presence I recognize in these most recent drawings I also find consistently in Reuter’s Dominio IV wines. They offer a union of simplicity with richness I consistently find appealing.

Dominio IV 2011 “Still Life” Viognier (not yet colored).

Reuter shows me his Shape Tasting image for the 2011 Viognier we have just tasted, then describes how Viognier, for him, offers a kind of dual personality. It opens with so much fruit, you could almost think it was Chardonnay at first, he explains. But then it changes, and the second half of the wine is more like Riesling, all lines of acidity and motion. Reuter’s drawing beautifully captures that two sided, while coherent nature. I am convinced.


Dominio IV Wines are biodynamically farmed, and family owned in Oregon by Patrick Reuter, and Leigh Bartholomew. Their winery is located in Willamette Valley, and they also own The Three Sleeps biodynamically farmed vineyard in Columbia Gorge. Additionally, they source some sustainably farmed fruit from Southern Oregon.

Dominio IV Wines are available through their website in both:

Wine Shop: http://www.dominiowines.com/index.php?page=shop.browse&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=56&vmcchk=1&Itemid=56


Wine Club: http://www.dominiowines.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=22&Itemid=38

To hear more on Shape Tasting from Patrick himself, check out this series of videos of Patrick Reuter walking Jeff Weissler of Conscious Wine through the process: http://consciouswine.com/tasting-wine-shape-tasting-dominio-iv/

Thank you to Patrick Reuter for taking the time to meet with me and share his Shape Tasting with me.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.


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