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Tasting with James: Clos du Moulin

Clos du Moulin

My week in Germany included tasting Clos du Moulin champagne for the first time. On the first full day of Prowein just one-hour into the program I bumped into several friends. Mister James Tidwell himself was there walking the event with Donaji Lira, who with James helps coordinate Texsom and Texsom International Wine Awards, and Amie Hendrickson, who runs Edmond Wine Shop in Oklahoma. Amie had won a Prowein-sponsored contest at Texsom in August last year and was flown to the event by the organizers as her prize. The four of us spent much of the day’s remainder tasting together, shuffling between exhibition halls to continuously change what region we were visiting.

(One of my favorite, albeit silly, parts of Prowein was simply being able to say things like, O! I’ll meet you in Portugal, while standing in the hall for Oregon, as if one really could cover the globe in that small space. In terms of wine, you could. Every country in the wine producing world was represented at Prowein.)

Before heading off for lunch, we decided to visit the Champagne Lounge and taste one champagne on the way. While we were walking, wondering which wine to try, James got to pick. His selection became clear when he simply stopped frozen in front of the Cattier booth, standing in front of the bottle of Clos du Moulin. It turned out it was a wine he hadn’t properly tried before, though he’d read of it repeatedly during his studies for the Master Sommelier certification.

Thanks to a mix of his world travel, reality as a master sommelier, time leading the wine list at The Four Seasons in Dallas, and work with Texsom and Texsom IWA, I think of James as someone who knows and has tasted almost everything in the world of wine. He’s like the human equivalent of Prowein itself – all ten exhibition halls and every wine producing country in the world are there inside his memory. So, to come across a wine he hasn’t tasted is a sort of epiphany. Even more special is to share the moment with friends. The four of us all tasted Clos du Moulin for the first time that morning.

Clos du Moulin stands as a special example in Champagne, not only because it is a beautiful wine – and it is, a beautiful wine – but also because of its distinctive origin. The wine is a vineyard-specific champagne grown in one of the very few clos of the region. While we can use the word clos to refer simply to a particular recognized vineyard, it is more often used to refer to an actually enclosed vineyard surrounded by a wall. The most famous clos in the world, Clos Vougeot, stands in Burgundy, but four examples from champagne are still grown and bottled as their own wines as well. Clos du Moulin is one of them.

The history of Clos du Moulin reaches to the time of Louis XV, when the site belonged to one of his trusted officers who also produced champagne. It went on to gain fame with the Russian Tsar’s. Through the 19th-century, Russia was one of the biggest export markets for champagne. Then, during the wars of the 20th century the site was all but destroyed, replanted again in the late 1940s. Incredibly, the site is still farmed with horses. Clos du Moulin is a 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as three vintages to ensure its balance, released after around 8 years in cellar.

The wine itself is beautiful. It carries that rare balance of delicacy and strength I so love to find in wine. Somehow the aromatics and mouthfeel feel as ethereal as chiffon even as tasting the wine is all encompassing. In the midst of a busy exhibition hall it was as if the world slowed down. The four of us all commented on it. Tasting the Clos du Moulin easy-filtered the world for us, as if it was some sort of inoculum to mayhem and once we’d swallowed we were temporarily immune to it. For the next while Prowein felt quiet.

Clos du Moulin has its typical wine notes – there is a hint of brioche on the nose, a bite of it again on the finish. In between there is a delicate dance of apple and pear, citrus and even faint nectarine. The finish is long. The acidity is bright and persistent but expertly housed in a lightly-creamy mousse. But it’s a wine that is more than that. It’s a reminder that wine is an experience, best shared with friends. It feels almost ceremonial, even standing in the midst of a vast exhibition hall. Drinking the Clos du Moulin with Amie, Donaji, and James, the wine felt like it bonded us, forever friends in the Clos du Moulin. My favorite part was the simplicity of it. Afterwards, we headed off quietly and ate our lunch.

Thank you to Cattier for hosting us for that moment, and for Prowein for making it possible. 

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Getting to Know ProWein

ProWein

enjoying Tattinger 2006 Comte in the Champagne Lounge at Prowein with (from left) Tanja Klein, Essi Avellan, Mikael Falkman – the man for all seasons, he was a hilarious and wonderful host, me, Madeleine Stenwreth

Last year the organizers of Prowein saw me deliver a seminar at Texsom and afterwards invited me to attend their event in Germany this month. As a result, I’ve just returned from the three day event in Dusseldorf having tasted wines literally from all over the world while there. It was my first time at Prowein as well as my first visit to Germany, and I’m so grateful for the incredible opportunity.

Prowein proves to be a truly global wine forum with wineries from every wine producing country in the world represented. The tasting opportunity, and chance to connect with representatives of the world’s wineries as a result is unparalleled. At the same time there are seminars going in depth on everything from sustainability, to the growing conditions of a particular region, to regional expressions of specific varieties, to the history of a place. Seminars occur in two fashions. Prowein has a dedicated educational space they call the Prowein Forum with rooms devoted to master class level discussions on specific topics. Regions and educators compete to present in this space as it attracts high-level wine professionals from all over the world and every aspect of the wine industry. At the same time, regions and wineries are also able to offer seminars in their own wine fair floor space and many create special areas in their booths for this purpose. It’s incredible to walk the floor and find some of the most respected wine experts in the world giving talks all over Prowein. There were at least ten halls showcasing wine, while mixed into them was also a special section called Same but Different dedicated to regionally specific spirits and craft beers. With these the idea was to show off aspects of the drinks world that also carry that sort of regional specificity we associate with wine.

The event serves multiple interests with importers from all over the world finding new wineries to represent, wine students from sommeliers getting certified to WSET and Master of Wine hopefuls attending to taste-study for their exams, and even restaurants securing specific wines for their wine lists. I also spoke with several people working on books who use Prowein to add to the research they have already done. They are able to taste through a sizeable selection of wines and meet with the producers they might not be able to in person otherwise. The event offers them the opportunity to be comprehensive in their research in a way it is difficult to cover trying to go to each individual winery.

While there I was able to attend two different seminars – one on sustainability and another on terroir of champagne – as well as deliver a seminar with my dear friend Madeleine Stenwreth. New Zealand Winegrowers asked us to present a master class in the Prowein Forum looking at regional expression of Pinot Noir. It was a fun opportunity to present with dear Madeleine, and to share insight into the unique character of that place, New Zealand, we have each spent so much time studying. Afterwards we celebrated by walking over to the Champagne Lounge – a brilliant idea Prowein instituted six years ago with a beautifully lit, fresh tulip accented, white countertops space devoted entirely to the best of Champagne – then gave each other mini-tasting seminars on wines from some of the regions in which we’ve each specialized.

At Prowein I tried to taste as widely as possible. With the enormity of the event it is impossible to taste everything, or even a wine from every country. So, I let myself be rather spontaneous and amorphous about my approach on the first day so as to acclimate to the size of the fair and really get to know the lay of the land, and then was a bit more planned the second day. The third day I hurried to a few places I had hoped to visit and hadn’t fit in previously before departing on two days of winery visits in Germany. The one other thing that should be mentioned is how many people from all over the world attend. Though I traveled to Prowein on my own the entire time there was spent bumping into people literally from all over the world of wine. There is no loneliness at Prowein. There were even far more people I would have liked to see and didn’t manage to bump into.

Honestly, I couldn’t be more impressed with my time at Prowein. Enormous thanks to the Prowein team for including me this year. Thank you too to the New Zealand Winegrowers for including me in their seminar in the Prowein Forum.

Here’s a look at my time at Prowein via the Instagram collection I posted while there.

Just 5% of total global vineyard acreage is grown organically with a total of 360,000 ha organically farmed worldwide. France grows 9% of its vineyards organically. New Zealand 10%. Spain has 11% grown organically, which is the highest proportion of organic viticulture of one country in the world. Attending a Prowein seminar on sustainability hosted by Gonzales Byass. (Interestingly, China is rarely brought into these conversations currently but today China has a total area of vineyards farmed organically almost as large as Spain’s organically farmed vineyard area. It is unclear what portion of the country’s total vineyard area is but even so, do not be surprised when China starts becoming one of the drivers in the conversation on organic wine.) #germany #spain #prowein #wine @prowein_tradefair @gonzalezbyassus

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“What is the relationship between sustainability and quality? […] It is not just about soil but about life, not about the specifics or details [of your specific vineyard or place] but about how you articulate them together. All this situation [in your site] together makes a very unique matrix, what we admire but [as a culture making wine around the world these last 100 years] have not been able to understand very well. […] The question is, how can you transform the life of the current generation through a process of fermentation into the life of your next generation, your next crop. You begin to have a relation of different layers of other organisms that live in the vineyard. It is a balance of adaptability [to the site], ancient wisdom, and ageability [both in terms of the vineyard itself being long lived, and the wine in the bottle also being long lived].” – Rodrigo Soto of Veramonte, Ritual, and Neyen in Chile. Sustainability seminar hosted by Gonzales Byass at Prowein. #germany #chile #prowein #wine @prowein_tradefair @gonzalezbyassus @veramontewines @ritualwines

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A week in Galicia

Galicia

Jose Luis Mateo of Quinta da Muradella

Erin Drain and I just finished a week in Galicia focused primarily on the wines of Jose Luis Mateo and Quinta da Muradella in Monterrei, and those of Alberto Orte in Valdeorras. Erin represents Olé Imports, which brings regionally specific producers of Spain into the United States. Quinta da Muradella and Alberto Orte are each focused on understanding and preserving the viticultural heritage and quality potential of their respective regions, and as a result stand out as top vintners in each of their areas.

Traveling with Erin was an opportunity for me to take the deep dive approach I prefer, giving in depth time to understanding the work and approach that go into wines I respect and love. We had a fantastic trip. Both projects have been important to the development, as well as the preservation of heritage for their respective regions. It turned out too that our willingness to slow down and be with the producers to see what they wanted to show us meant we witnessed and tasted wines not previously seen by people outside the region. Some of the vineyards we visited were unbelievably remote and difficult to get to through hand-cut mountain roads. We even had to drive through a waterfall pool that went more than half way up the wheel-well of the jeep we were driving for one of them. It was outrageously fun, and felt incredibly special to see the vines once we arrived.

Here’s a look back at photos from our trip as shared along the way via Instagram. (I’m currently traveling German wine. If you want to follow along, check out the trip live as we go there directly on Instagram here.)

Galicia

 

Welcome to Vigo. #spain

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Walking Gorvia vineyard in the village of Pazo with Jose Luis Mateo. The site was the first he planted thirty years ago to make wine for his parents’ bar in Verin before going on to start his Quinta da Muradella winery. Gorvia sits at 410 meters in elevation in impressively rocky soils. The vines grow in a mix of alluvial soils full of granite, quartz, and shale rocks. The site grows a mix of varieties indigenous to Galicia. When phylloxera moved through the region in the 1890s it destroyed the region’s vineyards and afterwards entirely new varieties were planted through the area. At the heart of the Quinta da Muradella Project is Jose Luis’s commitment to preserving the region of Monterrei’s rich viticultural history. In his hunt for old vine sites he successfully rediscovered older indigenous varieties almost lost to the area and has focused his vineyards and winemaking on them ever since. #spain #galicia @erindrain

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For the wines of Quinta da Muradella Jose Luis Mateo has found focusing on the farming, using organic methods and focusing on the health of the soils, also matching the varieties to the conditions of the site, all for the sake of vine balance, also means there is less work to do when making the wine in the cellar, and to make interesting wines. Here he shows us a site where the soils had been depleted through previous farming practices. In the first photo (with the white flowers) you can see the naturally occurring cover crop that appears when the soil has begun to regain nutrients and be less compacted. The second photo shows the grasses that are the only plants that will grow when the soils have become compacted with little air, and less available nutrients. #spain #galicia @erindrain

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Tank tasting Candea wines with Jose Luis Mateo. #spain #galicia #wine @erindrain

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Visiting Chaves, Portugal for a walk around the old city. #portugal @erindrain

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Jose Luis Mateo at the top of the Castelo de Monterrei discussing the history of winemaking and the geological history of Galicia as it relates to vineyards through the area. Winemaking began in the region during the Celtic era of the 5th century. The Castelo de Monterrei itself was built during the 12th century atop fortifications that go back to the Celtic period. The Celts occupied these southern areas of Galicia through Monterrei until the arrival of the Visigoths just before the 7th century. People of the Celtic era are considered the first Galicians. Winegrowing through the area goes through several important stages of development here in Galicia with this ancient Celtic period being the first. Phylloxera arrived to Monterrei in the 1890s and radically changed what was grown in the region as many varieties do not take easily to grafting. Contemporary commercial winemaking shifts importantly – from being primarily for home use as part of a general subsistence lifestyle – beginning in the 1970s but more earnestly in the 1990s. Jose Luis works to document the winemaking history through the region while also searching out the oldest vineyards through the extended area to find older varieties of the region. As a result several varieties indigenous to Galicia he has successfully recovered and for a few of them he remains the only person to grow and bottle them. He has recently found several varieties we are so far unable to identify as they had been lost entirely, found again in an abandoned vineyard in the mountains near Monterrei. Here we see Jose Luis, he and Erin, overlooking the valley, the hospital in the Medeval castle for pilgrims on the O Camino de Santiago, part of the fortification, the castle itself, and an ancient Roman road up the hill to the castle. #spain #galicia @erindrain

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As part of his work to understand his region, Jose Luis Mateo of Quinta da Muradella seeks out vineyards in different parts of and with different soil profiles of Monterrei. He vinifies the sites on their own, their varieties on their own as well in order to learn how the different growing conditions inform the typicity of both the varieties and of the place. Once the individual sites are made into wine he either brings them together with others as a regional blend, or if the site has really stood out and he has continued to work with it over many vintages then it can become a single vineyard bottling. Jose Luis sees this process as part of his work to recognize and record the current history being formed of winegrowing in Monterrei. Each vineyard planted serves as part of the larger story of this region. Here he stands in an alluvial soil vineyard in the valley of Monterrei that he has more recently been getting to know. #spain #galicia #wine @erindrain

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Huge portions of Monterrei consist of granite based soils. Granite is made as magma cools very slowly deep under ground (and away from oxygen) thus making extremely hard rock. In composition granite is primarily made of quartz (the glittering bits) and feldspar (the black flecks), as well as mica. Granite consistently also includes a mix of other minerals, which then lead to the overall color of the stone – white, pink, or gray granite. As granite erodes it creates a highly granular granitic sand, essentially, which can also combine with other conditions to form various soil structures and drainage. More transparent wines from granitic soil tend to carry a nerviness in the mouth that stimulates the front of the palate in a way we wine professionals like to call yum. #spain #galicia #wine @erindrain

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Large swaths of Monterrei include slate-based soils, which appear here in small orange-taupe slab-like rocks throughout the vineyard. Slate forms through a mild metamorphic transformation of shale (made of essentially pressed clay or volcanic ash). In its nature slate consists of fine particles. As a result, as the rock breaks down a fine powder is released that feels and smells much like talcum powder. The stone is also relatively easy to break even with your hands and will leave that powdery texture on your hands as you do. Thanks to this fine texture, slate parent materials are often associated with clay soils – the fine particles of the stone help form clay over time essentially. In hotter climates this combination of rocky soils with some clay serve the vines well. The rocks help maintain good drainage and oxygen access for the soils (can help keep it from getting overly compacted) while the clay presence helps the soil maintain enough water, and as a result also cooler temperatures, to reduce vine stress and create a more even ripening over the course of the season for established vineyards. #spain #galicia #wine @erindrain

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Walking old town Ourense. #spain #galicia @erindrain

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Public outdoor thermal baths, old town Ourense. #spain #galicia @erindrain

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Northern Spain is the world’s largest provider of slate. #spain @erindrain

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Vineyards of Bierzo – old vines, very rocky. #spain #castillayleon @erindrain

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Viticulturist Alfredo “Freddy” Vazquez standing in his 120-year old field blend vineyard perched at around 520 meters elevation far into a river canyon along the river Bibei. The area is so cold this site barely ripens and is harvested a full month later than the main parts of Valdeorras at higher elevation and further from the river. This is one of the most remote parts of Valdeorras. We had to drive a hand-cut mountain road down a cliff side and through a forest to get here crossing a waterfall pool on the way. 60 years ago the entire canyon was covered in vineyard terraces. Today this is the last one remaining. When Freddy purchased the site the vineyard had already been abandoned for decades. He has been able to resuscitate the vines. #spain #galicia #valdeorras #wine @erindrain

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Grateful for a wonderful week in Galicia. Thank you. #spain #galicia #wine @erindrain

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Champagne reset. Madrid airport. #spain #wine

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Sixteen days in the Willamette Valley, Oregon

Willamette Valley in February and March

I just finished a two and a half week stint in Willamette Valley working on six different projects. Among these was adding more layers of detail to my knowledge of the region and its subzones by doing a full day in each of the six nested AVAs – McMinnville, Yamhill-Carlton, Dundee Hills, Ribbon Ridge, Chehalem Mountains, Eola-Amity Hills – within the larger Willamette Valley.

For each of the six AVA days I asked a different person with a long-standing background in that AVA, and a community focused perspective on it to organize what they saw as an insightful day of looking at maps, driving the region, meeting with growers and producers, and tasting. It added up to an intensive two weeks, and I’m super grateful for the time people put in.

I also spent time again with Pedro Parra. Raj Parr and I spent time with Pedro in Concepcion, Chile getting to know Itata and Bio Bio and its wines back in December. During that trip we discussed spending a day together in Oregon when we had the chance to overlap there. It was also an opportunity for me to continue understanding the work he does and better understand his views of a specific region, in this case Willamette Valley, as a result. In Chile I met with a number of producers that he has previously or is currently working with so I have been keen to continue getting to know his perspective.

During the rest of my trip I attended the Oregon Chardonnay Celebration, led a seminar for Brooks University – a wine education program for Brooks wines – was interviewed by the Oregon Wine History Archive, did research for leading the IPNC Grand Seminar this summer, and did a few follow up visits with producers as well. Here’s a look at the trip via the compiled Instagram images posted while I was there.

 

Dai Crisp discussing the unique growing conditions of light and wind that move through the Temperance Hill vineyard in Eola-Amity Hills with my daughter Rachel. A daily wind blows from the west through this site during the growing season. It is the cooling effect of the Pacific Ocean coming through the Van Duzer corridor, a low spot in the Coastal Range, that thickens skins and helps retain acidity in the wines. Today though, long before the start of the growing season, the wind blows down from Alaska in the North bringing with it freezing temperatures and overnight snow. Temperance Hill is one of two vineyards featured in this year’s IPNC Grand Seminar. It is one of the region’s iconic sites. #willamettevalleywine @lumoswine @dai_crisp @ipnc_pinot @buteo_jamaicensis_jr I spend my life with legends. Such an honor to share them with my daughter.

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After falling in love with the Dundee Hills, and getting to know the Worden Hill Rd area through a friendship with the Maresh family who were among the first to plant in the area, Steven Whiteside began planting Bella Vida vineyard in the late 1990s. The dramatic steep slopes of the vineyard make it one of the distinctive site’s of the region focused primarily on Pinot Noir. Steve has developed his farming of the site partially through friendships with long-standing farming families in the area and partially through working with some of the region’s most respected viticulturists. Bella Vida vineyard is one of two sites featured in this summer’s IPNC Grand Seminar. #willamettevalleywine @bella_vida_vineyard @ipnc_pinot

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Before contemporary agricultural crops, including vineyards, entered the Willamette Valley the local habitat included a predominance of white oak and white oak savannah. The native species are thoroughly adapted to the unique growing conditions of the region from soil pH, to climate, and as a result also foster a wealth of other native species thus promoting overall biodiversity of a place. As agriculture and viticulture have expanded, the white oak, their accompanying savannah, and their associated diversity of native mushrooms, broad grasses, wildflowers, and insect populations have radically decreased. A group of farmers through the region are working to preserve the remaining white oak habitats and increase them as well. At Carabella Vineyards the team has re-established acres of white oak savannah on the property, and also introduced it into the vineyard by creating alternate no-till rows. As the white oak savannah has taken hold in the vineyard they have seen an accompanying increase in native wildflowers, beneficial fungi, and beneficial insects as well, thus improving the overall health of the vineyard. Here the savannah plants are dormant but the Roemers Fescue broad grass species at the heart of the white oak savannah complex can be seen growing between the vine rows. #willamettevalleywine @carabellavineyard @drewbarelymore

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Each year the Carabella team does both a vineyard and a cellar experiment to expand their understanding of the place. In 2017 @drewbarelymore worked harvest in Central Otago on @prophetsrock wines and thus learned from the work of both Paul Pujol and François Millet. Upon his return he and Mike Hallock decided to make their 2017 @carabellavineyard cellar experiment a look at the low extraction winemaking techniques used by both @paulpujol and François. Together Mike and Drew vinified both control and experimental side-by-side lots of their traditional approach and the low-extraction approach mimicking what Drew learned in New Zealand. They tried it on two different clonal selections. Here we got to taste them – a side by side of selection 667 Pinot, as @prophetsrock has in Central, and of Wadensville, a selection of Pinot that helped found Willamette Valley. Then we blended them and tasted again. Super awesome tasting experiment. Thank you, Mike and Drew! #willamettevalleywine @carabellavineyard @drewbarelymore @paulpujol

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Steve Doerner at Cristom would sometimes bottle small quantities of vineyards he worked with as part of the Mount Jefferson cuvee so the vineyard could be seen on its own, though the wines were never released on their own commercially. Cristom bottles their own estate vineyards as single vineyard bottlings. In making the Mount Jefferson cuvee they blend vineyards from around the region and as a result have worked with an impressively long list of sites throughout the Eola-Amity Hills and beyond. Here a Cristom single vineyard wine made from the Seven Springs Vineyard in 2001, never released commercially. Impressively youthful and savory. Made with 50% whole cluster, all ambient yeast ferment. #willamettevalleywine @cristomwine @benjamindicristina @tomsavre @larrystone1 @mimicasteel @patbethelheights @bethelheightsvineyard @kpahlow32 @ericaalandon

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Willamette Valley’s other crop … #willamettevalleywine

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Trying to figure out what we mean by fractured basalt? Here’s a look. Basalt is volcanic stone that was formed at or near the surface with exposure to oxygen (versus granite, which is volcanic stone formed under the surface without exposure to oxygen and thus also much harder). Because of its surface exposure, it was formed as the lava rapidly cooled. By definition, basalt is fine-grained and contains about half silica. It is the most common volcanic rock on earth and can be found throughout oceanic islands, many regions on the coastal side of a continent, and through the ocean’s crust. (So cool.) In all three states on the west coast of the United States we find loads of fractured basalt with high iron content. What that means is that the rock itself easily breaks and also turns red when exposed to oxygen. When basalt fractures, the area inside the cracks form small particles of soil that act like iron-rich clay retaining water and releasing mineral ions that can be processed by micro-flora and micro-fauna into forms available to plants. That matters when it comes to vine roots as the fine hair-like roots that form near the bottom of vine roots, and in older vines push between the fractures and pick up both nutrients and moisture. The iron in these soils tend to create a more lifted and open weave to the shape of the wine through the palate compared to wines grown in more compressed sedimentary soils. There is also often a ferric, gunmetal, or even bloody flavor that comes with more transparent wines from such sites. Other minerals can also be present in basalt leading to black or pale ash-like colors, for example, as well as coarser particle structures in some types. In the US west coast wine growing regions from Walla Walla to Willamette Valley to Sonoma Mountain to Napa Valley and beyond, the basalt tends to have that iron-rich, redder character. #willamettevalleywine

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Getting started with a full day of blind tasting the Chehalem Mountains to investigate if, how, and what sense of place are offered by the wines organized by neighborhoods. The wines across multiple flights will not be revealed until the very end of the day. All wines from the 2013 vintage. Here with the first group of winemakers focused on the Laurelwood neighborhood. From left: Tom Fitzpatrick of Alloro, Harry Peterson Nedry of RR (Ribbon Ridge), David Adelsheim of Adelsheim, Luisa Ponzi of Ponzi, Adam Campbell of Elk Cove, Katie Santura of Chehalem, Shannon Gustafson of Raptor Ridge, Gina Hennings of Adelsheim, Sam Schmitt of Adelsheim. #willamettevalleywine @adelsheim @elkcove @ponzivineyards @raptorridgewinery @chehalemwines @alloro_vineyard @petersonnedry

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The Eastern side of the Chehalem Mountains in Washington County is dominated by what is called the Laurelwood soil series, which consists of windblown loess on top of basaltic soils. The loess soils consist of fine while quite gritty, textural particles. Over time they become weathered and form small shot pebbles, or pitoles, that cause farmers to call these shot soils (as shown here at the base of a vine). When wet, loess sticks together, though it contains virtually no clay, and is actually high draining. The result is that in younger vines, with shallower roots vine stress can readily happen in very hot, or dry low water years. As vines get older they root into the underlying basalt, which has a much higher clay content, and thus also water holding capacity. Much of the area is planted to hazelnuts and blueberries. Partially because of its proximity to Portland there is comparatively more residential and less agriculture through this area, and only sparse vineyards. Vines from the Laurelwood soil series tend to include lifted floral aromatics, a lifted blue-purple-register palate, slightly rustic tannins and plenty of acidity. #willamettevalleywine @chehalemmountains

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Getting close up with the soils of Parrett Mountain in the Chehalem Mountains. On the southeastern point of the AVA, Parrett Mountain reaches to 1200 ft elevation and descends in a series of steps towards lower elevations. The soils through the region are primarily silty clay loam loaded with basalt cobbles on top of basalt bedrock. In much of the mountain the cobble top soils are only between one and two feet deep. The little bit of hummus near the very top helps the vine get just enough nutrients to reduce excess stress. The cobbles mean good air in the volcanic soils as well as good drainage. At the same time there tends to be enough clay to allow dry farming once the vines get established. Wines from these sorts of soils tend to give red fruits and earthy notes, with a bit more compact character than Dundee Hills, accented by some of the purple floral aromatics similar to those seen in the Laurelwood area. #willamettevalleywine @chehalemmountains

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The western side of the Chehalem Mountains is full of incredibly steep slopes much of which eroded into lower elevations below. As a result, to the east of Ribbon Ridge (which is an AVA nested within the Chehalem Mountains) much of the vineyard land is varying degree slopes of colluvial basalt that eroded off the basaltic mountain peaks above. This Basaltic Bench area of the Chehalem Mountains is full of red volcanic soils as a result, but the character of that soil – cobbled to gravels to more silty clay – varies significantly, as does the depth of top soil, as does the steepness of the slopes in which it appears. The wines from this area, then, do tend to be red fruited and full of spice but also vary in other characteristics. There tends to be ample while fine tannin and also plenty of acidity. Here at Quarter Mile Vineyard the colluvial basaltic soils are more of a silty clay loam full of iron, with a lot of earth that has volcanic pebbles as shown here, then suddenly intensely cobbled bands in some blocks. The vines shown here were planted in 1974 and are entirely dry farmed. These sorts of volcanic silty clay soils with enough gravel or more cobbles for good air and good drainage tend to do well with dry farming, and also offer enough nutrients plus oxygen in the soils to give generally good balance to the vine. By comparison, Laurelwood loess can more readily mean vine stress in younger vines; with Marine Sedimentary soils it can be harder to either get good root depth or enough water holding capacity depending on how compressed the bedrock beneath is. With lots of top soil depth, the challenge in volcanic clays can instead be excess vigor. The result is that the three major soil types in the Chehalem Mountains need relatively different farming practices, and also result in distinctly differing styles of Pinot Noir. #willamettevalleywine @chehalemmountains

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Moving into a thorough going discussion of a Marine Sedimentary subzone of the Chehalem Mountains on the easternside of Ribbon Ridge, West of the Basaltic Bench that eroded down the western face of the mountain range this is likely to be one of the more complex soil areas of the AVA though we’ll see how the wines express in the blind tasting. From left: (standing) Sam Schmitt of Adelsheim, (sitting – starting from red plaid and running clockwise) Jay Somers of J. Christopher, David Paige of Paige Wines, Brad McLeroy of Ayres, Josh Bergstrom of Bergstrom, (standing) Harry Peterson-Nedry of Rr, Shannon Gustafson of Raptor Ridge, David Adelsheim of Adelsheim, Michael Davies of Rex Hill, Bruno Corneaux of Tresori. #willamettevalleywine @joshbergstromwine @adelsheim @joshbergstromwine @petersonnedry @ayresvineyard @raptorridgewinery @rexhillvyds

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Soils of Ribbon Ridge and the portion of the Chehalem Mountains just east of the Ribbon Ridge boundary are primarily Marine Sedimentary soils uplifted from the ancient seabed. They consist especially of eroded sandstone and siltstone with some sections of mudstone. The Marine Sedimentary soils tend to have less water holding capacity than the volcano, basalt-based soils of the region. As basalt decomposes it creates fine particles that essentially form clay, which has higher water holding capacity than silt-sand particles. Ribbon Ridge, and it’s marine sediment, is known for its profound aromatics in both the nose and palate. Wines carry an ethereal quality with a base of red fruits but a focus on flowers, herbs, and mushroom notes all in a structured while delicate presentation. The Marine Sedimentary soils on the eastern side in the Chehalem Mountains seem to bring a little more heft to the wines creating a sense of muscle to the tannin with a mix of red fruits and spice bursting with a midpalate of flavors. Parent material in the Willamette Valley is predominately Marine Sedimentary or Volcanic, with a bit of windblown loess as well, but the soil presence in any particular area tends towards outrageous diversity. While most of the volcanic basalt in the area flowed in as Columbia River basalt, a few lava chimneys pushed through the seabed in the region while it was still underwater, creating unique basalt deposits entirely native to that specific site within the uplifted seabed of marine sediment. These localized lava flows tend to be full of basalt cobbles. Here in Brick House Vineyard is one example. A mini field of basalt soils full of boulders in the middle of an (almost) entirely Marine Sedimentary based region. #willamettevalleywine @brickhousevineyards

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One answer.

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McMinnville AVA hosts primarily volcanic basalt parent material but rather than the Columbia River basalt formations, which were formed on land, that appear in many portions of Northern and Central Willamette Valley, the basalt of McMinnville AVA are largely (though not only) formed underwater. The result is an importantly different range of basalt types, leading to importantly different basalt based soils throughout the McMinnville AVA. While the Columbia River basalt tends to be high in iron and so also reddish-orange in color when exposed to oxygen, the basalts in McMinnville are more varied, and in many cases rather dark in color. Additionally, many of the vineyards showing basalt in McMinnville are also quite rocky, which is not always the case in other basalt-driven AVAs. Here, a highly rocky basalt block at Brittan Vineyard. #willamettevalleywine @brittanvineyards

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McMinnville AVA basalts were not formed during the Columbia River basalt flows, which run through huge portions of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. Instead, most McMinnville AVA basalts were formed underwater and then uplifted to the surface of what is now the far western edge of the Willamette Valley. The ages of these underwater lava flows also vary significantly, resulting in very different looking basalt rocks through the AVA. Basalt forms as lava quickly cools. The speed of it turning to rock can create a vesicular structure where water or air pockets were essentially caught in the lava as it cooled. The basalt rock on top here looks rather white, because it was made so long ago then continued to sit on the ocean floor for so long that marine sediment accumulated over it and the vesicular structure now contains rock made of marine sediment. How cool is that? In parts of the McMinnville AVA the uplifted rocks are from profoundly different ages of formation. The oldest uplifts often show this surprising combination of volcanic and marine sediment. The basalt rock in the middle here still shows the vesicular structure, or holes, that have not filled with other materials. Notice too it is also an orange-red color as it includes iron, which has oxidized from air exposure. The basalt on the bottom here is much darker in color, incredibly hard, and is believed to be both the youngest of the three, and also formed after the ground was uplifted from the seafloor in a lava vent on land. It having essentially no holes, unlike the other two examples, meaning it would have cooled more slowly. #willamettevalleywine @brittanvineyards

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As if the soils of McMinnville AVA weren’t complex enough just looking at the volcanic side of things, the marine sedimentary soils are diverse as well, and any one vineyard is likely to contain both volcanic and marine sedimentary parent materials. In the vineyards of Youngberg Hill, a band of shale runs through the midst of their Bailey block. Though the Bailey block is predominantly volcanic rock and its resulting soils, just under the surface on one side of it runs a band of shale, which is a form of marine sedimentary mudstone. It is yet another example of how complex the soils resulting from uplifted seabed can be. Other marine sedimentary soils in the McMinnville AVA are from sandstone and siltstone. #willamettevalleywine @youngberg_hill

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Geological parent materials native to Willamette Valley are entirely volcanic or marine sedimentary in nature. The massive Missoula floods though also carried in materials from all over including erratic boulders of various parent materials and various sizes. These can be found spotted in a number of parts of the valley, mainly, though not only, through the valley floor. Generally the rather mixed nature of the flood soils are seen as less ideal for grape growing as the deeper sections especially are overly vigorous as well as overly fertile. The erratic rocks can be fascinating to find though. Some of the most fascinating erratic rocks through the region though were carried in not by the floods but instead by glacial activity long before the floods. The first image of the white stone is one such sample found in the McMinnville AVA. The second image is of The Erratic Boulder, also found within the McMinnville AVA, the largest such rock carried thousands of miles from its origins across the continent by glacier. It was over 160 tons originally when first found and about three times larger than it appears now as people are people where ever they are so lots of them have chipped off bits of it over and over, over time because geez. It’s still cool but geez. #willamettevalleywine

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In considering what it means either to make a wine that expresses your site, or to make the best wine from your site, one of the crucial questions rests in selecting aging vessel. In much of the world oak barrels are standard for Pinot Noir. Different barrel types have huge impact on how the wine shows and the forest source, wood aging and preparation, and cooper all change how the oak marries to the wine, even on older barrels. Ariel Eberle became head winemaker at Yamhill Valley Vineyards in 2016 and began doing oak trials with different coopers and barrels to investigate which the team prefers with their Pinot. Here she tastes me through some examples to investigate the fruit signature of their McMinnville AVA site via the lens of oak choices. #willamettevalleywine @yamhillvalleyvineyards

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Discussing the climatic site specificity found in the McMinnville AVA thanks to the undulating crests, folds and valleys of this eastern side of the Coastal Mountains with Couer de Terre owner and winemaker Scott Neal. Though the McMinnville AVA is less exposed to the Van Duzer corridor than the Eola-Amity Hills, it still faces a persistent cooling breeze and afternoon wind. Overall temperatures in the McMinnville AVA are cooler as a result, as are nighttime temperatures, with budbreak, bloom, and harvest generally a bit later than elsewhere in Willamette. At the same time, the McMinnville AVA sits in a rain shadow receiving less overall precipitation and less general storm impact than much of the rest of the valley. Even so, most sites are still dry farmed. The undulating topography of the AVA means within these general conditions there is enormous specificity by site, and on most sites enormous specificity even block by block. Lower blocks at Couer de Terre, for example, stand in a bowl more protected from wind, for example, while the top of the site is hit by it quite directly. Such variation greatly changes how the vine responds with differences in vine size, vigor and canopy, fruit set and crop size, and even how physiological development and ripeness progress. Generally the McMinnville AVA tends to have both darker color in the skins, and more tannin, as well as lower pHs and higher acidity levels at ripeness. The result is wines with bright acidity and plenty of freshness with still tons of presence on the palate. #willamettevalleywine @cdtvineyard

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Gotta represent. Yamhill Carlton. #willamettevalleywine

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Soil structure, drainage, water holding capacity, and resulting temperature holding capacity all impact the physiological development of a vine. For example, soils with higher clay content also have higher water holding capacity. The higher moisture content can impact the vine on a daily basis by literally lowering the overall soil temperatures surrounding the vine. Cool evening temperatures effectively sit in soils with some clay later into the day than they do in soils with little to no clay. To put that another way, it takes ground with more clay longer to warm up. Vines progress in their development through the course of the season not just thanks to sun exposure and ambient air temperatures but also because of ground temperatures. Soils in the Yamhill Carlton AVA are all eroded sandstone, siltstone and in some places mudstone. That means there is little to no clay, and also less water holding capacity. The soils effectively warm up more quickly in the course of any particular day. At the same time over the course of a growing season marine sedimentary soils with little clay like this will also go drier earlier in the season than volcanic soils of Willamette Valley, which naturally have higher clay content. The drier soils encourage vines to switch from the earlier vegetative phase – grow canopy, essentially – to the reproductive phase – make and ripen fruit, essentially – earlier. So, predominately volcanic subzones of Willamette Valley, even with higher temperatures, can actually step into stages of fruit development later than cooler areas with drier soils. The Yamhill Carlton AVA can often begin the fruit ripening process earlier than some of the warmer subzones of the area while still maintaining cooler air temperatures during that ripening process. Wines from Yamhill Carlton tend to have darker fruit character, and more robust structure, while still maintaining acidity. As a result, the darker fruit tones characteristic of the AVA can still correlate with vibrant acidity and moderate or lower alcohols, creating a fascinating interplay of characteristics unexpected in many other Pinot regions. #willamettevalleywine

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The overall growing conditions of a region’s subzone, or nested AVA, when studied and understood can give a great overall picture of the underlying character of a region and the character range that can be found in its wines. The fine tuned details come back to the specific topography, conditions, and farming of any particular site. Soil architecture offers various general conditions but whether cover crop is used, whether in row tilling is done, and how the soil is worked or not worked, as examples, have significant impact on the character of a particular vineyard. Many of these choices are specific to the site itself as well as the stylistic interests of the winery getting fruit from the site. A drier site, for example, may not support cover crop. At the same time farming choices also inform the site character as they shift the life of the soil over time. Parent material of soil remains consistent in our human lifetimes but soil drainage, degree of compaction, microbial flora and fauna presence – which all impact water retention, air in the soil, and a vines ability to uptake nutrients – are changed over time by farming choices. Here, an example of a vine row from a no till, no herbicide vineyard. No till vineyards tend to be uncommon in New World farming but are a fascinating example of how farming transforms a site. The plantlife throughout the vineyard rely on surface water, transforming the water availability to shallow vine roots, thus encouraging vines to go deeper. The dense forest of ground-level plants lower the surface temperature of the soil, thus changing how the vine moves from the vegetative-growth to fruit-growth phases. The plant life of the cover crop and lack of tilling also encourage and support complexity or micro flora and micro fauna in the soils, which increase air-ability within the soils and also nutrient uptake for the vines. #willamettevalleywine

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Cutest thing you’ve ever seen? Yes. Grower Dick Crannell and I hanging out for happy hour on the hill chatting at Brooks about growing regions around the world. Growing up commercial fishing I was part of the fourth generation of active fishermen in my family. One of the things about being mentored into that industry by so many generations, was that to really hone your understanding of the region and the craft it was important not just to do the work itself, but also to listen to those that worked the industry before you. With fishing no two seasons were ever the same but the elders of the industry knew details that could be understood again and again in changing seasons, like, as examples, if the wind was blowing from the north and the tide was going out, the fish would pool on one side of the river in the shallows, or if it was a cold spring and the tundra cotton was late, the fish would be too. Listening quietly as the fisherman spoke meant learning some of those details. The point was that by spending time with those that had been doing the work longer you could learn the history of the place, how to read the natural characteristics that repeat and correlate with certain sorts of seasons, and thus deepen your knowledge of the work, the people, and the place all together. Those that have been doing the work longest are the region’s brain trust, so to speak. They carry the region’s library of knowledge. The next generations can innovate by understanding the work that has been done before. A total honor, and a ton of fun, to sit with Dick Crannell, one of the iconic growers of Eola-Amity Hills. #willamettevalleywine @brookswinery @dick_cranne

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Cheers!

Copyright 2018 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

NZ 2017 – cyclone-hit but no write-off

Vintage 2017 New Zealand

tasting with Michael Brajkovich of Kumeu River

With the 2017 vintage, New Zealand suffered some of the most challenging weather in recent memory. Cool temperatures early in the season created variable fruit set, and delayed ripening. Then, just as vineyards caught up in ripening, two cyclones moved across the country – the first a week into March, and the second just a week later – bringing record rainfalls and extensive flooding during harvest. Each of the maritime-influenced growing regions was impacted by the weather with many vineyards suffering split fruit and high disease pressure as a result. Thanks to its surrounding mountains, Central Otago was spared from both cyclones, instead merely maintaining cool temperatures which prolonged the growing season.

Many wines from across the country reflect the difficult weather. Some varieties were simply not harvested as the rains essentially destroyed them on the vine. Larger producers with the capabilities for extensive manipulation in the cellar will probably bring those varieties to market anyway. The weather brought with it increased variability in quality on a site by site basis, also depending largely on the farming practices implemented long before the rains came. Well-managed farming proved essential to ripening fruit before the rains hit, or restoring vine balance between storms. As a result, there are good wines to be expected from New Zealand’s 2017 vintage. The key to finding them rests in knowing the producer and their farming practices. Short of that, looking to smaller, more hands-on wineries is a safe first bet.

In late 2017 I met with winemakers across the country tasting 2017 wines from barrel to see how such a challenging harvest would show in the wines. The best producers from the country are well aware of meeting and even exceeding quality expectations. Many managed yields in the vineyards to encourage earlier ripening, thus increasing the likelihood of harvesting before any autumn storms. In the case of varieties devastated by the rains, the best producers simply did not make wine from that fruit. In other cases, producers have chosen to declassify less successful wines. Many smaller-production producers have multiple quality tiers in their portfolio. Among them I consistently saw wineries choosing to bottle wines at the quality level appropriate to the final outcome of the wines, rather than by the previous history for the cuvee. I asked producers to share their insights on the weather and resulting wines from the vintage. Those I have included here are among those whose 2017s I would recommend on the basis of what I tasted in their cellar.

The following looks at growing conditions from the major growing regions of New Zealand moving north to south, and west to east (see your online map of the wine regions).

Kumeu

Vintage in the Kumeu region west of Auckland started with unusually cool temperatures, which would normally delay vine growth. However, persistent winds throughout the season seemed to re-balance …

To keep reading this article, including tasting notes, head on over to JancisRobinson.com

Here’s the direct link: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/nz-2017-cyclonehit-but-no-writeoff

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Two Weeks in New Zealand

Central Otago

I spent a week in Central Otago primarily focused around attending the Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration. Prior to the start of the event I was able to do a full day of vineyard visit and tasting with Grasshopper Rock in the Earnscleugh subzone of Central Otago along with Masters of Wine Jane Skilton and Julia Harding, and then also attend the Air New Zealand Fine Wine List from 2017.

The Air New Zealand Fine Wine List program is an exciting selection of the best wines of New Zealand selected by Masters of Wine and the Master Sommelier of the country. It focuses on wines of pedigree that have both proven themselves over time, and shine in the particular current release vintage. Air New Zealand features a selection of them on their long haul flights as well.

The Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration

Every other year, the region of Central Otago hosts the Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration. The event features pinot noir of the region while also looking at that made from other celebrated regions of the world. International media and wine professionals, as well as consumers from all over the world attend.

This year, the theme for the event was Connections. As a result, winemakers from other parts of the world who have also made wine in Central Otago attended and were part of the educational seminars as well.

The first day included the Discovery Tasting, led by Matt Dicey of Mt Difficulty, with winemakers Ted Lemon of Littorai in Sonoma and Burn Cottage in Central Otago, François of Comte Georges de Vogüé in Burgundy who also makes the Cuvée Aux Antipodes with Paul Pujol of Prophet’s Rock, and PJ Charteris who works as a wine consultant in the Hunter Valley and makes Charteris Wines from Central Otago. Each winemaker presented a wine from each of their two regions and discussed their experiences learning from both locales.

The second day centered around the Grand Tasting including around 40 wineries from the region in a walk around style, followed by more intimate lunches hosted at featured wineries, and then more intimate dinners held in restaurants around Queenstown.

On the third day, the Formal Tasting, a three-hour seminar designed to go in depth into the featured wine region of the year is held. This year I was asked to lead the seminar on Willamette Valley Pinot Noir with winemakers Adam Campbell of Elk Cove, and Sam Tannahill of Francis-Tannahill, Rex Hill, and A to Z Wineworks. It was an enormous honor to represent the wines we selected, to present with two such knowledgable and recognized winemakers in such a respected event for a region I love as much as Central Otago.

Following the seminar, attendees were escorted to a beautiful and relaxing picnic lunch just outside Queenstown. Then, in the evening we were brought to the top of one of the region’s mountains for the Gala Dinner overlooking Lake Wakatipu.

Marlborough

Following my week in Central Otago for the Celebration, I traveled to Marlborough to do a series of visits centered mainly on smaller producers in the Southern Valleys of the region. The Southern Valleys fall in the cooler side of Marlborough with a mix of soils. There are a wealth of fascinating vineyards, including several that are considered among the best in New Zealand. The area features Sauvignon Blanc more distinctly full of kefir lime leaf and other citrus notes than the examples from the warmer sections of the region, as well as some fantastic aromatic whites, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. Later this month, I’ll be giving a seminar of several wines from this sub-zone to a group in Oregon.

Following are some of the photos taken during the two weeks in New Zealand as shared along the way on Instagram.

Cheers!

Two Weeks in New Zealand

 

 

 

In considering what makes winegrowing in Central Otago unique compared to where he has worked elsewhere in Burgundy, Napa, Sonoma, Willamette Valley, Ted Lemon points out that Central Otago being so far south (the southern most growing region in the world) means that as the growing season progresses the length of daylight hours begins to reduce very swiftly. The result is that the vines’ fruit ripening moves with the light change and halts grape development as days get short regardless of sugar development or vigneron intent. As a result, farming must be in tune to the swift arc of the growing season and its light levels from the very beginning of the season. #centralotagowine #newzealand @pinotcentral @burncottagevineyard @littoraiwine

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In discussing why he makes wine in Central Otago, the Cuvee Aux Antipodes with Paul Pujol at Prophet’s Rock, when he comes from such a rich history in Chambolle Musigny, François Millet says, “There is a lot of nuance and this is very interesting to try to show, to put in the front [of the wines]. And also the vines are getting older [in Central]. At 20 to 25 years old this is when the vines begin to get deeper, into the terroir. And also the vintage variation. There are very interesting vintage differences that prove there is vintage diversity. So [with all these things channeled through winemaking in Central Otago] here there is a lot of room to find the connections between the sky, the land, and the expression of the wines.” #Repost @somm_arthurhon ・・・ #FrançoisMillet speaks about #chambollemusigny and his connection with #centralotago & @paulpujol @prophetsrock @pinotcentral @nzwinegrowers #nzwine

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#Repost @paulpujol ・・・ Catching breath and catching up on photos after chairing an epic Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration… The formal tasting this year celebrated the ties between Oregon and Central Otago with an absolutely amazing seminar led by Elaine Chukan Brown @hawk_wakawaka and featuring Oregon Adam Campbell and Sam Tannahill on the panel. This was the best Oregon seminar I've ever seen including the ones I was involved with when I worked in Oregon. The range of wines beautifully covered history, geography, style, and included wonderful stories that helped greatly to inform the wines. A massive thanks to Elaine for the unbelievable amount of preparation and expertly leading us through this great flight of 8 wines. Thanks to Adam and Sam for sharing their stories and knowledge with us. @eyrievineyards @elkcove @joshbergstromwine @bergstromwines @francistannahill @brookswinery @antica_terra @walterscottwines @brianneday @pinotcentral @wvwinelady

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Copyright 2018 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Gourmet Traveller Wine: Interview

Gourmet Traveller Wine, February/March Edition

Australia’s Gourmet Traveller Wine magazine interviewed me for their just-released current edition. It’s the February/March 2018 issue. The appears in both their print and digital editions. I have to admit seeing myself in a wine app – the magazine’s digital edition – on my own phone is a little bit of a trip. It’s a total honor and life is also just full of surprises.

If you download their digital edition, you can read the interview there for free. You can find the link to their app here.

Here’s the interview in full. Thank you to Kylie Imeson for taking the time to include me.

Have you been to Australia and which wines do you like? 

In 2013, I was able to attend the first Rootstock Festival in Sydney, visit a number of wine bars there, and then tour Victoria. The wines there, especially the Syrah, are among my favorourite. I am also a long-time lover of Pinot Meunier so to be able to spend a day at Best’s Great Western and drink older vintages of their Old Vine Meunier was a treat.

What interests you about the Australian wine scene? 

Australia has such a great combination of iconic world wines, such as Hunter Valley Semillon, long-standing premium classic, such as Penfolds Grange, and then this incredible energy from newer producers. There is a camaraderie that can be seen in the Australian wine community that is inspiring – it seems to give a lot of room for experimenting, supporting each other, and sharing insight and information on grape growing and winemaking. That isn’t true everywhere. It’s refreshing.

What is your most memorable wine moment? 

Before I had ever started working in wine my dream had been to someday enjoy one bottle of Salon Champagne. It seemed an unlikely goal as I was living on a graduate student stipend while raising a child on my own at the time. Years later I took a huge risk and left my academic career, even though I’d put so much work into it, and ended up working in wine. A couple years in I was invited to take part in a Salon Champagne vertical across four decades. I’d tasted Salon in passing a few times by then, but the transition from academia into wine wasn’t easy. I worked pretty hard to make it happen and the change in career meant my daughter and I had no spending money for a long time. Then, there I was, not only drinking Salon, but tasting every vintage back to the 1960s. It was overwhelming. What a total surprise it was to change my life completely and inadvertently fulfil a dream I’d had in my previous life.

Can you explain the part your drawings play in your writing and tasting notes? 

My entree into wine was actually via the illustrations I do of wine. When I was leaving philosophy I needed something utterly different to focus on. My life had been entirely verbal and intellectual for a long time and I wanted to reactivate other aspects of my thinking so I started drawing. Drawing turned out to be far better for me than I ever expected. It made my entire brain go quiet, which was incredibly relaxing. When I realised how much I liked it I came up with the idea of drawing my tasting notes instead of writing them. When I published my first illustrated tasting notes it was something that had never been done before. That was what originally brought attention to my work and started my career in wine, but writing and speaking is what gave my career legs. I still do illustration work, but treat it more as genuine art compared to the more casual line drawings I originally did. Today I mostly draw wall-size art pieces that are interpretations of wine I love. At the same time, some wines are so moving or overwhelming for me when I taste them that words fail me so when I’m trying to record a description of them I’ll draw them in my note-book to bring words to later.

What does it mean to you to be writing for Jancis Robinson MW? 

Jancis has served as a mentor for me. I have a lot of respect for the career she has built and the work she does. Now having access to her global network of wine experts is really incredible. On a wine trip when I first started working with her, I ended up stopping in at a vineyard on a mountain top in the Central Coast of California and emailing Jancis, Julia Harding, and a couple other MWs in Europe in order to problem solve a question I had about how vineyard treatments can impact flavour in wine in a particular way. No one of us had the answer on our own but together we were able to sort out what it was I was seeing within a matter of minutes. Being part of a global network of wine experts all helping each other to build greater understanding and insight in that kind of way is incredible.

You can find out more about Gourmet Traveller Wine magazine here:  http://gourmettravellerwine.com/homepage/

At Home and At Work in Wine Country

At Home & At Work in Wine Country
Seasonal workers settle into the wine community as year-round vineyard staff.

by Elaine Chukan Brown  Instagram: hawk_wakawaka  Twitter: hawk_wakawaka
posted on January 23, 2018

“People with the specific skills needed to do what we do in vineyards in Napa Valley outpace temporary labor that isn’t regularly focused on those tasks.”—Oscar Renteria

The recent fires on California’s North Coast have shone a light on a growing problem for the wine industry: a shortage of affordable housing. The massive increase in wine tourism, as well as an accompanying increase in vacation rentals and second homes in one of the country’s most prestigious destinations has meant a significant increase in the local population. Wine tourism and an influx of wealthy residents have built demand for more service and hospitality workers. As those workers have moved in, it’s become harder for agricultural workers to find homes.

In 2015, Karissa Kruse, who serves as president of the Sonoma County Wine Growers, set out to revamp the group’s mission, focusing on sustainable conditions for the county’s agricultural workers. To better understand the challenges, the group initiated a community study.  They found that key issues included workforce development, education, healthcare, childcare and affordable housing.

“We realized that addressing these issues wasn’t something vintners could tackle on their own,” Kruse says. So SCWG invited political leaders and community groups throughout Sonoma County to help design …

To keep reading this article head on over the the Wine & Spirits Magazine website where it is shared free-for-all. It is also available in the just-released print edition of their February issue. Here’s the direct link to the article:  https://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/news/entry/at-home-at-work-in-wine-country

Nine Days in Chile

I returned Sunday from nine days traveling wine country in Chile. The trip was packed as my visits were spread from Concepcion up to two hours north of Santiago. Wines tasted included an even broader spread including essentially the entire length of wine country in Chile.

Perception of South American wine has suffered a sort of stasis in the United States. The US wine media and trade often treat the subject as if the Southern wine industry has undergone little change in fifteen or twenty years. In reality, Chilean wine is in the midst of a vibrant resurgence. Malleco Valley, Itata, Bio Bio, and Maule are all benefiting from a slew of smaller scale projects focused on a mix of finding distinctive new terroir, and re-envisioning Chile’s own old vine heritage. Well-established producers from the north are working to help preserve the sustainability of farmers in the south by funding projects with the vines of those areas as well. The boom of small production wines has had a huge impact on the larger production wineries as well. Excellent wine is coming out of the Atacama desert, Limari, and the San Antonio Valley, where little was happening previously. The longer known regions of Casablanca, Maipo, Colchagua and Lyeda have producers re-envisioning their sites and fine-tuning farming in ways that are transforming their wines. Many of the larger production wineries have given their winemakers the room to develop smaller label passion projects within the winery. Some of the most delicious wines of the country are being made in this way – under the umbrella of a winery with the resources to support experimentation and exploration, with the artisanal quality of a small scale hand’s on project. To put it succinctly, it’s time to pay attention to Chilean wine.

Raj Parr and I were asked to travel to Chile in order to present a seminar on North American Pinot Noir to a group of Chilean producers. It can be challenging to find international wines in Chile so the tasting was meant to offer a glimpse of Pinot from primarily California with a bit of Oregon, while also discussing market perception in the United States. A number of producers in Chile are taking Pinot quite seriously doing more intensive study of their site conditions than I have seen at such concentration elsewhere. They also asked us to be part of a producer tasting of Chilean pinot. Raj and I each selected what else we’d like to add to our time in Chile. Raj asked if Pedro Parra would show us his work with old vines in Itata, so we opened our trip in Concepcion with Parra. I asked to see as many vineyards across a range of producers types and regions as possible, so extended my time in Chile by a week in order to do so. The days were intensive as the driving required to get between visits often outpaced the length of the visits themselves. In the end it was totally worth it. I am excited to keep following what is happening in Chile.

As usual, I shared posts looking at parts of my trip – some of the visits, and some of the stand out wines, as well as other things found along the way – via Instagram while traveling. It’s silly but a few of my very favorite wines, and a couple of my very favorite stories I couldn’t bring myself to share. I feel the need to treasure them a bit before doing so. Even so, there’s a ton of information here, and if you’re interested in getting a hold of some Chilean wine, a number of good suggestions are in what follows. I’ll be writing more on Chile in time. Cheers!

Welcome to Chile. Give me some meat? Concepcion. #chiledog @drinkchile

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It ‘s hat Sunday! #chile @rajatparr @drinkchile

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Cactus blossom. Aconcagua Valley. #chile @errazurizwines @drinkchile

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Impressively rocky, and quite chilly, Pinot Noir blocks a mere 3 kilometers from the ocean in the Arboleda vineyards of Aconcagua Costa. Huge deposits of schist move in and out of the hillsides here though no one has yet been able to explain why they disappear in some sections. The schist shown here is far more green due to magnesium than that found in Central Otago where the schist appears far more gray and silver. Higher magnesium levels in soil lower the potassium level uptake into the fruit. Lower potassium levels mean higher acid levels in the wines (essentially). Notice the (still shallow) top soil here does have some clay, which helps the vines more readily capture needed nutrients. The roots reach here far into the fractured rock. The drainage architecture of the rock correlate with palate tingling sapidity. Thanks to a combination of the soil architecture, micro climate, and winemaking, the wines tasted from here have a ton of freshness and drive. #chile @arboledawines @drinkchile

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It was muddy. I slipped. #chile @drinkchile

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Tarantula tracks. Colchagua. #chile @drinkchile

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Incredible. Rodrigo Soto walking almost 130-year old Cabernet vines planted from cuttings taken from Bordeaux before phylloxera, then established on their own roots in the 1890s here in this very spot snugged into a rare intersection of the Coastal Mountains with an outcrop of the Andes on the eastern side of the Colchagua Valley. Thanks to Soto the site is farmed organically, currently being converted to biodynamics, and is full of life. We stopped the truck to watch a tarantula so large we could see it walking along a trail we were passing. There are so many different types of birds Rodrigo does not recognize some of their songs. Wildlife corridors, native vegetation, and indigenous forest are maintained or given space all throughout the property. And everywhere the canopy of the vines look happy. Having seen old vines all over the world it is rare to see Cabernet especially of this age, but also it is unusual to see any vines of this age so clearly healthy in their environment. There is something about a site like this that makes me so excited I start to feel as if I will buzz out of my skin. Neyen. Colchagua Valley. #chile @drinkchile

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Here we see how to propagate almost 130-year old vines, an old school method still used in some older own root vineyards as a way of respecting the vines and increasing the likelihood of new vine success. The vine on the far right of this photo was planted in the 1890s. When it ‘s sister plant beside it died an arm from the vine on the right was pulled down (the cross arm seen here in the middle) and buried then bent upright. Over time the cross arm turned upright grows into a new vine, a sort of spider plant-like offspring of the mother vine with not only identical genetic material but for its first several years also interconnected nutrient supply. Now that the younger vine here on the left is well-established the crossarm connection will be cut to allow both vines to use their own roots. This method is an advantage of own root vineyards as it cannot be done of course with those established on rootstock. Neyen. Colchagua Valley. #chile @drinkchile

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Incredible complexity of granite parent material in the Maipo subsoils. Here the top soil through the slopes of the region is quite shallow with just enough clay to help establish the vines but the roots then push through granite breaks where in some places it is already highly fractured and full of iron and along others where it is rock hard (is it still a pun if the cliche reference really is about rock?! Trying to sort that out) and charcoal black. Mixed through are flashes of quartz. Granite is so hard usually because it is formed slowly as underground magma cools without exposure to oxygen. A complex of minerals serve as part of the granite from the magmas movement and contact with other elements, and differing rates of cooling. The various colors of granite from white to pink to red to gray reflect the differing mineral types included. The incredible range of colors of granite in some growing regions in Chile, like here shown in Maipo, come from the Coastal Mountain range intersecting with the Andes. The two ranges were formed at vastly different times and so also having differing ages, and differing mineral compositions of rock, even when both granite. Once pushed to the surface, the elements, and flora and fauna, including human activity, help change the architecture of the rock creating surface soil. The soil then gives home to plants, as well as micro flora and microfauna that help the plants grow. As plants take hold, the roots reach down and change the composition of the rock even more. The earth is cool. #chile @drinkchile

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One of the challenges the Chilean wine industry faces is the ability to get quality vine material. In an ongoing effort to preserve the health and native diversity of Chile’s unique landscape the government has strictly controlled what plants can enter the country, and also how quickly. This has limited the clonal selections available to producers. Additionally some of the material to come in early on was full of problematic viruses. It is not that virus must be completely eradicated as much as that those that do create genuine damage to quality be curbed. Here workers establish replants where vines planted in September this year did not take. The site is being established to newer selections of Pinot Noir that have done well in the original blocks of this area and farmed biodynamically by the Matetic family near the coast in mica rich granite. The mica content correlates with an incredible buzzing-in-the-palate minerality in the wines from this area. The vineyard is known as Valle Hermoso and is home to the top Matetic Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. It is part of a beautiful and unique property very close to the Pacific that is focused on multi focus farming and extensive preservation of native plants and forests as well. The far southwestern side of Casablanca. #chile @mateticvineyards @drinkchile

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Hanging out at Matetic. San Antonio Valley. #chile @mateticvineyards @drinkchile

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Exploring the biodynamic preps at Matetic and investigating how they have made the system work for them. Biodynamic preps are largely added to compost to enrich the nutrient profile, then the compost is added to the soil between vine rows, thus increasing the microbial health and activity. The idea behind compost in general is that rather than adding elements like nitrogen, which the vines need, to the soil, the compost helps increase the microbial life of the soil. Microbes, micro flora, and microfauna act as a sort of intermediary between the plant and the soil, breaking down mineral compounds into nutrients accessible to the plant. Mineral compounds of the soil cannot be absorbed by the plant. Instead mineral ions made as the soil breaks down through soil activity is what is used. Compost encourages the soil biology that helps generate this process, thus making nutrients in the soil already available to the vine. in this way compost is part of the alternative to chemical farming. #chile @mateticvineyards @drinkchile

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A total honor to meet and spend part of the day with the Marin family of Casa Marin. Of all the vineyards in Chile, those of Casa Marin are closest to the ocean, a mere 4 km. Here from left in the first photo: Felipe, Maria Luz, Nicolas, Jamie. Maria Luz is the first woman winery founder and winemaker in all of Chile. She remains the only one. She now also works with her family. Nicolas works on viticulture. Felipe leads the cellar. Jamie sales. In starting the vineyards and winery Maria Luz returned to the village where she was raised. Casa Marin now employs people from the village year round in their vineyards, cellar, restaurant, and business. Lo Abarca Village, San Antonio Valley. #chile @casamarinwinery @drinkchile

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Baby tanks sticking close to their mommas… San Antonio Valley. #chile @drinkchile

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As their vines in the Leyda Valley have gotten at least ten years of age, the Viña Leyda team has shifted its focus to in depth research on the soils throughout their sites in an effort to deepen the transparency of their wines to site. As the vines were being established they focused on getting to know climate conditions and the peculiar farming needs in the area. Now that the roots have deepened they have done extensive soil mapping beginning with measuring soil conductivity variation, then using those charts to identify key sites for soil pits. What they have found is significant soil variation through their vineyards. The parent material is granite, in some places rich in mica and silt, in others quartz, in others iron. But in sections there is material carried in from hundreds of miles away and layered into the soils. In focusing on soil conditions they have identified soil-based blocks that are then vinified separately so that their vinous character can be understood. This work is intricate and at times tedious but it is part of the key to understanding their unique terroir and honing work in the cellar to amplify quality and site expression where possible. Here viticulturist Tomas Riviera describes the character of one of the soil pits we explored. This one is unusual as it includes pockets of limestone not native to the Leyda Valley. #chile @leydawines @drinkchile

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The last time I was in Chile four years ago I stood in this same spot shivering cold and could not see the Maipo River below, let alone more than a few meters in front of me thanks to intense fog. In the *V* of these hills (here on the right) is the ocean and the cold Patagonia current coming up from Antarctica. It brings a lot of cold maritime influence into the Leyda Valley but today it is warm and clear and the ocean breeze feels glorious. View from the Viña Leyda vineyard. Viña Leyda was the first to plant in Leyda Valley. They also established the infrastructure needed for planting, and successfully petitioned the DO Leyda. The soils through here are granite mixed with alluvial stones. This particular vineyard (newer for Leyda) sits around 4 km from the ocean. #chile @leydawines @drinkchile

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Cono Sur is the largest producer of Pinot Noir in Chile with the first Pinot Noir vineyard in the country, established in 1969, and the first to bring attention to the variety for the country internationally. They work with the grape across five tiers plus sparkling wine with the goal of over-delivering on quality and showcasing freshness at each price level. To maintain that in the cellar, they put work into designing a Pinot Noir focused winery that could deliver quality even at a larger scale. It was fascinating to see how they designed the space. As shown here they rely on open top fermenters, just at a larger size, and designed a pneumatic punchdown device that gently lowers the cap to reduce extraction while also retaining freshness. For aging the wine is delivered to mainly older barrels with the goal of reducing the overall oak signature. They have also been experimenting with other methods like concrete, and foudre in an ongoing effort to fine tune the wines. In our wine world today larger producers are often overlooked under the assumption that only small production wines have higher quality. In reality producers with greater volume are the drivers of the market that make it possible for others to exist. The question comes down to how do they direct their energies and resources in the larger context. Cono Sur opened the door for others to now focus on making site expressive Pinot Noir from Chile. They’ve also been holding that door open and continuing to carefully evolve. Producers with larger volumes also usually have the resources to put into the site, the farming, and the infrastructure needed to grow a market, or conversely to also develop smaller focused projects in the midst of their larger brands. Some of the most intriguing and distinctive small volume projects coming out of Chile are being made by larger wineries giving winemakers the freedom to develop passion projects. Cono Sur focuses on integrative farming introducing plants and animals that help balance the vineyard without pesticides. Chimbarongo. #chile @drinkchile

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It ‘s late in their season so only a few of these bright colored flowers still remain in between rows in the vineyards at Cono Sur but earlier in Spring the vineyards are full of them. Cono Sur encourages their growth as the bright flowers attract bugs that would otherwise become pests to the vines during flowering. By providing another food source for the bugs they can be just another aspect of the vineyard ecology instead of a pest to be eradicated. In Chile there is a saying, a bug is not a pest till it gets in your pocket. The goal in integrative farming, like that done at Cono Sur, is to support a complex environment within the vineyard so that the flora and fauna can be in balance with each other, thereby eliminating or reducing the need for spray interventions. These flowers are one such example. Chimbarongo. #chile @drinkchile

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J Bouchon winemaker Christian Sepúlveda nestled between 120 year old, own root Pais vines dry farmed in granitic soils in Maule. Through his work at Bouchon Christian wants to explore what it means to make distinctly Chilean wines, but also what it means to make wine distinctly from their site in Maule. For him turning to the heritage, the deep history of winemaking in the region reveals the answer. The first varieties to enter Chile were Pais and Muscat in the 16th century. J Bouchon makes three different red Pais wines, a white Pais, and also a sparkling. As he points out, the only way to preserve these historic vineyards, and their part of the heritage of Chile, is for people to drink the wines made from them. The vines are dry farmed, which helps deepen the site expression within the wines, and they are treated gently in the cellar relying on soil character of the vineyard to reveal smart choices in the cellar. These J Bouchon wines are among the most exciting wines being made in Chile. As Christian points out, they start here in the vineyard. Maule. #chile @drinkchile

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Part of the focus of Christian Sepúlveda in his winemaking at J Bouchon is reducing the impact of vessels used in the cellar on the final wine to allow great site transparency. He has also (as have several other producers in Chile) been working on better understanding the very specific soil character within the vineyard in order to better recognize how that shows up in the structure and fruit character of the wines, and then better respect that in the cellar. As part of this Christian has returned to using the wineries historic concrete fermentation vessels as were readily used well into the early part of the last century. The concrete tanks shown here more readily maintain an even fermentation temperature arc without temperature control than, for example, stainless steel, while also allowing some oxygen exchange, as well as a different chemical interaction (essentially) with the concrete than the steel. The result is found in profound textural difference to the wines, and in many cases a differing sense of completeness and consistency across the palate. Historically producers turned away from concrete to steel in favor of temperature control and easiness of cleaning. Steel can Also more readily harness the linearity of some varieties. Stainless steel tanks though also mean an essentially oxygen free environment. All of these aspects change the dynamics of fermentation as well as how aging happens and producers choose the vessel partially based on desired effect. In this case, after experimenting in the cellar, Christian feels that in the case of heritage vines, especially those grown in granitic soils, a greater sense of purity is delivered through these old tanks. As he describes it the work J Bouchon is doing in both vineyard and cellar is about innovation through a return to their roots. Maule. #chile @drinkchile

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Thing 1, Thing 2. J Bouchon winery. Maule. #chile @drinkchile

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Awesome. If you haven’t had Pais you are seriously missing out. Here tasting three different styles of Pais with Christian Sepúlveda, winemaker of J Bouchon. Christian works with 120-year old, dry farmed and head trained Pais vines to make concrete fermented wines with a focus on purity. The Pais Viejo is a fresh and friendly quaffable wine perfect for picnics or poolside with carbonic lift and pure fruits. The Pais Salvage delivers the wildness of the variety with a touch more edgy structure, depth and palate stimulation. The Les Mercedes brings an elegant side to the variety with a bit more age-ability while also offering the balance perfect for a meal. Really awesome discussion on Chilean heritage, vineyard expression, and freshness. Fantastic tasting. Maule. #chile @drinkchile

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Chilean bbq. Maule. #chile @drinkchile

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Listening for love on the road … #chile

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Nine Days in Willamette Valley

winter skies over Seven Springs Vineyard

At the last of November I began nine days in Willamette Valley meeting with a range of producers of all sorts – in various subzones, with different stylistic interests, varying winery sizes, and working with a range of varieties – to spend time talking about age-ability of wines in the region, the 2017 harvest, and what people are excited about. While there I shared some of my travels on Instagram. Here’s a look at that collection as shared at the time.

Tons of fun new stuff happening at Carlton Winemakers’ Studio. #willamettevalley @crltnwinestudio

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Taking a soil walk with Jason Lett of Eyrie through the Dundee Hills to gather samples from different sites and distill petrichor samples. The parent material through the area is basalt (as shown in the 2nd photo) but the architecture of the soil itself changes depending on the aspects, and erosion of the site thanks to how the microclimate interacts with the topography. The biological health of the soil too changes the soil architecture over time and so also how the vine health persists through a growing season. Petrichor aromatics reveal details of soil health that are difficult to quantify but at the same time insightful of the relationship between wine, vine, and environment. #willamettevalley @eyrievineyards

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I’m not crying. Shut up. You’re crying. #willamettevalley @eyrievineyards 1974 and 1975 Pinot Meunier

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Visiting the girls at Big Table Farm. #willamettevalley @clarecarver

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Talking through vintage variation, age-ability, and winemaking choices on Brooks Janus Pinot Noir 2007-2015 with winemaker Chris Williams and Managing Director Janie Brooks Hueck. Brooks makes biodynamically certified wines in the state of Oregon, which means no additives in the cellar. Their estate vineyard is also biodynamically certified. Janus is my ongoing favorite of their Pinots. It also ages like a champ maintaining freshness for years. While I have always liked the energy and lift of Brooks wines upon release their real magic is found after time in bottle when the weave of the wine opens and reveals a complex constellation of subtlety and flavor. My favorite in this like up is the 2007 – beautiful and earthy with lithe and supple depth. #willamettevalley @brookswinery @janiebrooksheuck

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Awesome exploratory tasting with Adelsheim winemakers David Paige and Gina Hennen discussing stylistic evolution, soils, vintage variation, and age-ability of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The opportunity to taste a range of stylistic expressions built by the evolution of the winemakers’ perspective as well as vintage character with a focus on openness, honesty, and most especially listening is one of the most thrilling parts of how I spend my time. This trip to Willamette has been very much about having those open, trusting conversations with people across a real range of approaches and sub-zones. The way these conversations build deeper connections and understanding of wine, community, and even each other means everything to me. It ‘s what has kept me at this these several years turning a rather unusual way of life into my career. Deeply grateful to the members of the wine community that entrust me in these ways with their triumphs, foibles, uncertainties, curiosities, and explorations regardless of style or technique. Thank you. Spinoza said that the more different sorts of people, things, experiences we are able to connect with the stronger we will be. This idea has been one of my guiding principles in life. I am grateful for the ways it has been shown to me again and again in wine. The more broadly I taste, the more openly I listen, the deeper my understanding and the more I can be of service. I am most grateful to be of service. #willamettevalley @adelsheim

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Portrait of the writer in a bottle of wine she loves. This is what it feels like to love a bottle of wine, to find yourself inside of it, surrounded by the life and rush and energy of it, to discover the world inside your senses far larger and more consuming than the size and space your psyche has until that moment projected and maintained as the outline of your physical body, to discover in the experience of the wine you both disappear and are energized. To experience pleasure as more than hedonistic, as emboldening, as well as enlightening. I am in love with the energy, subtlety, and complexity of this wine. Hope Well 2016 (as yet unreleased, and so also as shown here, unlabeled) Pinot Noir from Mimi Casteel’s Hope Well Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills. The fruit comes from blocks she farms herself by hand with a focus on continuously improving the innate soil biology and thus also vine health. With this in mind she also foregoes tilling. Her efforts have been so successful a previously believed extinct North American beetle has recently been rediscovered on her property. #willamettevalley @mimicasteel

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