May 07, 2006

Stoller’s new LEED-certified winery

The scene – a gorgeous Oregon spring day, and I found myself touring the newly opened winery at Stoller Vineyards. The facility is solar powered with features and workspace that are embarassingly attractive.

Stoller is located on the southwestern most flank of the Dundee Hills. It’s a former turkey ranch with premium southern exposure, and a steeper upper slope than I previously realized. Along with the deep but low fertility Jory soils and volcanic basalt geology, this is certainly one of the most ideal sites in the northern Willamette Valley.

The Stollers are partners in Chelalem winery in Newberg, long the source of the most visible Stoller vineyard Pinot Noir in the market. But over the past few years, the Stollers have produced their own label, initially at Chelalem but now in this sparkling new facility just below the vineyard.

The crushpad and fermentation room are the ground and top floor of the foursquare facility. (If there’s any criticism to make, it would be about the fairly bland outward appearance. But that’s picking nits.) Inside there’s a line of stainless steel fermentors, 3- and 5-ton varieties, elevated between tracks that can hold equipment for crushing straight into the vats or doing mechanical punchdowns. Very nice on the shoulders and back.

There’s a middle level below the fermentation room where pressed wine can settle before moving to barrels below, and space for case wine storage. To bottom level is the cave, with multiple barrel storage rooms carved between the load bearing walls. That allows the red wine barrels to be kept cool while other space is warmed when necessary for white wine barrel fermentation. There’s no having to do it all in one open space like you find in many other facilities.

After the barrel rooms came the solar power set up. Apparently the facility captures enough sun-energy to power 40% of the winery at maximum usage. Most of the time they feed power back to the grid, so the facility uses substantially less commercial energy than it ordinarily would.

The office and lab space was impressive, as was the stylish – perhaps too much so – tasting room. In short, the facility looks like terrific place to produce wine. And winemaker Melissa Burr, formerly of Cooper Mountain, seems like the whole package.

How are the wines? Commercially very good. Not terribly distinctive, and not my favorite wines, but well make, fairly priced, and most certainly good drinking.

The ’04 Chardonnay is plump and toasty but not overdone and retaining some fresh acidity. The ’04 “JV” Pinot Noir is designed to drink young. It’s bright and fruity, almost candied, but pleasantly earthy with a touch of sulfur that should go away.

The main wine is the ’03 Pinot Noir, which is ripe but not as ripe as I would have guessed from such a warm vintage. Stoller vineyard is a warm site with a low elevation in the lowest blocks. But this ’03 was pretty attractive, with some alcohol and generic toastiness along with distinctive turned earth aromas mixing with the signature macerated cherries. Very attractive wine that won’t be hard to sell, despite the uninspiring label design.

All in all, the site is top notch, the facility is top notch, and the wines are safe but good in their way. What if this producer really broke out and produced something of more intensity without quite the heft? Is that possible in this warm-site vineyard? Time will tell as the producer grows into its new facility. But so far, so good.


Leslie said...

We stopped in the big Memorial Day weekend. I really enjoyed their Pinot. I hope to get back in the future.

Vincent Fritzsche said...

Leslie, thanks for the comment. That's the challenge of writing about wine. Stoller is producing good wine, just not my favorite. But the quality is there and I expect their wines to do very well in the market. Nice place to visit too, huh?