After touring Le Cadeau Vineyard, Tom Moritmer and I went inside the small house he and Deb have built where we sampled some wine. As Tom opened and poured the 2002 Pinot Noir, he told me about the winemakers at Le Cadeau.
The first two vintages, 2002 and 2003, were made by Isabelle Dutartre, a French friend of Veronique Drouhin at Domain Drouhin Oregon. Isabelle previously worked for Drouhin here and in France, and is now winemaker for Deponte, a producer just below Domaine Drouhin in the southwestern end of the Dundee Hills. At Le Cadeau, she blended the entire vineyard in the Drouhin style, making a restrained and powerfully mineral wine.
The 2002 Le Cadeau Pinot Noir is a fragrant wine, with strong rocky aromas along with layers of ripe cherries, clove, and cinnamon. It smells distinctly Oregon with its ashy, earthy notes, but it’s uncommonly mineral and attractive for that. In the mouth it’s firm and young with good acidity, not yet revealing its richness. Some alcohol peeks through after a while, but it’s not bothersome. Along with the 2004 Grochau Cellar Pinot Noir, this is the most exciting Oregon wine I’ve had in some time. Just give it a few years.
To contrast, Tom poured the 2003 Le Cadeau Pinot Noir. This smells like boysenberries at first before relaxing to a lightly roasted, red raspberry aroma. There’s alcohol showing here but I’m more sensitive to that in Oregon wines than most drinkers it seems. In the mouth, it begins with good intensity amid the ripe fruit flavors, definitely some mineral tones in there, but over time the alcohol seems to overwhelm. If you don’t always serve red wine cool, do it with this one. It’s still more French in style than you tend to find in Oregon, with a restraint despite its size. But it simply has that roasted fruit of 2003. Still, it’s lush and I bet it’s an easier sell than the more stern 2002.
With 2004, everything in the cellar changes. Isabelle is out because she’s too busy with Deponte and others. And who comes in? Would you believe Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem, Sam Francis and Cheryl Tannahill of Francis/Tannahill, and Josh Bergstrom of Bergstrom? Sort of a local dream team of winemakers, though stylistically different from each other and certainly different from Isabelle. The trio each makes their own bottling. And the vineyard goes to each winemaker in pieces, so no longer is Le Cadeau wine a blend of the property. Harry has the rockiest southwestern part, Sam and Cheryl have a few scattered blocks, including Deb’s block, and Josh has the eastern slope that gets lots of afternoon sunlight.
So Tom pulls out two of the three bottlings that will be released later this year. First is the 2004 Le Cadeau “Rocheaux” made by Harry. It’s young as you might expect, having been in bottle just a few weeks. Minerally, lightly peppery cherry aromas with firm acids reminding me of the 2002 without that wine’s earthiness. This is pretty wine, but it needs time to be more enjoyable. Should be good.
Then Tom opens the 2004 Le Cadeau “Cote Est” made by Josh. (By the way, the Francis/Tannahill bottling will be called “Diversité”.) This shows some sulfur dioxide at first, then a bacony, smokey oak aroma with ripe raspberries and some earthy, organic smells. It’s chewy on the palate from fine grape skin tannins, structured as Bergstrom-made wines tend to be but not outright oaky, almost Chateauneuf du Pape like with a roasted quality, pleasingly so as wine goes though not necessarily a compliment for Pinot Noir. Again, I think this will be very appealing wine, but it’s a little heavy handed for my tastes.
After tasting these wines, I’m struck by their minerality and certainly the overall quality of the vineyard and cellar work. This is a serious producer with some of the promising wines that I think will make a mark here in Oregon. My only concern is slight, and probably not shared by Tom and Deb. What to do with all the winemakers? In 2005, the trio from ’04 are back with Le Cadeau, and in ’06 Isabelle will return to make a fourth bottling. I asked Tom if he instructs them to make wine in a way for Le Cadeau, but he lets them do their thing. It shows in the wines, and while it’s admirable and probably what I’d do in his situation, maybe the hands of the different winemakers obscure the nuance of the vineyard. The dream team is fun and unique, and quality isn’t an issue here. But I wonder how the audience for Le Cadeau will respond to the different winemaker styles. And I wonder how sustainable the arrangement is. It wouldn’t be surprised to see one winemaker after a few more years, unless these talented and high profile winemakers continue to make time for what must be a labor of love for each.
In all, I had a terrific visit with Tom and greatly appreciated his time and information. I asked about the future, and Tom suggested there might be another label of non-estate wine. And with the potential for more plantings on the property, there might be some white wine might be in the mix someday. Whatever happens, keep your eye on Le Cadeau.