April 07, 2007

Oregon Wine News

I’ve been meaning to report on the news about Seven Springs/Anden vineyard, one of my favorite sites for Oregon Pinot Noir that supplies many top local wineries.

Or make that, supplied.

The vineyard was once simply Seven Springs, on the western flank of the Eola Hills not far from producers like Cristom and Bethel Heights. Then a few years back the owners divorced, the lower and older block remaining as Seven Springs with the more recent plantings in the upper block rechristened as Anden vineyard.

Now, as St. Innocent winemaker and owner Mark Vlossak confirmed recently in a post on erobertparker.com, the owners of Anden and Seven Springs have agreed to lease all the fruit to a Californian for the next 15 years. That means St. Innocent and others who make wine from this site including Evesham Wood will apparently no longer have access to these grapes.

I write apparently because, however unlikely it may be, the deal may not in fact be done. In any industry, deals can materialize and fall through with remarkable speed. Mark seems resigned to his fate, but I’m holding hope, perhaps false hope, that the longtime producers of this property continue to get grapes.

With Mark’s history with the site, not to mention the others who have made the names Seven Springs and Anden meaningful in the wine world, I have to wonder if Anden owner Al MacDonald – himself a local legend in viticulture circles – couldn’t manage to salvage something here. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, the erstwhile Chateau Benoit near Lafayette, OR, itself rechristened Anne Amie a few years back, is taking a bold step toward higher quality wine production. How is that? By lowering production.

You don’t hear wineries doing that too often. What’s next, lowing prices in off vintages? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Actually, in the release I received from Anne Amie general manager Craig Camp, it looks like the lower production at Anne Amie, along with a commitment to sustainable agriculture and minimal intervention winemaking, is really all about rebalancing the winery portfolio of owner and local media and gravel magnate Robert Pamplin.

Chateau Benoit was created a few decades back and built a reputation for lower quality but popular wines that us geeks might categorize as soda pop wine. But they sold and continue to sell. Meanwhile, the Anne Amie label has featured all sorts of bottlings that seem more serious but still haven’t captured too much attention in the quality end of things. Now there will be a third label, Pamplin Family Vineyards, producing “extradorinary Northwestern Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay” in a separate facility in Sherwood, OR.

There is a growing number of local wineries sourcing grapes from warmer areas in southern Oregon and eastern Washington to make Bordeaux and Rhone variety wines. The Willamette Valley is still mostly about Pinot Noir, but our wineries more and more are going further than that. It looks like, to capitalize on this trend, the Pamplin label will allow Anne Amie to be streamlined while positioning the whole enterprise to grow even more.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m trying to get Craig’s ear for a visit to see for myself what’s going on behind the scenes, which I hope to share with you.


thor iverson said...

Don't leave without trying the viognier, which was perhaps the most eye-opening wine I tasted in the entire region.

Marshall Manning said...

I find it very hard to take a winery seriously when the owner of that winery won't even drink the wine.

Vincent Fritzsche said...

Marshall's got a point. But look beyond the ownership to who's running the operation and we might see some surprises here. I do think it's smart for "Anne Amie" (hate that name, I have to say it) to bring more focus to what they're doing. Pamplin Family Wine Estates or whatever it's called does sound like a step toward the Napa-fication of the Willamette Valley. Maybe they'll move to Washington too.