July 23, 2009

Steamboat Pinot Noir

Just back from Steamboat, on the north fork of Oregon's Umpqua River and home to the annual Steamboat Pinot Noir Conference. The four day event is dedicated to pinot noir, attacting winemakers from Oregon, California, British Columbia, France and even Chile to taste through barrel samples of the most recent vintage, mostly challenged wines that can benefit from the group's collective intelligence.

This isn't a consumer event, and isn't open to media so most of what went on at Steamboat will stay at Steamboat. I was there as someone making wine who someday would love to be able to present his own sample for review. For now, I tasted, listened and contributed where I could, mostly asking questions rather than giving answers. I came away with several thoughts, a few worth relating here.

First, readers of this site should know that I'm launching my own wine label by making my first commercial pinot noir this fall. I've labeled my home made wine after myself, Vincent, in honor of my uncle and grandfather after whom I'm named, and of course the patron saint of winegrowers. How can you have Vin in your name and not use it on your label? Well, turns out I'm not going to. Too many labels out there include Vincent somewhere in their name. I'm not concerned about name confusion. Rather, trademark issues. I got some great advice all during the conference on this subject, and I came away figuring the smart move is to find another name. Any ideas?

Second, there is so much winemaking technology out there that it makes my head spin. I suppose drawing a purist's line would mean doing nothing but pick grapes, allow the wine to happen, age the wine, and bottle it, with no additives. Some people out in the world do that, but that's not my interest. I don't have a problem with sulfur, much less other time tested techniques for . Nevertheless, I hope to limit my use of winemaking techniques to preserving quality or fixing issues such as reduction, but stay away from quality "enhancers" that seem mostly to distort the attributes of a wine rather than improve things. In practice, maybe that's a vague and even wishywashy approach, but intention is important. I want to leave well enough as much as I can, not approach wine as something to control and sculpt. Steamboat gave me the opportunity and space to reflect on how I want to approach my wine, while appreciating the differences some others take to this craft.

Third, if you can, stay at the Steamboat Inn for any reason whatsoever. I actually camped out down the road, but mostly I was hanging around this old fishing lodge that's quite comfortable while being pretty nicely isolated. You're right on the Umpqua River, with steams and areas to swim, hike, fish (world class fishing here), bike, whatever. The rock formations along the river are amazing and great for scrambling. Crater Lake is a good hour's drive up the road. Or you can do nothing but watch the river go by. I can't recommend this area and this particular inn highly enough. I can't wait to go back.


Marshall Manning said...

Should you really be concerned with trademark issues? It's your name, you should be able to use it. Plus, the label already looks nice.

Or you could go with something totally generic like Whispering Creek or Salmon Brook.

Vincent Fritzsche said...

I know, I want to use the name and label. Just that the advice I'm getting from seasoned pros is...don't go there. One guy said don't worry about it, but then he talked about how he'd spend a million dollars defending his brand. He asked if I was willing to do that, and I could only squeak, "but I don't have a million dollars."

So I'm searching for names. What do you think about Generous Oak? [g]