July 14, 2010

Reflecting on Evesham Wood

I was shocked but not necessarily surprised to read the news today of the sale Evesham Wood in Salem, OR. Russ and Mary Raney are headed to an early retirement, and Erin Nuccio and his wife Jordan of the Haden Fig label, made at Evesham Wood, are buying the property, including the house and winery and inventory. Russ will apparently stay on in a consulting role but the Raney's focus seems on changing the pace of life, including spending a few months each year in France. Man does that sound sweet. Russ and Mary have worked hard for years. They deserve this.

For me, this change marks a sweet passage of my own journey in wine and life. I've probably written about this before, but Evesham Wood was where I got my lucky start in Oregon winemaking. I had long enjoyed Evesham Wood Pinot noir, their fragrance, their subtlty and finesse. After a serious come-to-Jesus moment in my life late in 2004, I knew I had to get serious about my own interest in winemaking. I had to work harvest. I had to find somewhere that would ground me in the right way to make Oregon Pinot. I had to somehow convince Russ Raney that a lightly experienced stranger should help him out with the 2005 harvest.

Along came an ice-storm in the winter of '05. I was trapped at home. From the televised shots of empty freeways all over the northern Willamette Valley, I figured maybe Russ Raney was trapped at home too. So I called, and sure enough he picked up. I gently plead my case, he said I might be in luck because some Germans who were lined up to work harvest might have to back out. Sure enough, I got the nod.

That fall my term was fairly brief, only about four weeks, but I learned a ton, about what to do but especially what not to do. Russ didn't fuss too much with things. He was remarkably calm even as the weather turned from beautiful to torrential rain. Our methods in the small cellar were simple, if labor intensive. Grapes in small yellow tubs (FYBs) tossed by hand onto the sorting line, or pitchforked by hand from larger picking bins. The old Willmes press hand loaded with buckets. Meals were upstairs in the dining room of the family home. The fridge covered in their child's art or the lector schedule for church. Out in the shed were bins of unlabeled bottles, France style, labeled as necessary when orders came in. Perhaps the only fancy thing I saw was a European tractor that I figured would get laughs at a grain farmers' meeting, like an Alfa next to rows of king cab pick ups trucks.

My first day was in August, weeks before harvest, essentially a try out to see if I was going to work out. We were racking barrels for the 2004 Willamette Valley Pinot and at the end of the day Russ went out to the shed and got a bottle of 1999 Evesham Wood Pinot Noir Seven Springs Vineyard, perhaps my favorite site in all of Oregon Pinot and from that moment a special bottle for me, something I'd drink at some special time to be determined.

So what does that picture up top have to do with any of this? That's me and my late father, two words that still hurt to write and probably always will. My dad loved wine and though he always said he never had that great a palate for the "good stuff," he liked my interest in wine and winemaking and always remarked how he drank well whenever he and mom would come to town. I think of dinners here at home with Evesham Wood wine, and one particuarly nice evening at Castagna with a couple of bottles of '02 Evesham Wood Pinot Noir Le Puits Sec, the estate vineyard bottling.

And the evening of this picture from 2008, my 39th birthday and the 39th anniversay of my dad's 39th birthday. We are the Once de Mayo gang, both born on Mother's Day, May 11, he in 1930, me in 1969. Dad always joked that he gave me his birthday, a la Steve Allen, so that he always turned "39 again this year" all those years of my life. As the calendar would have it, Mother's Day again fell on May 11 in 2008, my 39th, the day I'd finally catch up to him. Sadly, we'd received the awful news about cancer a month prior, but he and mom made the trip to Portland as planned. My eldest brother even flew up just for this evening, to celebrate birthdays and Mother's Day with us all. We went to Nostrana and out came that bottle of 1999 Evesham Wood Pinot Noir Seven Springs Vineyard. What a better and more appropriate time to drink it, and damn it was good, so good like that whole weekend and all those memories.

Those smiles we share in the photo suggest many things, but one of them was certainly satisfaction with Russ and Mary Raney's work, in the year of 1999 and all the years they've grown grapes and made wine here in Oregon. Thanks to them both. My life and memories wouldn't be nearly as rich without them and Evesham Wood.


Steve-n-Melissa said...

Lovely, touching stuff, Vincent. A pleasure to read.

Thad W. said...

Vincent, I am moved beyond words by this wonderful piece. Your expression here renews my faith in this medium. Thank you for sharing this with us.

Marshall Manning said...

Nice writing, Vincent. I guess I'm a bit sad to hear that the Raneys have sold, as it might mean that another top OR Pinot producer is gone.

BTW, I still have a bottle of two of that '99 Seven Springs...let me know when you'd like to try it again.

Vincent Fritzsche said...

Thanks for the kinds words everybody. Marshall, it's bittersweet indeed to see the Raneys sell. I'm sure it's a good move for them and we'll live on. There's lots of their great wine still out there. The best '08s are still to come. I will take you up on that offer about the '99, anytime. I don't get too sentimental about most wines, but that one I do.

PamelaMack said...

Hello, Vincent. I am Paul's friend, who called you a week or so ago. What a surprise to see this today, and what a tribute to your father and the Raney's. This is really lovely...

Vincent Fritzsche said...

Pamela, so glad you found the blog. Thanks for the nice note.