February 11, 2017

Visit to Hiyu Wine Farm in the Hood River Valley

Pano from the top of the vineyard at Hiyu Wine Farm

Recently I tagged along with a wine retail friend on a mid-week visit to Hiyu Wine Farm, on a lovely  southeastern slope in the heart of the Hood River Valley. I'd heard good things about Hiyu and wanted to see it for myself, again.

This is the old Pheasant Valley winery property, and I'd stayed here twice some years back when it was a bed and breakfast. This area is absolutely beautiful and it was nice to see it in the new Hiyu era.

Vines at Pheasant Valley were planted approximately 15 years ago, joining fruit trees and other crops on a property that's been organically farmed for more than 30 years. 

In 2015 the property sold and was renamed Hiyu, apparently Chinook jargon for abundance. The new owners (unfortunately away this day) are serious about natural food and wine, and things smelled great as we waited for the assistant winemaker Graham in the airy, open kitchen/tasting room.

Looking over grafted wines in the snow at Hiyu 
We started with a walk in the vineyard. It's been a snowy winter in the lowlands of Oregon, and as we hiked past some farm animals and then up the vineyard slope, we heard from Graham all about their field grafting project. 

Over a few years, the crew here is grafting much of the original mix of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Tempranillo and other grapes, leaving some of the original plants but a wide mix of other varieties, too many to catch on the cold but beautiful hike. Graham relayed that they're looking to make field blends that express the terroir of Hiyu.

Animals are integral to biodynamics at Hiyu Wine Farm

At the top we found animals that are integral to this biodynamic farm. We stopped to check out the view and hear about how there's been snow on the ground for two straight months.

We hiked back down and entered the barrel cellar to taste. Overall, Hiyu and their label for non-estate wines, Smockshop Band, are really impressive. Clearly something different is happening in the Hood these days with a handful of really exciting producers, and I'm happy to see it.

Casks of all sizes in the cellar at Hiyu
Quick impressions of wines from barrel, all naturally fermented and from 2016 unless noted. These are very young wines that show ones approach in the vineyard and cellar, but not the elements of finished wines yet, nb:

First, we tried two ciders. The Hood River valley is long known for its apples, so a natural fit. First a crab apple cider that I thought was taut and lovely. Then a mixed apple cider that was a little more wild and broad. I'm not a huge cider guy but this is obviously serious farmhouse stuff.

Then some white. First, Chardonnay that's lean and suave. Then a blend of white Spanish varieties that was waxy and golden, I loved it. Finally a Gewürztraminer that was pleasantly bitter as the variety tends to be, but balanced and lively.

Beautiful oak upright fermenters
Next we tried two Rose wines - first a white Zinfanfel, dry and brisk with lots of watermelon rind; then a skin fermented Pinot Gris that was tannic but fascinating. I want to experiment with Gris like this.

Then we moved on to several reds. First Grenache that I loved. It was super elegant and white peppery, translucent in color, definitely a presentation we should see more of in the US. Next the Pinot Noir from 2016 and 2015. Both were fairly firm and dense.

Several of the wines come from non-estate fruit, most (all?) from Scortched Earth vineyard. The Zinfandel was fairly reduced - not unreasonably, I made wines in a reductive way as well - but clearly both dense and light on its feet. Syrah also scortched earth was nice with berry fruit and some light herbal, red pepper quality to take the wine beyond fruit.

Each barrel gets its own name
Then some really out there wines for this part of the world, first a Mencia/Cabernet Franc blend that's crazy inky and weird in a good way. Next a Tempranillo that was 80 days on skins - yes, 80 - that's all texture and promise at this point. Finally a miscellaneous blend they call Red Grafts, in a small barrel - Pinot, Syrah, and others from the grafting project - fruity and delicious already.

We then went back into the tasting room and tried a few things from bottle, all under the Smokeshop Band label:

The Smockshop Band label
Sauvignon Blanc 2015
Rich with barrel notes but I liked it, bought one of these.

White blend mostly Chardonnay 2014
Golden Chardonnay character here, fairly broad and rich but nicely in check.

Pinot Noir 2014
From estate fruit but not farmed by the new owners so under the Smokeshop Band label. Broad red fruit, black cherry and tannin, tried this again a few nights later at Davenport in Portland and it was dense and firm, in a good way but definitely weighty for Pinot.

Syrah Grenache 2015, from Scortched Earth
Incense and tannin, low fruit, interesting but a little rough but obviously young, I bought one of these as well to see how it relaxes with some more time in bottle.

The Smockshop Band line up - estate wines from Hiyu coming soon
In all, a fascinating visit to the new generation in Hood River. Hiyu Wine Farm is already making some really interesting wines, definitely check them out. And visit the winery. They have quite a facility for tasting and dining, I'd love to come back in the summer for a meal.

January 11, 2017

Thinking of classic wines in the new year

It has been many years since I began this site. I find I have more than ever to write about, yet neither the time nor the inclination to do much writing. What are blogs now in the age of Twitter anyway? So I wonder, and delay.

I suppose blogs are what they've always been, a way to write in long(er) form about, in this case, wine. I never solicited much traffic for this site, joking at one point on the old Wine Therapy site that I was aiming for more people leaving my site than coming to it.

I've never quite managed that but a new year brings new hope, and perhaps new resolve to do something that's good for me and that I still avoid at times like the plague - write. No matter who reads, if anyone.

So where am I with wine these days? I think I largely drink the same kinds of wines as I did from the earliest days here, then already well into my wine evolution that settled on what we might have called "real" wines then. That movement seems to have morphed fully and expanded well beyond into what we now call "natural" wines, with much more vigilance (over the top?) on every move in the vineyard and cellar.

More and more though, I think my interest has been and remains most in what I'd call "classic" wines. Those of old school producers the world over, producers new and old, with perhaps a lutte raisonnee approach to their craft. These are producers who capture their regions best in the wines they make, who I'd say work in a "real" way if not 100% "natural" (doing nothing, not even sulfur - let's be real if we want the term to mean anything).

I'm thinking of the Chave, Bize and Lapierre of France, the Vajra, Conterno and Bruno Giacosa of Italy, Tahbilk and Chambers of Australia, Edmunds St. John, Mt. Eden and Ridge of California, among many others in their areas. And that's not to mention so many legends old and new here in Oregon and in pretty much every region of the world if you get right down to it.

The wine world sees trends come and go, but there are so many producers making wines of place without dogma. Those are the ones I've always loved the most, and I suppose in this new year, as I drink the 2012 Domaine Eden Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains - from the old Cinnabar vineyard acquired some years back by Mt. Eden - I feel a renewed energy to take up my education in wine again, my elevage. Wish me luck.