July 21, 2017

Europe '17 - Dinner in Beaune

The road out of our country town

We stayed at a Gite outside of Beaune, a perfect way to experience French country farm life in the flats east of town. Like the bottomlands of the Willamette Valley, this is wheat and corn country. We felt right at home.

We ate in one night after a great stop at the Beaune farmer's market in the old town on Saturdays. The other night we dined at Bar on the Square on just across from the old city wall on a small plaza off the ring road.

Bar on the Square as we walk up

It came recommended from my importer in Quebec, who said all the winemakers hang out here. I didn't recognize anyone, of course, but the wine list was terrific and the food was just what we wanted on a warm evening.


Yes, that is pork belly

Pretty much classic

New producer to me, lovely mineral and ripe (very) local Pinot Noir

After dinner we wandered through the old city streets back to the car, which I somehow parked far away not knowing exactly where we were going.

Lights projected on old buildings in Beaune

It was simply a perfect evening in Burgundy.

July 20, 2017

Europe '17 - Burgundy

After a week split between Paris and London, we returned to Paris to rent a car for a week two adventure south. First stop Burgundy.

On the way, my wife happened to pick Auxerre for a lunch stop. It was close to the autoroute and gave the family our first chance to see smaller town France after days in the big cities. We enjoyed a quick lunch and then I dropped into a local wine shop, saw a bunch of local Irancy wine. We were on Burgundy's doorstep.

The Auxxerios countryside reminded me of home in the Willamette Valley

On the road east to meet up with the autoroute I saw my first vineyards of the trip. The countryside  around Auxerre made me think of Oregon, without the evergreens. But France has considerably rockier soil than home, making me think of Joe Dressner's chiding about the fertile soils of the Willamette Valley. They aren't fertile in the hills where we grow grapes, but that also certainly don't look anything like France.

We re-entered the autoroute toward Braine but turned off early to head directly to Gevrey at the north end of the Côte d'Or. from highway to country road to windy country road twisting though the mountains above the Cote, we noticed preparations underway for the Tour de France stage passing this way in a couple of weeks.

Suddenly we descended in a combe and we saw vines everywhere, to our left high on the slope I was sure to be looking at Clos St jacques and Cazetiers. Then on through the small town and we turned right onto the Route des Grands Crus. We were here.

The Cotes d'Or from the Route des Grands Crus in Gevrey Chambertin

I pulled the car to the side of the road to take in the landscape. It was an emotional sight, this perfect slope, covered in vines, a place I'd studied almost forever in words and maps but was only seeing in person for the first time. I just stared, mouth open, no words.

I noticed so many things. The rocky dirt, the thick vine trunks, the low canopy, meticulously hedged, and that marvelous exposure, the slope glowing in the afternoon sunlight. It's obviously perfect for Pinot Noir.

Soon enough we got back in the car and continued south to Morey and beyond, me trying my best not to swerve off the road as we passed by so many old friends I was only now meeting in person for the first time.

The towns of the Cote du Nuits are just as I'd read - small, sleepy, not so grand compared to the world renown dirt all around.

Gates at north end of Clos Vougeot, with the Chateau in the distance

Soon we came upon the Clos Vougeot, the largest Grand Crus in the Cote du Nuits, and indeed remarkably flat and perhaps unworthy of such status as you proceed south. The northern end however is perfect, and again perfectly exposed on the slope. There's little shade in the finest vineyards of Burgundy.

Through Nuits, then the quarries of Comblancien and on to Aloxe and the great hill of Cotton. It's bigger than I expected, high and essentially a huge flank of vineyards tilting east. If only I had more time to explore up and around to Pernand and Savigny. That will have to wait.

So into Beaune, our terminus for a few nights as we explored the region. More on dinner out in Beaune and a producer visit back in Nuits next time.

July 15, 2017

Europe '17 - Return to the Moon


Day one in Paris, the Champ de Mars

June saw my first visit to Europe since the 1990s, a shamefully long time ago given my profession as a winemaker. I suppose I could say I've been been busy. I'm married with two children, now teenagers, and for many years I was the primary earner for my family. I worked in higher education. I was apprenticing in wine. The time and cost of international travel simply didn't fit.

Or perhaps those are excuses. Whatever the case, my family and I are recently back from a two week survey of France, mostly, with excursions to London and the Piedmont of Italy. What a trip, busy but relaxing, family instead of wine focused as we played tourists most of the time.

Citroen racing through Montmarte

Of course I did manage some winery visits, much sampling of local products as we went, and despite the brief stays in each region we visited, I return full of inspiration. To write, to re-evaluate my approaches in the vines and the cellar, and certainly to return much sooner to my vinous homeland.

Week one was mostly Paris and London, with a day trip to Oxford to tie in the latest family focus these days, college visits. One of those teens is frightening close to college age. Museums, palaces, churches - we saw (and walked!) more than even I expected in that first week.

The Tower of London

Having studied for a year in Europe during college, and having returned a few times after that, it was still surprisingly how quickly I readjusted to the regularities of European travel after 20 years. The familiarity of the coffee, the pastry, the carafe of Rose, the trains, even my contempt when overhearing banal English conversations of other traveling Americans...it was all right there like muscle memory. The smoking too - the tabacs of France survive.

Then there's so much new or new to me. Better restaurants, Uber, hotels with tiny elevators, driving in France, and winery visits.

Actually, on my last trip to France in the '90s I visited Beaune and tasted at a couple of cellars in town, nothing fancy. And I took a day trip from Avignon to Chateauneuf du Pape and managed to discover for myself Domaine du Pegau, a revelation at the time for their red and white wine.

The City of Light

Still, this trip marked the first planned and thought out visits to wineries. In all, I spared the family and managed to visit only three domaines, all in week two when we had rented a car in Paris and made our way through Burgundy, Rhone and Provence, with an overnight sneak to Piedmont that might have been the best stop of all. Each visit was particularly special, quality over quantity of stops, each particularly memorable.

Back in Portland, I'm still reflecting on all I saw, learned, tasted, even read about - at the time and certainly since I returned. There's still so much to understand about it all, I hope the next few posts allow some processing - and sharing - of what happened and what it might all mean.

For now, the recap of week one in brief - carafe upon carafe of Rose. Nameless, faceless, cheap Rose at dinner and sometimes lunch. Ok, not oceans of the stuff but just enough to wash down meals, with no concern for domaine or appellation. Just pale, crisp (usually) and delicious (also usually). And there was one red wine, we did cook in one night in London and I reprised college days with a bottle of cheap Cahors from the Tesco. Express. Nothing special at all, honestly it was sorta spoofy but in the moment is was fine.

Then week two we rented the car and hit the countryside. More next time.

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.