September 20, 2017

Europe '17 finale - To Paris, via Chablis

Our week plus long car trip from Paris to Nice, then into Italy, left us with a long drive back to Paris and our flight home in two days. The trip finale was one of the highlights of our time in Europe.

If you ever get the chance, and you like road driving, you should drive through the Italian alps to Switzerland via the Valle d'Aosta and then into France via Lake Geneva and the Jura mountains. It was one of the best road trips of my life.

We left Grinzane Cavour in the Barolo region and headed north into the flatlands and the city of Turin, followed a beltway road around the city and soon headed into the alps. 

The flats north of Turin give way to the Alps

At Valle d'Aosta we turned north toward Switzerland, but not before seeing lots of vineyard terraces in the steep, narrow canyon of a valley.

The endless tunnel a blur from Italy to Switzerland

On the Swiss side we found dramatic vineyard scenes on steep alpine faces, then by Lake Geneva more rolling vineyard land on mostly gentle slopes down to the water. I know very little of Swiss wine and seeing all this made me resolve to research the areas. Truthfully, I have not followed through on that one quite yet.

Past Lausanne, we turned north into the Jura mountains, crossing the French border and passing though tiny Morbier, home of the wonderful cheese. We didn't see much vineyard land here but the soils looked great, super rocky limestone earth. 

We needed to reach Chablis for the night, still a long ways off. That would leave a short trip into Paris the next day, and I wanted to see the Grand Cru slope and ideally get a decent local meal. We pressed on.

The weather had been rainy off and on all though the alps and over the Jura mountains, and it continued as we zigzagged on the autoroutes toward Beaune and the gap in the Cote d'Or, retracing a few steps as we passed Beaune and headed toward Auxerre.

A welcome sight after a long road trip from Italy to Chablis
We saw more heavy rain showers but by the time we got to Chablis, the sun was peeking out through broken clouds, the rain finished. 

At a lunch stop in Switzerland I had found Le Syracuse in Chablis, a classic restaurant in an ancient vaulted stone dining room. Dinner couldn't have been better, escargots, ham, a selection of desserts, and of course local wine. Honestly, this was a night where even a simple local drink was divine with this food in this setting.

The dining room of Le Syracuse 

My escargot and Chablis

Jambon a la chablisienne

Solid AOC Chablis, exceptional in the moment

We emerged from Le Syracuse surprised to find it still light out, the sky brighter than earlier with only broken clouds in the sky. We'd managed to part right in front of the restaurant and we were running late to our Air Bnb outside of town. 

After a lazy meal, the grand cru slope peek out at the east end of town

I drove east across the river and quickly came to the road we'd take north, the Route du Tonnerre that runs at the base of the Grand Cru slope.

Perhaps the most stunning sight of a trip full of them

I couldn't have planned this. Nearly the last light of day, the sky and earth washed clean from afternoon rain, now the low sunlight gleaming off the perfectly situated slope of seven Chablis Grand Cru vineyard. I pulled over, got out, had to catch my breath.

We could only stay for a few minutes but that was enough, the magic of this place that I knew in the glass was clear. This is Chablis, golden but crisp, steely, rocky, mineral. With an electricity that takes control a bit, makes a strong impression and doesn't quit.

Stony Chablis terroir in the golden last light of day, this is Grand Crus

We reached our lodging late but I was floating. The trip was about over, and I was ready to go home, satisfied like the feeling of finishing a terrific meal but now you're done. 

I'd seen so much on the trop, felt the places more strongly than I even expected, and left knowing I'd have to come back and soon. Two weeks was a nice start but what I'd learned, and rediscovered in myself, that will take a much more time to explore. Soon.

August 22, 2017

Europe '17 - Brezza Ristorante in Barolo

The only problem with spending a single Wednesday night in Barolo is that most of the restaurants are closed. The few that are open were filled up. Crisis.

The view from the deck at Ristorante Brezza in Barolo
Then I remembered write ups I'd read of the Langhe region that mentioned the restaurant at the Hotel Brezza in the town of Barolo. It wasn't on the short list we had received but it was open, the weather was nice, and after a slight delay getting noticed, we were able to sit al fresco for what ended up a wonderful, traditional Piemonte meal.

This was perfect Italy, as if you were in someone's home with a second floor deck looking over an indescribably beautiful scene. I ordered the simple tasting menu of salumi, tajarin, braised beef and a selection of desserts. The food was comforting, the service very attentive but perfectly discreet, we sat and took in the evening with a handful of other groups, just enough to make it lively.

The list had old vintage treasures but we kept it current
We paired things with the 2011 Brezza Barolo Castellero from a vineyard we passed coming into town. Sandier soils here, I've found conflicting reports of whether this is an earlier drinking site or better to age, I thought this bottle was maturing aromatically, ruby colored and very red fruited, still structured and delicious if not super complex. Classic Barolo in a classic setting.

Europe '17 - Incredible Visit to G.D. Vajra in Barolo

From Provence we took a couple of days to relax on the sea at Nice, exploring the old town and finding some incredible beaches to read and then float in the salty Mediterranean.

We didn't plan too much of the trip in advance, but our son had originally demanded that we make it to Nice. So that was our southern destination. The question - how to get back to Paris.

We could of course largely retrace our route to this point, or we could do what my dad would always do - make a loop. And it just so happened a loop here would mean swinging into Italy and then through part of Switzerland - not to mention the Jura mountains and Burgundy - to get us back to the airport home.

Of course we chose Italy, and for all the fun we had in France along with a few nights in London, I think the one night in Italy was the best of the trip. Again, we must return.

If you wanted to design a perfect vines meet medieval castle fantasyland, you'd probably end up with Barolo. I had heard the Piedmont of Italy was perhaps the most beautiful wine country anyway but I was simply blown away but what I experience. The views, the beautiful contours of the land, practically every hill topped with an incredible town or village, it was almost too much. The emotion of the terroir indeed.

Stained glass the cellar at Vajra

We drove a few hours from Nice along the Ligurian coast, then turning inland to quite mountainous terrain before the land opened to spotty hills and a carpet of vines. Before I knew it, we hit the town of Barolo just in time for our 4pm appointment at G.D. Vajra.

We were met by Eleonora, who toured us through the production area and then down to the cellar, talking in great detail about the winemaking process and the intricacies of Barolo terroirs. 

From the stairs down to the underground cask cellar, with garden!

Then we walked across the parking lot to the office and tasting area, where we had a formal sit down tasting of several wines. Finally I had a moment to take notes as we went, so a bit more detail here.

Vajra produces several wines in addition to the Nebbiolo and other traditional area grapes. They were the first to plant Riesling in the Barolo region, and even make Pinot Nero. I'm a traditionalist but not dogmatic. Usually these other grape varieties wouldn't excite me much here, and perhaps they'd indicate a highly modern approach in the winery. Not here at Vajra, where large format botti are the norm and even the more international grapes show true delicacy and terroir.

The tasting set up at Vajra, simple, elegant

The 2016 Riesling was newly bottled and fresh, bright with a little petrol. This is lovely. Then the 2014 Pinot Nero, which Giuseppe Vajra - who popped by from time to time - described with good reason that this tastes like Pinot Noir from Barolo, with the power structure of this terroir. I'm happy to have a bottle of this at home to try at some point to check in again on this anomaly.

Now to more traditional things. The 2014 Barbera Superiore is all power and black cherries right now, rich and needing time to show more finesse. But what a wine.

An experimental, old style Nebbiolo from Vajra

Then an experimental cuvee, the 2015 JC Clare Langhe Nebbiolo, all natural with no added SO2 following the ancient vinification methods of this region. Light color, earthy with subtle fruit, a little wild but good, I also brought a bottle back courtesy of Giuseppe to try later this summer.

Next, the Langhe Nebbiolo normale, also pale colored with grippy, steely freshness, this is young vines and all stainless steel aged.

The first Barolo was the Albe cuvee, meaning sunrises, a blend of three vineyard exposures very close to the winery, vinified separately and then blended to reflect the three exposures. Licorice, roasted chestnuts, lovely density but still lighter Barolo, this is readily available in Portland and a steal in legitimate, afforadable Barolo.

The line up of reds, truly inspiring wines
Next the Barolo Bricco Della Viole, or violets, from a top selection of this sprawling vineyard just east of the winery. So elegant, all red fruits, worsted tannins, we learned this western swath of Barolo gives more elegant wines.

In contrast, the Barolo Luigi Baudana from the more powerful east side of the appellation, vineyards from Castiglioni, more iron, meat, dark fruit and firm tannin, this is for the cellar but what a wine. This label I believe refers to a historical property the Vajra family purchased along the way. They keep tradition alive by using the historical name on the label.

Finally we enjoyed the 2016 Moscato d'Asti, all 4% alcohol with lovely sweetness but not cloying, the one wine I didn't spit. Ok, the Luigi Baudana as well.

I liked seeing my guy Vincent on the wall in the office

We left with great ideas for dinner that night, I left thinking of how nicely they received us, and on short notice, and how I might incorporate some of the little things they did to make our visit special with winery visitors I host here in Oregon.

August 08, 2017

Europe '17 - Bandol and Ch. Pradeaux

Finally, Provence. 

From the southern Rhone we spent the night in Aix en Provence, enjoying a late dinner of galetes, salad and cold rose. Then gelato on the main square, crowded with people near midnight.

The entrance to Ch. Pradeaux a few miles northwest of Bandol
In the morning we headed to Bandol, walking down the sea front in a light misty warm rain, then lunching under an umbrella at a terrific, nameless bistro off the main road.

Then, Pradeaux. I first came to love Bandol through Kermit Lynch and Domaine Tempier in the mid-'90s. Even though I found many other producers, Bastide Blanc, Le Galatin, Pibarnon...and Pradeaux.

Walking around the side of the main house, faded country grandeur

Imported to the US by Neal Rosenthal, Ch. Pradeaux is about the oldest of old school Bandol I know. Even Tempier had modernized in ways I don't taste at Pradeaux. That doesn't mean the wines are unclean. I mean they have no gloss, no apparent (negative) craft about them. They're what we used to call real wine.

Vines out front in the rocky, light brown soil

We pulled our car around back and got out to another chorus of cigale buzzing almost alarmingly loudly. The chateau is a lovely country home, with terrific detail now aging, but cool inside on a suddenly warm day.

In the small tasting room off the courtyard, we met Etienne, one of the sons of the family that owns Pradeaux and clearly very involved. I think his wife was pouring for us, and we spoke a bit as we could about the wine making. I honestly didn't understand too much.

Graceful palm at the courtyard entrance
I'm only familiar with the Bandol AOC wines but we had a lovely Vin de Pays du Mont Caume rouge from what did not taste like any international grapes. Then a recent vintage of Rose and Rouge from the second wine, Les Lys du Pradeaux. Both were lovely and fresh. 

Then, the '14 Rose Pradeaux which was mature but lovely in a lightly rusting kind of way. I bought one was turned out they sold the '13, which was a little more advanced than I like when we tried it in Nice a few days later.

Some younger looking vines, surely for the early to market cuvees
Finally, the '12 Ch. Pradeaux Rouge. I asked about Longue Garde but that was not to be. The Rouge was more approachable than I expected, or Les Lys is more substantial a second wine than I might have thought. Grippy tannin in the Rouge of course, but so stony and firm, I love this and must get some locally.

We didn't stay long, we had some distance to cover still, but how special to spend just a few hours in Bandol and experience the water front and then such a grand cru of Mourvèdre. We left thinking - as with most stops on the trip - we must return!

July 24, 2017

Europe '17 - Rhone

Our time in the Rhone is on the one hand hardly worth writing up, yet even just a few hours passing through with a couple of brief stops left an impression on me.

Rhone wines, particularly the southern Rhone, were among my first loves in wine. I could afford Cotes du Rhone and I quickly learned about less prestigious villages like Rasteau and Vacqueyras that we're much pricier, at the time any way.

Of course, Chateauneuf du Pape the king of the south, and there's the whole other story of the Northern Rhone, which will have to wait until another time. For now, just a blurry pic from the autoroute as we headed by Cote Rotie. Still gorgeous.

Our only glimpse of Cote Rotie...from the A7

Our goal for the day was Roman ruins on the way to Provence, so we stopped for lunch on the plaza in Orange, across from the incredible Roman amphitheater. After lunch we hiked up the hill to a look down into the theater.

The 2,000 year old amphitheater in Orange
From Orange, we were so close to Chateauneuf that I couldn't avoid a detour to return where I'd visited back in 1994. And if I remembered correctly, we'd have a nice look from the hilltop there across the entire southern Rhone valley.

Looking out to the Rhone from the ruins at Chateauneuf du Pape
The wines of Chateauneuf we a favorite of my paternal grandfather, and the name always stuck in my mind. When I came to France in 1994 I'd already discovered my wine passion, and I had a memorable day trip here from Avignon where I saw for myself the intensely rocky vineyards I'd heard this region was known for.

The rocky terroir on the hill of Chateauneuf looking east
We drove to the castle ruins and looked around, the air warm and dry with a loud buzz of cicadas. TO the south and west you could see the Rhone and Avignon. TO the east, the rolling countryside, the Dentelles of Gigondas, even the bare rock summit of Mont Ventoux in the distance.

An old vine at Ch. Maucoil next to the ruins

I wandered up the road a bit to see the vines of Ch. Maucoil up close. Their vines abut the ruins and show the rounded boules of this ancient floodplain. Vines are typically head trained unlike the vertical trellis common in Burgundy, the wines here warm and stony, at their best a more heady and totally different but no less elegant wine than great red Burgundy.

I wanted to stop to taste somewhere but the day was fading and we still have a ways to go. I thought of a handful of bottles from this area back in the home cellar, and plans to drink them soon and think of this afternoon stop.

Burgundy '17 - Visiting Bertrand Marchard de Gramont

On the road to Curtil Vergy in the Hauts-Cotes de Nuits

My importer in Quebec connected us to another producer he works with, Bertrand et Axelle Marchard de Gramont. We met with Axelle, who did a fantastic job of explaining things in English. My French is shamefully bad beyond some key travel phrases.

A perfect scene outside the cellar of B. et A. Marchard de Gramont

This domaine occupies a nice chai in the Haut Cotes town of Curtil Vergy. They work approximately 7.5ha of vines mostly in Nuits, with some nice holdings in Vosne and a bit of Aligote coming from close to the winery in the Hauts-Cotes de Nuits.

The scale here is familiar. They work several vineyards, mostly pretty small parcels, then vinify and age things nearby in (I believe) a leased facility. Here we were, meeting to taste the line up amid the barrels just like I'm usually doing with visitors to the Eola Hills. I taste in the US regularly, but it was fun being a guest in a French winery to see what's similar (pretty much everything) and what's not.

A few bottles we took with us from Marchard de Gramont

We tasted through a line up of 2015 releases, starting with bottlings from Nuits, then moving to the two bottlings they did in 2015 from Vosne, and finishing with the refreshing Aligote.

The wines impressed. 2015 is undoubtedly a riper year but there was still such freshness and fine grip amid the darker colors and almost overt fruit of the vintage. I preferred intensity of the older vines Nuits Vallerots to the younger vines (all of 15 years old) and a slightly more herbal expression in the Nuits Terraces de Vallerots. The Nuits Aux Allots showed a bit of reduction but that should work though. The Nuits Les Hauts Pruliers was the star, with lovely grace amid a firm structure. 

Me and Axelle in the chai at Marchard de Gramont

We finished with two wines from Vosne. The first is a blend of several tiny parcels they work, all village level. Lovely wine, not as different from the others though that might be the strong imprint of the vintage. 

Then there's the special bottling from 2015. B. & A. Marchard de Gramont usually only bottles one Vosne wine, but in '15 they separated out a small bit from Les Barreaux high on the hill above Richbourg and next to Clos Parantoux and Petits Monts. The exposure at Barreaux turns to the north, so it's merely village level, but this is different terroir than most village wines I think. This bottling was stunning. Rich and delicate, structured but supple, really a fine wine that I was delighted to try. 

As we were purchasing, I asked about white wine and Axelle remembered she had Aligote in the fridge, so we quickly tried it. What lovely, refreshing white wine with a strong earthy character of good Aligote. We added one on to our order and enjoyed it over a few nights as an aperitif.

Pano from the vines in Nuits midway up the slope

Saying our thank yous and goodbyes, we headed back down to Nuits and back to our Gite for the evening. It was late afternoon now and I was compelled to drive up on the small roads in the vineyards for a better look around.

We were in the southern part of Nuits, where if you look high on the flank you'll see the terraces of Vallerots, a distinctive site we'd noticed on our way to the winery. We stopped and looked around from the mid slope, hardly a cloud in the sky on a warm June day. This felt familiar, not the grandeur of the Cote but the dust of the soil, vines on a slope in the late day sun, pea sized berries gently shaded by a canopy not aggressively stripped of leaves. It felt so good to be there, even if we would be off to the south in the morning.

Now to plot a return.

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 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.