December 16, 2007

Wine from the Nandi Hills in India

Ever had wine from the Nandhi Hills? After trying the 2005 Grover Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Nandi Hills, I can say I have.

I had been meaning to try this wine for months, after seeing a number of Grover bottlings in the Portland area. I've even seen some tasting notes online but they largely scared me away. The only really positive thing I recall reading was about the white wine. So when I saw this bottling for about $6 in a local bargain bin, I couldn't resist entering the world of Indian wine. Never mind the label's boast of enology services from the internationally employed Michel Rolland. That doesn't suggest artisanal wine, but I can't be picky with wine from the tropics.

So how is the Grover Sauvignon Blanc? Pretty good, in fact better after a couple days open in the refridgerator. It's clearly a modern, clean wine, but with a piercing acidity that seemed disjointed at first, then turned more pleasing over a few nights. The wine smells more like chardonnay or pinot gris than sauvignon, but it has some varietal character with grass notes mixed into the tart citrus flavors.

I understand that the grapes are grown at 5000 ft outside of Bangalore, well south of the Tropic of Cancer. I imagine the altitude allows for cool nights. Wikipedia says there is eucaplytus in the area, but also coffee and what sounds like high humidity. Hmm. Who knows how they grow vinifera grapes in such conditions, but the results are pretty good.

This isn't earthmoving wine, but if you see it in the low teens or less, it's worth a try. If only to say you've had wine from the subcontinent.

December 09, 2007

Recycled Wine Reviews

Let's be clear about one thing. Matt Kramer is a terrific wine writer. We should only wish other writers (myself included) were half as good.

That said, no one's perfect.

Kramer might be best known these days for his long running column in the Wine Spectator magazine. That's not to discount his small catalog of well regarded wine books. He also writes a column that appears in our local newspaper, The Oregonian.

That weekly column usually has two or three terrific buys, mostly around $20 or less, each one picked for its value and distinction. For local producers, getting a review is good for selling at least a palate of wine (that's 56 twelve bottle cases). I highly recommend you check out his reviews if you don't already.

That said, after reading about a super cheap 2006 Spanish garnacha a few Sundays back, I search online for the column to remember the name of the co-op that produced the wine. Here's what I found:

This helps explain just why Castillo de Monséran Garnacha 2004 is so improbably good. The Cariñena district is recognized as a good spot for growing better-than-average grenache. And like so many other vineyard areas in Spain, these vines are old, which tends to lend character to the grapes.

This is terrific, bursting-with-fruit grenache (the label, by the way, is marketsavvy: It declares both grenache and garnacha). It's silky red wine that slides down the gullet without a catch and is mercifully free of any oakiness.

Hmm. That sounded familiar. But this was Kramer's column in the New York Sun from August 2006, about the 2004 version of the same wine I had read about recently.

Searching further, I found the review I had seen in the Oregonian:

This helps explain just why Castillo de Monseran Garnacha 2006 is so improbably good. The Carinena district is recognized as a good spot for growing better-than-average grenache. And like so many other vineyard areas in Spain, the vines are old, which tends to lend character to grapes.

This is pretty, bursting-with-fruit grenache plumped with the grapey/black cherry flavors that characterize this variety. It's a silky red wine that slides down without a catch and is mercifully free of any oakiness.

Now this is just a $7 large production wine from a Spanish cooperative. I'm sure the '04 wasn't much different than the '06.

But are we that short of writers that our newspapers just recycle content? I'd gladly write for the local rag if the regular guy is too busy to write something new. Don't people realize that, with the internet, you can't do this anymore without getting caught?

I do like how there are subtle differences between the "different" passages. I'm sure it's just editors doing their thing. But does "gullet" not resonate on the west coast? Can we not handle it? Does the local rag have something against accents in foreign words? There are many questions.

For what it's worth, I bought a bottle of this 2006 Castillo de Monseran Garnacha for $6.99 at a local market. And it's terrific. In a world where budget Spanish red wines have largely become candied, oaky, sweet, fruit punch wines, this wine actually has aroma. It tastes delicious, too. It's the best, cheapest red wine I've had in a while.

Too bad the Kramer review leaves such a bad taste. Better luck next time.

December 07, 2007

Wine Anxiety

Are you ever reluctant to buy a wine because of what the wine shop staff will think?

I know I am, and I’m not alone. In fact, I recently wanted to write about this situation, but initially decided not to when I thought maybe it was just me. You know, buck up, don’t worry about what people think.

But it’s not so simple. Just the other day, I was in a local wine shop talking to the proprietor and the subject came up. And the stories I heard made me think about the situation in a whole new way. The experience made me want to write about it again.

What originally brought all this on was a visit a few weeks back to another local wine shop that had two different wines from Loire producer Denis Jamain. Click here for a write up I did last year when Denis himself was here pouring at yet another local shop.

Jamain makes nice if light, delicate wines from a lesser known Reuilly appellation. Only instead of bottle prices ranging from $14 to $20, here were cases of the 2005 Jamain Reuilly Pinot Gris Rosé for $5 and the 2002 Jamain Reuilly Les Pierres Plates for just $7.

Usually such startling discounts suggest damaged goods. Here was “old” rosé from a grape you’re not “supposed” to make rosé from, and a five year old sauvignon blanc, albeit from a terrific vintage. But this wasn’t some lowbrow shop. They wouldn’t bring in wine that was damaged, right? Right, as it turned out in this case.

But I’ve worked in a fine wine shop that occasionally had wine for sale at bargain prices that wasn’t very good. It happens. And if you think that you can just ask the staff for an honest opinion, even at a “good” shop, what could I say when a customer asked me for my opinion. Usually I hemmed and hawed, unsure of how honest I could be and completely uncomfortable about the whole thing. One time I was completely honest and I got in some trouble. I didn’t work there long and the owners were probably fine with that.

Still, I asked a staff member who I know for his opinion on the Jamain wines, and though he was fairly positive, I could tell he was hesitant. He ended with the faint praise that the wines are priced “appropriately.” Hmm, what does that really mean? Is that code for “don’t buy it, it’s only here to satisfy our cheap ass customers who can’t tell Gallo from Maxim Grunhauser?”

I knew he couldn’t be completely honest with me. His boss was right there. And he didn’t want to rain on my parade if I was interested in the wines. These are delicate situations to be sure. But I know that it’s common for wine shops all over to have wines that are sold with at least some amount contempt. Were these such wines?

Which brings me back to the conversation the other day with the proprietor, who had joked about his wife asking him, “what, another gruner veltliner?” when he came out of a store a while back after having to buy a last minute pinot noir on the way to a dinner party. He’d gone in for one bottle but felt the need to buy something else to keep the staff from snickering.

Now why would this matter? Surely we’re above such adolescent behavior, right?

Wrong. The proprietor rolled into a few stories – and I have plenty of my own – of being in wine shops when a customer leaves with a bottle of, say, high priced California cabernet, only to have the wine geek staff, and even the shop owner, tear the customer to pieces for buying such awful wine. Let’s not get into the rumors you’ll hear about what supposed crap some famous winemaker adores, or how drunk he or she got toasted at one event or another.

The fact is, this happens a lot, maybe more than you think. And while we must rise above that fray, it can be tough in the moment to feel comfortable buying what you want to buy. Call it what you want, but that’s the honest truth we all go through in any purchasing situation.

I appreciated the proprietor’s take that it’s bullshit for wine shop staff, and especially an owner, to participate in the somewhat public hazing of a customer. Who knew who else was listening, or if they knew the person or, at the least, might take the opportunity to tell a stranger what the shop really thinks of him.

Why’s this important? Because it’s at the heart of the weird feelings people have about some wine shops. That snobby sense of not belonging or not measuring up, when we’re at most trying to satisfy an intellectual passion or at the least just trying to get some hooch to make the night a little more fun.

I’ll be honest. I’ve passed up some things that I just couldn’t, for whatever reason, bring myself to bring to the counter. And I’ve done as the proprietor and mixed in some coded wine in some weird attempt to display my alleged wine cred. I’ve quietly enjoyed compliments at some of my selections. And I imagine I’ve been the butt of some jokes about the “bargains” I like to purchase.

This time, of course, I bought one of each Jamain wine. The rosé wasn’t so hot. Not tired or oxidized, just a bit tart and more phenolic than I remember. Maybe we shouldn’t make rosé out of pinot gris after all (though secretly I want to try it myself…oops). Yet the blanc was delicious, more like a light, dry chenin than sauvignon with a waxy roundness that kept my interest over a few nights. This isn’t a wine to cellar much longer, but I bought another and will enjoy it in the coming months.

In the end, yes, we should be resolute with the confidence to buy what we want to buy. But it doesn’t always play out that way, and that’s what interests me in the whole affair. What do you think? Ever been ashamed to buy a wine? Maybe next time, we’ll be a little less reluctant to be who we are. And hopefully those who exchange our big bills for change will keep their oh-so-knowledgeable opinions to themselves. That includes you too, boss.

November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving weekend in Oregon

Has it been two weeks already? You might think I should post more often, but really I'm saving you from the worst of my posts.

Such as the one I wrote and never posted last week about my experience pouring wine at a winery this past Thanksgiving weekend, then later my experiences tasting at two different places.

I even mixed in some historical information about the beginnings of the Thanksgiving wine weekend tradition here in Oregon, when most local wineries hold open houses.

But it was dull. Really dull. So off to the virtual trash it goes.

Instead, let's just say I enjoyed pouring wine for a day at the winery where I worked this fall. The crowd was mostly fun, and there was the expected happy drunk person who confused me for someone she'd been talking to. Not that she noticed, as she carried on the conversation. Good stuff.

And I had an odd experience tasting at another winery where the flagship wine smelled like bank aids, which makes geeks shout out the word "brett!" only confusing newcomers not familiar with this controversial yeast and the smells it can create.

Who knows what caused the smell. Without a test, we can only speculate. But it wasn't pretty and I tried my best to be gracious and back away carefully. Friends I brought to this place weren't thrilled. But we had fun.

Tasting note for tonight is something initially lackluster that, on day two, might be showing some potential. That is, considering you can still get it for less than $7 a bottle by the case. It's the 2005 Seven Terraces Pinot Noir Marlborough, the second label of Foxes Island.

On night one, the wine is a bit confected smelling, with an odd herbal streak that makes me think this comes from highly cropped vines. In the mouth, it's a bit harsh and cola marked and generally unattractive. On night two, the wine is similar at first. But with some time in the glass there's a pretty fruit and earth aroma, even perfume. Yet the taste is still simple and charcoal chunky, with a slightly bitter grapefruit pith note and tangy acidity.

What to make of this? At the original $18 price, this is dreadful. For $7, it's not bad. But you can do better. Though a close out is hard to pass up, this ain't worth the liver.

November 13, 2007

Thackrey Library

I've met winemaker Sean Thackrey exactly once in my life. He doesn't remember me, of course.

The year was 1992. I was a 20-something guy living in Mill Valley, CA with my cousin, working in town at Peet's coffee and going across the street on my breaks to speand time in Don Pozo's wine shop.

I didn't love the place to be honest, but they had old wine magazines that I could stand around like an idiot and read for free. These were pre-internet days (don't be the one to correct that), and while you can now happily surf the wine web from a wireless connection in a coffee shop, in those days it required something like a public shaming.

I think the clerk dude felt sorry for me, and one day he offered me my first big wine break. How would I like to attend a big wine trade tasting at Greens restaurant featuring new release 1990 Burgundies? All I had to do was show up that afternoon and say I was with Don Pozo's. I think I said yes, my name's Vincent, thanks, wow. Or something like that.

Like they say of Olympic contenders, I was too young to know what a big deal this was. What a break.

Turns out I can't remember any names of the Burgs I tasted, but it was clearly a top tasting and I definitely had a Burgundy "epiphany" that day. I think I can trace the pinot noir thing for me to that day.

What about Sean Thackrey? Well, he was there too, pouring his wines named after constellations, Pleidies, Taurus, Orion. Thackrey was something of a cult figure at the time, and I think that's still true today. I enjoyed his wines and talked to him for a few mintues. He seemed like a good if not especially warm and outgoing guy, but that was fine. I liked that he seemed like an intellectual but also made earthy, delicious wine.

Now I see that Thackrey has what might be the coolest wine site out there, at least for us old wine loving English majors. It's the Thackrey Library, a collection of old and ancient wine texts going back more than 2000 years.

According to the website:
The object of this library is to present an anthology of early texts on the making and understanding of wine, with many, many others just thrown in because I think they're pleasures. These texts span the entire spectrum from obscure to more so. Some are known, although actually read only under academic duress; some are unknown altogether. The fact is, inexplicable though it may (and to me does) seem, that apparently no such anthology has ever previously been published, in print, on the internet, or anywhere else.
Many of the texts of course are in languages other than English. But pay special attention to The Countrey Farme, which the notes say is the first detailed description of the wines of France in the English. The book is Richard Surflt's 1604 translation of Estienne and Liebault's Maison Rustique, from a time when Shakespeare held court with the King's Men in London. If that isn't cool, what is?

Good for Thackrey for this invaluable website. Just wish my French were better.

November 11, 2007

Wine Blog Weirdness

When I started this modest web log, I was a little worried that people might receive it as some sort of self promotion tool.

Which it is, I can't deny. But self promotion wasn't and isn't my goal. I simply want to share what I am learning and think I know about wine.

I'm not qualified in any way to write about wine. I simply started doing it and continue doing it, and occasionally I get a nice comment from a reader. And that's nice.

But this site seems to generate more negative attention for me than positive, or at least it seems to be that way at times. I won't go into the details, but let's just say people can be pretty insecure if you write anything non-positive about what they're doing.

That's not just negative stuff, but even neutral or dare I say honest comments that people simply can't handle. I'm not into hit-and-run blogging, but I can't fake enthusiam well. Yet that's not good enough for some people, and it's even more annoying than it is pathetic.

The latest incident is only the strangest yet. I got a call recently from someone posing as a writer for a well-known wine newsletter based out of Maryland.

The individual, whose name didn't sound familiar (to say the least), pressed me about what I'd written about the grapes from one particular local vineyard that I had seen harvested this fall. I had written honestly that the grapes, like virtually all grapes harvested locally this October, had some rot and were "ok" but not great.

The caller referenced other things I'd written as if they were also about this vineyard's produce, which they weren't. Apparently this alleged wine writer wasn't a very careful reader. I was left wondering what the heck was going on. Who was this?

Well it turns out the winery who got those grapes that I saw got a nasty call from the vineyard owner. I guess harvest is over if we're on to bullshit like this. Isn't there vineyard work to do? Something, anything? Surely we don't need to perpetuate fraud to root out the source of such controversial comments as those of this little-read site.

It all leaves me depressed. I'm not interested in being a muckraker, but I want to be honest. Yet I know I have the difficult position of wanting to make my own commercial wine, so I don't want to piss people off in the local industry. More than one person has warned me to be very careful, which makes sense but at the same time leaves me wondering why I want in so bad into this business. Are people that ridiculous? I guess so.

Which leaves me wondering how much I can write about Oregon wine, the cause of all this weirdness. Of course, it's the very thing I probably know the most about and about which I have the most interest in learning more. Can I be only positive and call this blog anything but marketing?

One person suggested I simply write more about what I'm doing, and I think that's the right way to go. At least I can be honest with what I'm involved with and not risk compromising people who are kind enough to give me access to what they're doing.

Of course add a heavy dose of non-Oregon wine content. I suppose I've done a good bit of that to this point, so there doesn't seem to be a huge change in the blog. But I'll do my best to fulfill an original goal to catalog the best (as I see it) of the wine web. Things are changing all the time, but there are some really cool things I don't see mentioned widely that I'd like to share here. We'll see if you find it useful. And don't be shy. Comment, especially if you think it's as absurd as I do that this minor site would ever be a threat to anyone.

November 03, 2007

Home bottling at Wine Terroirs

I've mentioned the Wine Terroirs blog before, but I have to point out the latest post on what is one of the few must-read wine blogs out there.

Bertrand, the author and photographer, reports on buying bulk wine from a Loire winery and bottling it himself at home. I wish bulk wine sales were common here in the US as they are in many other countries. Bert mentions that it's not so profitable for the vigneron, so it's understandable that we don't have it. And I can't imagine buying bulk wine here as cheaply as he gets it. Pay special attention to the plastic bottles he uses to transport the wine to his cellar. And the bicycle in the background in the corking photo is a nice touch. Great work.

November 01, 2007

Blackbird wine shop

The weather lately has been sunny and dry, and this past weekend was September warm, the kind of weather that brings people together and makes for funny stories.

While I was pressing last Sunday in my driveway in shirtsleeves, a guy from Blackbird wine shop walked by. He was handing out fliers to publicize this new shop off NE Fremont street here in Beaumont village in Portland. I was helping my kids across the street and he walked up and asked if I liked wine. I laughed and said, are you kidding? Come with me.

Up the driveway we walked and I showed him what I was up to. And his jaw dropped and he said, I can't believe this. Can I take pictures? Out comes the cell phone, I'm posing next to the barrel I was cleaning, and maybe I'll be in the store's newsletter as an obscure neighborhood winemaker.

How's the shop? Not bad at all. In fact, great for the neighborhood but not a geek's paradise. Sure, they have the Muscadet of Marc Oliver and the Alsatian wines of Barmes Beucher. But it's more a great place to buy a last minute bottle than a must stop for wine geeks. You'll get a good producer and a good example of where ever the wine's from, but there's not much depth in the offerings. Not that there should be, and perhaps the collection will grow in time. Still, it's a good shop with well picked wines and I'm glad to see it in the neighborhood. And they have free tastings. How can you beat free?

Clean Up Time

I'm delighted to say...harvest is done. Sure, the latest pickers and the people who make things like Riesling might even still have some grapes out there. But for me, the season that began in mid-September when the first white grapes came in is finally done.

Last Sunday I pressed my 2007 Pinot Noir after fourteen days of contact time, or having the grape juice and now wine in contact with the grape skins and seeds. I expected to yield about 300 liters of wine, but I ended up with around 290, and that's with some heavy lees in one carboy of press wine. I could have pressed harder, but perhaps the grapes simply weren't as juicy as I expected. No matter what, I ended up with plenty of wine and I can only hope it will be at least decent.

"Pressing" might be a misnomer for the whole exercise of separating new wine from the skins. Most of the wine is free run, meaning it just drains out of your fermentation bin. In the winery, you pump or use gravity to drain fermentors. At home, I use a pitcher to scoop wine and skins into a basket press, allowing the wine to drain freely into a bucket at the mouth of the press pan that catches the wine underneathe the basket. The free run can be about 80% of your yield of wine. So pressing is only a small part of the wine you end up with, and in some wineries, press wine is hardly used at all.

After draining and pressing, I did something different this year. Instead of going to barrel "dirty," where you don't let the wine settle before putting it into the oak barrel, I gently poured the buckets of wine from the press pan into a few Rubbermaid bins. I filled a big one as high as I could with free run wine, then filled a small one with free run and another small one with press wine. The following night I bucketed the wine into a 5-year-old French oak barrel that I got in August at a local winery that has their barrels made especially for them in Burgundy. Only a bit of press wine went into the barrel, the rest going into a three glass carboys. After cleaning up everything, harvest was finally over.

Now I'm left with a lot of wine for a home operation. First, there's a barrel and more of Pinot Noir from 2006, still quietly going through its malolactic fermentation months after I expected it to be done. It tastes good for 2006, meaning it's riper than I'd like but certainly crowd pleasing. Then there's a couple of carboys of fermenting Chardonnay from 2007 as well as a carboy and more of 2007 Pinot Noir Rose. And of course, a barrel and more of 2007 Pinot Noir. All together, nearly 600 liters of wine, or...800 or so bottles.

Yikes, that's a lot of wine.

Meanwhile, a tasting note. Tonight, it's Dead Guy Ale from Rogue Brewing. I've loved Rogue since my brother brought home a "Rogue ingredients" bottling from a fair he attended in Humboldt County, CA. This was the late '80s I think, when Rogue was just starting out. Maybe that bottle of malted barley, hops and other things got me first thinking about fermenting stuff. This beer is delicious, smelling malty and clean with a bright but rich fruity, malty and hoppy flavor. Somewhere between a summer and winter beer, as you'd expect for a brew that's perfect for autumn. You have to love the Dead, no?

October 26, 2007

Waiting to press

My 2007 Pinot Noir is nearly done fermenting, 12 days after harvest. Normally I'd want to leave the new wine on its skins for up to several days to gain more winey complexity, but this year wasn't so ripe so I'll press Sunday. That's exactly two weeks from the October 14 harvest date. Leaving it any longer would probably lead to too much tannin in the wine, though I even wonder if two more days is already waiting too long. So far it seems fine, so I'm not going to worry about it.

Meanwhile the rose and chardonnay are still bubbling away, as I expect them to do for a while longer. They've seemed to go a bit faster than I might have expected, so I shouldn't be surprised if they finish up more quickly. I'm not taking brix readings until they slow down considerably. With fermentations, I've learned that if they're doing well then don't worry about them. It's really that simple.

Down at the winery, I spent a few hours this afternoon labelling 2006 Pinot Noir and then punching down the remaining fermentations. There are only eight 1.5 ton bins left, and they're getting pretty soft. We'll press most of them tomorrow, maybe Sunday but I hope not. I haven't worked 12 hour days every day, but I've worked every day for about the past three or four weeks and I'd like a day off. Still, the harvest guy works when there's work to be done. Plus, no matter how it shakes out, this is the end of harvest. Next weekend I'll definitely put my feet up.

Leaving the winery around 5pm on what was a stunningly clear afternoon, I couldn't help but stop and stare for a moment at the autumn scene. Vineyards and orchards on Ribbon Ridge looking east to the vine covered southwestern slopes of the Chehalem Mountains...simply beautiful. I ended up driving over Worden Hill Road through the heart of the Dundee Hills to see the yellowing canopies and nothing but second crop on the vines. Certainly there are grapes still to be harvested, but in many high elevation vineyards, I saw nothing left. I was surprised, actually.

Tonight's tasting note, the 1998 Domaine du Joncier Lirac, an old favorite bargain wine from the southern Rhone. In its youth, it tasted like a nice Edmunds St. John Syrah that's California wine that tastes French. Now the Joncier smells bottle sweet and beautiful, but in the mouth the wine is coming apart with medicinal flavors and disjointed alcohol. Not a total washout by any means, but certainly something to have drunk sooner. Of course, I was warned not to age this, but I couldn't help trying with one. You win some, you lose some. And I suppose if this is losing, it ain't all bad.

October 21, 2007

Fermentation is peaking

The garage is filled with the sweet smells of fermenting wine. I have 50 liters of Chardonnay, 25 liters of Pinot Noir rose, and the main event - nearly 300 liters of Pinot Noir spread over three garbage can fermentors, all fermenting without added yeast.

After picking the grapes last Sunday, I let them soak without any cooling for 5 days before warming the fermentors with a space heater and an aquarium heater. This morning the bins all smelled a bit like nail polish, or ethyl acetate, but a brix reading showed that sugar levels had hardly dropped so I knew fermentation hadn't yet begun in earnest. Sometimes at the beginning you can get "ea" smells, before tempertures in the fermentors has risen significantly. Sure enough, things smell great again.

The garage is pretty cold, so I have the heater on to help get the fermentation temperature up. I don't want it to get too high, because the grapes this year aren't as ripe as I'd like. Higher temps can extract more tannin than I want. Sure enough, one bin shot up to 92F before punchdown and stirring tonight brought things down significantly. The other bins are staying in the low 80s, right below where I want them but since the one went so high, I think a mix of the three will be just right. My goal now is to get the yeast to slowly complete fermentation without sticking as the temperature falls. I want it cooler after this peak period, but not too cool so that the yeast go inactive. It's a delicate balance.

Of course, with the low brix level I mentioned previously, I chaptalized (added sugar) some this morning and will do more tomorrow as I add approximately 1.7kg per 100L of wine, per Emile Peynaud, to raise the wine one degree of alcohol. I'm loathe to chaptalize as I did in 2005, but this year especially there's no avoiding it.

At the winery, I did some labelling today and the evening punchdowns. Only 11 bins fermenting in earnest, so punchdowns weren't so difficult. There are a few more bins about to be kicked off, the last of the year. This weekend we dug out 12 bins in five press loads, giving me lots of time to learn the finer points of working a 3-ton bladder press. Fill, press, spin, press, spin, press, spin, etc. empty, repeat. Lots of shovelling, lots of nice new wine aromas, satisfying to be done at the end of the work day.

Tasting note - France, yet again. This time, the 2004 Perrin Cotes du Rhone "Nature" from one organic vineyard apparently near Orange. This is simply one of the best old school grenache driven Cotes du Rhones I've had in a long time. For just over $10, it's a steal. Rich earthy plum and black pepper aromas with a full body, ripe tannins, and delicious blackberry, stone, and pepper flavors. There's not a ton of acidity here, but it doesn't matter. I think you could hold on to this for a few years, not that it will improve. But if you're looking for a great value French wine that you don't have to worry about drinking up in the next 12 to 24 months, here it is.

October 18, 2007

Harvest at home

There's been no time to write, but there's a lot to write about. First, I worked a lot last weekend as my own grapes came in at the same time as the last 15+ tons of fruit came into the winery, along with some press loads and lots on punch downs. After three brutal days, I was wiped out Monday but pretty happy about everything.

In the winery, I got to run the press a few times and otherwise just feel like I'm getting more and more comfortable with the idea of leading winery processes rather than just contributing to them. Not that I'm there yet, but for all I still need to learn, I've come a long way. This year has been something of a quantum leap toward doing this stuff commercially. It all feels very real now, even if I still just homebrewing.

On the home front, I picked 200 pounds of Chardonnay from Courting Hill vineyard near Banks on Saturday morning. The weather was beautiful all weekend, though the mornings were foggy. The Chard is Dijon clone 76 on 101-14 rootstock, the vines are about 10 years old. The fruit looked pretty good with a mix of firmer and softer clusters. I sorted out a little rot in the vineyard, brought it home, stomped on it in my small totes, and pressed it in my new basket press. After settling, there's about 14 gallons of juice that's now fermenting in carboys with VL-2 yeast. I'm looking for a crisp, early drinking chard. At 22 brix with bright acidity, I think it should be pretty good.

Then Sunday I got a little more than a half ton of Pinot Noir from the Meredith Mitchell vineyard in the foothills west of McMinnville. I got the fruit through a friend and checked it out in the vineyard a week before harvest. Things looked good then, with ripe looking clusters with little rot and ok flavors even if there was some green in the seeds. Two weeks ago a brix sample showed 20.8, bu that hadn't moved a week later. I hoped another week of better weather might help things dry out and bump sugars up a bit. But when the fruit showed up, there was more ruby color on the insides of the clusters than I noticed in the vineyard. The flavors were still ok, the stems pretty mature, the fruit in good shape and even falling off the stems easily like riper fruit. But my hydrometer showed only 21 brix in a settled juice sample. And after a couple days soaking, the brix is........20.1 according to ETS labs. I was stunned when I found out. But the ph is 3.27, which isn't as low as 20 brix suggest. And there's nearly 4g of malic acid without a lot of potassium, the ph will I hope go up a good bit and soften what might otherwise be a hard, acidic wine.

On Monday morning, after about 14 hours of soaking on the skins, I bled off about 8 gallons of Pinot Noir juice to make rose and, I hope, give a little more concentration to the red wine. I will chaptalize, or add sugar, to the red wine during fermentation to boost the alcohol level. I won't do more than one percent of alcohol, maybe less. The rationale is that the fruit is riper than the sugar level suggests, so I don't think I'll imbalance the wine by boosting the sugar minimally.

The past few days I've been at my normal job. But tomorrow and Saturday I'm back at the winery. We're done bringing in fruit, but there are literally tons of Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Tempranillo in fermentors filling the winery. Lots of punchdowns to do, and lots of pressing and barreling, not to mention cleaning things before putting them away for the season.

Harvest has peaked, the leaves in the vineyards are yellowing, it's already time to start thinking about the coming winter. Despite the crazy highs and lows of the season, it feels amazing to be doing all this. And great to see it coming to an end, for this year at least.

And a tasting note. The 2006 Quercus "Cadmus" Pinot Noir from the irrepressible Michael Beckley up on Ribbon Ridge. This is 2006 all the way, full of rich black raspberries and spice. I found it a bit zinfandel-like, but that's not uncommon with this vintage in Oregon. The group I tried it with seemed to love it. If you like big wines, it's a buy at $32 or something like that.

October 12, 2007

Oregon harvest update

The harvest is at peak at the winery where I'm working. We have 75% of the grapes in and the rest is coming in this weekend.

I've been hoping the weather would warm up and dry out, but last night there was some light rain and today was mostly cloudy down in Yamhill County. Where's the sun? Apparently it's due to come out the next two days, as we might hit 70F probably for the last time until spring.

But it's interesting. There are some people who still aren't picking everything, who want to hold out for more sunshine and riper flavors on the other side of the coming week's rain. I'd join them if I had a choice, and if the forecast was at all positive. Even the 15-day outlook shows rains everyday from Monday onward. I suppose people will find brief dry periods and bring in what they have left. But the latest picked Pinot Noir is going to be a test of cool summer and rainy harvest winemaking. Should be worth watching.

Tomorrow I pick my chardonnay, process it at home, then head down to the winery for lots of pressing and cellar work to clear space. Then Sunday we get 14 tons of mostly red grapes. At a little winery, that's a lot. More soon.

The tasting note for tonight is Anchor Steam beer. To put it simply, my old San Francisco favorite still does the trick. Good night.

October 10, 2007

Picking this weekend

The seven-day forecast looks good, at least for the next four or five days. At the winery we'll be bringing in more fruit over the weekend, and pressing off more lots that were harvested back in later September. It's nice to clear out space in the winery, but we're still filling it back up with newly processed fruit. It's hard to imagine, but that won't keep happening for long.

It's already the second week of October.

Which is exactly why I'm picking this weekend. This warm stretch might be the last shot of good weather we get. With each passing week, you can expect conditions to deteriorate. There's no sign of a warm up. It's time to pick.

On Saturday morning, I'll pick 200 pounds of Chardonnay from Courting Hill vineyard near Banks. I'm getting younger vine Dijon clone stuff, which might be a good thing in a cool year as they ripen quickly and in warm years might be too early. I just want to make some clean white wine for summer drinking. No oak, no malolactic fermentation, we'll see about filtering. At least that's the goal. I'm excited to use my new basket press.

Then on Sunday, a half ton of Pinot Noir that I'm a little worried about. What's new. The grapes are from a cool, higher site. Not exactly your ideal location in a cool year like this. And so the grapes are somewhere in the 21 brix range, which is too low. But like much fruit this year, it looks and tastes more ripe than the sugar shows. I'm hoping just a few days of sunshine will push the sugars up. But I'm excited to make lower alcohol, ripe Pinot Noir. At least I hope the wine I get ends up tasting ripe. We'll know in a few weeks.

For a tasting note, the 2003 J. P. Brun "l'Ancien" Beaujolais V.V., an atypically ripe Gamay wine with a full body and even a raisined note in the aroma. This wasn't low acid Zinfandel by any means, but certainly not the light, lithe Brun Beaujolais we're used to. Glad this was my only experimental bottle. It's fine, and it's not in decline. But it's a bit odd. Bottled with a synthetic cork by the way, which seems controversial these days for oxidation issues. No problem here, but I might not store these wines on their sides if I knew there wasn't a real cork. Don't you think?

October 08, 2007

New grape source

Looks like I'm going with my backup source for grapes, which isn't all bad. It's all Pommard clone, which I think is especially interesting here in Oregon. As is the geology in the coast range where the vineyard is located. There's old basalt in the coast range, but really there's a mix of things depending on where you are. I need to investigate this source, which for now must remain anonymous.

Back at the winery, we processed a small amount of Pinot Noir from a vineyard off Abbey Road. Mostly Pommard with some Wadensvil, which tasted good with some rot (again not a lot) and not the brownest of stems. Seeds were pretty brown though, and the flavors seemed good.

Weather condition today were actually pretty nice, with bright cloudy weather and some warmth, which might continue even with some rain this week. If there is a higher power, the forecast for mostly sunny and upper 60s weather this weekend, lingering into a cloudy but dry start to Monday, will come through. Making next Monday a perfect picking day before the bottom falls out with rain and cold next week.

Don't count on it. But something to think about while I look for the phone number for the vineyard where I'm getting chardonnay. Appaarently it's ready, even though I wasn't expecting it until the weekend at the earliest. I'm learning this is normal in winemaking.

October 07, 2007

Harvest in the Willamette Valley continues

It's raining tonight in Portland, OR, but that's the first real precipitation we've seen in a few days. Instead, we've had mostly dry weather, with some drizzle but mostly dry if cloudy conditions. It's also been breezy, and there's even been sunshine. Still, temps haven't gone above 65F and, as I mentioned, it's raining.

Down at the winery today we processed a few tons of Pinot Noir from a vineyard out west of McMinnville, in the foothills of the coast range. This was clone 113, and it looked ok. Certainly not overripe, definitely showing more rot than I've seen to this point. We sorted quickly but carefully, throwing out a few 35lb trays worth of junk, and and filling a few fermentation bins. Then up on the board to punch down the bins in the "warm" room where the active fermentations are. I get the vigorous ones, with thick caps of skins, some stems, and seeds.

Then pilsner from Heater Allen brewing, still delicious. And again. I really need to try more of this guy's beer. Wow.

And doesn't that beer taste good, especially after I got news Saturday that I might not get Pinot Noir grapes from the vineyard I'm counting on. Seems the crop yield has been lower than expected, and maybe all the orders of grapes can't be filled, we'll just have to see. Oh, come on. I really want to make wine from the same source as last year, to have some connection year over year. But who knows if it will come through. Today, I got a back up plan from a higher elevation site with older Pommard vines. Ripeness might be an issue, we'll go check it out tomorrow and see how it's coming. Either way, looks like I'm set for grapes. But for a day there things were completely up in the air, and I'm finding lots of high highs and low lows this harvest, with the ebb and flow of weather and grapes. Welcome to my new life.

October 05, 2007

Pressing in the sunshine

Spent the afternoon in Yamhill county today. First a visit to Wahle vineyard, where the grapes look really good. That is, aside from a few patches where the clusters have "hens and chicks," meaning large and small berries in the same cluster. The small berries often don't have seeds and, in rainy weather, easily turn to mush that tastes a bit like vinegar and is a siren for rot. Happily, in the many vineyard rows I traversed and clusters I examined up close, I found only one bit of rot. But there are some bad clusters that I'll need to sort out after picking. The grapes look good enough that I'd like to hold off picking as long as I can. Unfortunately, we expect more rain this weekend and on and off rain next week. We'll see how long I can hold out. Leaving the vineyard, I took a moment to check out the view across the valley to the coast range, sunlight streaming though broken clouds scattered across the sky.

Then over to the winery, pressing syrah outside in the sunshine. We drained the new wine from three 1.5 ton bins, bringing the bins down to the press where I literally got in with my boots and scooped out the grape pomace into the 3 ton bladder press. The aroma, the squishing and sloshing, the phyical labor of bucketing and heaving fermented grapes. It's hard work, but very satisfying.

Once we're done, we cleaned everything and went inside to add dry ice to bins full of soaking grapes, then I got up on the 2x12 board and punched down about a dozen bins full or nearly overfull with fermenting grapes. Again, hard but satisfying work. A quick clean up and I was gone by 6pm, pretty early by harvest standards.

This morning I talked to my chardonnay grower. I'm only getting a couple hundred pounds to make some early drinking, crisp white wine. Apparently we're at least a week away from harvesting, so what might have been a big harvest weekend for my homebrewing ends up getting put off for a while.

No tasting notes tonight. However, I did enjoy two samples from the winery where I'm working. More on that after harvest.

October 03, 2007

Harvest update - Many more tons of pinot noir, and syrah

Just back from the longest day yet of this harvest, for me at least. With many tons of grapes already in, there's lots of cellar work to do. So gently mixing fresh bins that aren't fermenting yet, kicking off fermentation in older bins, cleaning the press, punching down the bins that are fermenting (which I somehow avoid), and sorting fruit. Literally tons and tons of fruit.

First Syrah from southern Oregon, big jangly clusters of slightly wilting fruit, ripe and pulpy. We went through just a few tons, all very clean and nicely ripe. I have a bad impression of southern Oregon fruit, for whatever reason. But it is so nice to see this fruit, full of promise, and taste a delicious free run sample of newly fermented syrah from another southern Oregon vineyard that came in a couple weeks ago. These look like promising wines, even if the market doesn't seem too hot on Oregon syrah.

Then numerous tons of Pinot Noir from the Amity area, same source as yesterday but from a different block of the vineyard. Yesterday was all Pommard clone, today is all 115. There's some rot like yesterday, but really not a lot and we sorted it out pretty well. The crop on this particular vineyard seems a bit high, so there are a number of lesser ripe wings and shoulders that we weed out. All together, processing goes well and the fruit looks nicely ripe without high sugars.

After cleaning up, we eat and enjoy a couple wines, one in particular the 2005 Palmina Barbera Santa Barbara County. This is the label of Steve Clifton of Brewer-Clifton for his mostly Italian varietals. I really like this wine. It's clearly new world in style with its impeccable purity and cleanliness. But it's true to Barbera, with perfume, a soft texture, and ripe fruit balanced by bright acidity. What's not to like? I see this is $25 or so, which isn't cheap. But for Barbera of this quality, that's about right, certainly not overpriced.

October 02, 2007

More rain, but the grapes still look good

Today was another picking day at the winery. Happily the grapes arrived before the latest rains swept through the area late this afternoon. We processed several tons of pinot noir, most of it delicious and really quite nice despite the recent weather. However, there was some botrytis (rot) in the center of a few clusters, making me think things might be deteriorating in some vineyards sooner rather than later. That makes me anxious to pick at Wahle vineyard later this week. I just want a nice window of a day or even two of dry weather to let things dry out before picking. Yes, the forecast doesn't look promising. And next week looks rainy too, so I think we're nearing the point where you choose to pick now because it's not going to get any better later. Just a few days ago I was feeling daring and brave about this weather. But wouldn't you know it. Things look different when you're holding rotten fruit in your hands. More soon.

October 01, 2007

More harvest, and great local beer

Today's weather was typical of the past few days (when it hasn't been raining). Cloudy and cool, with brief sunshine, but otherwise ok for bad weather. Tomorrow's supposed to see more rain, but where I'm working we're planning to bring in grapes for the next two days.

The long term forecast is still mixed, and I'm wondering when to pick at Wahle. I'm also getting a couple hundred pounds of chardonnay from Courting Hill out in Banks, where I got Pinot Noir in 2005. I may get both this weekend if the sun comes out for a couple of days. But how to balance that with my winery work? When the weather's good, they want to pick too. We'll see how it goes.

Tasting note for today, and all of the harvest season this fall, is one of the best beers I've ever tasted. At the winery, we have a 5 gallon keg of Heater Allen Brewing Pilsner. Heater Allen is apparently the brand new commercial brewery from longtime homebrewer Rick Allen (not the Def Leppard drummer as far as I can tell) down in McMinnville, OR.

This "pils" is absolutely delicious, with good richness, great hops and acidity, and a long finish. Tasting this beer made me think of the beer halls of Prague. It's easily the most exciting beer I've tried in years. If you're in the area, definitely check this guy out. I'm going to pay a visit as soon as I can.

September 30, 2007

Oregon harvest update, and a tasting note

Sunday, the last day of September. And like two years ago, this day brought a strong cold front with lots of rain throughout western Oregon.

Happily, rainfall totals aren't much different from the overnight storm a few nights ago. I have about .6 of an inch in my Portland backyard since yesterday, but there's a forecast for more showers all week. Some reports suggest clearing and sunshine by next weekend, but I'll wait until we get closer to believe it.

Yesteday was cloudy but a big harvest day as expected. Where I'm working, we brought in a few more tons of beautifully ripe fruit. Driving around the area, I saw crews in many vineyards and more and more blocks of vines stripped of fruit.

I had the opportunity to check out the Wahle vineyard where I'm getting grapes for my home winemaking. From a berry sample of mixed blocks, which we'll pick together, the numbers are 22.5 brix and 3.39ph. So we need more ripening, and not any dilution from rain. We'll see what happens.

Oh, the tasting note. Not an Oregon wine, but something I think is a terrific alternative to Pinot Noir for not a lot of cash. The 2005 Domaine Fontsainte Corbieres is a Rhone-style red blend with an uncommon mix of elegance and richness.

The fragrance has an herby note that I initially wondered about. But with air this wine shows all the underbrush and pepper qualities of a good Cotes du Rhone Villages with the perfume of Burgundy. In the mouth, there's alcoholic warmth but still a brightness to the ripe berry and earth flavors. This wine is delicious now but will probably last in the cellar for five years, maybe even ten or more if you're lucky. For $12, it's a bargain.

September 28, 2007

Rain is here, and beautiful weather

The rain here in the Willamette Valley began last night before I went to bed. Apparently it poured for a couple hours, with about half an inch in most areas by morning.

Today saw a mix of heavy showers and gorgeous sunny, sort of warm weather. By the afternoon down in the Ribbon Ridge district, vineyard soils looked perfectly dry. The sunset and moon rise were epic.

The winery I'm working at got many tons of Pinot Noir grapes from a vineyard west of Carlton, all ripe and very clean. More fruit comes in tomorrow before more rain is due to set in Sunday and beyond.

But so far, so good. And it strikes me. One third of the harvest is in where I'm working. Everything looks great so far. There's already a lot of wine being made this year from grapes picked under nearly perfect conditions. Let's not be hasty thinking that rain will make this a bad harvest.

More tomorrow after another day processing fruit and working in the cellar with everything that's in so far.

September 27, 2007

A beautiful day

Today was gorgeous, but sadly it may be the last sunny weather we see for a while. Already rain is moving into the northern Willamette Valley and tomorrow is due to be 15F colder than today. Fall has really arrived.

The good news is most of the fruit I've seen looks great and should stand up to some rain without a problem. It's been relatively dry and as long as the rain isn't overwhelming, things should still be good.

I spent this lovely day picking up a new basket press for my home winemaking, visiting a friend's winery busy with harvest activity, stopped by the Wahle vineyard to check on the fruit, and spent the afternoon processing fruit at the winery where I'm working harvest.

Wahle still looks good. Some blocks of Pinot Noir were picked today, but much of the fruit is still hanging. As with other sites I've seen, the vines looks in fine shape. If only we had one more week of late summer weather instead of early winter.

Tomorrow's due to be another big harvest day. Even with the rain tonight, things should continue right along. I think Sunday's forecast soaking will change that. Next week...well, we'll just have to see.

September 26, 2007

“It’s too early to be freaking out”

So says a winemaking friend, and I can’t help but agree. Even if I’m freaking out, a little.

Lately in the northern Willamette Valley, the weather has been cooler than normal but often sunny and pretty much dry. Apparently great weather for ripening grapes.

But wouldn’t you know it, all that’s supposed to change in a big way over the next week to ten days.

People have been talking about damaging rain since last week, after reports from places like the Weather Cafe. I wanted to believe the long range forecast was really just a guess. Nope. Some changes have occurred regarding timing and amounts of rain. But it still looks bad for next week.

For now, lots of picking is going in vineyards that are ready to go. Some too in vineyards that might not be ready. It’s hard to look at the forecast and not pick grapes that are so close to wonderful, if not quite there yet.

At the Wahle vineyard, where I’m again expecting a half ton of Pinot Noir, I’m looking to roll the dice and wait out the rain. The grapes I tasted the other day while walking the vineyard didn’t taste quite ready to me. The clusters largely look in great shape. Skins a bit thick and firm. I’m thinking they’ll hold up well, provided there’s sun and dry on the other side of even a number of rainy or showery days.

After all, this is Oregon and it’s not even October. The forecast is grim, but it’s way too early to be freaking out.


September 23, 2007

Chianti bargain and a nice wine shop experience

I stopped by E&R wine shop here in Portland the other day and noticed they have the 2004 Castello della Paneretta Chianti Classico for $10 flat a bottle. Now that’s a bargain in good if not especially acidic Chianti.

We tried a bottle a week ago after finding it on sale for two dollars more at a local supermarket. This wine smells like a slightly modern take on traditional Chianti, with no cabernet in with the sangiovese and caniaolo, and a nice scent of balsamic vinegar mixed with plump, ripe berry fruit. There’s reasonable acidity, not classic amounts but enough to refresh the palate during a meal. For $10, load up, even if this isn’t one to cellar more than a few years.

The story here is familiar – out with the old, in with the new. The old distributor is dumping what’s left of the current vintage in their warehouse. The new distributor apparently will wholesale the next vintage at a higher price than current retail. So don’t wait.

By the way, I’ve been a little critical of E&R wines in the past. It’s clearly not objective criticism. I simply haven’t felt right at that store in the past despite their having clearly the best and deepest selection of geek wines in town. It’s hard to explain, the parts are all there, the whole just never connected for me.

Yet on this visit, two interesting things happened. For the first time, I connected and felt this was definitely one of the best wine shops I’ve seen. A nice discount price on 2004 Chevillon Bourgogne didn’t hurt. But after wandering the store, I couldn’t help but think I’d finally broken through and understood something inexplicable here that I previously didn’t get.

Well lo and behold, at the counter I get an unexpected question. Did I have a problem with some Cotat Sancerre that I purchased there in the past? Well, yes, but that was years ago. No worries they say, here’s a bottle of ’05 Les Monts Damnes to make it whole.

Wow, that’s wasn’t expected. How do they know who I am? I’m a browser who buys little and cheap stuff at that. But that’s a statement by E&R. They made things right and that’s the right way to do things.

Never mind that ’02 B. Baudry Chinon Les Grezeaux they still have on the shelf at $22. Somebody buy that before I can’t resist any more.

August 04, 2007

Catching Up

Is it me, or was Gary V. the other night on Conan kind of a dud? Maybe the quirkiness of his internet personality doesn’t translate well to TV. Maybe the schtick of literally tasting dirt and old socks wasn’t funny enough, especially when most viewers probably thought he was serious. Sure, he apparently “learned” to taste by eating cigars and such, but is he really on a mission to get other people to do that? That’s news to me, but if I didn’t know better, I’d have thought he was serious, and seriously odd.

Let’s not mention how unintentionally funny his vertical brevity was next to the tower of Conan. They just looked weird next to one another.

Oh well, so it goes for anecdotal blogging. Probably shouldn’t have mentioned it in the first place.

So back to wine. I had a lovely little wine last week that merits reporting. The 2004 Olessen’s Riesling from Central Otago on the south island of New Zealand isn’t great wine, but it has great acidity that made my mouth water and compelled me to drink. That’s good wine, though I can imagine how you might try it and wonder what the big deal is. Maybe it just hit me at the right moment. Wine’s like that.

And the other night I caught up to some old aquaintances who do “meat night” every Wednesday. BYO meat and wine, our host fires up his fryer for some fresh truffle fries. And a small group feasts on beef and a nice range of wines.

Highlights from this past week included the NV Baumard Carte Turquoise, a chenin-based sparkler from the Loire. Terrific crisp, appley wine with verve and subtlty. Delicious. We also had the NV Champagne Brut Nature from a producer I can’t recall that was a terrific contrast. Crisp and minerally like the Baumard, but bisquit and bread aromas even in this non-dosage bottling. Delicious.

Notable whites included an ’05 Rijckeart Chardonnay from the Jura that was also very mineral and lean. Someone remarked they’d like a glass of this but not a bottle. Certainly not cocktail wine. I loved the ’05 Tissot Cour-Chevergny from the little known Romorantin grape. Tasting blind, I thought this hazy, slightly sweet wine was a later harvest Chardonnay from the Macon. Someone suggested the Jura and I thought that was a better guess. But no, it’s from the Loire and though it didn’t have any sense of Riesling that I sometimes get in Cour-Chevergny, I loved this and will likely buy some to cellar.

The only notable red was something I brought – the 1996 Druet Chinon Clos du Danzay, which was the best Druet wine I’ve tried. Usually Druet’s wines seem too hard and tight, even those I’ve tried with some age, as if they’ll never come around (at least in my lifetime). Happily, this was still young but open for business, with a pretty fragrance and flavor. Wish I had more of this.

Finally, we tried another oddity – the 2005 Texier “O Pale” that is made from Viognier grapes from the Condrieu AOC in France (though the label doesn’t get that specific) made in a Germanic spatlese style. Meaning, partially fermented to about 7% alcohol with the remaining sugar balanced by bracing acidity. Except this wine lacked the acid of a better spatlese, leaving it sweeter than table wine and perhaps more like a German QBA wine. Soft, porky, delicious in a grape juice way, but lacking definition and certainly the exotic nature of more varietally charateristic Viognier. Overall, it’s good enough and I’ll drink my other wine with a fruit tart dessert or something like that. But I’m not sure I’d keep making this type of wine if I were the producer. Better to let Condrieu be Condrieu, rather than flaccid quasi dessert wine.

July 31, 2007

Winelibrary TV on TV

As you may have noticed, I’m not much for anecdotal blogging. But I noticed over the weekend that Gary Vaynerchuk from Winelibrary TV is going to be on Late Night with Conan O’Brien tomorrow (Wednesday) August 1.

I first became aware of Gary as a young and obviously enthusiastic wine lover from New Jersey on the Mark Squires wine discussion group. Then Gary rose to internet prominence with the creation of Winelibrary TV, supporting his family’s suburban wine emporium.

I’ll admit it. I like Winelibrary TV. Where some people find Gary obnoxious, I think he’s doing great work turning the tables on wine marketing and wine on the internet. He’s funny, he’s irreverant, but he’s also serious about wine and, for a guy hawking the stuff, remarkably candid in his commentary.

Match Gary with Conan, who recently filed hillarious wine-related reports from Napa Valley on the show’s recent trip to San Francisco, and I think you have some good old fashioned TV worth watching. Check it out.

July 29, 2007

Winemaking Update

Last fall I imagined I would be giving frequent updates on my winemaking. For whatever reasons, it hasn’t happened. I suppose over the winter there was little to report. But nearly ten months since harvest, a lot has happened.

Winter indeed is the time wines hibernate. If you’ve innoculated for malolactic fermentation, often your wines are done before Christmas. But if you’ve let malolactic take its natural course, you may start ML before winter sets in before finishing the following spring when cellar temps gradually rise with the seasons.

Or make that summer. I hope. My barrel of 2006 Wahle Vineyard Pinot Noir is still prickling away, more quietly than a month ago but clearly still active well after I’d hoped malolactic would be finished. I haven’t sulfured the wine since the crusher, a long time ago at this point. And despite a modest acid addition to this wine, I can’t wait until ML is done so I can hit it with some SO2 to knock back any bacterial threats to what I expect is a relatively high ph wine.

But ML continues, and I wait patiently.

Happily, the wine smells and tastes great. Great at least in terms of the ripe, overtly fruity and rich pinot noir that is common to the northern Willamette Valley in 2006. I’m not crazy about the style, but I’m thrilled nonetheless at my barrel. I just hope this harvest provides me with more appropriately ripe fruit.

In May, I bottled four gallons of Pinot Noir rosé, from juice I separated from my red wine about 30 hours after crushing. That turned out to be longer than I really wanted, giving me an almost light red wine instead of something more salmon in color. I fermented it like a white wine, did my best to supress ML bacteria, and bottled in time for summer.

Notice, I didn’t filter. So despite a nice SO2 addition before bottling, ML is slowly happening in the bottle. Doesn’t that ruin the wine? Not exactly. It remains as clear as unfiltered rosé can likely be and there’s no affect on the aroma or flavor of the wine, just a light sparkle that’s not unattractive. Would I prefer the wine to be still? Yes. But does the wine taste good? Yes, suprisingly to me to be honest. I keep thinking it’s going to smell like sauerkraut, but it doesn’t. Our neighbor can’t get enough of the stuff. And I’ve learned a lot for next year, so I’m happy.

One of the best developments is that my converted water closet barrel room is perfectly cool even on the hottest days now that I slapped a small air conditioning unit in the room’s one window. That means my garage winery is working out great and should be good for another year or two.

And can you believe it, harvest is almost here again. More on that soon, but the good news is I’m going to work with a terrific newer producer that’s bootstrapping itself into prominence locally and beyond. I’ve mentioned the producer here on a few occasions, and this fall should provide a terrific lesson in how to start up a winery.

Old Rosé

I can’t pass up a deal, even when I should know better. For example, last year sometime I found half bottles of 1992 Clos du Pape Chateauneuf du Pape Blance for $6 each in a local shop that’s quirky but filled with interesting wine.

Just writing this makes me shake my head. Of course the wine was likely dead. Yet, how could I pass up what is essentially a $6 lottery ticket promising a payoff of wine nirvana? So nevermind the long odds, I couldn’t help myself and grabbed a bottle.

Sure enough, the wine was vile. And even six dollars seemed like a high price to learn what a fool should only have to learn at this point. Why can’t I resist such deads?

So last week I found a twice marked down bottle of 2004 Ch. Pradeaux Bandol rosé. Originally $25, now $7.50.

Hmm, it looks coppery colored but this producer is known for light hued, razor sharp rosé. And I recall the 1997 F. Cotat Chavignol rosé for $10 a few years back at another shop that was deliciously round yet taut like a finely aged white wine. I’ve heard of people enjoying old Tempier Bandol rosé. So why not? It’s only $7.50, right?

And wouldn’t you know it, the wine is neither dead nor quite alive like that ‘97 Cotat. Instead, somewhere in between, smelling something like fine Champagne and tasting faintly cidery, starting nicely but tailing off with an old fruit streak that shows the wine is coming apart at the seams.

It wasn’t awful, in fact it was reasonably enjoyable even as an intellectual rather than sensual wine. It was certainly worth its discount price, enough so to make sure that the next time I come across a bargain that’s too good to be true, I’m buying.

July 20, 2007

2004 Tyee Pinot Blanc Willamette Valley

After an extended break from the blog, why not have a surprise return with an equally surprising wine?

Tyee Wine Cellars is the longtime label of Barney Watson. The same Barney Watson who teaches in the Chemeketa Winemaking and Viticulture program. And the same Barney Watson who taught the class I took this spring called Science of Winemaking.

I’ve long known of Tyee but never tried any of their wines. After taking the class, I figured I should try some. This bottling, of the grape sometimes referred to as pinot bland, is a revelation. And not just because I’m drinking my teacher’s wine.

The 2004 Tyee Pinot Blanc has a pale yellow color, but the aroma is where things get interesting. It’s clean and fresh, but the melon and lemon fragrance you expect in a better Pinot Blanc mix with a mineral note and the distinct scent of crushed mint leaves. Not overly so, just enough to give a freshness that beats any mojito in your local trendy bar.

In the mouth, lemon and melon flavors dominate, with terrific length and crisp acidity that leaves your palate ready for another sip. This wine would be perfect with crab, which just happens to be pictured on the label.

All together, this is terrific wine and a nice value. I’ll have to try the Tyee Pinot Noir, which I’ve heard is also a good value if sturdy wine built to age.

Unfortunately Barney Watson mentioned at class that he’s selling or sold his share of the winery, apparently to focus on the many wines in production at the Chemeketa-Eola Northwest Viticulture Center. Perhaps other things too, I imagine. Let’s hope so.

May 04, 2007

Scott Paul Selections: Grand Cru

Picking up where I left off the other night on the Scott Paul Selections Burgundy course, we reach the Grand Cru.

Tonight, two wines from Francois Lamarche, a producer whose lackluster reputation of years past Scott Wright made no bones about mentioning. Times have clearly changed.

First, the 2004 Francois Lamarche Grandes Echezeaux Grand Cru, which shows a delicate aroma at first that opens to a meaty red fruit compote fragrance. In the mouth, the texture is silky with red fruits and young, crunchy acidity that again suggests aging. There’s good length here, and overall I enjoy this wine but know it really needs time.

Also needing time, but showing tremendously tonight, is the 2004 Francois Lamarche La Grand Rue Grand Cru. La Grande Rue was the most recent vineyard to be upgraded to Grand Cru status, no surprise as it sits between the fabled Romaneé Conti and La Tache sites. This wine is excellent, with a floral, subtle at first black fruit and complex spice aroma. In the mouth, it’s firmer than the luscious perfume suggests, with fine tannin and a long, elegant sweet fruit and earth flavor. I could smell and drink wine like this all night long, and also want a bunch of bottles to store away for ten or more years. Too bad the price is so dear at $115.

In sum, the class was mostly review for this geek. But I learned some interesting tidbits, such as a lieu dit being not just a subplot of a larger vineyard, which it is in some cases, but also the vineyard itself. Yet as plain and accessible as Scott made Burgundian minutiae for this crowd, I felt like people could go away, despite what we tasted, still believing that the whole Grand Cru and Premier Cru system is just a bunch of marketing.

Sure, all classifications have a purpose of separating what is at least allegedly the “best” from the rest. But in the case of Burgundy, even just a look at the Cote d’Or via Google Earth will show the obvious – the best sites are those with the best exposure, and they’re all at least 1er Cru. There are few deserving sites missing from the top classifications, and despite underachievement on the part of some growers, there are few classified sites that are lackluster as sites. Soils will further dictate what grows best, so you see Chardonnay here and Pinot Noir there.

Try and find a great exposure in the Cote d’Or that’s not already at least a 1er Cru. You can’t do it. And that’s not just marketing. It’s terroir, and it’s fact. These terrific wines from Scott Paul Selections only underscore the point.

May 03, 2007

Joe Dressner and Australian Shiraz?

I love the first line of Maureen Dowd's column the other day about former CIA director George Tenet. Poor Slam Dunk, she began.


And poor me. Too long I delayed, and when I finally called E&R wine shop in Portland today to see about attending tonight's Louis/Dressner Selections tasting, I was denied. There's a wait list, I'm told. No chance even joining it.

But what's this? An email in my in box? Who could it be? Would you believe...Joe Dressner at the World Cup cafe in NW Portland (next to Hot Lips pizza!), and he's sought me out.

Is he psychic? Is he from the government? What's the difference?

Now, Joe was a charter reader of this web log two years back. But he hasn't been around for a while. We've missed him, but we haven't given up hope that someday he'd return.

Sure, my email inbox isn't this controversial, hard hitting vanity site. It's a mirror all its own, but I'll take it. I feel I'm on the cusp of something special.

I reply to Joe detailing my plight. The long nights blogging, the many mugs of World Cup coffee. I simply forgot to RSVP for his tasting. How could I be so stupid? Now there's a waiting list and, try as I might, I can't even join a waiting list for that.

Maybe Joe will get the hint. Maybe he'll plead for my presence. His reply arrives, ending with a cryptic "xsee you soon."

What does it mean? Am I in? Does he think I'm someone else? Should I crash the tasting? Should I follow him around all night? After all, I would like to talk to him about our sedimentary Oregon soils, which he's remarked about in the past. I'm sure he's excited about that.

No, this doesn't feel right, and I don't do anything but ride the slow bus home and open a bottle of fine, aged Australian Shiraz.

No kidding, the 2000 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Shiraz, vinted according to the label in the Frankland River region of Western Australia.

And just when this day couldn't get any stranger, this is delicious, satisfying, even compelling fading ruby colored wine.

The fragrance is peppery with a charred earth note that speaks of France more than anything. Then there's a subtle eucalyptus aroma mixed in with ripe but not overt red fruit. In the mouth, it's more austere, even lean in the middle but moderately long with a mixture of fresh and aged flavors.

This isn't Barossa Shiraz, candied and artificially tart. This is honest, cool climate syrah that's really satisfying, even if it doesn't make me forget the collection of Dressner wines I'm missing at this very moment.

Oh well, maybe next time. Of course, that's what I said last year when my ticket to the Real Wine Invasion went sadly unused.

Joe, is it too early to book my spot for 2008?

May 02, 2007

Burgundy from Scott Paul Selections

A few weeks back, I had the pleasure of attending an “advanced” Burgundy class held by Scott Wright at his Carlton winery, Scott Paul Wines.

Burgundy in the heart of Oregon Pinot Noir county? Do they drink Oregon in Burgundy? I don’t know, but I’m sure there’s no one importing Oregon wine in Beaune. Of course, things are different here.

In addition to producing some of the more interesting local Pinot Noir out there, Scott Paul Wines is also Scott Paul Selections, representing some terrific white and red wines from the Cote d’Or.

Scott Wright also leads a series of tasting classes on Burgundy, from beginner to “graduate” level, demystifying the complexities of what is obviously his passion. Of course, there is no simplifying the absurdities of some vineyard names and classifications, yet Scott somehow explains it and makes you feel good with his almost jolly manner. He even supplies detailed maps, whicha person has to love.

We sat down in two long tables in the front room of the old brick winery building and began with a single white wine. The 2004 Philippe Chavy Puligny-Montrachet had a pretty greenish gold color and nicely complex, floral, apple, and hazelnutty oak aromas, then oily tangy lemon lime flavors with barrel notes. The oak flavors are a bit rough right now, but this wine has nerve and length and should age for several years. Very nice, and in Scott’s words, classic Puligny.

Then a selection of wines from Pommard, to highlight the same producer working with two vineyards, and the same vineyard in the hands of two different producers.

First, the 2004 Aleth Girardin Pommard Epenots 1er Cru, with an Oregon-like aroma of black cherries, underbrush, and woodsy spice that, were it from here, might be one of the best Oregon wines I’ve smelled. The bright cherry flavor had a ripe, sweet quality that also suggests the new world. But this is Burgundy, with mineral acidity that promises more in the future, as good as it was today. Scott notes that Aleth Girardin’s holding in this vineyard are in the Le Grand Epenot section, which is a perennial candidate for upgrade to Grand Cru status. Upgrade are rare occurances, and this one isn’t actually likely to happen anytime soon.

Then the 2004 Aleth Girardin Pommard Rugiens 1er Cru, the vineyard half a kilometer away from Epenots. This was more subtle aromatically at first, then turned sweet and almost jammy, to me suggesting more the style of the producer (ripe) than a vineyard difference. In the mouth, this was also cherry dominated but finely tannic and again tightly structured, again suggesting cellaring for a few years.

Next, a 2004 Theirry Violot-Guillemard Pommard Rugiens 1er Cru that had a slightly lighter color and more finesse that the Girardin. This too smelled Oregon-like at first, with loamy earth and cherry, then pepper and floral notes. Scott used the term “lacy” a few times to describe the fine texture of good Burgundy, and this wine showed that lacy quality. Finely tannic and again tight and young, I really liked this aside from a slight bitter note on the finish. That’s picking nits though.

Next time, a pair of truly fine Grand Cru from Echezeaux and Vosne to finish the session.

April 29, 2007

2002 Le Petit Chambord Cour-Chevergny Vendanges Manuelles

Two years ago I wrote about how much I enjoyed the Francois Cazin’s 1999 Le Petit Chambord Cour-Chevergny Vendanges Manuelles. When I saw the 2002 edition about a year ago, I immediately wanted to buy it. But I already had my hands full, and the same genius wine guy who recently steered me toward the bizarre 2005 Crima told me to stay clear of the Cazin. Something about it being a little off kilter.

In the moment, I listened and obeyed.

Fast forward to a recent visit to a local fancy supermarket, where I again found the 2002, priced at just $11.99. Temptation got me and I bought one, only to open it last night and find, well, something off kilter.

Now Cour-Chevergny isn’t typcial wine. Made from the Romorantin grape, it tends to show a unique blend earthy diesel notes balanced by pronounced red fruit and citrus, not unlike Riesling, with the honeycomb and lanolin edge of Chenin blanc.

The 2002 Le Petit Chambord Cour-Chevergny Vendanges Manuelles smells and tatses just that way, only with a fumey, slightly volatile bent to the aroma and a sour acidity on the palate that doesn’t mesh with the off dry sweetness.

The wine didn’t tasted flawed, just ripe and a bit on the edge, maybe over. We drank it over two nights but I didn’t really enjoy the wine. It was ok, just nothing like the 1999 I loved.

Go figure. 1999 was supposedly a difficult vintage, and 2002 just the opposite. Maybe my wine guy isn’t crazy from the Crima after all.

Science of Winemaking Class

Lots of times, when people find out I’m interested in making wine, they ask, “are you taking classes?” They seem to think making wine means you have to be a scientist.

Nevermind the millenia of winemaking history, long before anyone understood anything about the chemical and biological process. After all, it wasn’t even until the 20th century when we first understood something as important as malolactic fermentation. I’ve had wines older than that, and they tasted just fine.

Real fine, in fact, but that’s another story.

The point is, you can make wine without understanding the science behind it. I’ve done that for six years. But I recognize that I now have the experience to benefit from learning more about the science of winemaking. Not to become a scientist, not even to radically shift my artisanal perspective toward the technological. Rather, to know the rules better before I break them.

So this spring, I broke down and enrolled in Science of Winemaking, an eleven week course offered by Chemeketa Community College in Salem, OR. Coincidentally, the Oregon Wine News’ latest edition has a nice article about the Northwest Viticulture Center where my course and many others are held on the red soils of the Eola Hills.

My instructor is Barney Watson, a UC Davis graduate and longtime teacher here in Oregon. I’m very impressed by his knowledge and ability to communicate complex ideas fairly simply. Prior to reading the OWP article, I didn’t know that Watson was the guy behind Tyee wines. I’ve never tried any, but will seek them out just to see more of what he’s all about.

The class itself is challenging to this technical novice. My chemistry background is ancient for a 37-year old. But my interest in learning technical details is apparently strong enough to make the weekly three-hour sessions fly by, leaving my wishing for more.

We’re four weeks into the class, and we’ve mostly focused on grape chemistry and some viticulture as it relates to what this class is all about – making wine.

So we’re investigating the development of berries through the growing season, looking into the chemical compounds that become the elements and precursors of wine chemistry. Some is review, such as the various acids you find in grapes (tartaric and malic, some citric). Some is incredibly complex and still mysterious to me, such as carboxyl groups and benzene ring structures of various molecules in grapes.

What have I learned so far? Perhaps the most signficant thing is the reason behind why “canopy management” is so important in the vineyard. Specifically, that in cooler climates such as the Willamette Valley, an open canopy of vine leaves reduces mildew and other disease pressures by allowing more airflow throughout the plants. Open canopies also provide direct or indirect sunlight and heat on the grape clusters to allow for chemical changes in the berries that encourage what we perceive as ripe and pleasing aromas and flavors in most wines.

Too much light and heat can be negative depending on the site, grape variety, and season. But I think we can attribute the development of increasingly higher quality wines from our region to open canopies more than any other factor. Better winemaking technique is a close second. But as the old saying goes, great wine is made in the vineyard. Open canopies, and the chemical transformation they allow, are evidence of that.

More on the class as we move from the vineyard into the cellar and look more squarely at the subject at hand, the science of winemaking.

April 22, 2007

High Thread Count Wine

Being a wine geek seems to mean you have to spend a lot of money on wine. But it’s just not true. There are terrific wines out there for even the slimmest of budgets.

Yet I recognize that the better wines often do cost more than most people want to spend, unless it’s a really special occasion.

Even then, I think a lot of people aren’t sure why they’ve just spent a lot of money on a bottle of wine. Sure, it tastes good. But an hour later when the bottle’s all gone, they wonder, was it really worth $20, or $30, or more? Was it better than something I could have gotten for a lot less?

No and yes. If you’re looking for “flavor,” you can find a lot of that in many cheap wines. Perhaps not the complexity or subtlty of a better wine. But these days, it’s not hard to find something for $10 with a ton of flavor.

For me, spending more on wine is all about texture. And texture is worth the money, if you’re interested.

Texture? Isn’t that winespeak? I don’t know enough about wine, you’ll say, to know about this texture thing. I disagree.

Now I’m not cloth expert, but I know fine fabric when I feel it. Whether it’s high thread count bed sheets or a horribly expensive shirt that I of course won’t buy, am too lazy to even try on, yet still drool over on occasion, there’s nothing quite like the feel and the feeling of really nice fabric.

Wine’s no different. You don’t need to be a wine geek to know great texture when you feel it. You just need to know to look for it.

Take the 1998 Domaine de la Cote de l’Ange Chateauneuf du Pape that I had recently. This moderately aged wine is a case study in texture, showing how really good wine makes itself known to you by the high thread count feel in your mouth.

With this wine, you know you’re on to something when you smell the subtle fragrance of rocks, berries, old wood, and some light farm scents. But one sip and it’s all about texture, the firm but soft, worsted texture that covers your mouth and makes you pause and reflect just as you do when you slide into a fancy sheeted bed.

Yes, this is the stuff. And if I had all the money in the world, I’d drink wine like this every night. And you should, too. Don’t just settle for flavor. You wouldn’t buy colorful bed sheets that felt like cardboard, would you?

April 16, 2007

Weirdest Wine Ever

Years ago I was at an “offline” dinner, that is a gathering of internet wine geeks, where some brave soul brought a wine many others immediately and fairly dubbed the “weirdest wine ever.”

It was the 1998 Fox Creek JSM, an Australian blend of various red grapes intended as a lower priced sibling to their Shiraz varietals. That is, until the ’98 JSM got a huge rating from the pundits and turned into something you’d bring to an offline.

Indeed, this was weird wine with a dayglow color, a buttery oak aroma, a syrupy texture and flavors more akin to sugary breakfast cereals than anything vinous.

Now I think I’ve found something weirder still.

Wine geeks reading this might think it heresy to mention Fox Creek with something so different in character like the 2005 Conti di Buscareto Crima Marche Rosso IGT. The Buscareto Crima (crima allegedly being the grape, though I haven’t found much to support that) has a natural texture and wine-like base aroma and flavor.

But it’s now the weirdest wine I’ve ever tasted.

It starts out black as night. But take a sniff and it’s like someone’s soaked incense sticks in Italian petite sirah, maybe with hand soap in there too. A local wine store guy, who has a terrific though more than adventurous palate, suggested it’s like gewurztraminer blended into some red wine, as if it were a good thing.

I don’t know about that.

In the mouth, the Crima is taut and tangy with a simple charm, but it’s dominated by a strong floral perfume taste, leaving a less than pleasant bitterness that overlingers. One day later, the wine hardly seems different. And while I want to like it for its distinctiveness, I’m simply perplexed. It’s not flawed. It’s exactly as billed. It’s just not that pleasaurable.

What would you serve this with? How do you get past the bitterness? What am I missing here? Who drinks this and says, I want a case!

I’m always happy to try something different, and this wasn’t undrinkable in its odd way. But once was enough. Unless of course it gets a big score and I have the chance to bring it to an offline.

April 08, 2007

Visit to Owen Roe

On the way to my first winemaking class ever down in Salem, OR (more on that soon), I took the opportunity for a brief visit to the Owen Roe winery near Newberg.

Owen Roe is the operation of David O’Reilly, originally a business partner of Peter Rosback in Sineann and possibly still. I’m simply can’t keep track. And the Owen Roe web site shows that Peter is somehow affiiliated here. The details there aren’t the point, rather these guys have for about the past decade truly changed the face of Oregon wine, and Washington wine for that matter.

You see, Owen Roe is one of these Oregon labels that are setting a new trend by being mostly about Washington wine. They have bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah among other things from appellations like Walla Walla and Yakima in Washington, and the Columbia Valley stradling the Oregon and Washington border.

Owen Roe isn’t the first in this regard. There’s Andrew Rich in Carlton who makes lots of wine from Oregon and Washington. Cuneo also in Carlton making most of its wine from Washington grapes. And many others, including Sineann.

Where O’Reilly's (and Rosback's) wines have most set themselves apart is packaging. Now this could sound like faint praise – mention wineries and laud them for packaging? Are the wines bad? Not at all, assuming you like hefty, fairly well-oaked reds with more in common with California than anything I’ve tasted locally in a while.

It’s just that the labels at Owen Roe take good wine and set it in another league. Ask local retailers which local Syrahs fly off the shelves, and you’ll likely hear about The Sinister Hand Ex-Umbris that both come from this producer. Both have distinct labels and, while they’re good enough wine, the packaging seems to be what seals the deal with most drinkers.

So as I pull into the farm-like Owen Roe on the flatlands just south of Champoeg State Park and the Willamette River, I can’t help but reflect on how this operation looks like other producers if even the business is pretty different.

Unfortunately, this same day sees the visit of a key vineyard owner for Owen Roe, so my time will be short as the staff scrambles to pull things together for a special tasting and lunch.

Still, I have a chance to taste some barrels of new wine that will mostly go into the lower end O’Reilly’s label. Mostly we taste a few samples of Chardonnay that’s round and correct, a good vehicle to see the effects of barrels from different French coopers that give markedly different qualities to the wines they hold. Some with a subtle toast element, others with more pronounced sawdust notes that on their own seem out of whack but after blending will yield another well priced, people-friendly wine.

Then on to some finished wines that allow for more complete reporting. First two from O’Reilly’s, the label David uses for his value wines that are very popular in the marketplace. The ’06 Pinot Gris from Oregon sources is lightly sweet and round, but the ’06 Riesling from Yakima is more to my taste, clean and pure with just a hint of diesel.

Then onto some big boys, all Owen Roe labels, all from Washington grapes, all impressive wines if a big alcoholic for my tastes though, given how they sell, obviously I’m in the minority. And again, the packaging. These wines all have long, bold labels covering the heavy dark bottles like those from an old Chateau in Bordeaux. But instead of a crest and lots of French, these minimalist labels feature stark black and white photos of ancient Irish castles and little text.

First, an ’04 Sangiovese Columbia Valley that’s strapping and tannic with a light herbal note that doesn’t quite suggest the menthol of some Tuscan Sangiovese, but still seems right. Then an ’05 Merlot Dubrul Vineyard in Yakima that’s chocolatey and rich with a pleasant herbal note but a hot and tannic finish.

The ’05 Seven Hills/St Isadora bottling of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon from the Walla Walla area is also ripe, rich, even regal modern Bordeaux-like wine, chewy in the mouth with a touch of bell pepper and an interesting soil note.

Finally, the ’04 Cabernet Franc Slide Mountain Vineyard, a cool site in Yakima that produces a pretty wine with tobacco notes and a fairly tight texture. This is my favorite of the line up; it’s also the most expensive at $72. It’s more Bordeaux than Loire, actually more Napa than either of those. But this delivers the goods in its idiom.

I don’t love these wines, but I do enjoy them. I’m compelled to remember them and want to buy them because the wine is good, but the packaging is amazing. Again, I know that sounds like criticism. But when you consider how tough it is to make and sell good wine of any persuasion, I can’t help but be impressed by this whole operation from what’s in the bottle to the actual bottles themselves. I hope to return here to learn more about this organization, which is apparently growing tremendously.

Check Owen Roe out, they’re the face of new Oregon wine that isn’t bound by political borders or old conventions of what a Willamette Valley winery can produce. Namely, something beyond Pinot Noir.

April 07, 2007

Oregon Wine News

I’ve been meaning to report on the news about Seven Springs/Anden vineyard, one of my favorite sites for Oregon Pinot Noir that supplies many top local wineries.

Or make that, supplied.

The vineyard was once simply Seven Springs, on the western flank of the Eola Hills not far from producers like Cristom and Bethel Heights. Then a few years back the owners divorced, the lower and older block remaining as Seven Springs with the more recent plantings in the upper block rechristened as Anden vineyard.

Now, as St. Innocent winemaker and owner Mark Vlossak confirmed recently in a post on, the owners of Anden and Seven Springs have agreed to lease all the fruit to a Californian for the next 15 years. That means St. Innocent and others who make wine from this site including Evesham Wood will apparently no longer have access to these grapes.

I write apparently because, however unlikely it may be, the deal may not in fact be done. In any industry, deals can materialize and fall through with remarkable speed. Mark seems resigned to his fate, but I’m holding hope, perhaps false hope, that the longtime producers of this property continue to get grapes.

With Mark’s history with the site, not to mention the others who have made the names Seven Springs and Anden meaningful in the wine world, I have to wonder if Anden owner Al MacDonald – himself a local legend in viticulture circles – couldn’t manage to salvage something here. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, the erstwhile Chateau Benoit near Lafayette, OR, itself rechristened Anne Amie a few years back, is taking a bold step toward higher quality wine production. How is that? By lowering production.

You don’t hear wineries doing that too often. What’s next, lowing prices in off vintages? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Actually, in the release I received from Anne Amie general manager Craig Camp, it looks like the lower production at Anne Amie, along with a commitment to sustainable agriculture and minimal intervention winemaking, is really all about rebalancing the winery portfolio of owner and local media and gravel magnate Robert Pamplin.

Chateau Benoit was created a few decades back and built a reputation for lower quality but popular wines that us geeks might categorize as soda pop wine. But they sold and continue to sell. Meanwhile, the Anne Amie label has featured all sorts of bottlings that seem more serious but still haven’t captured too much attention in the quality end of things. Now there will be a third label, Pamplin Family Vineyards, producing “extradorinary Northwestern Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay” in a separate facility in Sherwood, OR.

There is a growing number of local wineries sourcing grapes from warmer areas in southern Oregon and eastern Washington to make Bordeaux and Rhone variety wines. The Willamette Valley is still mostly about Pinot Noir, but our wineries more and more are going further than that. It looks like, to capitalize on this trend, the Pamplin label will allow Anne Amie to be streamlined while positioning the whole enterprise to grow even more.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m trying to get Craig’s ear for a visit to see for myself what’s going on behind the scenes, which I hope to share with you.

March 23, 2007

Live tasting: 2004 Edmunds St. John Rocks and Gravel

It’s an Élevage first, a live tasting. Meaning, I’m drinking and typing, allatthesametime.

In all seriousness, I usually don’t write while drinking (usually I’ve had my share), but this little wine just made me cozy up to the keyboard and share with y’all.

Now I love a bargain, and the 2004 Edmunds St. John Rocks and Gravel is just that. Locally, you can get this for as little at $14, before the pretty much standard discount for six or 12 bottles depending on the store.

You might be thinking, no, no, no, it’s the 2003 that’s being closed out locally for that price. And that’s true. But the 2004 just showed up and the price tags haven’t changed. So if you like what I think is one of the top California producers of Rhone-variety wines out there, don’t delay. This deal might not last.

What does the wine taste like? I think the winery’s web site does a good job describing things, though I would add that there is a bit of alcohol showing in this otherwise impeccable blend of grenache, mourvedre, and syrah.

It’s earthy but clean, savory but rich in fruit, smokey without the flavors of oak that marr most wines from my native golden state. And the texture, that’s what Edmunds St. John wines are really all about. Silky smooth without any sense of artificial texture enhancers like powdered tannin and fancy tricks in the cellar.

Is it grand vin? You know, the stuff you pay more than you should for, that demands aging in a cellar better than you have. And then there’s the occasion it requires that never comes.

No. This is wine for drinking, preferably with anything grilled, meat or otherwise. It will last a while, but there's no need to hold it.

So pick some up for your summer barbeques, after you’ve downed some nice dry rosé and need something with a little more heft. Wine this good shouldn’t be so cheap. Thank you, I will have some more.