December 26, 2008

Los Angeles

I've been visiting Los Angeles for the holidays there's been more wine-related goings on than usual. Most of it surrounds the release of my own wine, noncommercially of course. But lots of people want to try it, so it seems we're opening a bottle of it each day.

On our first night here, my parents opened a bottle of my 2006 Pinot Noir and it tasted pretty good, if a little oaky. The other day, my dad and I had lunch with an acquaintance of his who's in the wine business. Then, the wine seemed very fruity -- cherries -- but a little simple and tart in the mouth. Then more bottles for Christmas Eve at my sister's in-laws, then Christmas dinner here at Fritzsche central. Everyone seems to like the wine, some more vocally than others. It's always an adventure in nerves opening a bottle and I suppose that won't ever end.

Meanwhile, I've had the chance a bunch of other wines. A few nights ago, my brother brought the 2007 Seghesio Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley, with the blue capsule. He was excited that it got a 93 point rating from Wine Spectator magazine and was number 10 on its recent 100 most exciting wines of the year list. Of course, this 2007 didn't taste as good to me as prior bottlings, the bright fruit and spice replaced by darker, sweeter, and noticeably oaky aromas and flavors. Where's the zip and zing?

Then a family friend brought over a bottle of the 2001 Rosenthal Cabernet Sauvignon, grown in nearby Malibu Canyon. I've tried a few of these wines from the early '90s back when they were released, and I simply wasn't impressed. This 2001 isn't great wine, but it's certainly interesting and I found it pretty tasty. The wine is older looking than its years as I recalled the earlier examples. It smelled a bit like merlot-dominated Bordeaux, with smokey oak integrated nicely with berries and roasted red peppers, sweet and pleasantly herbal and savory at the same time. Clearly this is from grapes grown in, if not a warm climate, a place where night time temperatures don't get very low. The structure is very soft, and I wouldn't think of holding this wine too long. Still, it's an interesting drink.

We had the 2006 l'Hiver Syrah from Copain here in California. Alice Feiring mentioned Copain as a California producer of her sense of natural wine, meaning no yeasts, no ML bacteria, not much if any new oak, etc. This bargain bottling was terrific, indeed northern Rhone like as I've since read and void of any oak flavors. There is a smokey element that may be soil or some volatility in the wine. But it was honest, flavory, and juicy syrah for a few bucks less than a twenty. That's a pretty good deal in good California wine.

With Christmas dinner we tried a few other things, including a soft but pure 2005 Nigl Gruner Veltliner Freiheit. Very gruner, with citrus and green pea notes, even a little white pepper if you smell enough. There's also NV Korbel Brut, which again isn't bad at all. Yeasty, citrus, otherwise neutral tasting but not bad at all. Then a 2006 Torbreck Woodcutter's Shiraz, which seemed a little bretty but otherwise fine in a warm climate, not wooded syrah kind of way. May a little rubbery, but maybe we can blame the screw cap for that reduction. Everyone else is.

Tonight, we'll open another of my bottles, with maybe another Oregon Pinot and perhaps an oddball I picked up at Wine Expo in Santa Monica, the 1998 Balgera Valtellina Grumello, a nebbiolo from Lombardy in Italy that is surely dry, tannic, and requiring better glasses than we have to capture the aroma. I just can't resist these kinds of wines, even if I'm sure no one else will like it. We'll see.

December 20, 2008

2003 Produttori di Barbaresco Normale on a cold winter night

It's around 17F outside in Portland, with strong winds, several inches of snow on the ground and drifts well up to my knee. After sledding down the neighbor's driveway with the kids, it's time for a fire, some lasagne, and my first bottle of the 2003 Produttori di Barbaresco.

It's fitting on such a cold night to uncork a dose of bottled sunshine. 2003 of course was the record hot year in Europe, and here in Oregon too as it happens. The wines in so many areas are freaks, in some cases very, very good, by in many cases just too darn roasted, alcoholic, or otherwise distorted from what makes any particular appellation special.

For my tastes, the most successful 2003s are in regions that may not always see the ripest fruit, or grow grapes that tolerate excessive heat a bit better than others. For example, I love Loire cabernet franc in most vintages for their perfume and delicacy. But I find myself loving some wines from the hottest years, such as Joguet's Chinon from 2003, despite their unusal profiles. Same with some northern Rhone whites from '03, like Jaboulet's Crozes Hermitage Mule Blanche white wine that's rich and oily like a dry dessert wine. Maybe they're not typcial, but I've enjoyed them immensely. Am I a hedonist?

So it was in Piedmont in NW Italy. For the reknown co-op Produttori di Barbaresco, which usually produces a "normale" tan label Barbaresco and then several while label single vineyard bottlings from grapes grown by its several members, 2003 was a year where no single vineyard "riservas" were produced. The normale is the one Barbaresco bottling for the year, and it's dandy, as I'd heard from several sources. It's still available locally, and I imagine elsewhere too. I suggest you try it if the following sounds good to you.

The wine is medium ruby colored, with a classic perfume of the nebbiolo grape. Dried roses, tar, red fruits, leather, and the tell-tale sign of the year's heat -- a bit of raisin. To me, it's a very pleasant nuance of the wine. Tasting this blind, I might guess it's a really nice Valtellina from further north in the Piedmont that tastes like a really good Barbaresco. Valtellina is known for producing wines of nebbiolo in the style of Amarone, where the grapes are dried after harvest and only then made into a table wine that's exceedingly rich and powerful.

The flavors follow the aroma, with lots of ripe tannin that nebbiolo's known for along with ripe cherries, leather, tar, and slightly withered fruit. That's saying it's a little raisiny without, hopefully, the negative connotation of overripe fruit. Instead, it has the extra richness and depth that a more fancy wine might provide, without the price certainly or perhaps the typicity that makes the best single-vineyard bottlings so special. I can see why the co-op made only the normale in this year, but it's a decision that wine buyers and drinkers should take advantage of.

Don't be fooled - this is nebbiolo from the Piedmont. Perhaps it's not the most nervy or elegant of Barbaresco, but this has plenty of elegance and nerve. I think only the geekiest of us would find something wrong with this wine. For most of us, this is terrific Piedmontese red wine that's available for just over $20 if you buy right locally (think six-pack or case discount). Note that there's no new oak marring this wine, or any of the Produttori wines in my experience. What you taste is pure Piedmont.

The aromatic and flavor depth, plus the tannin and acid structure, tell me this wine should last 15 to 20 years. But it's delicious now too. How can you go wrong? I'm looking for a few more, once the roads clear at least.

December 18, 2008

Estezargues wine co-op

Have you heard of the Estezargues wine co-op outside of Villeneuve-Les-Avignon in the southern Rhone valley of France?

I had, but never really paid attention to it. But I was familiar with various Cotes du Rhone bottlings from the co-op that we see here in America, such as Domaine La Montagnette and Domaine d'Andezon.

The latter has been well known for years for its nicely priced red wines, including the somewhat legendary 1995 d'Andezon Cotes du Rhone. I'd heard this was really good, and some years back I tried it blind at a friend's house. Everyone was certain it was a nice Cornas, but no. Just a "lowly" co-op Cotes du Rhone. That wine is probably still drinking nice.

Turns out this co-op is more acclaimed than I ever imagined, and for good reasons. They're making relatively small lot stuff with natural wine principles. Alice Feiring wrote about it in her book The Search for Wine and Love that I reviewed recently. Here's a nice write up from Bertrand at Wine Terroirs, with typically lovely pictures.

The other day I was perusing the wine selection at a local discounter and saw a number of labels from importer Dan Kravitz's Hand Picked Selections out of Virginia. Tough times in the wine business, I guess.

Dan's done a nice job importing from France and Spain for years. Some things I'm not so fond of, but maybe that's my weird taste speaking. Most times you will do really well picking a bottle with Dan's import label on the back.

Back at the discounter, one label in particular caught my eye, the 2005 Terre de Mistral Cotes du Rhone for $7. Sure enough, the fine print shows it's a Kravitz import. And it's from Les Vignerons d'Estezargues. Any time you see "Les Vignerons d'..." you'll dealing with co-op wine. Most times that means it's mass produced stuff, often lackluster, more notable for the marketing effort behind the wine than what's in the bottle.

This bottle admittedly looks a bit similar to that kind of thing, with a colorful, contemporary label. But I grabbed one and it's pretty nice, authentic southern Rhone wine for a great price. This was released more than two years ago, but it tastes fresh as if it has a few more years in a cool cellar.

There's no shortage of alcohol in this wine, but in a basic Cotes du Rhone, especially on a cold night with hearty food, that's not a bad thing. What I love about this wine? The scent and flavor of nicoise olives, those tiny, smoky, briny, meaty little things that are a must on any Provencal table.

The likely mix of grenache and syrah here also shows bright red raspberry and garrigue mixed in too. (Garrigue is that earthy, herbal perfume of the region.) And there's acidity and tannin, not too much of course but let's be clear. Where most budget wine in the world today tastes like jelly and oak chips, this wine tastes like wine, from a place, that fits on the dinner table, and is nice for twice the money.

Of course, this wine may not be something you come across. But look for the Estezargues name, usually in small print, but worth the search.

December 16, 2008

Wine is maddening

Yes, wine is maddening. Tonight we were having a simple pasta and salad dinner, and we wanted a little red wine to match. Nothing fancy, so I thought...why not give the 2007 M. Lapierre Vin de Pays des Gaules a go? This is the country wine of reknown cru Beaujolais producer Marcel Lapierre, apparently a mix of younger vine gamay and other "experimental" things. Surely it's gulpable with simple noodles, right?

No. Actually my wife called it. This wine tastes like rose. Which isn't a bad thing, expect I was NOT looking to drink rose tonight, even light ruby colored, otherwise red wine that happens to smell and taste like rose. How maddening.

Sure, I could chill it a bit and change my attitude. It would probably be great, as the cherry aromas and flavors were attractive. But it's 22F outside. I need RED wine. So down to the cellar for a half bottle of 2004 Felsina Chianti Classico, purchased a while back when the distributor closed out what is a great vintage of this little wine.

But at first this was a little weird too. Moderately dark in color, instead of the regal Brunello-like perfume I remember, this one showed slightly raisined, volatile aromas that made me make a little face. Maddening!

Ah, with time this wine unwound and was its normal, delicious self. Dark cherry and berry aromas, with classic almond, balsamic, and earth aromas. Then full flavored, lightly tannic and brightly acidic with dark, brooding flavors for a basic Chianti. This one needs more time to relax, but it's really good for its level. In the end, just perfect with the pasta, it just took a while.

And yes, I should have just started there. That's maddening too.

December 13, 2008

My first Dard et Ribo

Last night, I had the chance to taste my first wine from Dard et Ribo, the pair of au naturel winemakers in the northern Rhone that wine geeks froth over. Little or no sulfur dioxide is used in the cellar. The idea, as I understand things, it to maintain wine purity without manipulation.

I wasn't so impressed.

The wine, the 2006 Dard et Ribo Crozes Hermitage rouge, smelled great. Lots of violets, gravel, and blackberry aromas. And the flavors were nice too, with fresh acidity and sweet fruit balanced by a pleasantly floral bitter character.

Then came the finish. Gone were the the wine flavors, replaced by a building medical bitterness that left the most awful aftertaste in my mouth. I first thought there was a bacterial issue in the wine. But then someone tried it and said, "brett."

Don't get me wrong. I'm not into squeaky clean, antiseptic wines that have no character or personality, not to say I'm into dirty wines. Let's just say I don't look at bleu cheese and shudder -- the mold, it takes away from the purity of the cow!

I just don't enjoy an otherwise delicious wine that leaves me with an awful, bitter taste in my mouth. To be sure, plenty of other people seemed to love the wine. And with food (I was tasting this in a wine shop), that aftertaste would likely be mitigated by other aromas and flavors. I just can't say this was really good stuff. I will say... a little SO2 (or a little more) would have helped, in my humble opinion.

We opened another bottle to see about variation. Low or no sulfur wines can vary from bottle to bottle, as you might imagine. Sure enough, the freshly opened bottle was much more pleasant compared to the first one that was decanted for an hour or more. The bitter finish was replaced by a reductive, stinky note in the aroma that blew off quickly. I'm left wondering though if this that second bottle wouldn't bloom like the first one after being open for a while.

I'd like to try some more from this producer. I've enjoyed the low or no sulfur wines from Marcel Lapierre for years. Same with Catherine and Pierre Breton's Nuits d'Ivresse. I'll have to see if other Dard et Ribo live up to the praise I've heard and read.

December 12, 2008


So I was all set to write more about this fabulous Champagne I tried and purchased tonight. But when I just went to Alice Feiring's blog to look for more information about it, I found this post.


Over on Wine Disorder there's more. I guess I don't check in often enough. "Captain Tumor Man" even has his own blog. As Alice writes, it's definitely for the irony dependent.

I won't offer the platitudes Joe wisely eschews. But someone very close to me is dealing with something similar, just a little lower down the body. And it makes me sick thinking about it, mostly because until recently I've lived in a big bubble about such things. The banality of cancer is hardest to fathom, not suffering from it myself.

Over time, I've sincerely taken some comfort looking at a grape vine with leaf roll or some other disease, or late season corn stalks that become spotted. Perhaps the commonplace nature of disease makes it easier to take, on reflection at least. Wonder how I'll feel when it's my turn.

Anyhow, more on that great Champagne later. Now it's time for the harder stuff.

December 09, 2008

Three dot wine...

I drove over to Michael Alberty's Storyteller Wine Company early this afternoon and heard a great story about David Lett's memorial this past Sunday at the McMinnville Community Center. You can read more at the Storyteller web site, when Michael has a moment to post the latest email newsletter in the archive... What is he, busy selling wine and packing UPS shipments?...

For now, this. Event attendees included just about anyone who's anyone in Oregon wine. As it should be. Lett started it all. Michael quipped that if a bomb had gone off, that'd be the end of the Oregon wine industry as we know it... Happily things went off without a hitch, though there was a Neil Goldschmidt sighting...

So everyone filed into the auditorium and got a pour of 2005 Eyrie Vineyard Pinot Gris Reserve, a special bottling from vines in the original Eyrie vineyard planting. David's son Jason's request? That everyone yell "cheers" as loud as possible so his dad would hear them, in whatever vineyard he's tending these days... Apparently the rafters shook and I'm guessing the message got through...

But the best part it seems to me is that everyone in attendance got a cutting of a pinot noir vine from the original Eyrie south block. With instructions on how to plant it... Talk about a living tribute to a legend...

The Storyteller email with full details on the event went out today. I suggest you get on the list, even if you're on wine probation and can only read... Though it won't take too long before you break down and buy something. Perhaps the 2006 Eyrie Vineyard Pinot Meunier, which is the current offer and something I tried last Friday at the shop. Damn nice wine... A 2006 Oregon red with good natural acidity. That alone should make you buy... but it's really gorgeous stuff...

Meanwhile, I've been pleasantly surprised at the reception for my 2006 Vincent Pinot Noir from the Wahle Vineyard. We had the garage tasting last month, where I opened my home winemaking space for all to see, and offered free tastes of my 2006 wine from bottle and 2007 wine from barrel. Things went remarkably well...

Now the wine is getting out to friends and family, and beyond thanks to some kind souls who are connecting me to interested parties down south and even up in Alaska. One SoCal taster served the wine at Thanksgiving among some other stars of local wine and, in comments that were relayed to me, my wine was a favorite... Can't complain with that, though maybe they'd been drinking...

On the home front, I've been dutifully tasting wines. A stray bottle of 2005 Domaine de la Terre Rouge Tete a Tete, a Rhone blend from the Sierra Foothills of California, was a let down. Yes, this is inexpensive wine. But something's happened here... Years ago, this wine was translucent in color, fresh and peppery. Now it's dark, confected smelling and harshly extracted on the palate... I know better than to judge a producer on its cheapest label. Then again, this is produced in the cellar, not purchased wine. You might think it should show the positive attributes of the producer, even in a scaled-down way. This wine doesn't...

Better in that mold is the NV Broadbent Reserve Porto "Auction Reserve, Lot 1." The clumsy name aside, this is terrific basic Port, in the category that used to be called "vintage character" but is now "reserve"... That's geek code for wine bottled young like a vintage port, but intended for drinking young while its fresh and purple. As I think is true of all Broadbent Ports, this is produced by the respected house Niepoort, but it shows all the attributes of authentic vintage-style Porto at a low price. Berries, lightly sweetened chocolate, tobacco and spice, with moderate sweetness and good length... This is "cheap" wine from a good producer that's true to its roots...

December 06, 2008

Drinking California Chardonnay

Tonight, I finally got around to drinking a bottle of 2005 HdV "de la Guerra" Chardonnay I purchased at the beginning of the year. This is the second label of Hyde de Villaine, the project of Hyde vineyard in the Carneros appellation of California and Aubert de Villaine in Burgundy. It usually goes for $30-35 but I found it on close out at a local Grocery Outlet for $13. Not a bad buy.

I would have tried it sooner but, as good as it looked on the shelf, I found myself a little scared to drink California chardonnay once it was in my cellar. Will it be an oaky mess, with no acidity and a flat flavor that tires the palate? Tonight, with baby lentils, roasted red pepper, and feta as a main dish, I thought it might be a nice match and went for it.

At first, it smelled like...well, California chardonnay. It seemed ripe and toasty and a little generic. But with time and the scents of cooking food in the kitchen, and later on the dinner table, the wine really came alive. There was Lovely pear fruit and toast on the aroma, then a round texture and pear, toast and saline flavors with nice length. There's acidity but not exactly what you might find in a French example. Still, it matched the lentils very nicely.

I'd recommend this highly if it was still available locally, and the price was still so low. Of course, that deal is long gone. But the next time someone -- possibly me -- tells you California chard is awful stuff, tell him or her to try this. I'm impressed.

December 03, 2008

Reading Feiring

I'm never too up on things here. Nevertheless, I just got through reading Alice Feiring's sort of recently published book, The Battle for Wine and Love. It's a damn good book, well worth reading even if you hear strong opinions to the contrary elsewhere. I took it on my recent Thanksgiving trip and it did what great wine writing does -- it made me thirsty. I also envied her writing ability. All the more reason for a drink.

People seem to have lots of opinions about Feiring. So much fuss for so petite a person. Her pen is razor sharp though, and that's part of the fun. Yet some people don't get the passion behind her writing. And some people can't help but take her words too personally. Easy for me to say, I'm obviously not mentioned. Maybe next time Alice? Actually, never mind. I'm good.

The book's subtitle is OR How I Saved the World from Parkerization, and it's essentially about Feiring's struggle to find the authentic wines she adores in a world she sees ruined by Parkerization. If you don't understand that, read the book to learn more. Suffice it to say that Parker's not a fan, and not only is she banned from participating on his onling wine discussion group, her last name will not even appear on the site. Write the words "Alice Feiring" in a post on the board and all you get is Alice.

Which is a fine name, nothing to be "saddled with" in my opinion, to use the author's phrase from the book. Would she prefer Tiffany or Jasmine?

But how weird is that? Her name is essentially against the law there. What would Woody Guthrie say about that?

Where this book really succeeds for me is the writing and the narrative. Feiring's writing is like the red wine she loves. Authentic to the source, translucent, fragrant, pure, acid at times but balanced and long, not in pages but thoughts and ideas. This book made me question assumptions I have about wine and winemaking, and even though I'm not in agreement with Feiring all the time, that's not the point. She writes it herself. She's looking for wines that have something to say. This book has that. You don't have to agree to get that.

The narrative is another high point. Again, like her favorite wines, it's all about texture, what I might compare to high thread count bed sheets. You can just feel the fabric, and you want to climb in and bury yourself. The story arcs and characters are wound and unwound brilliantly. The voice so clear. There's terrific irony and self-deprecation throughout the book, which some readers and reviewers seem to have missed. The book is tremendously funny. I actually laughed out loud repeatedly, no kidding.

To me though, if the book has a flaw, it's that all this wonderful writing leads us to a phone call with Parker. It's just not so interesting to me, maybe because I know the story well. And I wonder how interested non-wine geeks are by this point in the book. Of course, I read books about all sorts of things I couldn't really care less about (the race to the spice islands in Nathanial's Nutmeg, anyone?), but really good writing carries us far beyond our lack of past or future interest in the specifics. The Nutmeg was a delight.

Maybe I just don't have the gripe Feiring does with Parker, the weird name deletion thing aside. Even she shows mixed emotions about who he is as a person, referring to him as "a warm, personable man" on their first meeting. She later compares his to Moses (!), "wiser than other men." Her essential hope is that he be held to "a higher standard," to "embrace his power and use it for the good of the wine world." This is great stuff, true and funny and honest at once. Parker's not so bad. It's his influence. He might do something about it, but obviously he sees things differently.

Yes, the wine world has changed in the past twenty years. Yes, it's wise to, as Feiring suggests, "look to the grandfathers" if you want a taste of something authentic. Then again, thanks to people like "Big Joe" from the book, I have access to wines I never had even ten years ago. Things are complex. The world is closing and opening at once. You'll find yourself doing the same with this book.

November 27, 2008

Flip flops Thanksgiving

Hello from the sunny, warm Texas hill country outside of Austin. Thanksgiving is here and I'm clad in a tee shirt, shorts, and flip flops. Eat your hearts out, fellow Oregonians.

With this kind of weather, traditional Thanksgiving wine matches sort of go out the window. So too with the local wine selection. After my moment in the radio spotlight telling people what they should and should not be drinking with turkey and all the trimmings, here I am with a Shiner Bock and a view that goes for miles.

There is some wine on the menu today. We have some Gruet sparkling wine from New Mexico, about as close as I'm getting to local wine. Gruet's good stuff, but most people know that by now. We'll try both the NV Brut and the Blanc de Noirs.

Later it's on to the 2005 Durand Syrah from southern France, something I found at a local shop for a decent price. How did this lone Weygandt-Metzler selection find its way into a place otherwise full of the usual domestic suspects and fabricated imported labels? This not to heavy syrah should be delicious with the dark meat, stuffing, and sweet potatoes.

For dessert, we have a gang of people bringing perhaps 10 pies, so dessert wine might be gilding the lilly, as my mom likes to say. Perhaps a sweet sherry will make an appearance. We'll see.

It's not a wine centric crowd here and, again, the weather's more summer in my book than late fall. Sometimes you just have to go with with flow and act like we're at the beach in August. A Texas beach perhaps. More Shiner Bock please.

November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Wine

It was a nice surprise last week to get a call from Anna King of NW Public Radio. Andy Perdue at Wine Press NW magazine suggested she give me a call to get some further input on a story she was putting together on wines for Thanksgiving. Read her report here or listen here.

Happily, I completely agree with Andy's suggestions as well as those of Seattle Times wine writer Paul Gregrutt. Sparkling wine is a must. It's versatile at the table and is fit for the celebration that Thanksgiving is. And this holiday isn't the time to pull out the big cellar guns or old treasures. There's usually too much happening on and around the table to focus on the most special wines.

Instead, do what I suggest, try pinot noir or gamay noir (or Beaujolais, preferrably cru bottlings from Morgon, Moulin a Vent, Fleurie, and the like). Or try a good zinfandel, America's wine for this American holiday.

If you want white wine, don't overlook riesling. I mentioned it in the phone call with Anna King, but there's only so much that gets on air. Of course there's Germany and Alsace, even Australia and New Zealand. Lots of interesting riesling out there.

However, the Pacific Northwest does a nice job with riesling. Look for producers like Chehalem, Holleran, J. Christopher, Elk Cove, and Brooks. And if you're local, check out Matt Berson's 2007 "Love and Squalor"Riesling from the Eola Hills vineyard is excellent, just off-dry riesling that will work really well with the diverse flavors on the Thanksgiving table. Matt didn't make much, but it's worth trying to find if you can.

The bottom line -- drink something interesting. Not the same old thing. Not the bottle you've been hoarding for years. But something that you think you'll like. Ultimately, that's the best wine / food match out there. Good food and good wine, with good people. You can't go wrong.

November 19, 2008

Terrific Valpolicella

I'll be the first to admit I've had mixed experiences with the red wine of Tedeschi, from the Valipolicella region of Italy. Some of the wines are really nice, others seem just a little flat, if not spritzy with bad funky aromas and flavors. There is good funk in red wine. That's not what I'm talking about.

But the 2004 Tedeschi Valipolicella Capitel dei Nicalo is a terrific wine for $15 or even less a bottle. This is really a junior amarone, not a "ripasso" wine where the pressings from amarone wine production are added back or "repassed" to regular Valipolicella wine to beef it up. No, in this case the grapes for the Capitel dei Nicalo, mostly the corvina variety typical of this region, are dried for a month before being crushed and fermented into wine. Grapes for Amarone are dried for several months, and make a powerful, concentrated table wine. Here, the short drying gives a real taste of that wine style, for much less money and without quite the heady drinking experience.

When I opened the Capitel dei Nicalo last night, I thought it might be a little bretty. Meaning, affected by certain yeast that give a horse blanket smell and taste to the wine, or something similar to the pungent, even bitter aroma of band aids. A little can add nice complexity to wine. A lot can make wine undrinkable. But with time, and now a night later, this wine shows less and less of that. Instead, there are pure spicy red cherry, almond, floral, concentrated aromas with a round, full flavor. There's some tannin and bright acidity, but the richness of the wine is perfectly balanced, the flavor long and savory.

This 2004 may not be the current release, and given my experience with this producer, I will try the 2005 with some reservation. But reading other reviews of this online after a quick Google search, it sounds like this one is usually a winner in the Tedeschi portfolio. So whichever vintage you might come across, give it a try.

November 18, 2008

Vincent Pinot Noir Garage Tasting

VF Wines here in Portland is off and running. My garage tasting the other day was a terrific success. Dozens of people came by to try a barrel sample of my 2007 Vincent Pinot Noir from the McMinnville AVA as well as my 2006 Vincent Pinot Noir from the Wahle Vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton District from bottle.

Thanks to everyone who came. Friends, neighbors, blog readers, coworkers…even some old friends from Seattle drove down with their kids just for the event. I did my best to be the humble winemaker, but I was thrilled, even down to the very positive reception for the label design.

It’s hard to write notes about one’s own wine, but I’ll try. The yet to be bottled 2007 is clean and lean, fitting the vintage, with some tart cherry fruit and Pommard clone earth tones. I was happy to see some people really enjoy this wine, though I wasn’t surprised to see others prefer the richer, riper 2006. That wine was a hit, as I expected, with plush ripe pinot fruit and pretty good balance. This isn’t a wine to age for years and years, but I’m pretty glad to have it as my first big effort. It’s easy to like.

I brought out some other wines for people to try, to fill out the line up and help take the focus off my little project. Those wines were:

NV Ferrari Brut from Italy was again lovely sparkling wine, a Champagne lookalike with nice yeasty apple fruit and good finesse. Highly recommended for a fair price.

2006 Elk Cove Riesling Willamette Valley was soft, simple Riesling but perfectly delicious. Lots of peachy fruit with moderate sweetness and some diesel character. The 2005 was better but this is fine.

2002 Orlando Riesling Steingarten Barossa Valley was a disappointment. What happened here. I loved this a few months ago. Now, especially next to the pure Riesling of Elk Cove, this is obviously oak aged (oaky Riesling!!! Why??) with an odd butter streak and a slight sourness. Maybe this was an off bottle, but the oak is troubling. Who knows where this wine is going.

2002 Boillot Montagny 1er Cru was really nice, maturing white Burgundy from the Côte Chalonnaise. Pretty baked apple chardonnay, lovely finesse, this is a terrific value in nice white Burg.

2006 Evesham Wood Pinot Noir Eola Amity was a bit oaky, but just as nice as I remember. Red fruits on the aroma, with good weight but nothing overdone. This is the ripe 2006 vintage after all.

1999 Burle Gigondas was one of the most bretty wines I’ve ever had. Funky on the aroma, a bit more so in the mouth and then on the finish, simply unbearable. DNPIM. That’s do not put in mouth. Not good.

2004 Elemental Cellars Syrah Deux Vert Willamette Valley was a revelation. Syrah from the Willamette Valley? Rare, yes, but I’m seeing more and more of it from this offshoot of Witness Tree as well as Cristom and Biggio Hamina, among others. After trying this wine, I’m excited. Lots of olive, pepper, and blackberry aromas with nice balance, a round but not fat texture and good length. One taster compared it to the Durand syrah from France’s Languedoc region, which is a good comparison. This is more weighty, but truly authentic syrah with some potential in the bottle. I have one more that I’ll hold a while.

Finally, I opened a magnum of 2007 Anchor Brewing Christmas Beer that I’ve had for a while. I’ve enjoyed this beer in the past, but didn’t cozy up to last year’s model on release. Now it’s maturing and in a really nice place. Sweet malt, integrated spice, a hint of sherry that I really liked. People drank this up.

All in all, a nice afternoon in the garage. We’ll have to do it again next year.

November 01, 2008

2006 Vincent Pinot Noir is ready

It's true. My first real wine is ready for release. Interested in tasting it?

Elevage readers who find themselves in the Portland, OR, area on the afternoon of November 16, come by my garage to taste my 2006 Pinot Noir from the Wahle Vineyard outside of Yamhill. I'll even have a barrel sample of the 2007 to try, as well as a few other wines for comparison. No charge, just make sure to email me at vincentfritzsche (at) yahoo dot com and I'll fill you in on the time and address. It's a drop in thing. Feel free to bring a bottle of something you like. It's going to be low key like that.

Here's the label up close and personal:

Yes, it's called Vincent. I was telling someone about it recently and she said, "that's it?" Well, yes. That's my name. She seemed to think it might be a little vain, but it was also my uncle's and grandfather's name. And it happens to be the name of the patron saint of winemakers., it seems to fit.

She seemed satisfied, but I'm interested to see what others think.

So are you going to make it? Let me know.

October 31, 2008

More winemaking, and some wine drinking

My bins of Oregon pinot noir are still fermenting in the garage, and smelling great. I love how pinot ferments smell as they get near the end. The sweet fruit smells are replaced by winey, spicy smells that can touch on roasted coffee at the very end. The viscous sweet juice is now mostly dry, with a thinner consistency that splashes with more rapidly. The foam created by fermentation has gone from purple to a whitish pink color, the bubbles much less persistent. So much of the winemaking process is apparent to the discriminate eye and nose, rather than the vulgar mouth.

Punchdowns become more gentle, still twice a day but soon just once a day to wet the weakening cap of grape skins, still pushed up by carbon dioxide but with much less authority than a few days ago. The goal now is to get savory character into the wine, augmenting rather than simply replacing the fresh fruit character. Taste the new wine daily and let it go as long as no bitterness or excessive tannin shows up. Press when the skins have nothing more to offer the wine. Based on how things are going, I'll be pressing early next week as I originally imagined.

Meanwhile, things are just past peak at the winery where I"m working. The fruit's all been in for more than a week, which is always a great milestone to reach. But the work at that point's just begun. Everything this past week has been at one stage of fermentation or another, meaning twice daily punchdowns for just about everything, more than 40 tons of grapes. And heating and cooling fermentations, pump overs to cool bins that get too hot or aerate things that stink a bit. We taste all the fermenters each day. Now we're getting into draining and pressing, meaning work setting up and cleaning the press, but earning the dividend of fewer fermentations to deal with. We need to prep barrels, fill them with wine, then clean out empty fermenters. There's so much to do, but in about a week from now things should be close to the end, and the few ferments that remain won't take nearly as much time to guide as 30 or more at once do.

Of course, we try our best to drink some wine during harvest as well. The other morning a nice guy brought a bottle of 2005 Domaine Dominique Mugneret Nuits St. Georges "Les Fleurieres" for a late breakfast. I was handed a glass blind between punchdowns and from the smell thought it might be from Oregon. Black fruit, toasty oak, not giving up much nuance. In the mouth it was another story. Brightly acidic, a bit too wood dominated but showing nice rich pinot fruit. Withe time, a beautiful floral aroma developed. Still, this needs time if it's going to integrate the wood.

The other night, a few people gathered at Bar Avignon in SE Portland to have a few bottles and eat some dinner. What a great place, and we had some nice wines as well. First, the 2005 Sine Qua Non "The Petition" white wine, a mix of chardonnay, roussane, and viognier from California. Lots of roussane on the nose, with waxy notes and well integrated oak. I expected this to be extremely oaky, but it seems nicely balanced in that regard. In the mouth, this was huge, with all 15.8% of its alcohol, a baked apple flavor of chardonnay and what I now understand as a pleasant bitterness that must be from the viognier. Long, long finish, probably too much alcohol and just a bit over the top, still this was really interesting to drink. Thanks Michael Alberty, who was right to wish that we had some lobster to eat with it.

I brought something completely different, the 1995 Domaine Trevallon from the Provence region of southern France. I hoped it would show some bottle sweetness from 13 years of age, but it was really youthful and frankly not all that generous. Yet, I hope. Lots of earthy, gravel and cassis and blackberry aromas, with a stern flavor that needs more time. I liked it, but didn't love it.

Instead, I was fascinated by another of Micheal's contributions, a 100% merlot from Italy whose name escapes me. Not knowing anything about it, I guessed cabernet franc, as it showed a pleasant gravel, cassis, and herb character not unlike some Loire wines, just with a bit more body and oomph. Technical term, that. Anybody, help with the name here. Darmiljan?

Then a few California reds, such at the 2003 Shafer Relentless, a syrah and petite syrah blend that's just too oaky for my tastes. Also, a 2004 Burrell School Pinot Noir from the Santa Cruz Mountains that was called a pinot for cab lovers. Nothing subtle here, I didn't love it but it's a good enough drink. And a grenache blend from Terry Hoague that simply showed too much alcohol for me to cozy up to. Impressive wine to taste, but not for drinking in my humble opinion. I'm always in the minority on these wines it seems, so call it more my flawed palate than any indicator of quality.

The point here -- what a good time sharing wines during harvest, enjoying some simple but delicious food, and generally just hanging out in between lengthy stints working hard in the winery and then guiding my humble home brew to a happy conclusion. One more week and...well, it won't be over, but it will be close.

October 29, 2008

More winemaking at home

Things are continuing well on the home winemaking front. When we last left off, the three bins of pinot noir were still cold soaking in the garage while I had a natural fermentation starter warming up in the house.

I spent a good bit of time warming the garage with a space heater, an aquarium heater in the bins themselves, even my warm car. Anything to get the air temp up and then the must temp to get the conditions right for fermentation.

Once the temperature was in the 60s, I poured part of the starter in the center of each bin and left it to give the natural yeast a boost in reproduction. The next morning there were signs of fermentation but nothing vigorous. There were also some acetone smells, something that drives winemakers crazy, especially those who think natural fermentation is stupid. I smell acetone in varying degrees in lots of ferments, especially at the beginning before any yeast has gotten established, whether you added it or not.

The idea is that once the ferment warms, the acetone producing yeast will die off and the smell itself will either blow off by fermentation action or be metabolized by the yeast. Not sure, honestly, what it is, but sure enough that smell is long gone now.

After another day, the ferments were really going, producing lots of carbon dioxide that pushes a "cap" of grape skins above the surface of the liquid, just as yeast in bread dough cause it to rise. I punch down the cap in the morning and at night to moderate temperature in the bins, and especially to get the skins in contact with the liquid so that the aromas and flavors continue to get into the new wine.

Here's a picture of the bins with high caps. Notice that the grapes are a few inches higher than they were during the cold soaks.

Here's a close up of one bin to get a better look. As the ferment continues, the color of the grapes turn from the dark purple / blue we saw before to something much more ruby like.

Over the last two days, the fermentations have hit a peak of up to 92F in the cap, mid to upper 80s below. Things are now down to the low 80s in the cap, upper 70s below. We're down to around 7 brix, so there's still lots of sugar to go before the new wines are dry. My goal, after pushing the temperature a bit given my small fermentation vessels, is to let things ride easy from here on out to give the wine as much time on the skins as possible. We'll see how long things can go.

October 26, 2008

Winemaking 2008

On Saturday, October 18, I got half a ton of really nice pinot noir grapes from a highly regarded local vineyard. After processing the fruit -- destemming and lightly crushing some of the berries, and adding sulfur dioxide -- the grape must has been soaking in my cold garage before fermentation starts.

First, I have the must in three Rubbermaid bins beehived to create as much of a thermal mass as possible, and still allow me to move the bins around a bit without a forklift.

The cold soak allows the grape skins to give their color and flavors to the juice early in the winemaking process. The goal is to extract as much as possible before alcohol is present, because alcohol is a solvent that will pull astringent qualities out of the seeds, skins, and any stem parts in the bins. That's going to happen to some degree, as sugar becomes alcohol during fermentation. The idea is to have any of that happen at the end of the process, rather than crushing the grapes, fermenting the juice to wine, then letting everything sit for days and days until the wine has everything from the grapes that you want. So far, there's lots of color in the juice.

After several days of this cold maceration, I took some juice and gapes from each bin into a tub and brought it into the house to make a fermentation starter. Rather than adding yeast, I warmed the starter and allowed fermentation to happen spontaneously. Already it's beginning to bubble with the temperature close to 70F.

Once I get the bins up to around 65F, I'll add this starter in part to each bin to prime the fermentation. Heating the bins means heating the garage with a space heater, rotating an aquarium heater through each bin, even parking a warm car in the garage to keep the air temp up. If I get any funky smells, such as ethyl acetate that smells like nail polish remover, I'll entertain using dried yeast to get fermentation going. So far so good, and in my experience I've never had an issue fermenting without adding yeast.

October 22, 2008

Copyright bullshit

A note from the management of Elevage to all third party content aggregators using content from this site on your site without permission.

Stop it.

That means you, "w-i-n-e-w-o-n-k-s" and any others out there. No, I'm not interested in being part of your ad driven websites. You're not finding me readers. You're generating money for yourselves.

I don't appreciate your taking content without clear attribution. I don't recall ever being asked to participate. I wouldn't agree to it anyway.

So I'm going to have to state the obvious that all content on Elevage is copyrighted by Vincent Fritzsche, any usage or reproduction of content from Elevage is prohibited without express written consent from me, Vincent Fritzsche.

Jesus Christ. Is that really necessary? How pathetic are people?

Ok, back to wine.

October 21, 2008

Home wine, day 4

My half ton of pinot noir is still soaking in the garage, hanging out around 51F. I'd like it a bit lower but then again I'd like it to start fermenting in a day or three. It smells clean and fresh. Tonight is clear and cold again, so I have the doors open to let the cold air in. I'll let it ride. Guidance without much intervention.

Talking with a winemaking friend this evening while doing a few punchdowns, I was reminded about his thoughts after the 2006 vintage, that he might have tried to get a bit more out of the grapes that year than he did. This year is more classically balanced than 2006, with better acidity and not the potential overripeness. Just the conditions to not hold back and soak the must too briefly and ferment too quickly. Instead, why not let things go three weeks if they can, to get the most out of the grapes, with better depth and complexity in the finished wine.

So I'm not going to push the start of fermentation too much. And I'll see how long I can go before pressing. Election Day is in two weeks. I thought maybe that's when pressing might happen, 17 days after harvest, though that was a rough plan, nothing exact. But why not see if we can hold on? I think the more winey wines are made from longer vatting. Early pressing preserves the fresh fruit, and while I don't want to lose all the freshness, I want wine that smells and tastes winey, not just fruity. As long as things don't show any bitterness or hard tannin, I'm on board to let things go as long as I can.

That's where things stand tonight. Meanwhile, those with fruit still hanging are looking at terrific final ripening. My favorite forecaster has tw0 70F days in the 7-day forecast, with some mid to upper 60s as well. Crazy nice weather for this time of year. It's late October after all. Lots of people have great grapes in the cellar already. Some people are going to bring in incredible stuff, provided rot hasn't set in too much. This is a nice year for Oregon pinot noir, very nice.

October 20, 2008

Winemaking at home

As I mentioned before, I got a half ton of nice pinot noir grapes two days ago, on Saturday. I destemmed and lightly crushed them at a local facility, adding a moderate dose of sulfur dioxide (SO2) to protect the juice during a few days of "cold soak" before starting fermentation.

I brought the crushed grapes, or must, home Saturday evening in three Rubbermaid Brute bins that are now in my garage. The fruit was cold, but Sunday morning I went to the grocery store and bought several pounds of dry ice at the fish counter to add to the bins to keep things chilled. I'm also keeping the garage door open before I go to bed to let the cool night air in.

Cold soaking is the process of macerating the newly crushed grapes to gently allow the color, flavors, and aromas locked in the red grape skins to soak into the wine. Think of it as you would marinating a steak. Each day the juice gets darker and more vibrant red / purple. After maybe four or five days, I'll warm the must to encourage fermenation to begin naturally.

What I'm looking for now are sweet fruit smells, rather than nail polish or vinegar smells that can reduce wine quality. That's VA, which I wrote about last time. I gently stir the bins once a day during the cold soak, and if I smell anything bad, I might spritz the surface of the must with SO2. Anything bad that persists and I'll kick off fermentation right then, as the early signs of VA are often due to cold tolerate yeast and bacteria that quickly get taken over by a vigorous fermentation. The volatile smells even get metabolized, or at least have a chance to blow off as the fermentation produces so much CO2.

Temperatures in the bins are all 49F, actually a little high. I think I'd rather see something closer to 40F to reduce any chance of VA issues right now. In the 50-65F range, bad things can grow quickly so to "kick off" fermentation, I'll look to warm the must to 65F where good yeasts can quickly grow and dominate things.

In order to do the natural fermentation, I think I'll begin to make a starter tomorrow night, much as you would with naturally fermentated bread dough. I'll take a small amount of must in a pail and bring it inside the house to allow it to get going. Once it's going nicely, I'll use it to innoculate the bins to jump start them into fermenation. It's also a nice chance to see if I might have issues with the natural yeast on these grapes, as I haven't worked with this site before (though I know at least one winery that's made wine naturally from here for years, and done very well).

Finally, the numbers. My simple hydrometer reading shows 23 brix, or 23% sugar, in the must. That's just about ideal for elegant pinot noir, provided the flavors are ripe, and they are. That will translate into an alcohol level in the low to mid 13% range, depending on the conversion of sugar into alcohol during fermentation. Someone else with some of these grapes did more specific analysis on this block of the vineyard. The results showed 23.1 brix and 3.27ph, the latter also about perfect for my goal of acid strength being around 3.3, again assuming the good flavors are there.

All told, I'm still really excited about my wine for this year. I'll write more as I finish the cold soak, go through fermenation, and eventually press the wine. If things go well, that might happen on Election Day, which is already something I'm anticipating highly.

October 19, 2008


VA stands for volatile acidity, a malady in most table wines. Acetic acid is the most common volatile acid in wine. Know the smell of vinegar? That's acetic acid.

VA in pinot noir is particularly egregious, because great pinot noir is all about purity and elegant perfume. Some wines can benefit from a little VA, in particular Rhone wines. The volatility can enhance or "lift" a wine's aroma. But in pinot noir, I hate it.

The other day I noticed a 2004 Pinot Noir from a local producer in a discount store. Sometimes this store has incredible buys, and though I've never had any wines from this particular producer, I'd read some good things on the internet from a source I trust.

Beware what you read on the internet.

This wine is so riddled with VA that I simply can't, or at least won't, drink it. The only redeeming quality here is the reminder to carefully monitor my upcoming fermentation, maintain a high level of cleanliness, and be smart about sulfur dioxide. SO2 is essential to prevent VA. I'm not sure what happened with this wine, but I'm going to work hard to keep it from happening to mine.

October 18, 2008



After a long search and a late harvest, I got my half ton of Willamette Valley pinot noir grapes. Again this year, I can't talk about where they're from. But the quality is top drawer, grapes fit for a commercial winery, exactly what I was looking for.

Most home winemakers put up with u-pick vineyards that generally aren't farmed attentively. You can make good wine if you're picky about the source, but in my experience you more likely will end up with junky grapes that turn into junky wine that perpetuates the assumption that homemade wine isn't very good.

I learned quickly that you need the best grapes you can find, and that sourcing those grapes is paramount. With some hard work and some luck, I have some nice fruit in my garage and I'm really happy about it. Really happy.

I'll get into more specifics as we go. I'm looking at soaking the grapes for a few days, meaning I'll keep the crushed grapes and juice as cool as possible to allow color, flavor, and aroma to soak into the juice from the grape skins before fermenting the juice into wine. If all goes well, fermentation will start later next week and I'll press off the new wine in about 18 days or so. If you're interested, stay tuned.

Willamette Valley harvest

The pinot noir harvest is in full swing here in the Willamette Valley. Things are looking terrific.

After a cold spring and relatively cool summer, the quality of this year's grape crop came down to October weather. The month began with some rain and below average temperatures. The past two weeks turned mostly dry and often sunny, cooler than average but with some nice sunlit afternoons that have helped push grapes to ripeness.

I've been helping out at local wineries for the past few years. In 2005, all the grapes were in by October 12 where I was working. In 2006, only some late harvest whites came in later than mid-October. Last year, everything was in by October 14.

In 2008, grapes didn't start coming in for the most part before this past week, and that's true for most pinot noir makers all over the area. It's not often that we have a mid-October and later harvest. This weekend is probably the peak of harvest, with rain slated for Monday. Some vineyards will hang on though, needing some more days to really get ripe.

So far the fruit I've seen looks great. Nice flavors, moderate and slightly higher sugars, with bright acids that make the fruit taste a bit more tart than the sugars indicate. That's ideal stuff for great pinot noir. Plenty of ripeness, but not too much, with good acidity to give freshness and length to the wines.

For my homemade wine, things are also looking great. My grape source backed out on my last weekend suddenly. Happily, I've found another source that's more attractive and, best yet, I'm getting the fruit today. I'm ready to make some of my own wine.

October 11, 2008

2005 Daedalus Pinot Noir Willamette Valley

I simply don't have any Eyrie Vineyard wine that's ready to open. Daivd Lett made wines that demand time. I hear he was pretty demanding, too.

Instead, I picked the 2005 Daedalus Pinot Noir Willamette Valley for dinner tonight. We needed something fragrant and delicious and this fit the bill.

On its own, this garnet colored wine smelled of cherries and leafy herbs, with a bit of leather suede. With some broiled tri-tip and brown rice, the fruit came forward along with an earthy nuance that suggests the Pommard clone of pinot noir.

In the mouth, this wine is lean and acidic, and yet round and plush with a vegetal element that's again more attractive with food. There's a clear soil note, with a Pommard-like ashy quality that lingers with juicy acidity.

This is beautiful Oregon pinot noir. Not so fruit centered and gushing, perhaps more challenging and complex, truly better with dinner and very good at that. The grapes here come from some of the best vineyards in Oregon, including Seven Springs and Maresh. The quality of those sites show here.

And I'd bet a few bucks this is all or mostly Pommard. Anyone know?

October 10, 2008

David Lett dies at 69

The father of Oregon pinot noir, David Lett of the Eyrie vineyard, died Thursday night at home in Dundee. Read more here.

If you enjoy Oregon pinot noir, or Oregon wine for that matter, you owe this man some thanks and serious respect. If you work in the Oregon wine business, or if you aspire to as I do, you might even owe him your livelihood.

Richard Sommer started the HillCrest vineyard down in the Umpqua Valley back in 1961, apparently the first real planting post-prohibition. But David Lett and his wife Diana planted the Eyrie Vineyard in the Dundee Hills of Yamhill County in 1966. Their planting started the modern Willamette Valley wine industry. Without them, with David leading the way, things just wouldn't be as they are. Hundreds of wineries and thousands of acres of grapes, led by the pinot noir.

I never met David but saw him a couple of times, the last time at a restaurant in McMinnville just before the 2007 harvest began. He was on oxygen and looked frail. That, his family around him, and my rightful modesty kept me from interrupting to gush about how I owe him for even being able to dream about making wine here in Oregon.

But a part of me wishes I could have somehow communicated that without being a bother. It can't ever get old hearing praise, can it? Maybe so if you're trying to eat your lunch in peace.

So this will have to do. Thank you David Lett, for everything. I spent much of today tasting fruit in a number of local vineyards, planning for the impending harvest. What a joy.

This afternoon I found myself on a hillside outside of Yamhill in weak but still warm sunshine. I saw vineyards draped across the low hills, the canopies still mostly green, every vine in sight patiently hanging fruit, the valley below colored in soft greens and yellows of early fall. Impatient birds made most of the noise. Otherwise there was silence, just but the faint hum of cities and a truck down the road unloading picking bins.

Harvest is beginning like a swell, 42 years since the Eyrie vineyard went in the ground. The vines continue to give more each year, a metaphor for Mr. Lett, enduring.

October 07, 2008

Harvest in Oregon must be close

Still no grapes harvested where I'm working again this year. My past three years working harvest, we'd be half done or more. This is a late year, and the weather's tenuous. But judging from some hours of fermenter washing, harvest must be close. Right? From what I'm hearing, crushpads here in Oregon have never been cleaner, what with harvest crews on standby with nothing else to do as they wait for grapes.

Tomorrow some southern Oregon fruit is due in. Should be picked in the morning, on the road all afternoon, arriving at night for a late evening of processing. That'll be only a taste of what's to come, wiht this weekend and beyond packed with picks before the next expected significant rains a week from Thursday. Sure, that's pretty far out for weather forecasting. But this time of year in Oregon, it's a safe bet to say rain's on the way.

So far though things are holding up nicely. Sugars aren't high, acids are, but flavors are coming along. Vineyards have been so healthy that they should continue to stand up to the intermittant rain we're seeing. Sunny weather later this week, even with cool temps, should be nice for drying things out and finishing ripening. Vineyards that aren't ready by mid next week will likely hang through more, perhaps signficant rain. Hold on to your hats.

October 06, 2008

More Dressner wines in Oregon

I'd heard some weeks back that Triage Wines was rumored to be taking on Oregon distribution of all Louis/Dressner Selections. Looks like that was true, and judging by just one listing in the latest Liner & Elsen wine shop newsletter, Oregon wine fans should be pleased.

Triage, a Seattle-based distributor with arguably the best book of French producers in Oregon, was long constrained in the variety of Louis/Dressner selections it could represent locally. In Washington, Triage had everything in the LDM book. But the Oregon operation had to split things with at least one other distributor, the result being that some Dressner wines simply didn't make it to our local market.

Triage is apparently changing that. Take Domaine Filliatreau from the Samur-Champigny region of France's Loire valley. For a few years, I noticed I could find these wines across the border in the otherwise wine desert of Clark County, the southwest Washington region that's part of the Portland metro area and home to The Couv. That's Vancouver, WA, not BC. It's essentially the 909, or maybe the OC before it allegedly became hip. The point is, you don't have to cross the river to try to find these wines. We now have them and others right here in the friendly confines of Portland.

If you're interested, Filliatreau makes terrific and well-priced cabernet franc-based red wines. Now, these wine are available in Oregon. Liner & Elsen has the basic Samur from 2006 Filliatreau's Chateau Fouquet label featured this month for $15. I haven't found time to try this one, but judging by all of my past experiences with this producer, you won't be sorry.

Otherwise, in these value oriented times, check out the Dressner portfolio. I pulled out two not so recent purchases from the "cellar" recently and neither dissapointed. The first I knew well. The second I bought only because of the importer's label. If you see "Louis/Dressner" on the back label and you're curious, buy it.

First, the 2004 Jean Paul Brun "Terres Dorees" Beaujolais Vieilles Vignes. Forget about Beaujolais not aging. It does. But did you know that the Wine Advocate gave 90 points to the latest release of this wine, the 2007? What's next, Parker and his acolytes will praise Valtellina?

This 2004 from Brun is maturing, with a hint of orange on the rim and a gorgeous gamay fragrance of cherries and wet earth. The wine is light bodied but deceptively flavorful, with bottle sweet flavors that are akin to caramelization in cooking, fresh and mature at once, carried by tart, juicy acidity. This might not be sipping wine for most folks, but I love it. With dinner, it's almost great.

Then the 2003 Mouthes le Bihan Vieillefont from the Cotes des Duras of the Lot-et-Garonne region southeast of Bordeaux. The grapes are merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and malbec. The wine is purple ruby in color, with a berry aroma and flavor that's savory and sweet at once. I've seen reports of brett in this wine, and there might be a little activity from that "spoilage yeast" here, evident in its animal or band aid character. But this bottle was delicious, mostly clean with a nice balance of rich fruit and savory herbs, without excess tannin I find in some wines from the hot 2003 vintage. Again, for not a lot of money, this is characterful French wine that I want to drink more of. You should too.

October 01, 2008

Happier topics - Harvest is approaching

My visit to the Wahle vineyard the other day gave me a nice chance to check up on the progress of this year's pinot noir crop here in the northern Willamette Valley.

A couple weeks ago, some of the various clones in this vineyard still weren't fully through veraison, when red grapes actually gain their red/purple/black color. Spring was downright chilly and everything started slow. Summer was a bit cool, so things really never caught up. Just like Portlanders' tomatoes, the grapes have matured late this year.

September started pretty warm and dry. Then we saw some light rain, nothing to be worried about. The past week has been beautiful, with temperatures in the mid 70s to nearly 90 every day. Average this time of year is 70F, so we've been way ahead. Bear in mind that this time of year it's often nice if it's not rainy and 60F. Hence the middle of the road average.

All that warmth means the clusters in the Wahle vineyard at least have softened noticeably, with sugars rising and the grape skins giving up some rich color when pinched in your hand. Still, the flavors aren't quite there and the acids are still pretty tart. Harvest is more than a week away here.

And wouldn't you know it, after today's high clouds and mid 70s temperatures, we now expect rain and wind for a number of days. I've learned from old timers to worry less and let the fruit hang until it's ready, especially in years like this when disease pressure has been markedly low and the grape vines are still looking green and strong. Once the leaves start yellowing, even sunshine won't help too much if the leaves aren't working properly. So I'm taking advantage of the wisdom around me, the hope of more sun and dry weather next week, and the fact that I'm not making wine commercially yet. What do I have to lose?

Driving around Yamhill county, I've yet to see anyone picking. I've heard of some lower elevation sites already coming in, but pretty much everyone's going to ride out whatever mother nature has in store. After last year and 2005, when we saw some good rains yet made some tasty wines, I'm excited to see what happens.

Oregon LNG pipeline and the Wahle vineyard

Things are tense out in certain parts of Yamhill county. Drive around and you'll see plenty of "No LNG" signs. They refer to the proposed Liquefied Natural Gas pipeline slated to run from a provisionally approved LNG terminal on the Columbia river south through some key vineyard land in the heart of Oregon wine country.

Many vineyards could be impacted, depending on the route or routes chosen for the pipeline. One path would go right through Ken Wright's vineyard to be planted imminently on Withycombe Road. Another route focused on the Blackburn Road area would take out Stag Hollow's best south slope, and much of the historic Wahle vineyard. If you're interested in the land around places like Yamhill and Carlton, check out this pipeline map.

Yes, I've bought grapes from Wahle and hope to again in the future. Perhaps I have a conflict of interest here. I want to buy grapes from Wahle. So I'm sympathetic, right? But think about it. How can I buy if the majority of this vineyard might be torn out -- including the prime 35 year old Pommard block?

I don't want to see this vineyard ruined to accommodate an unnecessary conduit for natural gas from Russia, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Iran, brought around the world to heat US homes when we apparently have some of the largest sources of natural gas on the planet. I'm a gloabally focused guy. I have no personal issues with individuals in those countries. But I sure as hell don't want their governments benefiting from us tearing out some of our most prized agricultural assets here at home. Let's not even get started about alternative energy.

You see, once the pipeline goes in, there's no planting vines on top of it. Building the pipeline would apparently require a construction zone at least 45 feet wide, with some plans showing the line traversing land diagonally. That greatly increases the impact of construction, and according to Betty Wahle, there's no planting on top of the pipeline once it's in. She's facing the loss of a major portion of her vineyard, its past and future. There are many more in the area facing the same fate.

The other day, I went out to the vineyard to be there among a small group meeting Yamhill county commissioners and local press touring impacted sites and hearing from people concerned about the looming impact of the LNG project. The case was made, and the commissioners now have an opportunity to interrupt the project, as all county boards apparently have. It seems the final say will come from the governor, Ted Kulongoski. So if you're inclined, bug him about it.

And in the interest of fair and balanced reporting (someone's got to do it), read about Oregon Pipeline here. Notice they never mention where the gas comes from. And read No LNG Oregon First here. Sure, they're excited. But shouldn't they be?

September 29, 2008

Another vineyard visit

Recently I had the chance to visit an out of the way vineyard I had previously never heard of. It’s on the west slope of the Portland hills, northwest of downtown some miles out near North Plains. Twenty year old pinot noir vines, own-rooted Pommard clone, with some ten year vines as well. Volcanic soils. High elevation. Organically farmed. Healthy vines but maybe needing some TLC to show their best.

The shoots aren’t carefully positioned or tied up on the trellis wire. Some hedging would be in order. Second crop needs to be removed. This time of year, leaves should be pulled off the morning side of the grape clusters for light exposure and better air movement. Maybe on both sides, to maximize ripeness in this challenging spot. Clusters still weren’t fully colored, and harvest was weeks away. The weather’s turned warm again, but this vineyard probably still has a long way to go.

I’m technically still looking for grapes for this harvest, though I think I have a line on the vineyard I purchased from in 2006. It’s my first choice, though it’s not cheap. I’m a homebrewer who’s going after vineyards otherwise in commercial production. I don’t have priority. I went up to this vineyard thinking maybe I’d have it as a back up, and it still may be if I need it.

The real discovery though was the thought that next year, when I’m planning to make a small amount of wine commercially, I might rent a few rows at this promising, out of the way site and take care of them myself. The owner has a crew that sprays and does other work. Clearly more is needed to see what this site could produce. The raw materials are there. I’d love the opportunity to get out in the vineyard and get my hands dirty. I drove away excited about next year, about working with vines after so many years focused on the wine cellar.

September 23, 2008

Barrel buying and harvest talk

Last week I stopped by a local winery to buy a used barrel for this year’s homemade wine. For the past few years I’ve been buying five-year-old French oak barrels here for around $50 each, and I’ve been pleased with what I’m getting. That is, a well made barrel that’s been treated well and is still more than sufficient for winemaking, especially if you aren’t looking for new oak flavor in your wine.

I’ve actually found that these so-called “neutral” barrels still give a bit of wood flavor to the wine, though it may be the effects of slow oxidation in cask that I perceive as oakiness as much as oak flavor from the wood itself. Older barrels don’t give anything close to the flavor of new or one-year barrels. Yet when you smell one of these “neutral” barrels, they still have a toasty sweetness that I pick up later in the wine. Seems reasonable to think some of that really is getting into the wine. When I hear more experienced winemakers scoff at that, I wonder if they just don’t hang around new oak so much.

While waiting for one of the French harvest interns to get the barrel down to my car, I talked with the cellar master about the upcoming harvest. Apparently, this particular producer usually starts harvesting around September 19. We’re past that already, and this year things will likely wait until early in the second week in October. That two to three week delay is pretty much what I’m hearing from others in the area.

Later harvests can produce the best wines, but they’re nerve wracking. Around here, October sees the most dramatic change in temperature of any month in the year. In Portland, our average temperature is still 70F (21C) on October 1. By the end of the month, it’s in the high 50s (15C). You simply can’t count on good weather for too long in October, but that’s really what we need for an exceptional vintage.

Nevertheless, talking with this cellar master, it’s clear he’s genuinely excited for a great harvest. The vines are very healthy, the fruit clean and disease free. I’m finding this to be true almost everything here in the northern Willamette Valley. Acids are still high of course and some mild sunny weather into October should give wines with great freshness, fragrance and nerve. Just what more classically inclined producers are looking for.

Still, I can’t deny my stomach’s churning. We had a warm start to September but recently it’s been cool and a little wet. Nothing bad really. The vines could use a drink. We’re just losing time for nice ripening weather. By the end of the week, things apparently should turn sunny and warmer. Longer term forecasts, such as they are, call for rain in early October. We’ll see. As I wrote before, pay attention to the weather and you’ll know how the mood is around here.

At least this isn’t Burgundy. The intern who brought out the barrel told me about the reports of dreadful weather back home. Nevertheless, as wine people tend to be, he was excited about our upcoming harvest, and perhaps more excited about heading to the southern hemisphere for harvest 2009 this spring.