December 25, 2011

Christmas 2011 at home

Merry Christmas, dear reader. I'm home this year after several holidays at my childhood home in Los Angeles. Everything is focused on home, how good home feels, especially at Christmas.

For me, wine is always secondary at the holidays. Essential for the great holiday meals. Enjoyable for visiting with neighbors, family and friends. Just not the focus, and not necessarily the best match for my favorite holiday foods. One thing I'm missing this year in Portland are some good tamales, something I'd like to make fresh for Christmas one of these years, once I learn how to make them.

On Christmas night, it's just the family at home at the 1998 Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Mountain and flat iron steak, a onion and gruyere tart, Brussels sprouts (yes, named for the city) and the most essential of holiday foods, the mashed potato. Dinner will surely be delicious.

But the wine? It is mature, lovely and ready now but I'm sure has the staying power this producer is known for. This is aromatic cabernet, more in the Loire style than Bordeaux, more about tobacco and herbs and the caramelization of age than heavier, richer cabernet of the Medoc. If you're into that, and I am, this is a wine you will love, treasure even. Something you'll keep when others might not, sure you'll be rewarded. I'm sure you will.

This is how Christmas should be. Home. And for those who can't be home yet, a taste of what will be.

December 08, 2011

Harvest 2011 part 7: celebration

Harvest 2011 in Oregon's Willamette Valley is complete. The grapes picked, the new wines safely through fermentation and in barrel (unless you're Barnaby at Teutonic Wine Company, who told me last week that he was picking his last riesling on Saturday - December 3!).

All that remains is the harvest celebration. This year the Guild Winemakers bunch celebrated together, a low key gathering of partners to talk about the harvest and anything else that came to mind. Such get togethers never last long enough. Why can't meals with friends last for days instead of hours?

I thought it appropriate to mark the occasion with an older wine I recently found. So the 1987 Nozzole Chianti Classico Riserva, pale in candlelight, brilliantly translucent, more than alive, growing with airtime to show its Tuscan sangiovese roots and all the layers of time. Not a great wine, but certainly pleasurable, much more than just a novelty of the past, so beautiful.

This harvest, this whole year was incredible. Unusual. Something I don't want to go through again. But the results are incredibly exciting. The wines we have in barrel taste electric. Ripe with a burst of flavor and yet so full of energy, so lively. They need to settle down and complete the secondary malolactic fermentation, which softens the young wine. Then time in barrel and bottle. Time will be everything for these wines.

We won't really see what we have for ten years, though of course we will check in frequently along the way, in cask and bottle. Already barrels need topping up only a few weeks after being filled. Otherwise, there is little to do now that harvest is done. This time is the elevage, the education of the wine, requiring patience.

So we eat and drink and finish the year, glad to be through with harvest and ready now for everything else a year brings. Harvest will be back again soon enough. But let's drink a little more old Chianti before thinking about that.

November 29, 2011

Harvest 2011 part 6: barreling

At this point, the new wine from each fermenter settles for a few days in a separate container. Press wine is kept separate as well. Everything settles for a few days before the wine goes into barrel. All that's left to do now is fill barrels.

Filling barrels means washing barrels first, then smelling them to see if they're fit for wine. These two look beautiful and smell sweet and fresh despite a few years of prior use. Good French oak - all we use - is a wonderful thing for wine.

Each barrel gets filled and tagged with a note on what's inside. Barrels are paired side by side on racks, the racks then stacked three high and put away into the barrel storage area.

To wait. And wait.

Through the winter and spring, when the malolactic fermentation will happen, softening what are now young, raw wines. Then into the summer, before the wines will be drawn off the fine sediment that settles out in barrel and blended for bottling before the next harvest.

Once the last barrel is filled and the final tanks and hoses cleaned out, harvest is done. Now it's time for a harvest dinner to celebrate the vintage. Tomorrow night in fact, I can't wait.

November 27, 2011

Harvest 2011 part 5: draining

Draining and pressing is what you do once the red wine is done fermenting. 

We begin by tipping a small fermenter and putting a siphon into the grapes and new wine.

As the wine is gently pumped out, the grape skins floating on the surface of the liquid gradually drop to the bottom of the bin. I like how they cling to the top of the "torpedo" that sucks out the wine.

The new wine goes into a tank to settle before going into barrel. The grape skins go into the press to squeeze out every last bit of juice. Here you see how we use the fork lift to dump the grapes into the press.

The big pan under the press captures the milky press wine, which we pump into a separate tank to settle before it goes also into barrel.

 The pump, with hoses not in proper order.

 Wise advice on the press, full of moving parts.

The harvest lunch table. Ok, this is exceptional, but nearing the end of harvest means more time to celebrate things. All that's left to do is put the new wine into barrel.

November 21, 2011

Harvest 2011 part 4: plunging

Pumping over Vincent Pinot Noir, once early on to give oxygen to the yeast.
Waiting this year for the fermenters to start their fermenting was especially nerve wracking for me. Last year one fermenter went a little sideways on me. The resulting wine was good, just not what it might have been. This year, a few days into crush I was sure something was terribly wrong with everything. I felt an inexplicable doubt about the whole process, the doing nothing, waiting for luck to happen. Still we did nothing, waiting for some good carbon dioxide to emerge before plunging the first time. Finally it happened.

Plunging Bjornson vineyard, never shy on color. Very interesting, muscular Pin
Before harvest, a thread on Wine Berserkers offered a nice debate on how many or few punchdowns make sense for Pinot noir. One camp says just a few are necessary. Another camp, predominant in the U.S., says no, no, no, frequent punchdowns are required to extract color and flavor, not to mention keeping the fermentation healthy and happy. I felt some bravado and wrote about how we don't punchdown much, how at a winemaking conference we heard from a famous producer in Burgundy about the "one" punchdown they do for the top end Musigny. Turns out we did between eight and 10 punchdowns in each fermenter over 18 days, more than I would have guessed but still not a lot compared to usual regimes locally. The wines don't lack for color and the fermentations were extremely healthy, so it just didn't make sense to do anything more. Same with yeast foods or anything else. The grapes were terrific this year. And plunging fewer times helps let the natural core of heat in the fermenter build up, rather than constantly mixing things up and wondering why the temperature isn't going up.

I'm not about color in Pinot noir, but this is remarkable nonetheless.
The result? Beautiful, young, raw wine that needs time in wood. Time it now gets, harvest completely done, all new wines in barrel. The vibrant color of new wine is unmatched. You may not love the green apple acidity of this unfinished drink, but that color is remarkable. Astonishing even.

November 16, 2011

Harvest 2011 part 3: waiting

Last time I wrote about bringing in several tons of Pinot noir from Armstrong Vineyard on this past October 20. Turns out that same day, we also brought in Vincent Wine Company's one ton of Pinot from Zenith Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills. With the three fermenters full of Armstrong fruit, we ended the day with four full fermenters of destemmed grapes ready to become wine.

So how does that happen? Every which way you can imagine. You can add yeast or let ambient yeast spontaneously ferment the grapes. You can chill the grapes before they start to ferment to let them "cold soak," so that color, texture, flavor and aroma elements in the grapes can gently steep into the grape juice before alcohol has been created. You can heat the grapes to encourage fermentation, much as you might put dough in a warm place to rise. You can add nutrients to feed the yeast and keep them healthy. Sugar to boost alcohol levels in the finished wine in cold years like this one. Acidity to boost acid levels if the grapes are too ripe (not much of an issue this year). Tannin to fix color and, yes, soften the texture of the finished wine. Enzymes to help the grape matter break down more readily, for enhanced extraction. Sulfur dioxide as a preservative. You name it.

No matter what you choose to do or not do in your winemaking, fermentation is all about sugar in the grapes and grape juice changing into alcohol, producing carbon dioxide and heat in the process. The winemaker simply wants to guide the process. Our process is to do that extremely minimally. This year the approach was this:
  • Pick and process the grapes
  • Let them soak at ambient temperature until they begin to ferment on their own
  • Do one "pump over" - using a pump to suck out the juice at the bottom of the fermenter and spraying it over the top, to mix the juice and give air to the yeast
  • Do nothing for days until fermentation is active enough so you get a little hit from the carbon dioxide of fermentation
  • That means nothing - no punch downs or pump overs - just a little spritz of sulfur if necessary to keep things fresh
  • Once fermentation is nice and active - after about 10 days - the first punch down is highly aerative to feed the yeast more
  • Then punchdowns once a day for the six to eight days as the yeast convert sugar to alcohol and temperatures in the fermenter get into the 80sF if not 90F.
  • Drain the new wine and press the grape skins to get everything out
  • Let the new wine settle for a couple days, then put into barrel for the winter
With the late harvest and cold temperatures when it came time to make wine, we played with some aquarium heaters to help encourage the spontaneous fermentation in some bins. With the last fermenter, we didn't even use heat. We just waited, with patience knowing everything would work out. And it did.

In the end, we saw some nicely flavored and colored wines from Armstrong and Zenith. Good raw material you might say, fully ripe tasting but with alcohols in the 12.5% and bright acidity, wine that will change dramatically in barrel but already you know it's going to be good. 2011 is that kind of year.

November 14, 2011

Harvest 2011 part 2: grapes!

8am, October 20 at Armstrong vineyard on Ribbon Ridge. Picking bins scattered around the vineyard and a fast crew of pickers working through the rows. The Vincent Wine Company harvest begins.

In most years, October 20 would see the last grapes coming in to local wineries. Ok, some late, late pickers and people who make Riesling would still be holding on. The point remains, this was a very late beginning to harvest and yet look at the sky. Beautifully blue, the ground dry, even a bit dusty after more than a week of dry weather (that would continue almost through the month).

A little while later, four tons of gorgeous Pinot noir clusters rest in a series of bins, waiting to be loaded on a flat bed truck that will take them to the winery. As the bins get filled with buckets of freshly picked grapes, a few of us pick out any rotten clusters, leaves and anything that doesn't look good.

I always like to taste berries and occasionally chomp into a cluster to see how things taste, careful to avoid seeds. This year, the flavors are ripe but the acidity seems strong, giving a fresh quality to the flavors, an energy that I'm looking for. The grape skins seem relatively thick, perhaps because of the cool year, and I think that I want to make sure the wines don't end up too tannic. File that thought away.

Later at the winery, our trusty grower Doug Ackerman (right) and several other kind volunteers help do another sort of the grapes. Again, we pull out any rotten cluster we find, any leaves, anything we don't want in the fermenters. It's tedious work but vital for producing great wine. The volunteers' reward? Fun talking wine and everything else you can imagine on the sorting line. Then some dinner and wine for taking home. Thank you volunteers!

From here, the clusters go through the destemmer to separate the grapes from their stems, dropping the berries into a fermenter waiting below. We end up filling three small fermenters with the fruit from three different blocks at Armstrong, each to be fermented and barrel aged separately before we blend in about year before bottling. Now comes the waiting period, where the grapes sit undisturbed until they ferment on their own. This year, as usual, it takes several days to begin. More on that next time.

November 12, 2011

Harvest 2011, part 1 - it's a miracle

Yes, always.

Seriously, that has to be the answer if anyone ever again asks if the harvest is going to turn out. After this year, how could you say any different?

In the brief history of wine grape growing in Oregon's Willamette Valley, this year was historically cold and late. How late? Bud break in Pinot noir vines that should be in full swing in mid-April was still happening after Mother's Day because spring was so wet and cold. Flowering should happen by mid-June. This year it finally occurred on and after the fourth of July for the same reason. But the weather was great for flowering, meaning that lots of flowers that might have been knocked off by June wind and rain actually set as fruit, making for a potentially huge crop that might never get ripe. So growers immediately went into major triage mode, cutting off lots of new grape clusters to reduce the size of the crop in the hope of making sure what remained on the vines would actually ripen. Crop thinning happens every year, but this year it was more important than ever.

A nice benchmark for grape growing locally is that you might harvest grapes 100 days after flowering. So when flowering peaked in early July, I wrote here that we might begin picking around October 12. Ideally you would get more than those 100 days to further develop grape flavors and tannin, but this year that would put harvest into late October and early November for the coolest sites. If you don't know Willamette Valley weather, understand that we have warm and dry summers that often last into October. This is a great place for grape growing. But ask any kid around here - come Halloween it's usually cold, wet and windy. You really don't want to be sitting there in July thinking about harvesting grapes around Halloween, so you can imagine how hard it was to stay optimistic this year.

July proceeded to be relatively cool though dry, with August continuing the dry streak and summer temperatures finally coming on strong. I believe we didn't hit 90F locally until mid-August, ridiculously late for such a benchmark. Then the season began to turn in our favor. September was warmer overall than July and we entered October still facing a mid-month start to harvest, but on the cusp of something special if the weather held out.

It didn't, at least at first. Early October saw a quick change to autumn with cold temps and rain. Immediately we saw media reports of a ruined harvest, before any grapes had been picked. I'll admit, it was hard to remain optimistic, but what choice did we have? Then the skies cleared and the rest of October was amazingly mild and notably dry, perfect for ripening grapes. Finally, on October 20 it was time for our first pick of the season, at Armstrong vineyard on Ribbon Ridge.

How did it go? The picture at the top shows the sunrise October 20 from Bell Road as I made my way out to the vineyard. No fog, no rain, just a beautiful, perfect morning that told me we indeed had something special about to happen. Stay tuned for part 2, which won't take another month to write up. Harvest is finally about done and I couldn't be more excited for the results. Plus, now I have a little free time again.

October 19, 2011

Harvest 2011 begins, finally

Harvest 2011 begins Thursday for Vincent Wine Company. We’re picking everything from our blocks at Armstrong Vineyard on Ribbon Ridge and Zenith Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills. I am so excited. After this crazy growing season, where historic cold weather delayed budbreak until May and flowering until July, we’re near the end of October and finally we pick grapes.

How is the quality? We won’t really know until we have the fruit in the fermenters, but sugar levels are in the low 20s brix and pHs are in the 3.2 to 3.3 range. Just where I want them, for making wines with ripe flavors but energy, life, acid balance. Flavors are mixed, meaning some pretty explosive tasting berries and others with some bracing qualities that I prize. Let’s remember, we’re making wine, not fruit juice or eating grapes. I think grape flavors are overrated. Wine is a curing process. We’re taking raw meat and making bacon. There’s a big difference in the two. I’m looking for something in the final product that you can’t necessarily see in the raw material. What I want now are healthy, ripe grapes from a successful growing season. We have that.

And what a crazy growing season it was. A good indicator of a growing season here is at least 100 days from flowering until harvest, maybe 110 or longer depending on the season. Our early July flowering meant 100 days would be around October 12. In many years, we’d finish picking at that time. This year we knew we probably wouldn’t even begin until then. Crazy. Harvest is an outdoor activity. Does anyone think that outdoor events in the Willamette Valley in mid-October or later is a good idea?

Now, on the eve of October 20, we will finally pick. The grapes have had a long season after all. Turns out we’ve gotten the weather we need and things are turning out. I wouldn’t advise more seasons like this. Don’t plan an outdoor wedding this time of year. But for now, it looks like we might get lucky.

Stay tuned for more on harvest. Now I need some sleep. Tomorrow is going to be a long, and I hope great, day.

October 13, 2011

Harvest approaches in the Willamette Valley

It's weird to say in mid-October that harvest hasn't really started in the Willamette Valley. Yes, some white grapes are in. The Pinot, however, waits. Along with pretty much everything else.

This year is indeed historic. Cold. Late. Essentially unprecedented. In response, growers have mostly cut back to one cluster of grapes per vine shoot. The idea is to limit the grape crop to make sure what you still have on the vines will get ripe, even in an historically cold year.

The funny thing is, flowering took place during perfect weather around July 4. Late, but perfect. As a result, grape clusters on average are well above normal. We still haven't picked, but I'm seeing 150g to 200g clusters of Pinot Noir. Usually that might be 80g to 120g or so, depending on the clones or types of Pinot Noir sub-varieties.

I'm thinking the story this year isn't the cold weather or late harvest. September was like July should have been. We've had a nice growing season. The clouds are due to break and we should have nice gusty, warm drying winds next week. Things look good on the grape front.

Once the grapes are picked, the story will be big yields even when people tried to cut back. Those big clusters, even just a handful or two per vine, add up to more tonnage per acre. If clusters are at least 50% bigger than normal, that's going to be a lot more wine to put into barrel than we might have been expecting.

As I say too much, but it's true - stay tuned.

September 29, 2011

End of the growing season

The winegrape harvest in the northern Willamette Valley is so close. In a normal year, I would be picking pinot noir from lower elevation warmer sites. This year we are still weeks away, with doom on the horizon.

Portland, where I am, saw delightful autumn weather today. A cool morning, then sunny skies with temperatures in the low 80s for a while in the afternoon. September has been warmer than July, just when we needed it after such a cold season. Vineyards have really been progressing this month. If things could hang on, you're thinking this could be classic.

Until you see the forecast. Cold, windy and rainy. Perhaps epic amounts of precipitation. Or maybe it's just the usual soaking here and there, with dry times in between, bad but now awful. Either way, tough.

Which makes me think of harvest 2005. The calendar is the same this year as 2005, and Thursday the 29th, 2005, was the last in a string of lovely days. The next three days saw two inches of rain in Portland, ushering in a month of on and off again rain and maybe two days at 70F or higher in October.

The moral of story. Oh my god. No, seriously, October can be cold and wet. We just need to deal with it, especially in what has been exceptionally cold and wet growing season. We just need to pick low brix, high acid pinot noir and make great wine, like people do elsewhere in the world with the same situations. I'm kind of excited about it. [what I don't want is rot and mold from rain and generally damp conditions. We'll see about that.]

So, it's going to be a long two weeks before I think we might start picking at one of our sites. The other two will be another week at least. What a late and, now, possibly wet harvest. All you can do now is watch the skies.

September 28, 2011

2010 Vincent Wine Company Pinot Tasting

Readers may recall that I make wine. When I pour my wines, it's always fun meeting people who read this site. I'm holding another event this weekend and readers, please, come and taste my latest wines.

I'm releasing all my 2010 Pinot Noirs this Sunday, October 2, 1-5pm at the Slate, a mixed use space at 2001 NW 19th Avenue in Portland. I'll be pouring with friend and Guild Winemakers partner Anne Hubatch, who will be sampling her latest release of Helioterra wines.

It's a drop in thing, very casual, open to the public. There is no charge to taste. We will be selling all our new releases, so please buy wines that you like. The holidays are coming.

I will have small amounts of both of my 2010 single vineyard bottlings available. 2010 is the third year I've made Zenith Vineyard wine, all Pommard clone on a shallow soiled knoll in the vineyard. Red fruited, delicate and subtle, aged completely in older oak. The prettiest wine I've made.

This is the first year of Armstrong Vineyard from Ribbon Ridge, on Lewis Rogers Lane just down from Ayres and Brickhouse. Darker, more black-fruited wine as you would expect here. 25% new oak, good density, a more substantial wine.

A few local shops and restaurants will have these wines, but not many. And not for long. Hope you can join us this Sunday to taste.

September 01, 2011

Late summer

It's summer and everything and nothing is going on. The tomatoes are coming on. The sunflowers tall and lanky.

And the nocino sits in the garden, baking in the daylight and heat. Brown now, the color of coffee but thicker. Chartreuse even, when sloshed around. The nocino will stay out here until November and still be a touch raw then.

Meanwhile I just got back from a short visit to the southern Okanagan Valley of central British Columbia. More on that later. But it's amazing how driving up US 97 through Washington, you go from nowhere Washington to the vibrant Okanagan valley on the Canadian side.

Immediately across the border it's orchards and vineyards tucked in remarkable places above the lake and below the glacier-carved granite walls. Truly wonderful landscape, and amid lots of good wine, I found what might be great wine. Certainly the best dry wine I've tried from BC. More later

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

July 14, 2011

Reading KCole

I'm on vacation in California - non-wine vacation, with family - so maybe that explains my absence. There just isn't too much to write about, what with hiking in the Sierra and playing some golf, drinking cold beer and eating too much, now in the SF area for a few days to see in-laws before a weekend return to Portland.

However, I have been reading. For pure pleasure, I'm reading Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night. And for "work" I'm reading Katherine Cole's Voodoo Vintners: Oregon's Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers. I'll review it slightly more formally when I finish it, soon.

For now, Cole is simply a pleasure to read, making Fitzgerald wait or at least share the bedside table. I wasn't sure what she would write about biodynamics, but as I tweeted last week when starting the book, she brings a nice mix of intrigue and healthy skepticism to the topic. The result is a lovely profile of the Oregon wine scene, which in reflection is centered more on biodynamics than I realized. I highly recommend it to any wine geek interested in Oregon, biodynamics, and ideally both.

July 05, 2011

"Everybody's playing in the heart of gold band..."

I've long wondered if that Robert Hunter lyric above was a reference to Neil Young's song Heart of Gold. I do know Edmunds St. John's white wine bottling of that name is a Neil Young reference. It's also absolutely delicious in the 2008 edition I picked up locally not too long ago.

The 2008 Edmunds St. John Heart of Gold is a blend of Grenache Blanc, a classic white Rhone variety, and Vermentino, known as Rolle in France. It is gorgeous. Inspirational even. I'd love to explore white grapes like these in my wine production here in the the Pacific Northwest. Note to self - research who's growing stuff like this within a few hours of Portland.

The wine fittingly has a lovely light gold color. The aroma is similarly golden and something I think wine lovers everywhere could love even if they've never heard of these lower profile grapes. There are aromas of lemons, minerals, pastry dough and the exotic scent of stone fruit flesh and pits. Not quite peach or apricot, maybe something between.

The flavors are zippy and bright, with lemons and a waxy roundness. There's perhaps a touch of heat from alcohol, but it just adds to the body and intrigue of the wine. The finish lingers. I love this wine, and for $15 or so locally, you can't go wrong.

July 04, 2011


I took a drive yesterday to see signs of Pinot Noir flowering in the Willamette Valley, on a beautiful summer afternoon. Usually the Pinot flowers locally in the middle of June, roughly. This year, like last year, is late following a cool, damp spring. Talking with growers over the past few weeks, I heard July 4 as a target date for flowering, as it was in 2010. There were hopeful suggestions of "by July 4, for sure, definitely" to lightly desperate humor: "if not by July 4, then, um, maybe a November harvest?"

Surely not. Conventional wisdom is that harvest might begin 100 days after flowering at a given site. Longer than that you have longer "hang time," the grapes usually benefiting from extra time to develop aromas and flavors, with riper tannin and still, if the weather is cool at night, fresh acids.

Warmer sites and younger vines can ripen a bit more quickly, but 100 days is a nice estimate for thinking of the arc of the growing season. One hundreds days from July 4 is October 12. Last year, I picked from October 8 to October 17. If flowering happens similarly this year, I think it's safe to bet we'll have a similar window for picking, later if possible if the weather holds in October, likely not too much earlier, ideally under dry conditions regardless.

Sure enough, I saw a bunch of flowering inflorescence. I first drove by a couple sites I don't work with in the northern Willamette Valley, but was curious to check out. The first site seemed maybe a third through flowering, the second perhaps half or more in the rows I saw. Exciting.

Then over Bald Peak and down to Ribbon Ridge to the Armstrong Vineyard. I was really hoping to see flowers now. I wasn't disappointed. I drove up and found grower Doug Ackerman at work at the barn and we went for a walk around the property. According to him, there were no flowers the day before, but now flowering was visible in 5 to 10% of the clusters. Surely with sunny, warm weather in store for days, flowering will be quick and even, as ideal as you could want.

Here's a cluster in the clone 667 block. Grape flowers self pollinate, so there aren't dramatic blooms or aromas in grape flowers. There is a musky fragrance if you get up really close though. You can see how some grapes have set and others haven't. An "even" set means everything will set together, so this cluster should have had more flowers by the end of the day and ideally today is in full bloom. That way, the grapes are more likely to ripen together come October.

With flowering under way in such lovely conditions, it seemed appropriate to admire the view.

And a nice moment to celebrate with the most summery of beverages, dry rose wine. Thanks Doug!

June 29, 2011


Summer has arrived in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. A cold summer so far, after a cold and wet spring. That means the grape growing season locally is several weeks behind schedule. Where grape vine flowering might typically happen in mid-June, we're still waiting for flowering and will perhaps wait another week or more, depending on the exact site.

What does that mean? No one here is going to be picking grapes in September, the end of which usually sees the start of the Pinot Noir grape harvest. Which means, local winemakers like me will be free at the end of September. Not something we usually expect. What to do? What to do?

It also means that we'll be picking grapes as we did in 2010 and 2008. In the middle of October and later. We at Vincent Wine Company are unconcerned.

I mentioned to one of my growers today that I'm excited for harvest. He said, pray for sun and warmth. Really, we'll get what we get and, as far as I'm concerned, too much ripeness is more of a concern even in the "cool climate" of the Willamette Valley.

I was enjoying some nice Sherry and conversation a recent evening with a winemaker friend and his point was, aren't the benchmark wines from Oregon that we revere - the old school stuff from years back - from a time where crop loads weren't so manicured? Where ripeness wasn't so great? He's right. So let's not worry about ripeness. We'll be fine.

Meanwhile, life at Vincent Wine Company rolls on. In the marketplace, our 2009 Vincent Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills is almost sold out. I'm trying to dole out the last 40 cases or so over the summer to key accounts. The goal is to not have too much of a gap in availability before the first 2010s come out. More on that in a minute.

Lately, I've delivered to restaurants like South Park, Nel Centro, Tabla and Noble Rot. All venues that have been selling my wine and want more, which is a great thing. Division Wines, a new shop in SE Portland owned by Will Prouty, the buyer at South Park, took a few cases. Storyteller Wine Company brought in some more as well. Pastaworks and Foster & Dobbs in NE Portland as well.

My goal this year has been to find the places where my wine resonates. Where the staff gets behind it and finds customer homes and tables to take it in. Restaurants where the staff likes the wine and feels good recommending it.

Which brings me to 2010. The wines will go into bottle in August and release this fall. My conspirators in Guild Winemakers were over the other night to taste through all the barrels and I think I have four different Pinots on tap for 2010:
  • Armstrong vineyard bottling - 50 cases
  • Zenith vineyard bottling - 50 cases
  • A Ribbon Ridge appellation bottling that will be the main wine, replacing '09s' Eola-Amity Hills - 170 cases
  • And a limited Willamette Valley bottling geared for glass pours in restaurants - some may sneak out to mailing list customers though - 50 cases
Between now and the August bottling, I need to get bottles, labels, cork and capsules. And write my email newsletter for the mailing list. We'll offer 2010s at their best prices to everyone on the list. Join our mailing list if you're interested.

Meanwhile, I'll regularly visit the three vineyards I'm working with this year. Look for updates all summer long.

June 21, 2011

Pale rose for summer

Summer is here and what better time for Provencal rose. Notice the color in the bottle and glass. Not light red. Not even pink. This kind salmon-hued rose is what I long for on a warm summer day.

So the 2009 La Galantin Bandol Rose. This producer I remember from years ago in my San Francisco days, when I'd discovered Bandol. Galantin wasn't and isn't revered with the likes of Tempier and Pibarnon and Pradeaux. It does has an impossiby period label, which period I do not know but the script and pastel and illustration transport me to the south of France. Perhaps in the 1980s.

The wine delivers, as I remember the unrefined reds I tried back in the 1990s. Crisp flavors, juicy with a refreshing quality that too many roses lack. I'm happy to have this wine in my fridge for several days. It stays fresh when open, so I don't have to rush through it. And though it's good enough to guzzle straightaway, prudence suggests going slow. Relaxing. Allowing yourself to be somewhere remote where things needn't be rushed. Such is summer, with good rose and someone you love.

June 17, 2011

Cask samples of Bourbon

I was fortunate enough to be invited last month to a meeting of the Macadam Bourbon Bunch, a group of local Bourbon fans who gather periodically to talk and drink American's leading whiskey.

This gathering was a special occasion, on two levels. One, the group tasted cask samples of producers Elijah Craig and the elusive Elmer T. Lee to pick specific casks that would be bottled for and sold by local outlet Macadam Liquor.

Two, it was a chance to meet at last my longtime online wine pal Hoke Harden, wine and spirits business veteran who I met in online wine discussion groups back in the 1990s. Hoke was hear as an expert on Bourbon, walking us through our tasting.

I've always known Hoke to be a friendly, knowledgeable guy. He moved to Oregon a few years ago from California. How did it take so long to finally connect IRL (sorry, yes, I just wrote that)? Hoke and I chatted like old friends, and then the group assembled to hear Hoke brief us on the tasting.

We started with three samples from Elijah Craig, all cask strength so around 140 proof. The style here is more classic Bourbon to my mind. Rich, sweet, oaky, with lots of caramel and size. The first sample seemed the most balanced and interesting, and later I found it to be the favorite of the group. I'm hoping that's the one picked for the EC single cask bottling. Of course, it will be watered back to 80 proof or so for bottling, and Hoke talked to us about how that will change the final product. Still, the differences were clear in these samples and watering them back won't change that.

Then we moved to five samples from Elmer T. Lee, all at bottling strength so a little easier to handle. Elmer is apparently one of the old guard, and someone who doesn't let cask samples out too readily. This is a treat. He uses more rye than typical, and goes for a more savory style with lighter color and less char, maybe more to the buttery smooth end of Bourbon. Again, the first sample was the best. In fact, I'd easily say it's the best Bourbon I've ever tasted. Not the blockbuster of Elijah Craig, it's more subtle if you can call Bourbon subtle. I'm hoping this cask is the one that gets bottled. I want more.

If you're interested in getting hold of the final products from this event, check with Macadam Liquor. I stopped in a week after the tasting and bought some tequilla, something I don't drink much but do enjoy, particularly palata (silver) bottlings. The manager said it's unclear exactly when the special bottlings will arrive, but it should be this summer. Bourbon lovers, check it out. And you might ask about the Bourbon Bunch. Good folks, they.

June 16, 2011

June at Armstrong vineyard

667 block at the highest part of Armstrong Vineyard
I took a little time the other day to walk my rows at Armstrong Vineyard on Ribbon Ridge. Spring has come late this year, like last year and not like last year.

In 2010, we had an early budbreak. Then cold, wet weather set in for April, May and June, pushing back the growing season several weeks. In the end, a nice October saved the day, just like in 2008.

This year, there was no early start. Just cold and wet, with a late budbreak and slow progress with the new shoots all through May. Now we find ourselves in a similar place to last year at this time. A few, perhaps several weeks behind in the growing season, weeks that are hard to make up.

But that's neither here nor there at this point. Look at these pictures. Armstrong looks great. Summer looms. There are months until harvest. And considering we picked here last year on October 8, at beautiful ripeness without excess sugars, perhaps I should be more excited about another perfect harvest?

It's not a winemaker's job to be overly optimistic, I guess. But amazing things always happen, no?

Sandy, white soil on the higher part of the vineyard on Ribbon Ridge

Inflorescence - what will become flowers and then grape clusters

Steep east/west rows in the 667 block

North/South rows lower in the vineyard, in the Pommard block

Browner soil here in the lower section

June 11, 2011

2001 Domaine Mussy Pommard Epenots 1er Cru

I thought tonight would be a nice opportunity to taste some old school Burgundy, from an unsung producer, a top notch vineyard and an underrated vintage. So the 2001 Dumaine Mussy Pommard Epenots Premier Cru.

I'm often trying to explain how I'm making Oregon Pinot Noir, not Burgundy, but that I'm inspired by the anything but fruity wines from the Cote d'Or. This is a nice example and honestly, it's more ready to go than I expected even of a ten year old wine.

You can tell from the label alone -- Mussy is not a newfangled producer.

Then there's the color of the wine. Dark but translucent, slightly ruddy ruby. It's not young wine, but I don't think this was ever anything more than ruby red. Opaque, purple Pinot Noir this is not.

The aroma is woodsy and mushroomy, showing sous bois or undergrowth fragrance that is prized in good Burgundy, with a subtle sweetness of bottle age.

The flavors follow, with thirst quenching acidity and reddish brown flavors, more woodsy and porcini than cherry but a nice mix of all that. It's medium bodied at best, but fine tannin that gives the wine a pleasing rusticity. It's lively. Agile.

Still, this isn't refined, floral Burgundy that will change your life. Rather, it's cleanly earthy, absolutely delicious wine that some might find a bit dry, but not me. It's what I love about good, solid Burgundy, and something I see in some local wine and want to see more, including my own.

May 30, 2011

2004 Guy Amiot Chassagne Montrachet Vieilles Vignes

Tonight, pan seared sea scallops with salad and rice, and white Burgundy. Delicious all around.

I was surprised to open this 2004 Guy Amiot Chassagne Montrachet Vieilles Vignes and finding a Guala Seal instead of cork. I've had horrible luck with synthetic "cork" products, where wine prematurely ages or tastes off, maybe plasticy. So I was a little concerned upon cutting the foil and not seeing cork.

Well, we're one for one with Guala Seal. I've enjoyed Amiot's wine in the past, but at home it's only been the basic Bourgogne. These wines aren't cheap. Happily I found a couple of this village Chassagne at auction for a steal, so tonight with scallops.

Pale color, fragrant mineral, lemon and mealy apple scents, fresh and rounded by a touch of oak. Lively in the mouth, agile even, with bright lemon and apple flavors, good length and savor, a lovely match to the rich, delicate scallops. Each sip refreshed the palate for another bite of food.

Has anyone else heard about the Guala Seal? I'm shocked that a synthetic seal has held up so well over several years. Perhaps this one is actually good, never mind the carbon footprint? I'm curious.

May 26, 2011

Enso Winery Opens in SE Portland

I'm really excited for the official opening of Enso Winery on SE Stark at 14th this weekend in Portland. Enso is a project of Ryan and Holly Sharp and Chris Wishart.

What? A winery on SE Stark next to Meat, Cheese, Bread, in an old auto garage right on a city thoroughfare? Yes, and based on Enso's soft opening earlier this month when I took a few pictures, it's going to be great.

Yes, Enso is a founding member in PDX Urban Wineries with Vincent Wine Company and six other producers. And yes, Enso is featuring my 2009 Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir as the guest winery pour through June. And yes, I'll be there in person pouring on Friday, June 3 in the evening.

But as someone who's really interested in urban wine production, especially urban wine production in Portland, I'm ecstatic to see a relatively small, neighborhood space become a working winery and tasting lounge. A place where the fermentation and barrel aging happens, and where you can stop by and sample the goods or sit for a while, buy a glass or a full bottle, enjoy some small plates of food and live a good, city life.

Essentially, this is urban winemaking at a high point. As you might with your favorite roastery or bakery, brew house or distillery, hang out at this little spot with the garage door open, watch the cars and people go by and drink some wine. Expect a new guest winery pour each month, in addition to what Enso is putting out.

I look at this spot and think...this could really catch on. This didn't take a million dollars. Maybe some day soon there will be a bunch of places in Portland like this. For now, there are only a few, and only one on SE Stark. Check it out. Maybe see you there on June 3, but this weekend is their official opening. I'll be stopping in for sure.

May 25, 2011

Vincent and the Movias

I had a pleasure of meeting Movia winemaker Ales Kristancic recently at Storyteller Wine Company in SW Portland. Ales was visiting from his native Slovenia on a whirlwind tour of various US cities that love his wine, Portland among them. I stopped by Storyteller, heard he was on the way, waited, waited some more, and finally he blew in. Almost literally.

Ales is a force of nature. He rushed in and before I knew it, was weaving stories about low and now sulfite winemaking and grapevine pollination. On many of his wines, he uses no sulfur. On some perhaps a touch at bottling. And why is their Pinot Noir planted among his cabernet and merlot on the border of Slovenia and Italy? Because it blooms earlier and encourages bloom in the other varieties. Really, I asked? Of course, says Ales. You know when you see two people together, it makes you want to get together with someone? Like that.

Oh, really. I look down at my feel. Or actually, Ales'.

So we drank (and there was little spitting) his whites of Sauvignon and Ribolla. The Sauvignon 2008 was cloudy but so fresh and crystalline, full of passion fruit. The Ribolla 2008 was more clear but earthy, red apple and bass notes. The Veliko Bianco 2007 was more like the Sauvignon, pure and fresh. The Veliko Rosso was Bordeaux like, cassis, tobacco, gravel, with great texture and length. All of these wines were tremendous.

Ales and I got to talking about my wine and he encouraged me to open a bottle, for sale in the store. So my 2009 Vincent Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills, nicely fragrant but herbal after the Veliko Rosso. But look at Ales. Feel him poke you in the chest as he talks with his entire body. He tells it straight and he honestly seemed to enjoy the wine. I was happy.

Then came the moon shot. The Movia Lunar, 2006 I believe.

I won't speak of this wine as much as show it.

Pardon the blur. Ales is always in motion.

Yes, it looks like a sample. But this elixir is one of the most delicious and interesting wines I've tasted. Hugely aromatic, yellow fruited, yeasty like fine champagne but pure and focused. Words sort of fail with such a different, orange wine. I simply loved it.

Ales knew we all did. So he thought, let's smoke herb cigarettes from Slovenia. Outside we go. I managed one puff. Mint. Hmm. Interesting. I don't smoke, but right now I was willing to do almost anything.

We talked about Ales returning for some wild event/party/madness. We will see. We should hope. With that, Ales was off.

For now, shop owner Michael Alberty had an inspiration. Why not recreate the moment as best as we can? So, come to Vincent and the Movias this Friday evening at Storyteller. I'll pour my Pinot Noir, and Michael will have a selection from Movia. No Lunar though, that's crazy rare.

And of course, there will be no Ales, which is like The Who without Keith Moon. But what the hell. It will be good nonetheless. The Movia wines deliver, just like their maker.

May 22, 2011

NV Domaine Meriwether Discovery Cuvee Brut

I love sparkling wine but don't drink enough. I usually don't have much of it in the cellar, though in the past year I've purchased several bottles of Champagne and other sparkling wines. Then I fail to open them, waiting for something to celebrate.

Why do we only think of sparkling wine for celebrations? It's so good and versatile on the dinner table. And who among wine drinkers doesn't like sparkling wine?

And why don't we celebrate more? Why not celebrate a new wine account or the love of someone special?

So tonight, for those reasons or none at all, I opened a local sparkling wine, the NV Domaine Meriwether Discovery Cuvee Brut. What a terrific Oregon white wine. Pale in color, seemingly more Chardonnay even if the website says it's 60% Pinot Noir, smelling of lemons and mushrooms, tasting bright and edgy with a lemon cream middle and lovely tension on the finish.

There is even a chalky sense of good Champagne that I find so refreshing and thought provoking. What incredibly delicious wine. No one ever seems to talk about Domaine Meriwether but almost every time I try one of their wines, I think they are among the top producers of Oregon wine.

May 17, 2011

2007 Kondoli Vineyard Saperavi

It's been too long, and there are ridiculous amounts of things to write about if I can just carve out the time. New Portland urban wineries. More and better thoughts on Arizona. Late budbreak in Oregon has finally arrived. I write an article for Wine Press Northwest magazine. A crazy Slovenian winemaker visits Portland.

See, lots to get to. Soon, I promise. Especially since I think I'm done with that Wine Press NW piece.

For now, a true obsurity. The 2007 Kondoli Vineyard Saperavi from the Republic of Georgia. Yes, that Georgia. Who needs a century club when you can taste unheard of grape varieties in your own home?

Kondoli is apparently storied, the back label quoting a Georgian from 1742 extolling the producer's "noble wines." This bottling shows a dark black red color and a bittersweet herbal aroma that reminds me some of Dolcetto. The wine tastes similarly bittersweet, with floral and blackberry flavors and lots of fine tannin that provides great texture.

This is dry, savory wine. But if that's your thing, and I love it, you should find a bottle. It costs something like $16 or $17. Imported by Corus LLC, Stamford, CT. I know where you can find it in Portland.

April 28, 2011

On bripeness

I've been in Tucson, Arizona, the past few days for a conference related to my day job, running university continuing education programs. It's nice to get a break from the cold and wet spring in Portland.

Would you believe people are making serious wine in Arizona? Locals here would scoff. Of course we are, they'd protest. Where have you been? The high desert around Tucson and other relatively higher elevation sites northwest of Phoenix near Jerome and Prescott have several vineyards, not the least of which was planted by Oregon's own Dick Erath.

Turns out I'm not the only one looking for a break from the wet. Dick may have sold his eponymous winery last year, but he has been down in several years focused on Arizona viticulture. Arizona, where frosts after budbreak and rain at harvest are essentially non-factors. Dick's traded Pinot noir for Sangiovese and other grapes more suited to the southwestern climate.

In the arid climate here, you need plenty of water for irrigating your vines. The good news is you don't need to worry much about rot and mildew in the vineyard. I imagine organic farming is easier here, if you're so inclined. Not so much need for highly engineered sprays for to ward off disease during wet growing seasons.

However, I imagine you do need to worry about "bripeness." Bripeness? That's a word my Guild Winemakers partners and I (mostly they) coined to describe really ripe tasting wines that are obviously acidified. In hot climates, grape sugars can rise quickly while grape acids plummet, especially because of warm nights. The results are grapes with plenty of sugar and ripe fruit flavor, but lacking acidity that keeps a wine fresh tasting (and microbiologically stable). The solution? Tartaric acid powder from a bag. Heaps of it in some cases.

Now let's be clear. I'm interested in making wine from grapes without fussing with them if possible. Wine grapes have the rare natural ability to be made into wine without added sugar, acid or even yeast. I think if you can do that, do it. But you can't always do that, and part of the issue for me is building the experience of when to pick to preserve natural acidity while not having unripe flavors. I will add tartaric acid to wine when I think it's necessary. I won't add too much, mostly because I don't want bripeness.

What's that taste like? Candy is a good example. Take Sweettart type candies. They're sweet and fruity tasting, but have serious tartness. My kids love Sour Patch candies. Same thing. Intentionally tart though sweet at the core to provide balance. And what about Pixie Stix? Essentially sugar and citric acid, and oddly enough Pixie Stix is a newly classic term to describe certain wines, usually those that taste highly acidified. Where the fruit flavor is broad and ripe, not cool and focused like lesser ripe but still ripe berries, for example, with something of a tent pole of acidity sticking out awkwardly. Acid that makes the ripe wine overly bright, or simply bripe.

Yesterday I tried the 2009 Arizona Stronghold Mangus Red Wine, yes, from the guy from Tool among other people involved. The wine was tasty with plummy flavors, obviously ripe but not pruny or raisined. And not volatile or otherwise flawed like hot climate wines can get. But it was bripe. Just a little too tart for the ripeness. Not bad, rather a smudge on perfectly good, clean table wine.

The wine shows the challenge of this desert climate. But I'm left curious to try more Arizona wines, including those from Dick Erath's planting that is apparently not too far from where I'm staying. Wish I had more time. A return visit may be in order.

April 17, 2011

Vincent open house

If you're in Portland and want to check out what I'm doing with my Vincent Wine Company Pinot Noir, come to a winery open house on May 1 with friends Helioterra wines.

Anne from Helioterra is releasing a 2010 Pinot Blanc and 2009 Syrah, and will be pouring her 2009 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, which recently was accepted for this year's Indie Wine Festival.

I'll be pouring and selling my only remaining wine from 2009, my Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir. And I'll preview 2010 with a barrel selection of my Pinot Noir from the new Armstrong Vineyard from Ribbon Ridge. I'm really excited about this site and will offer the first wines to mailing list members this summer.

No need to RSVP. Location is 2621 NW 30th Avenue in Portland. We'll be pouring from 1-5pm. Drop in when you can. Hope you can make it. And if you're an elevage reader, let me know when you stop by my table.

April 11, 2011

Zenith vineyard dinner

I had the pleasure of attending a tasting and dinner hosted by Tim and Kari Ramey of Zenith Vineyard for all producers of wine from Zenith grapes. This was the third annual event, modeled after the longer running Shea vineyard dinner that follows the same format. Taste through barrel samples of the prior year's wines from all producers in attendance, and follow it up with a nice dinner.

This year we were tasting 2010s, of course. Producers in attendance included Zenith and St. Innocent, both made by Mark Vlossak, Adelsheim, Ponzi, Biggio-Hamina, Seufert, Elemental Cellars, Wild Aire, and Grochau Cellars and of course my label, Vincent. Since John Grochau couldn't make it, I led the tasting for his sample as well as my own.

Essentially, each winemaker gets up and details what block the grapes came from in a given barrel sample, when the grapes were picked, how the wine was made, where the wine is in its elevage, and then people offer comments, opinions, questions. Sometimes lots, sometimes not much at all. For me, it's a chance to have several leading winemakers in our region try my wine and give their input. I happily wasn't nervous as I've been in the past. I'm happy with what I've produced and know others will enjoy it, provided they're looking for something translucent in color with delicate flavors that sneak up on you rather than hit you over the head.

I found it particularly instructive to taste everyone's barrel samples, hear how they approached the winemaking, where their wines are in their elevage, and what they thought of the wine. People are pretty honest, though they don't criticize so much. I think it's more about praise if the sample warrants it, then understanding of what the winemaker is trying to do, then keeping ones mouth shut if there's something they don't love about the sample.

How were the 2010s? From a big vineyard like Zenith, it makes sense to say - very good but all over the map. There were masculine, extracted wines. There were delicate, ethereal wines. There may have been some sense of place through them all. I'm not convinced though. I did find the wines interesting. Loved some of them, especially those that fit my style, which makes sense, no? And there's certainly a vintage signature - enough ripeness but not too much, reasonable alcohols, bright acids or flavors that convey more "crunchiness" than acidity levels might suggest. Call it a junior 2008, which is praise.

I came away both happy with my wine but also knowing I have lots to learn if I want to make truly great wine. I mean truly great, oh my god wine. Right now, I'm making what I think is very good wine. Wine I'm very proud of. But let's be real, I can do better and feel inspired to do just that. To continue learning and growing. So that I'm looking forward to this growing season and harvest, and many more after that.

Need more inspiration? How about a marvelous three course dinner that featured a vertical of Ponzi Reserve Pinot Noir from 1990 to 1996. That '90 was spectacular. The '92, from a hot vintage where harvest apparently started in late August (!!!), was really nice. The '95, from a rainy "wash out" vintage, I'd had before and it was again really nice, lighter for sure but all together and beautiful. Those were my favorites, though I was driving so I did much more sniffing than drinking.

Thanks Tim and Kari for the lovely event. I feel lucky to be part of the Zenith vineyard, even in my small way.

April 05, 2011

Old school cabernet from 1985

Pictured to the left you see two old school wines. Both from 1985, tasted earlier this year at Storyteller Wine Company in Portland.

One is visible in the glass, the 1985 Stags Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. The other is the 1985 Ducru-Beaucaillou, a classified growth Bordeaux from the Medoc commune St. Julien.

Both were made largely before the heights of modernization took hold in each region. Before picking at elevated sugar levels. Before micro-oxidation to "round out" tannins, reverse osmosis to concentrate musts and other wine growing and making techniques that create more and more sweet tasting, even if dry, wines.

And these wines reflected the glory of those days. The '80s. When we already thought the world had gone to hell compared to the "good old days." Yes, I'm aware that it's easy to look to the past for comfort.

Yet, these wines both showed qualities that simply aren't part of the current wine landscape. Ruby colors, translucent even, with delicate fragrance and medium bodies, with none of the purple, extracted sheen of more contemporary cabernet-based wines.

The '85 Stags Leap was beautifully aromatic, bottle sweet with red fruit and green tobacco aromas, soft, mature, silky balck currant tea and perserved fruit flavors. Perhaps it's a little old at 26 years. Let's not forget this was the basic bottling for this legendary Napa producer. Still, great producer, great vintage, lovely old wine that I would happily enjoy before, during or after a meal.

To compare, the '85 Ducru was all Bordeaux. Where the Stags Leap showed plenty of sunshine in its aroma and flavor, the Ducru was powerfully fragrant with iodine, gravel, meat and ash aromas, mixing with herbaceous red fruits. Younger smelling and tasting, with red fruit and gravel flavors, incredible tannic texture and some bottle sweetness, this was all Bordeaux, less about fruit and more about gravel and earth, still young so that another decade would probably allow for further softening, the flavors maybe not so intense as the Napa wine but the complexity and the finesse greater.

What struck me about these wines is that, were they young, many winemakers today might consider them unripe. Lean. Needing too much time to show their best. I understand the market pressures. How do you convince as consumer, much less a shop buyer, that the wine will be incredible in 20 to 25 years? So we have more and more wines built for immediate consumption, which will age no doubt, but don't seem to be built for the ethereal pleasure of such old school wines as these.

These wines started out as red, not purple, and purple doesn't magically become red with two decades in the bottle. So here's unique tasting experience, and a pleasurable one at that. See how wine was made in the old days of the '80s. Marvel at how such techniques are at our disposal today, if we're interested. If you'll buy.

March 29, 2011

Continuing marketplace saga

Nothing to spectacular to write tonight. Just another day out in the Portland wine market pouring my 2009 Vincent Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills wine for buyers at New Seasons and Whole Foods Markets. Some success. New Seasons Hawthorne is bringing it in, as is New Seasons Happy Valley. No word on the other stores I visited, and because most of the stores don't really make appointments, just have drop in times, sometimes you wait your turn. Sometimes there isn't anyone there or they just went to lunch. Sometimes they've already left for the day even though you're not done with yours.

Which is to say, a typical day selling wine. Some success, some failure, no outright rejection, sure, but a lot of work to get two sales. But I'm not discouraged. A friend heard the news and was so excited for me, it jarred me for a moment to realize that, yes, I'm doing what I love and having success. How could that be anything but great?

Oh, and both of those New Seasons stores want to bring me in for in-store tastings, which I'm still new enough at this to be really excited about. My goal is really to get lots of people who don't know what I'm up to, making what I believe is really good Pinot Noir in the city of Portland, OR, to know what I'm up to. And pouring and being able to tell everyone out there on the interwebs that I'm gong to be pouring, isn't a bad way to start.

Next up, more time in the market hitting lots of stores I still haven't gotten to, and the few I hit today unsuccessfully. You interested to hear more about how this all turns out?

March 20, 2011

Three fourths of Quattro Mani

I was turned on to the Quattro Mani wines this past year by Michael Alberty of Storyteller Wines in Portland, OR. The label means "four hands" in Italian, and is a partnership of (I think) four producers. Really, I've tried three and even the website of the importer, Domaine Select Wine Estates, suggests there are only three bottlings, so far anyway.

The story they list says things started in 2006 with a Quattro Mani bottling of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo made by Attillo Pagli, followed by a white in '08 and a sparkling wine in 2010. I've tried examples of all three, the current releases I believe, and they are all excellent and excellent values.

The current red is the 2009 Quattro Mani Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, perhaps the perfect pizza wine. Dark crimson, fresh and fruit-centered but clearly Italian with a classic bitter chocolate and almond dryness to complement the fresh mixed berry fruit flavors. There's fresh acidity and some tannin, just enough to keep things interesting. This isn't sweet, cocktail wine. Some might find it too dry. I love it, find it pairs deliciously with food, refreshing the palate with each sip, yet is fruity enough to satisfy anyone who at least would be interested in something like Chianti in favor of generic merlot. Locally at $9, ridiculous value.

The white I tried last was the 2008 Quattro Mani Toh-Kai made by the geek-famous Slovenian producer Movia, of some orange wine and esoteric sparklers. Stealing from a Storyteller newsletter, the producer is actually right on the Italian border, the label not reading Tocai because of EU rules to protect Hungary's Tokaji branding. So Toh-kai and another incredible value, and I'm sure the '09 will be if it's out now. Classic Tokai Friulano from NE Italy, full and crisp at once, slightly honeyed and spicy, floral, interesting but also easy to drink if you're not thinking about it. Great in summer weather.

But the most interesting Quattro Mani wine I've tried is something I wrote about recently in my post on the Portland restaurant Nostrana. It's the NV Quattro Mani Franciacorta Brut, from a region that is Italy's answer to Champagne (meaning it's good but nowhere near Champagne...what is?). Franciacorta apparently used to be the insider's place for great value, serious sparkling wine. Now prices have risen, but here's an excellent bottling for less than $20. I tried it once at Storyteller, immediately bought a bottle. Then tried it at Nostrana, thinking I probably wouldn't have the same reaction. You know when you like something, then try it again and, what's the big deal? Not here. This has all the finesse, mineral and brioche notes of fine Champagne. Ok, maybe a different profile. Again, there is no substitute to Champagne. But this wine is rich and fine at once, delicate but full, that magical balance you want in most wines. Not too light, not too heavy, just right. And at a price where you might find it be the glass, where you won't be cutting any corners to order it.

Terrific wine, terrific value. That's Quattro Mani. Three-fourths of it anyway. Still searching for that fourth wine. Any leads?

New wines and old at Red Hills in Dundee

The Armstrong vineyard gang met Friday night at Red Hills Provincial Dining in Dundee, OR, for the second annual dinner of grower and producers. Our Vincent Wine Company label sources from Armstrong, up on Ribbon Ridge, along with Seven of Hearts, Ayres and, starting in 2011, Aubichon. Good company for Vincent to be in, for sure.

This year the dinner was especially notable because three of us brought barrel samples from 2010 from the first fruit harvested at this new site, which is owned by Doug and Michelle Ackerman. It's too early to say much about the wines, and I'm obviously too close to be fair. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited. Last year, the site produced a small crop of nicely ripe fruit, and though the wines are still unfinished, everyone's samples showed great potential. Mine was the lightest in color but I like how expressive the wine is. We will see how things continue to evolve.

After quickly tasting through the barrel samples, we moved on to the main event. A mix of other wines, several older ones including a stellar Amarone Recioto from the 1960s. My favorite white wine was a 2005 Vincent Dauvissat Chablis 1er Cru "Vaillons" that was archetypal young Chablis. Greenish in the glass, strongly mineral with good weight, precise acidity and lovely seashell flavors. This will age nicely but was delicious with crab cakes. I saved and savored some for my main course of seared scallops.

Others ordered things like short ribs or lamb shank or mushroom pasta, so reds were fittingly our focus. Highlights there included a magnum of 1982 Gaja Barbaresco, generously opened by the Ackermans. What lovely old Piemontese red, mature with some pleasant oxidation and hard to describe earthy aromas and flavors, this was old school nebbiolo all the way. Translucent, perfumed, bottle sweet, just terrific wine that held up pretty well over the evening.

I brought the 2000 Confuron-Cotetidot Vosne-Romanee 1er Cru "Les Suchots" that showed pretty well. A bit more mature than 11 years might suggest, though I think 2000s are probably in their peak window these days. Fragrant, spicy, very Vosne, a little hard in the mouth though, not as resolved as the nose suggested. My only complaint. This was delicious red Burgundy.

Back to Italy for the 1997 La Spinetta Barbaresco "Vigna Gallina" that, I'll admit, was my favorite dry wine of the night. Incredibly aromatic, more modern, sure, but clearly Piemontese nebbiolo. The aroma was so nice, something you could smell all night and never tire of. Dark fruit, subtle oak, then fennel and other spicy aromas. Full and rich in the mouth but not heavy, tannin rounded as you find with more modern Piemontese red, but I can't complain. A little barrique flavor on the finish, but this is outstanding wine. The perfect answer to people (like me) who sometimes get a little dogmatic about how old school is always (always!) better than the new school.

There were some other notable reds, but I didn't pay enough attention to them. A rich, stony 2004 Janasse Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes, a ripe but not overdone 2003 Relagnes Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Vigneronnes, and an herbal and not quite up to task 2004 Neudorf Pinot Noir Mouterre from Nelson in New Zealand (another from me).

Really, I was focused on another incredible wine opened by the Ackermans. The 1968 Masi Amarone Recioto di Amarone, a wine that's one year older than I am and was so youthful, so delicious that I wouldn't have guessed it was older than 20 years and would still call it one of the most delicious wines I have had in recent memory. The perfect balance of savory and sweet, with little sugar sweetness but lovely, sweet aged fruit, no volatility, just perfectly integrated plum, tar, bitter chocolate, you name it, just incredible flavors, length, texture. Really, what great wine and great aged wine is all about. I am incredibly fortunate to have tried it. Thanks Doug and Michelle.

In all, a delightful night in Red Hills' Craftsman house of a restaurant. The service area in the living and dining rooms. Fir flooring, dark beams lining the ceiling. Almost perfect, which is no complaint, just truth. Provoking thoughts of the future. We promised to do it again next year and, even with the uncertainty of this year's growing season ahead of us, I'm sure it will be even better then. The future is bright indeed.

March 17, 2011

Nostrana e Perbacco

Nostrana in SE Portland is one of my all time favorite places to eat. It's terrific. Cathy Whims is well noted as a top chef in this city and beyond. The pizza oven cranks out incredible pies. The room, though large and potentially cavernous with high, exposed beams, is surprisingly intimate and comfortable. And...I've had a few meals here that were particularly special to me.

So I jumped at the chance to eat there the other night when a friend - a fellow dad (our kids are friends) and wine industry vet (he generously helped with my last open house) - suggested we stop in after checking out a middle school open house for our daughters. The open house didn't work out for me, but the real draw was Nostrana. And as it turned out, the 2007 Vietti Langhe Nebbiolo "Perbacco."

I started with a glass of bubbly from the Quattro Mani project, this a Franciacorta from NE Italy that's tremendous sparkling wine and a great value. The real story was the Perbacco. I've enjoyed this lower end Vietti bottling in the past, and noticed Antonio Galloni's glowing reviews of this wine in the Wine Advocate and on Grape Radio. Galloni says it's made just like all the fancy Barolo and Barbaresco in Vietti's cellar, just aged less and bottled earlier. This wine delivers on that promise.

We each ordered the Insalata Nostrana, rich with garlicky Caesar dressing and parmasean over raddichio. My friend immediately commented that the Perbacco seemed more Barolo than Barbaresco, darker fruited and surprisingly good with salad. Then came the pizzas, mine with herbs and sausage and an egg cracked right into the middle of the pie. The wine seemed a little more floral and high toned in this setting, still more modern in flavor, dark and rich but clearly nebbiolo with rounder tannin than most wines at this eschelon.

The food was fantastic and we talked about lots of things guys talk about. The wine was delicious, something I wouldn't think to put in the cellar but for the money it's really hard to argue with. Less traditional the Produttori di Barbaresco's Barbaresco normale, but a nice change of pace and clearly of its place. There's no mistaking this for anything but Piemontese nebbiolo. Think about it if that sounds interesting, and give Nostrana a try if you're in town. It's that good.

February 26, 2011

Cabot wines of California's Humboldt county

Growing up in Los Angeles, Humboldt county in far northern California always had an appeal. Remote. Forested. Some said there were legendary if cold waves to surf. And of course, there was weed. Pot. Ganja. Call it what you will, but the world knows Humboldt for its marijuana.

I imagine John and Kimberley Cabot might get annoyed if everyone mentions pot when talking or writing about their wines. I'm not helping. Or maybe they don't care. It's just that Humboldt isn't known for wine. Humboldt embodies rugged, and the Cabot's own labels feature a topographical map with a clear "X" marking their location. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

Probably surrounded by pot farms. Ok, enough already.

So you're forgiven if you've never had Humboldt county...wines. I never had until last weekend, when Michael Alberty of Storyteller Wines locally invited some people down to the shop to taste through a selection of Cabot Vineyards bottlings, which are only recently available in this market.

I'll spare the details of a shipping mistake that left us with wines intended for a tasting in New York City. We still have a variety of things to try and I was impressed, and interested to try more from this clearly below the radar (for the moment) producer.

A quick look at the Cabot web site makes it clear that John and Kimberly are committed to organic viticulture and hands-off wine making. That shows in the wines, which reminded me a bit of Edmunds St. John, one of my favorite California producers that make wines accentuating the unique fruit of California with an energy and cut you typically find only in the old world.

We started by trying two vintages of the Klamath Cuvee Red Table Wine. The 2005 was my preference, showing more syrah character than anything else (60% syrah, the rest cabernet, zinfandel and merlot). Dark fruit, white pepper, beef and iron aromas, with a lovely texture, floral blackberry flavors, good length, acidity and grippy tannin, just love this. The 2006 is 60% syrah but 40% cabenert sauvignon, and the cabernet seems to dominate here. More like cabernet franc, with gravel and green tobacco aromas and cassis and tobacco flavors, very Bordeaux with a roundness familiar in California wine. Nice tannin keeps things from being syrupy. Good, but not the 2005 to my taste.

Then the 2006 Syrah Aria's, named for the Cabot's daughter. Dark colored, apparently this is Cabot's hommage to new world syrah. It's not that dark though. Rich red fruit aromas, some syrah character but maybe I wouldn't pick this out blind. More typically floral in the mouth, coffee, fine tannin as all these wines show, good grip and edge to keep things interesting. I hear this had some whole clusters in the fermenter. Nice stuff.

Finally the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, with 7% cabernet franc blended in. This reminds me of old school California cabernet, maybe from the Santa Cruz Mountains. Only medium/dark ruby, translucent. Cinnamon, stalky red fruit aromas, nicely perfumed without too much weight or heft. Slightly diffuse and broader than I like in the mouth, but again more elegant than hefty cabernet, my style. Should improve with a few years of age.

I left feeling very interested in trying more Cabot wines. The clincher? The Klamath Cuvees are $20 full retail, the others more around $30. These are terrific and interesting wines for very reasonable prices. I was shocked especially that the first wine wasn't twice the price. So check them out if they sound good to you. I know I'll be looking for some. And I'll spare any comments about case purchases coming with a free eighth. No, in fact they don't.

February 21, 2011

Cotes du Rhone

Cotes du Rhone has been on the mind lately. This broad French appellation has long been a favorite of mine, covering all of the Rhone Valley, but for our purposes it's really an appellation of the southern Rhone.

It contains the great village of Chateauneuf du Pape. The boisterous Gigondas. The upstart Vacqueyras. Rasteau. Cairanne. Tavel And more. So many terrific subregions with their own AOC designations. Red wines and rose made from grenache, syrah, mourvedre, counoise and several other grapes. Whites from grenache blanc, marsanne and bourboulenc, among others.

But the regional AOC Cotes du Rhone, with the slightly higher level Cotes du Rhone Villages, that's my concern here. Cotes du Rhone is the Bourgogne rouge or Bordeaux rouge of the Rhone. The general wine from the region. Except I think there are better wines for the money at such a basic level than those regions, with exceptions (always). Where Bourgogne rouge overly tart in too many cases and Bordeaux rouge too often weedy and herbal, Cotes du Rhone can deliver serious wine, even if simple and simply delicious, at everyday prices. The best are serious and seriously complex, even ageworthy, even for $20 though sometimes more. Most are significantly cheaper.

I've long loved the wines of the Cotes du Rhone, but last week a friend asked for a wine suggestion for Parisian dinner at home. The main dish - French onion soup. With no sense of what might be available in an Arizona grocery, I knew it had to be French so I suggested Cotes du Rhone. Where else could you get somethings safely good without knowing what was available? Sure enough, they had the 2009 St. Cosme Cotes du Rhone and by all accounts it proved delicious. I'm sure it was softer, richer, riper than most Cotes du Rhone. Perhaps it wouldn't be Eric Asimov's selection (check out his great Valentine's day article on the subject). But it worked well and inspired me.

So tonight, steak on the grill, mashed potatoes (!!!) and roasted Brussels sprouts. What a perfect opportunity to check on the 2006 Charvin Cotes du Rhone "Le Poutet." Charvin is a terrific producer in the norther area of Chateauneuf du Pape, known for grenache-based wines of great power. Their Cotes du Rhone is something of a baby Chateauneuf, a term I hate for usually being used to sell Cotes du Rhone at closer to Chateauneuf pricing. But in this case, it's appropriate.

I love fruity, peppery Cotes du Rhone. That's the most classic profile of the region among the myriad examples you might find. This wine isn't that. Instead, it's structured, minerally, fairly intense wine that's easily more impressive and delicious than much lower end Chateauneuf. It's not the light, carafe-friendly wine I might think of with Cotes du Rhone, but with grilled steak this is perfect.

It has lots of fine, ripe tannin, plenty of rocky, cherry and herb flavors, good length and grip. This is serious wine for around $20, something I've cellared for a few years that could easily last and perhaps improve for several more. There's a bit of alcoholic heat, but nothing objectionable. Just enough to remind you of the sun-drenched, windswept terrain of this region.

The Charvin was delicious with the meal and reminds me, and should remind you, that when in doubt, think Cotes du Rhone. Roast chicken? Check. Onion soup? Check. Grilled meat? Check. Mushrooms, roasted vegetables, or cheese, meats and crusty bread? Check. Sure, nice Pinot noir could be a good match in many cases. Cabernet-based wines with some of the richer, fattier foods. Even white wines in some cases. Never underestimate white wine and cheese, for example.

But the lesson is clear - think Cotes du Rhone.