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.