Archive for the ‘varietals’ Category

It’s Friday morning and a few minutes shy of 10 am.  Susan and I have just made the beautiful drive on Napa Valley’s famed “road less traveled”, a.k.a. the Silverado trail.  As we drive north past winery legends like Clos du Val, Stag’s Leap Winery, and Joseph Phelps, Susan reminds me that we need to keep a keen eye out for Deer Park Road, which could prove to be difficult due to the heavy morning fog blanketing the valley.

a sea of fog..Howell Mountain

Well, we find it. At the well marked intersection of Deer Park Road and the Silverado Trail, we hang a right and begin our climb up, into and through the fog and into another vinous dimension. At around 1400 ft. above sea level, which is just about where the limit of the Howell Mountain AVA begins, we cut through the soupy mess and find ourselves bathed in a bright, crisp winter light.

We continue through the town of Angwin,  take a couple more lefts, rights and arrive at O’Shaughnessy Estate Winery right on the dot. From the gated entrance up to the winery itself, it’s another three quarters of a mile of so, which is the perfect opportunity to take in the beautiful scenery: Madrone oaks, pines and cypress.

Cabernet Sauvignon @ O'Shaughnessy


And of course vines, and lots of them.  As we were soon to learn, O’Shaughnessy encompasses approximately 100 acres of Howell Mountain hillside set on two vineyard sites.  The Del Oso and Ampitheater vineyards, which were planted between 1997-2002, include 29 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, and 6 acres are planted to the following blending varietals:

Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Malbec, Carmenere and St. Macaire (a traditional Bordeaux varietal no longer cultivated in the region, but adopted in small measure in the US.)


21st century winemaking..

At the cellar door we’re met by Sean Capiaux, who is the head winemaker and COO at O’Shaughnessy.  A quick tour of the cellars, as well as a breakdown of the winemaking practices at O’Shaughnessy primed us for the tasting that was to follow.

Old world or New world? Bascially, the O’Shaughnessy winemaking ethos can be distilled or tweeted something like this: Neo-classic, using modern tools and analysis to make non-interventionist wine that is fermented naturally and bottled unfiltered and un-fined.

In addition to the modern stainless steel tanks, temperature control and automated pigeage, O’Shaughnessy boasts its own in house lab, which is ideal when timely decisions need to be made regarding the vinification and elevage process.

step back in time...

However state of the art is only one part of the larger picture at O’Shaughnessy. Make a sharp exit out the backside of the chai, and step back in time, to winemaking the way it’s been done for centuries..

to centuries old elevage techniques..

This 11,000 square foot cavern was dug out of the hillside directly behind the winery. 26 foot ceilings,  as well as the perfect ambient temperature for ageing red wine is where the O’Shaughnessy reds spend the better part of 2 years  in French oak barriques undisturbed as they mature.


amphora..oeuf or avocado?

Now what’s that? Along the wall, and tucked away within a separate little grotto we spotted this imposing concrete egg. I had seen these amphor-esque “oeufs” in France, and was curious to know what vinous project the O’Shaughnessy egg was incubating.

This concrete “avocado” (“..afterall, we are in California.” Sean states) contained 150 gallons (approx. 560 liters) of Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc that had been vinified and was presently undergoing elevage in this vessel.

Sean pulled out the ladder, climbed up and retrieved a sample for us to taste.  Bright and crisp citrus flavors, along with that requisite SB juicy bite of acid were matched by atypical minerality.  Atypical for California SB at any rate. This avocado SB took me closer to the Touraine in France’s Loire Valley, where I a more often find a more flinty or chalky quality to their sauvignon blancs. I suspect a bit has to do with the unlined concrete interacting with the wine.


With a tour of the winery and caves behind us, it was now time to taste some wine!

First up, the 2007 O’Shaughnessy Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.

Composed mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon (83%) with smaller amounts of Merlot (6%), Malbec (4%), 4% Petit Verdot and St. Macaire (3%) from largely volcanic soils.

Lovely crushed red berry fruits..raspberry..dark cherry, damson plum, vanilla and black tea notes, along with fine medium+ tannins make for a rich, yet balanced “neo-classical” wine. I suspect that a beef tenderloin would be a great food/wine pairing.

Across the valley and some 15 miles to the south, O’Shaughnessy’s Mt. Veeder vineyard turns out a slightly more dense and strapping rendition of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2007 vintage comes from vines grown on “Betty’s Vineyard” (named after co-proprietor Betty O’Shaughnessy Woolls), a steeply terraced site composed of largely sedimentary (ancient riverbed) soils.

Deep, black cherry, blackberry and smoked meat and a brambly quality along with coarser tannins make for a more rough hewn and less elegant wine (right now) than its more refined cousin to the north. Ideally, I would wait 3-4 years before enjoying this with grilled ribeye (more rustic and hearty than tenderloin).

We rounded out the tasting with this rich pinot noir from Capiaux Cellars.

Sean Capiaux established his eponymous winery back in 1994.  Single vineyard bottlings of pinot noir throughout California are the focus here.  Sean’s “neo-classical” winemaking ethos remains in play with the Capiaux wines as well. Indigenous yeast fermentations, no fining or filtering at bottling.

The 2008 Capiaux Pinot Noir from the Pisoni Vineyard (Santa Lucia Highlands) is big indeed, but in no way a bruiser. Admittedly, the 15.2% abv had me more wondering if this pinot would taste more like cough syrup than fine wine.

However my fears were more than assuaged upon tasting. Deep cherry notes, spice, cinnamon stick, a touch of black tea and a lushness that envelopes the mouth without seeming hot or syrupy.  I suspect that this king size pinot noir would be pretty awesome with say roasted duck, filet mignon or a hearty mushroom risotto.

Many thanks to Sean Capiaux and O’Shaughnessy for such a great introduction to the wines of Howell Mountain and then some!



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nothing but gray skies..

This is the current scene taken from my office window. Gray, rainy and blustery. It’s been raining off and on for the past several days, which, along with the cold weather, is a firm reminder that here in the Bay Area, we are definitely deep into winter. Luckily we don’t have snow or freezing temperatures to deal with, however all of this rain does tend to keep me inside and thinking about warmer days past and future.

In the meantime, how about if I spin tail recounting sunnier times, when the vines were growing, the bees were buzzing, and the flowers were in full bloom!  This vernal scenario is exactly what transpired when I had the opportunity to visit Tablas Creek earlier this year. Accompanying me on this visit were two very knowledgeable and easy going guys, Nicolas Jaboulet of Maison Nicolas Perrin, and Emmanuel Lemoine of Vineyard Brands.

Our host for the day was none other than Robert Haas, one of the founders of Tablas Creek. After taking us on a tour of the vineyards and nursery, Robert was also going to lead us through a tasting of the domains’ current offerings. We were in for a real treat!

which way to the Rhone Valley?

Tablas Creek is located in Paso Robles, a wine growing region situated approximately halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles on California’s Central Coast. On this west (of the Hwy 101) side of Paso, two venerable business partners and friends founded Tablas Creek back in 1989.

More specifically, the Perrin family of famed Chateau Beaucastel in France’s Rhone Valley, and American importer Robert Haas, the founder of Vineyard Brands, believed that the shallow, rocky limestone soils and the mediterranean-like climate would favor the production of high quality Rhone inspired wines.

the vineyards at Tablas Creek

Haas and the Perrins purchased a hilly 120 acre parcel of approximately 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean in a district known as Las Tablas. From Beaucastel’s famed vineyards in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, they imported traditional red and white Rhone vinifera plant material, with the intent of propagating and grafting these vines for this new domaine.  It should be noted that this process was by no means easy or expedient, as the vines had to pass a thorough testing program in order to receive a clean bill of health.

Today, Tablas Creek is planted to a veritable panoply (more on this later) of Rhone varietals, all of which are farmed and certified organic. The Mourvèdre, Grenache Noir, Syrah, and Counoise (reds), and Roussanne, Viognier, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc (whites) grown on the domain have all been propagated and cultivated here at Tablas Creek.

In addition to these tried and true Rhone varietals, one will also find lesser known varietals like Picpoul and Vermentino (Rolle). The domain also partners with NovaVine in Sonoma, which provides customers with high quality grafted vines using Tablas Creek vinifera material.

L-R: Emmanuel, Nicolas and Robert Haas at the grafting table

Tablas Creek young vines ready to be planted

After our tour through the Tablas’ vineyards, Robert brought us to the on-site nursery for a first hand look at how these vines are propagated. In fact, many steps need to be taken before, say, a Grenache vine can be planted in the vineyard. First, vine budwood needs to be selected and grafted onto Phylloxera resistant rootstock.

I shot  this a brief video of Robert showing us how it’s done! Using the omega grafting machine, Robert first cuts the vinifera bud. Next he inserts a suitable rootstock cane while the machine holds the cut vinifera in place. With a second press/cut, the rootstock is cut and now fits like a puzzle piece with the vinifera bud. For a great summary of this vine propagation process, check out the Tablas Creek Vineyard Nursery Journal.

After Robert’s grafting demo, we were off to the Tablas Creek tasting room to taste wine!

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Today I pressed my batch of Eaglepoint Ranch grenache that I picked up, processed and began fermenting less than 2 weeks ago. So far so good! My grapes have successfully made the transformation from sweet fruit, to the beginnings of, I hope, a tasty wine.

However before I continue on with coverage of the press action, here is a play-by-play of the journey from day one up until now..


Day 1:

Destem and crush approximately 200 lbs grenache grapes

Volume: approximately 20 gallons

pH analysis: 3.7

broke hydrometer, but pulled sample to take sugar readings at later date

added 25ppm potassium metabisulfite

Day 2:

Inoculated must with:

15 grams LALVIN K1-V1116 a.k.a. “Montpellier” yeast strain

1 oz yeast nutrient

both dissolved in 12 oz. water @ 109 degrees farenheit.

Day 3:

Fermentation begins, indicated by foamy action..carbon dioxide which is a byproduct of fermentation.

Purchase 2nd hydrometer: pull unfermented must from fridge and take reading: 14.7% potential alcohol. (I should have done this earlier, but I need to get a starting point so that I can track the progress of fermentation)

The house smells really good!..like fresh grapes and violets.

Day 4:

 Begin 2 x daily punchdown of the cap.

1 x daily stirring of must from bottom of fermentation vat.

Monitoring fermentation temperature which reaches a high of 82 degrees on day 4.

Must is cooled to 75 degrees with 2 milk jugs filled with water and frozen (hugh ice cubes!)

I am having alot of fun!!

 Day 5:

2 x daily punchdown of the cap.

1 x daily stirring of must from bottom of fermentation vat.

Fermentation steady at approximately 78-80 degrees.

Break 2nd hydrometer (this time early in the morning, before I have had coffee)

Now the house smells like grapes and warm bread.


Day 6:

2 x daily punchdown of the cap.

1 x daily stirring of must from bottom of fermentation vat.

Purchase 3rd hydrometer: take reading, which indicates that fermenting must is at 8% potential alcohol


Day 7:

2 x daily punchdown of the cap.

1 x daily stirring of must from bottom of fermentation vat.

Now the house is beginning to smell like I smashed a bottle of red wine on the floor.


Day 8:

2 x daily punchdown of the cap.

1 x daily stirring of must from bottom of fermentation vat.

Carbon dioxide begins to lessen..less foamy action

My friend Keelyn informs me that she is going to make beer. We will trade wine for beer! 

Day 9:

 2 x daily punchdown of the cap.

1 x daily stirring of must from bottom of fermentation vat.


 Day 10:

3rd hydrometer reading indicates –1.25% potential alcohol.

Must has fermented to dryness.

1 punchdown only (less carbon dioxide being created to protect wine)

No extended maceration for these grapes, so it is time to press!

NEXT: le pressoir!

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Harvest 2010 at Eaglepoint Ranch

Just look at this gorgeous shade of purple. Ripe and ready to go..these grapes from Eaglepoint Ranch are the reason I made the 2.5 hour drive up to Mendocino County @ 4 a.m. a few days ago.

About 20 minutes east of the Ukiah Valley, approximately 1800 feet above sea level and well above the fog line I arrived at Eaglepoint Ranch.  Here, on the 1,250 acre property, approximately 82 acres of vineyard are planted on 30+ separate vineyard blocks. Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Counoise, Syrah, Grenache, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon are represented on the various sloping hillsides composed largely of red alluvial soils.

"Mr. Eaglepoint" Casey Hartlip (R)

As I pulled into a spot next to a grove of oliviers I spotted a tractor coming down the road. Casey Hartlip, viticulturalist/grapegrower, and  a.k.a. “Mr. Eaglepoint” made a quick sign for me to hang tight for 2 minutes while he attended to unfinished harvest business.

Considered one of the most respected wine growers in California, Casey Hartlip knows Eaglepoint like the back of his hand. Actually probably better than the back of his hand! Casey’s first harvest at Eaglepoint was in 1977. Over the years he has managed the vineyards at the property..from grafting over certain blocks, to the planning and planting of new vineyard blocks and varietals. Much has been written about the reputation of Eaglepoint Ranch and the indispensable role that Casey has played in shaping that reputation. Suffice to say, that as a newbie winemaker, Casey was incredibly generous to oblige my request for 200 lbs of grapes.

A dog's life: Pee Wee

The team mascot at Eaglepoint Ranch is Pee Wee, a 6 year old fox terrier who graciously greeted my pup Sonic. I am certain that Pee Wee is the envy of many pooches. Acres of vineyard land to run through, sun, squirrels, gophers, random rides in the vineyard pickup truck. Life is sweet. 

La cosecha 2010

When I arrived around 7:30, harvest was in full swing. The counoise and syrah blocks had just been harvested (all done by hand), and the grenache blocks were just about to get underway.  How many pictures of these harvesting pros did I take? Many. How many actually came out? Few. Team Eaglepoint moves fast and furious. It seemed like just about every time I snapped a pic, I was half a second too late!

The goods: Eaglepoint Ranch Grenache 2010

Here are the raw goods. A cluster of Eaglepoint Grenache that was soon to make it into one of my assorted bins. Casey indicated that the grapes were smaller this year than general. Grenache has a tendency towards thinner skins and a healthy skin to juice ratio, resulting in lighter pigmentation in the finished wine. Considering the size of this years grapes and amount of skin to juice ratio, I suspect that the finished wine is going to be pretty deeply colored.

load em' up!


Back at home base, and with the first drop of grenache grapes in, it was time for me to pitchfork 200 lbs of grenache into my bins. 15 minutes later, loaded up with my grapes and one tired dog, I bid au revoir to Casey and started my drive back to Oakland.

Thank you Eaglepoint Ranch and thank you Casey. Now let’s see how I do with this beautiful fruit!


Next up: Winemaking 101 chez mumu!

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My third and final day in the Willamette Valley brought me back to the Dundee Hills, for what turned out to be one of the most interesting and personable events at Oregon Pinot Camp.

Far from being a competition or wine scoring “taste off” as the name might imply, “East Side vs. West Side” was a fantastic opportunity to really understand and taste the differences between to different terroirs within the same AVA or mesoclimate.

Winderlea: In the heart of the Dundee Hills AVA

The plan was for our group to convene at Winderlea Wine Co. before heading up the hill to our first vineyard stop. I was 20 minutes late..and got a ride up in the vineyard truck. Authentic! Our expert hosts for this in depth tour and tasting included:


Representing the East Side:

 Winderlea Wine Co:  owners Bill Sweat and Donna Morris;  Robert Brittan winemaker  

 Erath:  winemaker Gary Horner    

 Representing the West Side:

 Stoller Vineyards:   winemaker   Melissa Burr  

Gary Horner of Erath..breakin' it down

First on the agenda, our group of 10 or so were treated to the different soil profile of the Dundee Hills AVA. Gary explained that east side of the region contains high degree of volcanic basalt, the reddish lava-based soils known as Jory soils. This soil type is moderately fertile, drains fairly well, and exhibits light to moderate erosion levels.

 It is this eastern side of the where another legend of the Oregon wine industry first set down roots.  In 1972 Dick Erath of his eponymous winery produced the first commercial wine from the eastern side of these Dundee Hills. A whopping 216 cases!

In contrast, the western side of the Dundee Hills is comprised of a different soil makeup. Gary explained that further west, the sedimentary Willakenzie soil series covers the slopes of the Dundee Hills. More specifically, rather than decomposed volcanic basalt produced from igneous rock, Willakenzie soil is derived from sandstone, siltstone and tuffaceous materials. Great you might be saying, but really…

 How does all of this soil stuff translate to how a wine tastes?

We’ll find out later at our East Side vs. West Side comparative tasting!


Bill Sweat and Robert Brittan in the Winderlea Vineyards

After our soil tutorial, our group headed back to Winderlea Wine Co. , where we met co-owner Bill Sweat and winemaker Robert Brittan for a tour through the vines. Winderlea is the realization of a shared passion and dream between Bill Sweat and Donna Morris.

Originally from Boston MA, Bill and Donna move to Oregon in 2006, purchased the famous Goldschmidt Vineyard, and renamed their new venture “Winderlea”. This name was inspired after a Vermont  farm founded years ago by a Jewish/German family, for which “Winderlea” meant “a valley protected from the wind”.

a gopher's eye view of the vines

Winderlea Vineyard was originally planted in 1974 by owners John and Sally Bauers, and represents several blocks of the oldest own-rooted Pinot noir vines in the Willamette Valley. Bill explained that some of these old vines may eventually succumb to phylloxera.

 In 1998 ex-Oregon Governor Neil Goldschmidt purchased the vineyard and re-grafted existing parcels of chardonnay, gamay and cabernet sauvignon with pinot noir. David Adelsheim of Adelsheim Vineyards (link) was hired to manage the re-plantings. 

Today, 16 acres at Winderlea is comprised entirely of pinot noir on 13 separate blocks.

Winemaker and viticulturalist Robert Brittan explained that high density planting, the introduction of Dijon clones, and biodynamic viticulture are practices that the winery are employing in order to produce high quality site specific wine as well respectful stewards of the land.

Next: lunch @ Winderlea and a comparative tasting of East Side vs. West Side!

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At 5:15 my alarm goes off as I groggily rub my eyes. Why am I awake so early? It takes me a second or two before realizing that this morning I am going to be flying up, up and away over the Willamette Valley in a hot air balloon!

The plan is to meet at 6 a.m. at WillaKenzie Estate, a stunning 420 acre domaine located in the Yamhill-Carlton District of the Willamette Valley. The estate takes its name from the Willakenzie soil which is evident throughout the approximately 100 acres planted to vines on the property.

This particular sedimentary soil, along with the region’s climate which, is so aptly suited to the production of cool climate varietals,  are what led Bernard (a native of Burgundy) and Ronni Lacroute to establish WillaKenzie Estate in the early 1990s.

After a quick cup of coffee and a morning pastry, three balloons were fired up and off we went for a breathtaking tour of the Valley. Check it out!

As we slowly floated upwards, we got birds eye view of the WillaKenzies’ 30 or so separate vineyard blocks that were dispersed amongst untouched parcels of Douglas Fir, oak and maple trees. These vineyard blocks are planted exclusively to vines of the pinot family. Below is a quick breakdown:

Pinot Noir:   67 acres    (10 different clones)

Pinot Gris:    18.4 acres

Pinot Blanc:   5.5 acres

Pinot Meunier:   3.6 acres

Gamay Noir:    3.2 acres  (a cousin of the Pinot family)

Differences in elevation (300-700ft), exposition, soil depth, row orientation and drainage are important factors which influence the  the specific “terroir or expression of each wine in the WillaKenzie lineup.

In addition to vineyard location, clonal selection is another factor, which when suitably paired with an ideal vineyard local can produce a more diverse range of wines with specific qualities and nuances. At WillaKenzie, 10 different clones of pinot noir are planted across the property. The idea is that each clone, planted to a specific terroir will elicit a different expression of pinot noir. These folks really practice what they preach. Take a look at the clonal bottlings from WillaKenzie below.

La sélection clonale de WillaKenzie Estate

After our balloon ride, our balloon group had worked up a pretty hearty appetite. (It’s hard work getting up that early to check out the view!) Luckily, a delicious breakfast buffet was waiting for us by the time we returned to the winery.

Fresh brewed coffee, make your own omelettes, bacon, waffles, fresh fruit, oatmeal and the oh so popular selection of Voodoo Doughnuts were on hand.

Sunday morning breakfast at WillaKenzie Estate

Quick, before all of the blood in my brain rushes to my stomach, it was time for a tour of the winery with Bernard Lacroute!  Located directly outside the WillaKenzie tasting room was a great overhead view of a portion of the winery’s cellar.

People Matter! Winemaking at Willakenzie Estate

Here, Bernard explained that along with the significance of soil, and clonal selection, the human element, or more specifically, winemaking practices are also important in the WillaKenzie equation towards the production of top notch, value driven wine. Three practices that the domaine enthusiatically promotes are:


Sustainable Viticulture and Winemaking

To promote and responsible stewardship towards the land and natural resources of the region. WillaKenzie Estate was the first winery to receive the new Low Input Viticulture and Enology (LIVE) winery certification. They are also the first winery to be awardreceive the Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine (OCSW) designation for the 2008 vintage.

Gravity flow winemaking

To ensure the gentle handling of grapes and wine throughout the entire winemaking process. Gravity flow winemaking is essential in the production of high quality wine. Willakenzie employs this process for their entire range of wines.

Screw Cap Closures

In order to safeguard the highest level of quality and consistency to wine consumers. Willakenzie Estate was the first winery to bottle their premium pinot noir wines utilizing screw cap closures.


Thanks for the ride and visit WillaKenzie Estate!


Next: East Side meets West Side at Winderlea 

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Stay Cool..

On day two of Oregon Pinot Camp our OPC school bus dropped us off at Van Duzer Winery for a seminar and tasting of Oregon’s cool climate white wines. Van Duzer Winery is a family owned winery which is perfectly situated  in the foothills of the Van Duzer corridor.

This natural break in Oregon’s Coastal Range straddles the western side of the Willamette Valley and permits cool maritime air from the Pacific Ocean to flow eastward into the Willamette Valley. The influx of cool air helps moderate and mitigate the summer heat and higher temperatures throughout the growing season.

OPC's cool white experts..

Seated in the Van Duzer barrel room we met a panel of Oregon winemakers who led us through a comparative tasting and history of cool climate white wines from Oregon.

Facing us and from left to right were:

Harry Peterson-Nedry                 Chehalem

Josh Bergstrom                               Bergstrom Wines

Rob Stuart                                         R. Stuart & Co. 

David Paige                                       Adelsheim Vineyard    

Oregon Style:

Key on the agenda was the question of defining an “Oregon Style” of white wine. While each vineyard site and every winemaker will impart different characteristics to a finished wine, the Oregon white wines of today seem to overwhelmingly showcase New world fruit characteristics coupled with Old World structure and acidity. In terms of a winemaking, different approaches are employed to produce the following two styles of wine:

Fruit Forward Styles:

Objective: To showcase fruit character and characteristics of the vineyard site.

Winemaking Methods: Stainless steel fermentation at low temperatures, no malolactic fermentation, ageing in stainless steel or large neutral oak vessels.

Texturally Enhanced Styles:

Objective: To produce a wine with less overt fruit characteristics, but with richer flavors and a more generous mouthfeel (a.k.a. more textural)

Winemaking Methods: Barrel fermentation, lees contact, full or partial malolactic fermentation, barrel ageing.

Chardonnay flight # 1

Our first flight took us through a comparison/contrast of 6 different Chardonnays. This international varietal has experienced a tumultuous history here in Oregon. Back in the 1980s, chardonnay was the most widely planted white varietal in Oregon, accounting for 23% of the state’s planted acreage. At the time, some growers were grubbing up their pinot noir vines to plant more chardonnay.

However, the early chardonnay clones that were planted in the 1960-1970s were not optimal selections for Oregon. More specifically, the popular Selection 108 clone (U.C. Davis clone 4 & 5) yielded large late ripening clusters that only ripened successfully on a regular basis in southern Oregon. The resulting wines were often unevenly balanced in terms of both structure and flavor, yielding wines with either tart green apple acidity, or overripe tropical fruit flavors.

Fast forward to 1984 and 1988, when a series of chardonnay clones were introduced to Oregon from Burgundy. These new selections produced smaller clusters that bloomed and ripened 2-3 weeks earlier than the Davis clones. The grapes also exhibited more flavor and at lower sugar levels, which produced wines with more a subtle, integrated and balanced flavor profile than previously.

Gris from the Pinot family..

Flight #2 took us through a tasting through a selection Pinot Gris, which is Orgeon’s most widely planted varietal today. Back in 1966, David Lett (Eyrie Vineyards) was the first grower to commercially plant this genetic mutation of Pinot Noir in the US. The first release of this wine appeared in 1972, and since then the Orgeon wine industry has never looked back.

Ponzi Vineyards released their first Pinot Gris in 1983, and a year later Adelsheim Vineyards followed suite. Pinot Gris’  status in Oregon took another big leap in the early nineties when the King Estate began planting significant acreage of the variety as well as buying additional grapes from other growers to increase their production.

Cool Whites @ OPC flight #3

Our third and final flight was aptly described as a “fruit salad” tasting of lesser known white varietals planted in Oregon. Commercial winegrowing in the state began less than 50 years ago. With little experience and lacking centuries of grape growing trial and error like many regions in the Old World, Oregon winegrowers pretty much started from scratch.

Varietals like the ones shown above in our tasting were planted throughout the state. In addition, Muller-Thurgau, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Semillon were also planted, with varying levels of success.

 A Riesling Renaissance..

Of  particular interest to me is the Riesling revival that is currently taking place in Oregon. Back in the mid 1980’s, this delicate varietal accounted for approximately 19% of the total planted acreage. In 2010 this number has fallen to paltry 3.8%. However the Rieslings that I tasted on my last trip to Oregon were most impressive. What’s more, growers and winemakers from Oregon seem really keen on working more with this varietal.

Stylistically, the examples I tasted seem to lie somewhere between the rapier like acidity (and austerity) of a Clare or Eden Valley Riesling, and the weight of one from Alsace. They are fresh and energetic whites that I could easily drink just about any night of the week, and with any dish that I choose to prepare. I am impressed by what I have tasted, and definitely plan to try more of these..


Next: Willakenzie Estate

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