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Time for a glass of wine!

Our walk through the vineyards at Winderlea eventually brought us to the far side of the property and a cabana with a magnificent view to the Dundee Hills. With all that hard work and brain power expended that morning, it was now time for a little R&R!

What did our hosts have in store for the us rest of the afternoon? A comparative pinot noir tasting paired with a multi-course lunch prepared by chef David Bergen of Tina’s restaurant in Dundee. Our group arrived just in time to sample chef Bergen’s first culinary treat that afternoon. A glass of  pinot noir rosé paired with pan fried Willapa oysters and sorrel mayonnaise.

back at Winderlea headquarters..

With our appetites fired up and lunchtime fast approaching, our group wandered through the vineyards and back up the hill to the Winderlea winery. Here, we were greeted by Donna Morris, as well as some of the most amazing aromas to ever emanate from a kitchen..

le menu

Those Willapa oysters were just the beginning! The main food /wine pairing theme today was pork (from a small local farm) as the menu above indicates.  Chef Bergen’s risotto with pancetta and porcini mushrooms was probably the best I have ever had.

Winderlea, Erath and Stoller Vineyards Pinot Noir

And what exactly pairs best with such an inspired menu? How about pinot noir! Take your pick..as our group was presented with multiple flights of pinot noirs from the Winderlea, Erath and Stoller Vineyards. During lunch, I was fortunate enough to sit next to and chat up winemaker Robert Brittan, who is also the owner of his eponymous winery.

Turns out, Robert is a huge fan of cool climate syrah. More specifically those from the northern Rhone, which, as the Rhone buyer for K&L Wine Merchants, are right up my alley! Robert also kindly suggested that instead of making wine, my chances of success and the fun factor would be greatly increased if I made beer instead. Something tells me that he is probably right.

As we enjoyed courses one, two and three, winemaker Melissa Burr of Stoller Vineyards  led us through each of the various pinots noirs poured before us.  Erath’s Prince Hill Vineyard, the Winderlea 2008 lineup, as well as those from Stoller vineyards.

Winemaker Melissa Burr of Stoller Vineyards

 

Q:Were we able to recognize any general tasting consistencies regarding those wines produced on the east side of the Dundee Hills vs. those produced on the west side?

 A: Those wines form the East Side of the Dundee Hills seemed to exhibit more red fruit nuances, a spicy quality, and a bit more levity and brightness. The tannins also seemed a bit more fine. In contrast, wines from the West Side of the Dundee Hills displayed a touch more weight, and body, along with more blue fruit and earthier notes. The wines also seemed to carry a bit more tannic structure than those from the east side.

After lunch it was finally time for me to pack it up and head off to the airport for my return to the Bay Area.  As I had to leave a bit early, Donna sent me off with a selection of cookies for the ride back to Portland. My final moments at Oregon Pinot Camp were drawing to a close. What a wonderful experience. I learned so much in 3 days about the land, the people, and why cool climate varietals are really hitting their stride in these parts..

To those of you who live in Oregon, lucky you! To those of us who live in California, the plane ride is a short one, and the drive from Portland airport a scenic 45-60 minute drive. Of course there is great wine country here in California, but Oregon is different. Way different. And that is what makes a visit so rewarding and new. I look forward to exploring other wine growing regions of this state.

Good bye OPC, and thanks for the great experience!

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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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After our afternoon in the Bethel Heights soil pits, it was time to wash up and partake in the OPC annual salmon bake. Skewering large salmon fillets on wood planks and roasting over an open fire (as seen above)..then feasting!

This year’s OPC salmon bake was hosted by Stoller Vineyards. Located smack dab in the middle of the Dundee Hills AVA, Stoller produces a range of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot noir rose. They are also the first gold LEED certified winery in the United States.

Pursuing and attaining this certification says mountains about the commitment Bill and Cathy Stoller have towards making a positive impact on the planet. Building a winery towards attaining LEED certification takes time, money and serious planning. Thank you Stoller vineyards for being such trailblazers and setting the bar so high when it comes to winegrowing, winemaking and a clean and healthy environment.

 

As myself and the other campers scampered around from table to table tasting wines and chatting it up, I grabbed a glass of 2008 Willamette Valley Vineyards Riesling. I have to admit that over the course of 3 days I tasted, re-tasted, then saddled up to the table for yet another taste of this lively white. Crisp and bright, with great acidity and nuances of fuji apple, pear and white peaches, this Riesling is a steal at $14 a bottle. Such a deal!

With my glass of Riesling in hand, I headed over to watch the salmon bake prep in action. This culinary tradition has deep roots throughout the pacific northwest. For centuries, Native American Indian tribes like the Makah, S’Klallam and Umpqua would spear freshly caught salmon on cedar or ironwood planks and roast the fish to perfection over hot coals. This Summer 2010 at Stoller vineyards was no different, except that we’d get to drink some pretty amazing wines with this culinary treat.

 

Like this 1987 Pinot Gris aged to perfection from Eyrie Vineyards, located in the Dundee Hills AVA. Eyrie Vineyards is one of the Willamette Valleys’ true originals. It is considered by many to be  the “birthplace” of Oregon pinot noir as it was founded when the region was truly in its infancy back in the mid 1960s. This is where it all began..when David Lett, a recent viticulture and enology grad of UC Davis,  planted the first pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris cuttings in the region. Papa Pinot, as David Lett came to be known, was a visionary, and he is greatly respected by everyone who knows and appreciates wines from this region.

At 23 years of age, this pinot gris (incidently, Lett was the first to plant this varietal in the USA) was nowhere near tired. What a treat to taste a wine made by the man himself, Papa Pinot.

NEXT: Oregons’ Cool Climate Whites

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Location, location, location. When it comes to red wine varietals, pinot noir is considered to be the most transparent and reflective of them all. More specifically, A vineyard’s environment, which includes the soil composition, exposition and weather each exact a significant imprint on the qualities of this fickle varietal. The notion of what and how soils affect the characteristics of pinot noir was what lead us into the “pits” at OPC.

This afternoon “in the vineyard” workshop was held at Bethel Heights  winery, located in the Willamette Valley’s Eola-Amity Hills AVA. Here, two soil pits, each approximately 6 feet deep, had been dug at opposite sides of the vineyard.

Each pit served to illustrate the two basic soil types most commonly found throughout the Valley.  One pit revealed soils that were marine sedimentary in origin. The second pit, located a bit higher up the vineyard slope, contained  soils of volcanic basalt in origin.

At the beginning of the  workshop, we were asked to consider the following three questions which are listed below.  Our questions were summarily answered by a group of Willamette Valley winegrowers who know the region like the back of their hands.

 

Question I: What are the origins and physical characteristics of the different soil types throughout the vineyards of the Willamette Valley?

 Each of the twenty or so campers (including myself), took turns descending into the pits to take a closer look at the top and subsoils of the vineyard. As we did so, Mike Hallock of Carabella Vineyard de-briefed us on the origins of the different soil types throughout the Willamette Valley.

I. Marine/Sedimentary

Until around 12 million years ago, western Oregon was on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. For 35 million years prior, it was gradually accumulating layers of marine sediment, which ultimately comprise the oldest soils in the Willamette Valley today.

Starting 15 million years ago, immense pressure caused by the collision of the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate gradually pushed the area that is now western Oregon out of the sea. The Coast Range as well as the volcanic Cascade Mountains were also formed as part of this upheaval. The Willmette Valley thus started as an uplifted ocean floor sandwiched between two large mountain ranges.

II. Volcanic/Basalt

During this same period, volcanic eruptions from the Cascade Mountains sent rivers of lava down and through the Willamette Valley, ultimately covering many parts of the regions with layers of basalt. (extrusive igneous rock)

Continued pressure led to the formation of numerous interior hill chains that are a combination of tilted and uplifted layers of volcanic basalt and sedimentary soils.

III. Ice Age/Loess

 The creation of a layer of wind-blown silt (loess) also contributed to the present day soil profile of the region, having derived from severely weathered basalts and sedimentary soils blown from the valley floor.

 IV. Flooding/Silt

 18-15 thousand years ago (much, much later) and at the end of the last ice age, the melting of a glacial dam near what is now Missoula, Montana repeatedly flooded the valley, leaving behind deep silts (soil or rock derived granular material with a grain size between sand and clay).

As our group moved further down the slope to the marine sedimentary pit, we were met by Ted Casteel, the co-founder and co-owner of Bethel Heights. Ted further explained some of the specific soil names associated with these four geological periods.

 I. Marine/Sedimentary

Examples: WillaKenzie, Bellpine, Chuhulpim, Hazelair, Melbourne, Dupee

II. Volcanic/Basalt

Examples: Jory, Nekia, Saum

 III. Ice Age/Loess

Examples: Laurelwood

 IV. Flooding/Silt

Examples: Wapato, Woodburn, Willamette

 After our soil pit exercise, our group sat down to a comparative blind tasting of Willamette Valley pinot noirs that was moderated by Jesse Lange. The purpose of this exercise was to shed light on this second question: 

 

Question II: Can specific flavor characteristics in pinot noir wines be correlated to specific soil types?

Although it is difficult to surmise with a sampling of just a few wines, I do believe that the generalizations below do hold some weight.

Pinot noir wines from volcanic soils:

Made in a style that accents the high toned aromatics, red/blue fruits, baking spices, and softer, more succulent tannins of volcanic soil.

Pinot noir wines from marine sedimentary soils:

 Made in a style showing the voluptuous blue/black fruit, earth tones, and bigger, heavier tannins that come from sedimentary soil.

 

Question III: What is the relationship between soil types and the AVA’s within the Willamette Valley?

 Or more specifically, how and where could one taste test this soil/pinot profile interplay? Below is a brief synopsis of each of the 6 Willamette Valley AVA’s, their principle soil profile, and key wineries that produce wines from these soils.

 * Dundee Hills AVA: mostly basaltic, with some marine sedimentary at lower elevations and on western and northern slopes.

Wineries: Stoller Vineyards, Sokol Blosser, Domaine Serene, Erath Vineyards, Lange Estate

* Eola-Amity Hills AVA: mostly basaltic, with some marine sedimentary at lower elevations and on western and northern slopes.

 Wineries: Bethel Heights, Brooks, Cristom, St. Innocent

* Chehalem Mountains AVA: basaltic and marine sedimentary on the southern and western slopes; ice age loess on the northeastern slope.

 Wineries: Chehalem, Ponzi, Adelsheim, Rex Hill

* Yamhill-Carlton District AVA: predominantly marine sedimentary

 Wineries: Soter Vineyards, WillaKenzie Estate, Lemelson Vineyards, Anne Amie Vineyards

* Ribbon Ridge AVA: entirely marine sedimentary

 Wineries: Trisaetum, Beaux Freres, Patricia Green, Brick House

* McMinnville AVA: primarily marine sedimentary with some basalt and alluvium.

 Wineries: Maysara Winery, Yamhill Valley Vineyards, Brittan Vineyards

After playing in the dirt and learning all about the Willamette Valley’s diverse soil types, it was time for me to head back to the hotel and wash up before the evening’s salmon bake at Stoller Vineyards. I took a cue from the Bethel Heights pug cutie and even got in a disco nap before the evenings’ festivities began!

Next: A Salmon Bake at Stoller Vineyards

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Ever since I was a little girl, I have always dreamed of attending Oregon Pinot Camp. I am joking, bien sur, however attending OPC has definitely been on my wish list or must do wine events ever since I started working at K&L Wine Merchants over 7 years ago.

nothing but blue skies.. OPC 2010

Well, this summer my wish came true!  Over the course of 3 days, I attended OPC 2010, which was hosted by the very best wineries of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The objectives of this annual event are to educate a select group of professionals in the retail and restaurant trade about the unique characteristics of wines from this region.

signing up for OPC at Sokol Blosser Winery

As the name suggests, a study and exploration of Willamette Valley pinot noir was certainly an important topic that weekend. However, as I came to fully appreciate by the end of OPC, this cool climate growing region excels at producing a range of white varietals too, including pinot gris, riesling, chardonnay and even gruner veltiner!

OPC 2010 begins here..

After settling in at our hotel in McMinville, a bright yellow school bus picked up myself and approximately 30 other pinot campers. Our camp counselor (each bus was assigned one) was none other Jim Bernau, the founder and president of Willamette Valley Vineyards.

After a cheery welcome, Jim informed us that after an initial registration at Sokol Blosser Winery, campers would have the opportunity to taste wines and enjoy a light dinner before the real “fun” began the following morning.

After signing in and rifling through my bag of OPC goodies, I set about tasting and meeting with the other campers and participating wineries. So much wine to try and so little time! I spotted several of my tried and true favorites and made it a point to stop by, say hello, and taste the newest releases.

a warm welcome from St. Innocent Winery

Chief among them was St. Innocent Winery, which produces a range of pinot noir, pinot gris, pinot blanc, chardonnay and sparkling wine from various vineyard sites throughout the Willamette Valley. Pictured above is Mark Vlossak, the winemaker and president at St. Innocent. Mark knows this region well, having founded the winery in 1988. In addition to his role at St. Innocent, Mark was also the winemaker at Panther Creek Cellars from 1994-1999. More on this domaine later.

WillaKenzie Estate's Pierre Léon Pinot Noir

 

WillaKenzie Estate, another one of my favorite Willamette Valley producers was on hand pouring wines at this opening reception. Bernard Lacroute, owner of WillaKenzie, was chatting with invitees as he poured the domaine’s Pierre Leon cuvee. Bernard has an incredibly impressive (and hysterical) bio which is very inspiring to say the least. There is more on this great property and their wines to come!

Biodynamic cool climate wines from Montinore Estate

In addition to more familiar wines and faces, I met for the first time many new domains from the region. Montinore Estate, produces a range of pinot noir and white wines (pinot gris, chardonnay, gewürztraminer, müller-thurgau and riesling) which are all farmed utilizing biodynamic principles.

Dusky Goose pinot noir swimming in an ice bath!

Dusky Goose  was another boutique winery located in the Dundee Hills that I tasted for the first time. Fruit for the domain’s pinot noir come from the Rambouillet and Winerlea Vineyard (more on this later!) of the Dundee Hills. The winemaker at Dusky Goose is Lynn Penner-Ash, who is also the owner of her eponymous winery Penner-Ash Wine Cellars.

 Next: Location, location, location! What makes the Willamette Valley so unique?

 

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Believe me, it is not my intention to make your life more difficult. Yes, I know that reading and understanding French wine labels can seem completely esoteric and confusing. Champagne has, through exceptional branding (and blending), been able to woo drinkers throughout the world to adopt wines from the region as the world’s pre-eminent, sparkling wine. But really, what makes Champagne so unique? Soil is one factor, and more specifically that super specific form of limestone a.k.a chalk, (more about this later). In addition, the 5 distinct regions of Champagne, where different varietals excel, often contribute to the creation of sparkling wine of  a superior balance, intensity and ageworthy-ness that can only be found Champagne.

The regions of Champagne

 

5 regions of Champagne:

Montagne de Reims

Vallee de la Marne

Cote de Blancs

Cote de Sezanne

Cote de Bar/Aube

Let’s start at the top…

Montagne de Reims:

The first region on our stop is the Montagne de Reims, the northern and eastern most region in Champagne. Located directly south of the Champagne capital of Reims, the vineyards here are planted overhwhelmingly to pinot noir, which produce some of the most precise and intensely structured wines in Champagne. Although a signifigant number of vineyards in this district face north (a factor which would inhibit adequate ripening, especially in such a cool climate) the free-standing Montagne de Reims (really more a series of hills)  allows for the cooler air to “slide” and settle down in the plain, while warmer are rises above it, and just about where key vineyard sites are located, therefore permitting the grapes to ripen sufficiently.

I often find wines from the Montagne de Reims to display a certain “strictness”.. a wine with chiseled edges. For instance, strong and racy are adjectives that I have used more than once to describe Jean Lallement’s pinot noir powered champagnes. These wines are taught, fit and with such high acidity, often times very ageworthy. What inspiring qualities! In addition to being showcases for the terroir of this region(see the grower-producer list below), grand marques houses will often utilize pinot noir sourced from the Montagne de Reims (in particular Ambonnay and Bouzy) to add structure, depth and power to their blended champagnes.

 

Important villages located north to south:  

Sillery

Verzenay

Mailly-Champagne

Verzy

Bouzy – also famously known for their limited production of still red wine!

Ambonnay

Important  Grower -Producers located in the Montagne de Reims: 

Michel Arnould

Vilmart et Cie

Jean Lallement

Camille Saves

Godme

Egly-Ouriet

Henri Billiot

 

A study in terroir-Jean Lallement and La Montagne de Reims

 

If by now you are chomping at the bit to try a great example Champagne from the Montagne de Reims, then a great place to begin is with Jean Lallement. When describing the some of the classic characteristics of wines from this region, this Verzenay based domaine is nearly always at the top of my list. Approximately 80 percent of their 4.5 hectares is planted to the mighty pinot noir, the rest to chardonnay. Their vineyards are located in and around the villages of Verzenay, Verzy and Ludes. Although labeled as a non-vintage Champagne, the current release of Lallement’s Brut Cuvee Reserve comes exclusively from the 1998 vintage. The 80% pinot noir and 20% chardonnay all come from one north-facing vineyard plot in the Grand Cru village of Verzenay. This wine is strict, dry (less than 3g/l dosage) and intensivo. It’s what the Montagne de Reims is all about.

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