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The Oregon Chardonnay Symposium

Clone Wars...March 14th

Bubbles to Celebrate In The Chelan AVA

Lake Chelan's Winterfest

A Heaven for More than Horses

Horse Heaven Hills AVA

Feels Like Family

Jasper Sisco Wines

New School Cool Climate in Oregon's Newest AVA

Elkton, Oregon

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Clone Wars: The Oregon Chardonnay Symposium


In 2012 Paul Durant of Durant Vineyards and Erica Landon, of Walter Scott Wines collaborated on the first of what has become an important and successful annual event, The Oregon Chardonnay Symposium. The event has sold out every year (maybe go buy your tickets before you finishing reading this.) This year the technical panel and tasting is being moderated by Rajat Parr, and will include some of the Willamette Valley's most vocal champions of the clone debate. Jason Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards and John Paul of Cameron. (More on this later.)

The event features a technical panel, as well as a grand tasting to follow. This year's iteration, The Attack of the Clones, yes really; takes place on March 14th.

After Paul had returned to his family's business in the Willamette; one of the things on his mind was a childhood memory; chardonnay. "I'd always had an affinity for chardonnay and I think it goes back to when I picked it as a kid. I loved the taste, it's always been a strong memory for me; it's like that smell you remember when you walk into your parents' house."

While at this point it's safe to say that Oregon's chardonnay has arrived, it is very much a comeback story. Chardonnay remains under-planted in the Willamette Valley, The Durant family who have been one of the vineyard stalwarts in the Valley since just about the beginning originally had a fair bit of chardonnay. Much of their chardonnay though was for years, going towards sparkling wines made by Rollin Soles at Argyle.  After phylloxera forced a large replanting at Durant, many former chardonnay rows gave way to pinot gris or pinot noir.

That story is retold throughout much of the Willamette Valley. While chardonnay's star has undoubtedly risen, it still has a way to go to gain the sort of respect it surely deserves. Not only in acreage planted but in the marketplace as well.

Despite Paul's fondness for the grape, the market for Oregon chardonnay has shown a real lack of appreciation. "We started making really impressive chardonnay in around 2007, they were showing some promise. But you know we weren't getting paid (that much) for chardonnay and it's growing on some of the best vineyard ground in the Valley." One of the goals of the event is to draw attention to the kinds of chardonnays the Willamette Valley is producing, and make a case for a wine that deserves a higher price-point. 

To that end the Oregon Chardonnay Symposium began as an opportunity to educate consumers and showcase what winemakers throughout the valley were doing with their chardonnay. "It can still be a hard sell in the tasting room. You'd be surprised how resistant some people are to trying it." Which is a shame, as Oregon's chardonnay has the potential to make any doubters a believer. 

The number of participating wineries have nearly doubled each year and what Paul has really found encouraging was the number of consumers who were attending the technical panel. One guy is flying out from Minnesota. 

Aside from the overt quality, there's a bit of a chardonnay counter culture movement happening right now in the Willamette Valley, which brings us back to that clone debate I mentioned earlier. The rising tide of Oregon chardonnay has coincided with the popularity of Dijon clones being planted in the Willamette Valley. Get the back story here. The fact of the matter is though, the Valley was originally planted widely with 108 and Wente clone chardonnay. Those in the Dijon camp claimed they were simply not able to get these California clones to ripen in the cool Willamette Valley. While many folks perhaps pulled their vines, either to plant more pinot noir or as they did at Durant as a result of phylloxera, there's a lot of folks who didn't want to or didn't have to. Some of them are making dynamite chardonnay from those older "heritage" clones and so all this Dijon or the highway talk is rubbing them the wrong way. 

Others just think that a lack of diversity, or a sort of hegemony of Dijon chardonnay stunts the growth of a region, in the case of Eyrie, it's hard to argue with the kind of success and longevity they've had with their original plantings. The Eyrie original chardonnay planting is made up of what is called the "Draper Selection" a collection of clones that David Lett brought north from California. 

So it'll be great to hear from both clone camps at The Oregon Chardonnay Symposium.  If you care about what's going on in the wine scene here in the Northwest, I recommend you think seriously about this event.

2012 Stoller Family Estate Reserve Chardonnay Melissa Burr reliably creates some of the most compelling Chardonnay in the Willamette Valley each vintage. Aromatics of coriander, honeysuckle, lemon zest and pineapple. Mostly neutral French oak gives this wine depth, texture and complexity and ample lemon creme, wet stone and peach skin. Mouth watering acidity and overall elegance. $35

2013 Kramer Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay Rich, rounded and redolent. Aromatics of baked apple, cinnamon and nutmeg. The wine really evolves over the course of an evening, fruit forward particularly with tropical notes and hints of spice. The combination of stainless steel and neutral French oak produces a great mouthfeel and texture, but the acidity seems to drop off a bit at the finish. $28

2013 Walter Scott Cuvee Anne, Willamette Valley A blend from vineyards in both the Eola-Amity Hills as well as the Chehalem Mountain AVA. The result is super. From Walter Scott who produces tiny quantities, this chardonnay is what I have come to think of as Oregon's wheelhouse. Bright floral and citrus aromatics give way to a substantial mouthfeel and texture. Classic lemon creme elements that have become for me a signature of these Willamette chardonnays are the signature of the palate. The mouthfeel is both rounded and vibrant with a pulsing current of lively acid. $45

2013 Durant Vineyard Chardonay "Raven" Made by Isabelle Duarte of De Ponte Cellars for $25 this is an out of sight and overtly elegant chardonnay. Can something be overtly elegant? Beautifully aromatic with chamomile, white flowers and jasmine, and early season nectarine. The palate is layered citrus, stone, fleshy and yet streaked with minerality and lively, lively acidity. This wine screams buy me and punches well above it's price-point. $25 

2012 Evening Land Vineyards, La Source Chardonnay Old vine Dijon clones from 1995 create a powerfully pretty and robustly ripe chardonnay. The floral aromatics are effusive, white flowers, jasmine and green tea. The palate continues a strong case for Dijon clones in the Valley, super balanced  lemon creme core along with a stone, chalky minerality. Fresh, vibrant yet loaded with layered fleshy fruit. $65

These wines were provided as samples.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Have You Ever Been Experienced? The Seattle Food & Wine Experience

Well, Valentine’s Day is over, my friends. By this point the chocolates you received are probably gone and the roses your boyfriend sent to your office are wilting (but of course, they will stay on your desk for the rest of the week anyhow, to remind your cubicle neighbors that their boyfriends and husbands didn’t send them flowers at work. Just pretend not to notice the petals falling all over the floor).


And President’s Day was good for just one thing: Sitting on your couch in yoga pants enjoying free online shipping from Ann Taylor Loft. (Or hiking, if you were feeling adventurous. It was beautiful outside).


But have no fear, ladies (and gentlemen), for the Seattle Wine and Food Experience is being held this Sunday, February 22, from 1-5 pm at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall.


And the key word here is: Experience.


"Crafting a unique tasting experience or interactive aspect offers the ticket buyer extended value and turns the event into an experience they will remember,” Jamie Peha, of Peha Promotions, producer of SWFE explains. “We want guests to walk away with education about the beverage and food products that they encounter at the event.”


And the lineup promises no disappointments! (No, I’m not going to list them all out right now. Be patient!) With so many scrumptious nibbles at your fingertips and inspired beverages at your lips, you will need a guide to get you through this delectable experience in a mere four hours. A girl needs a plan, and here is mine:


I will arrive promptly at one o’clock and head straight for the Top Pot Doughnut & Coffee Bar. (This will make up for the fact that I didn’t eat breakfast). After I’ve had my coffee I will sip some Sun Liquor spirits while I try to decide which pairs best with Top Pot’s Feather Boa versus the Old Fashioned.


Next I will stroll over to the Stella Artois Bistro & Chef Stage where I will snag my very own Stella Artois chalice and watch Diane LaVonne of Diane’s Market Kitchen create luscious little morsels - and then I will sample them. All of them. And I am sure they will all pair delightfully with that Stella, because everything pairs well when you’re drinking out of a chalice.


Once I have some food in my system and I’ve tried spirits and beer, it will be high time to move to wine. However, before I get to really indulge I think I will let my nose lead the way to the Wente Vineyard Aroma Experience. This will be a great opportunity for me to improve my abilities to pick out specific aromas in wine and learn to identify and describe them more easily. Toasted. Cocoa. Cherry blossoms. Sulfur. How many adjectives and synonyms can the average wine blogger use when testing her nose? After smelling and carefully sipping the Wente Vineyard family of wines, I’ll report back.


After my science lesson, it will still be time for wine. (Plus I’ll have that chalice to drink out of!) I think I will visit the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Tasting Bar and take the “Riesling Challenge,” ostensibly to identify my preferences for Dry, Off Dry, or Sweet Rieslings. Truth be told, I already know my preference, (off dry), but this will be my opportunity to taste selections from their entire portfolio, including Chateau Ste. Michelle, Anew, 14 Hands, Columbia Crest, O Wines, and Red Diamond.


By this point on Sunday I am going to be ready to eat more food, (specifically some protein), and so I will make my way to the Heritage Meats Butchery Block. This year master butcher Tracy Smaciarz, who owns Heritage Meats, will be on hand to show off his skills with a blade. No, really, he’s going to be demonstrating butchery techniques and we will be able to feast on bites from Bell + Whete, featuring Gleason Ranch Beef, and my favorite Pioneer Square haunt, Delicatus, featuring Jerry Baker Pork.


Once I’ve had my fill at the butcher’s I will take a very quick stroll through the Sip Northwest Distillery Walk. Tasting some of the region’s hottest craft spirits should be just enough to convince me to find a seat at a cafe table at the Tim’s Cascade Snacks, Beer and Cider Exhibit. Those famously salty chips and fluffy popcorn will be a nice follow up to the pork and beef, and I think ending my day with a refreshing Washington cider would be exquisite.


However, folks, this plan (though impeccable, if you ask me), still doesn’t leave time for a tastebud tour from Yakima Valley Tourism, or the 600 other wines that will be waiting for you from Washington, the Northwest, across the United States, and from around the world! I didn’t even mention the QFC Advantage Lounge, where we can taste reserve wines from Brown Family Vineyards, Erath, Col Solare, Mercer Estates, Northstar, and many others.


And of course, I haven’t drawn attention to the most important part: This event will be hosted by members of Les Dames d’Escoffier Seattle, celebrating its 25th anniversary, and the SFWE is supporting this incredible organization in raising funds for scholarships for women in the culinary, beverage, and hospitality industries.


So yes, you can experience all this exquisite food and booze and help sponsor women who want to study in the culinary field. This is definitely better than online shopping in your yoga pants.


Tickets for this unique culinary experience are still available from Brown Paper Tickets.


And just think of how nice that chalice will look on your desk once you finally throw out those dead flowers.

I will see you there. Cheers.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Chelan Celebrates With Bubbles

From Marty Sparks(ling wine)

Bubbles!

If you thought that sparkling wine was only for ringing in the New Year, toasting newlyweds or christening yachts you should think again.
Sparkling wine is great throughout the year for all sorts of occasions.  Pop the cork on some bubbly and watch that magical sound bring a smile to anyone’s face.  Not only do bubbles bring fun to the party they also bring great acidity that makes them an excellent pairing for all kinds of food.
The sparklers are bursting on the scene in Lake Chelan like the jet stream of aromas and flavors carried on the millions of tiny bubbles bursting forth from a champagne flute.  Lake Chelan has a thriving wine community that is growing in number of wineries and quality wines.  With the dynamic collection of wineries, Chelan is becoming a destination that is about more than summertime fun in the sun.
Each January Chelan celebrates the beginning of the year with their Winterfest.  It is a fun way to kick off your new year and explore the wines of the Lake Chelan AVA.  This year the organizers added a new event, the Bubble Bar.
The Bubble Bar featured sparkling wines from four Lake Chelan wineries and amazing small bites from Erik and Adrianne of Canella Kitchen.  Three of the winemakers are using grapes grown in the Lake Chelan AVA and there is good reason for that.  The climate surrounding the lake is proving to be ideal for growing the grapes most commonly used to make sparkling wine – chardonnay and pinot noir.  In fact, the microclimate created around the lake is proving to be one of the few locations in our state where pinot noir will grow happily.

Cairdeas Sparkling Grenache Blanc is 100% Grenache Blanc from the Boushey Vineyard in Yakima.  Charlie Lybecker, the wine maker, originally picked these grapes to use in his Southern White Rhone style wine.  He was inspired by the floral aromas and acidity of the grapes to use them in his latest sparkling wine.
Charlie makes his sparkling wine in the Italian style used to make Prosecco.  The wine undergoes secondary fermentation in tank rather than in the bottle.  The result is a crisp, light and delicious sparkling wine that really lets the character of the grape show through.  The nose features notes of white flowers, light honeysuckle and citrusy lemon zest.  The palate follows with lively bubbles featuring light crisp flavors of lemon and green apples.
Karma Vineyards, Hard Row to Hoe and Tsillan Cellars all make their sparkling wines in the French method champenoise style.  These sparkling wines all undergo secondary fermentation in bottle.  The wine remains in contact with the lees until the bottle is disgorged to remove the yeast and cork the wine for consumption.  The additional time the wine spends in contact with the yeast cells results in the yeasty bread characteristics found in Champagne and sparkling wine made in the champenoise style.
Karma Vineyards specializes in sparkling wines (you can read an earlier profile here on the Wine Anthem).  They offered two choices for the Bubble Bar.  The 2011 Pink made from 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay and 2008 Brut  de Brut.  My favorite was the 2008 Brut de Brut made with 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir (60/40).  This sparkling wine had beautiful notes of yeast, pears, green apple and a hint of lemon zest.

Tsillan Cellars provided their 2013 Sparkling Brut Pinot Gris made from grapes grown in their estate vineyard on the South shore of Lake Chelan.  This sparkler had notes of pear, yeast and green apples.  It paired very nicely with the bite sized smoked salmon quiche from Canella Kitchen.

Hard Row to Hoe produces their Good in Bed Sparkling wine from Pinot Noir grown at the Clos Cheval vineyard on the South side of Lake Chelan.  Judy Phelps, Hard Row’s wine maker, picks the grapes in mid-September with the intent to make her sparkling wine.  Picking the grapes early results in higher acidity that you typically find in sparkling wines.  The grapes are whole cluster pressed which results in a beautiful sparkling wine that is slightly salmon colored.  The nose shows notes of yeasty pear followed by a palate that features lively tight bubbles bursting with green apple, pear and lemon zest.  Good in Bed paired well with the sweet and savory Pear and Blue Cheese tartlets.
Lake Chelan is becoming a year round destination for fun, especially if you are a wine lover or explorer.  Many of the wineries are open through the winter.  If you are looking for adventure you should head on out to Chelan to explore the burgeoning wine scene.  Most of the winemakers work in their tasting rooms.  That provides the perfect opportunity to learn about these fabulous wines from some of the friendliest people in the Washington wine industry!

Monday, December 29, 2014

All Horses Go to Heaven...The Horse Heaven Hills AVA

the view from Coyote Canyon Vineyards
Whenever I'm out in the Yakima Valley I always look to the south side of the river along highway 82 at those beautiful rolling hills and think, "those are the Horse Heaven Hills." And sometimes I even say it out loud, if someone is with me in the car. I suppose it makes me feel smart or informed, but in reality, while that is technically correct, that's really just the tip of the Horse Heaven Hills AVA and nowhere near where all the big work in the growing region is being done.

To get to the Horse Heaven Hills, really get there, you gotta go up over those pretty hills just behind Prosser and then drive for sometime. You'll pass some conventional farmland and then eventually you'll come to the Columbia River. This is important because as you note along your drive, much of the Horse Heaven Hills is arid, high desert. It's the Columbia River's moderating influence that even makes quality wine grape growing something you can consider out here.

It's a confluence of conditions, the Columbia, the canyons that run up from the river into the plateau above and the dry, sandy soil. In 1972 Walter Clore approached Don and Linda Mercer and convinced them to take a chance on wine grapes. Their family had been farming the Horse Heaven Hills since the 1930s growing a cornucopia of crops, wheat, onions and carrots, to name a few. The Cabernet they planted in 1972 has gone onto 100 point greatness in what is now known as Champoux Vineyard as an important part of the Quilceda Creek reputation.
Mercer Estates Spice Cabinet Vineyard
Horse Heaven Hills has certainly grown since then, McKinley Springs planted in 1980, and in 1991 Chateau Ste. Michelle planted what has become one of the AVA's most signature sites in their Canoe Ridge Vineyard. The AVA has really grown up, it's total acreage is 570,000 so it's an expansive region with only about 12,000 acres planted to vineyards. I say only but the HHH AVA comprises 25% of Washington's total wine acreage.

The wines from the area have developed a style certainly that has become a signature of the AVA, Raymon McKee the winemaker for Chateau Ste Michelle's Canoe Ridge finds the signature to be "an expression of the soil, particularly in the tannin." The tannins tend to be the most notable, they bring a real sense of elegance, and add a dusty or powdery backbone to the wine. The palates are marked with redder fruits like cranberries, or red cherry. As warm as the area is, there's definitely a structure to the wines that leans more towards Old World wines like those from Bordeaux than you'd expect.

The region is in good hands and its reputation only continues to grow as it benefits from seeing how its older vines produce outstanding fruit. The pioneering vision of the Mercer family, the talents of someone like Paul Champoux and reach of Chateau Ste Michelle, along with the fine wines the region has gone on to produce will make it a region, that while perhaps a bit out of the way, is deserving a noteworthy stake on any map of the American wine landscape.

2013 Mercer Estates Reserve Chardonnay, Horse Heaven Hills While the Horse Heaven Hills seem heaven sent for Cabernet; Chardonnay from the region can be outstanding. The Mercers are the original wine growers in the HHH,but they haven't rested on their laurels and continue to push the region forward as both growers and a winery. Jessica Munnell shows a skill set where Chardonnay is concerned with this wine, it's opulent and oaky without being buttery and boring. Aromatically rich with hazelnut, toasted bread and baked apple, the wine carries through on the strength of it's fruit and acidity. The palate is rich, balanced and ripe. $32

2012 Columbia Crest Reserve Chardonnay Horse Heaven Hills Columbia Crest has over 2,000 acres of vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills and with their H3 line has showed an incredible commitment to the AVA. That line of wines represents one of the state's best values year to year and in the sub $20 price point is a go to Tuesday night wine for many serious wine aficionados as the quality is just so high. This Chardonnay is another case maker for the wine in the HHH. Aromatically round and ripe with notes of vanilla, nutmeg and ripe pear the palate shows a vibrancy that is too often lacking in American oaked Chardonnay along with rounded fruit flavors of pear and creme brulee. $20

2010 Double Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet is king of course, and that holds true here in the Horse Heaven Hills, whether it's Champoux Vineyards or just across the street at Phinny Hill it's Cabernet that made this region famous. The Double Canyon Vineyards are just north of the Champoux Vineyards at a total of 88 acres and the connection to Phinny Hill is not just as neighbors. (Family is a thing that you hear time and again here in the Horse Heaven Hills and so Will Beightol son of Phinny Hill's Dick Beightol is managing the vineyards for this label with Napa and Willamette Valley roots.) The quality is present from the start with the fine tannin and superb structure that the more you familiarize yourself with it, you come to expect from HHH Cabernet. Aromatics of anise, black tea and dust, the wine is offers depth, and a elegant structure along with a present acidity. Flavors of mocha, red fruits and barrel spice. $40


2013 Chateau Ste. Michelle Sauvignon Blanc, Horse Heaven Hills While Cabernet and Chardonnay show so well from the HHH this wine is ridiculously good each year. Stainless and a heaping dollop of acidity make this vibrant white from one of the states warmest growing regions pulsate with citrus and stone fruit aromatics. The palate is cut fresh fruit and wet stone. For the price one of the state's best white wines year in and year out. $18

2010 McKinley Springs Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills There are many different varieties planted in the region and Malbec is one you're really seeing distinguish itself. This wine is elegant and while it offers plenty of blue and black fruits it is structured (again those dusty tannins) and very lively. (I tasted it beside a well regarded Argentinian Malbec which frankly seemed down right dumb in comparison) This wine shows aromatics, acidity, earth, spice and stony minerality along with it's dark fruits. $24

2012 Columbia Crest Reserve Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills This Malbec is a part of the limited release wines from Columbia Crest and the wines are made with an incredible amount of care. An inky black wine to behold as well as on the palate. Black fruits, smoke, earth and clove spices. Fantastically structured, with a core of black fruit. $45

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Feels Like Family: Jasper Sisco Wines

In May of 2012 one of our writers Megan, visited with a guy named Justin Paul Russell who had come to the Willamette Valley from the Alabama. He brought with him a dream of making Oregon Pinot Noir. Two years have past and Justin has successfully launched Jasper Sisco with his first wines, including a 2012 Pinot Noir and a 2013 Riesling.


Jasper's story, sorry, Justin's story is illustrative of the kind of community that the Willamette Valley has always been and frankly remains, in spite of it's growing stature in the wine world. The California wine giants' land grab hasn't done any damage the family fabric of Oregon's Pinot Paradise. Quite the contrary; what Justin has found is an extended family in his home away from home.

Justin has landed at Portland's SE Wine Collective, a sort of "maker space" of the city's young wine talents. The Collective allows those interested in making wines, who also aren't land barons, to take a stab at making Pinot in Portland's city limits. In my opinion some of the wineries working out of there, are making some of the most imaginative wines in the Northwest right now. The collective gives them a sense of community, a little help with labor and equipment borrowing and a library of shared experiences to draw from to tackle any challenges they might see in wine production.

Justin has also benefited from a fantastic extended family relationship with the Momtazis of the Willamette's Maysara winery. It's there that he really got his foot in the door, working harvest and crush for two years as well as developing relationships with the broader Willamette wine community.

Now that his vision for Jasper Sisco has become a reality, that family feel remains important. Whether that's choosing his fruit sources or where he makes his wine. "Biodynamics are important to me, but at the core sustainable farming and the growers are what drive the vineyard choices. I want to be able to connect with the people I purchase fruit from, I want them to be people I'd have dinner with or better yet a beer... Momtazi is a site that I feel connected to in a lot of ways, I love the entire family and owe a deep amount of gratitude to them for all the help along the way."

"Cherry Grove was about being in the right place at the right time, in 2013 Tom of Division Wines and of SE wine Collective was sourcing Pinot Noir from there and he knew I was on the hunt for Riesling. He knew that Bob had just opened up a parcel that used to be contracted by Matt of Love and Squalor."

2012 Jasper Sisco Pinot Noir, Momtazi Vineyard  A warm vintage that has been the recipient of many accolades given its fruit forward results. I find the Jasper Sisco Pinot to be overtly aromatic with aromatics of dried violets, dirt and white pepper. A bit more complex than many of the "fruity" 2012 Pinots I've come across this wine's got a high sense of minerality, the acid is soaring and the wine is leaner than it is robust. Which I dig personally. Dried figs, cocoa powder and earth driven minerals. Justin on where the fruit comes from: "I source from two blocks on the site BD (clone 114) and JJ  (Pommard) both planted in 2001 both mostly Jory Soil based." $32



The label is an interesting story that ties back to that family theme. "That's Jasper in the middle of the photo. The photo was taken in West Virginia when he worked in a coal mine. The two people with him are relatives but nailing down who they are with the family I have left that knew Jasper has been dicey. The consensus is that they were cousins. The use of his name as the parent label is a tie not only to family, but work ethic, wit, and a persnickety nature that were central to his personality."

2013 Jasper Sisco Clara Estelle Riesling, Cherry Grove Vineyard A wine as pretty and distinguished as the woman who graces its label. Beautiful aromatics of wet stone, coriander and lime zest. The wine's palate is zippy and alive, flavors of wet stone and grape fruit, and thirst slaking acidity. One of my favorite Northwest wines I've had all year. In Cherry Grove Justin is rubbing elbows with some of the Valley's heavy hitters in terms of sourcing fruit from there. "Cherry Grove Vineyard is in Gaston, Oregon. The others who source from it are Antica Terra, Boedecker, Andrew Rich, as well as Love and Squalor. The riesling portion of this vineyard is just .8ths of an acre. It's a twenty three year old planting at the base of the site. An amalgam of soil types, the site is Live certified." $18

The woman on the label? "Clara Estelle is the great grandmother of my dear friend Wesley Sloman who helped with harvest in 2012 and has remained closely connected with the vintages since then. Clara was the first lady of Tarrant, Alabama in the sixties. She was the lady you went to if you needed to get something done, or needed to know something about someone in Tarrant. I've spent time connecting with Wesley's mother for stories." 

In his first go-round Justin has produced a pair of impressive wines. He thinks though the best is yet to come. "The largest feedback loop I find myself in is the one at the Collective.  We share info on production and the business aspect of things almost daily.  As far as the wines go, I think my stylistic choices in the cellar draw the most feedback, People tend to think my style is risky. But as I was once told that what you risk reveals what you value."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

New School Cool (Climate): Brandborg Vineyard & Winery

photo from the Brandborg Vineyards & Winery
The newest AVA in Oregon, having been granted in early 2013 is found in the Umpqua Valley's town of Elkton and its surrounding hillsides. The Elkton AVA designation was sought to make sense of the larger Umpqua Valley's diversity. It was simple according to Terry Brandborg whose Brandborg Vineyard and Winery opened as the area's first winery in 2002. "As people learn more about Oregon wines, that AVA (the Umpqua Valley) promotes itself most commonly as warmer and drier than the Willamette Valley.  Most people therefore are not aware of our area or the Illinois Valley which lie within this very large AVA, that are both cool climate regions.  So, when we are in market, it is always a bit confusing to people that we make cool climate whites and pinot noir.  The Elkton AVA gives us something to talk about that helps us differentiate our wines, adding that validity that comes with AVA approval."

The town of Elkton is a tiny one (only a 195 residents as of the 2010 census), but beautiful. It sits in Oregon's coastal range and gives off a sort of classic Northwestern vibe, reminiscent of the town of Hope, Washington. Hope, Washington is of course the fictional town in First Blood, the classic Rambo film. I really wanted this Brandborg story to follow the same arc. Long haired California winemaker shows up in town, small town sheriff gives him a hard time, he flees into the woods and makes terroir reflective cool climate Pinot Noir. First Crush would have been a great title. Alas, once Terry Brandborg had relayed the story of his arrival in Elkton I had to change gears completely, bummer for all of us.


Terry and his wife Sue came to Elkton in 2002, founding Elkton's first and only winery at the time, though vineyards had been planted in the area nearly thirty years prior. They were motivated by Ken Thomason's pioneering planting of Pinot Noir, Gewurtztraminer and Riesling dating back to 1972. (Thomason planted the area's original vineyards which have since been acquired by the River's Edge winery.) These were varieties that Terry had been working with since his days in the Anderson Valley in the 1970s and were a big part of his early success as a garagiste winemaker.

These days there are twelve vineyards in Elkton but Brandborg is working with three of them most notably; making wine from Bradley Vineyards, Anindor Vineyards and his own estate fruit. He finds that Elkton wines are definitely showing a sense of terroir. "I certainly do believe we have identified terroir, with distinctive differences in the wines we make with Bradley fruit, Anindor fruit and our own site.  At our Ferris Wheel Estate (which is at 1,000 feet elevation) we get less ripe flavors of blueberry and pomegranate with a softer tannin structure, whereas Bradley and Anindor show more dark cherry with more tannin structure.  Our soils are very similar to Willakenzie and Bradley and Anindor are similar to Nekia."

Elkton is certainly a cooler climate, and in fact, based on growing-degree-days is as cool or cooler than most of the Willamette Valley. Terry Brandborg as an established and talented winemaker who has been focused on cooler climate varieties throughout his career found it a perfect fit.  Though his arrival did turn a few heads. The opening of the Brandborg winery and tasting room right in "downtown" Elkton was another pioneering moment in the still growing Umpqua Valley. They got some strange looks on the crush pad, which is just across from the Post Office. The front and center placement  certainly made people curious about their new neighbors, but there were no Sheriff Will Teasle moments. In fact, Brandborg's selection of Elkton not just for his vineyards but his winery, (as opposed to choosing nearby and much larger Roseburg) drove a bit of renaissance in downtown, with several businesses updating or renovating their store fronts.

Since that time Terry and Sue have been out to make cool climate whites like the Riesling and Gewurztraminer which has a strong following. As well as Pinot Noir. They've added Sauvignon Blanc from a vineyard east of Oakand, Oregon. Brandborg would also love to explore a few other aromatic whites like Chenin Blanc and potentially see how Elkton grown Chardonnay fits within the exploding tide of high quality Willamette Valley Chardonnay.  

2012 Brandborg Oregon Riesling, Elkton Oregon This Riesling is more than meets the eye. A historic bottle in many ways as the first wine released with the Elkton AVA designation. Aromatics of honey, chamomile and a touch of diesel ( usually a signature of older Riesling). Flavors include loads of minerality, cut pears and coriander. The acidity zips rather than soars and the wine has a very nice mouthfeel. $16

2012 Brandborg, Ferris Wheel Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir, Elkton Oregon From 13 year old vines at 1,000 feet elevation this warmer vintage Pinot from Elkton is giving up ample aromatics of dusty red berries, and a touch of clove. The palate is distinguished as opposed to rustic, balanced with fruit and earth flavors as well as a dab of barrel spice. $38



Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Keeper of Canoe Ridge: Mimi Nye

The Horse Heaven Hills has become one of the largest wine growing areas in Washington state. Rising up above the Columbia River and extending north toward the Yakima River Valley the Horse Heaven Hills is windswept, dry, strangely beautiful, and very, very, very remote.


It is as unlikely a place, to the untrained eye for planting vineyards, as you might find but in 1972 Walter Clore approached Don and Linda Mercer and convinced them that it would a perfect place to grow wine. The Mercer family had farmed land in the area since the 1930s, mostly dry land wheat, onions and carrots. In 1972 they planted Cabernet Sauvignon in what was then known as Block One and today is rather famously called Champoux Vineyard and pioneered the AVA.

The acreage in the Horse Heaven Hills has grown substantially, and while Cabernet is what it has become most known for, the variety of plantings is notable. Chateau Ste. Michelle has invested heavily in the region in both its Columbia Crest label as well as it's own CSM brand, and its reserve wine-making facilities at Canoe Ridge.

In 1991 Chateau Ste. Michelle planted their Canoe Ridge Vineyard. Spanning 559 acres the vineyard is planted with a large variety of wine grapes including Riesling, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet. Since it's inception, the Canoe Ridge vineyard has been overseen by one woman, Mimi Nye.

There are many talented farmers making their marks on the Washington wine industry, in some cases, wine growers like Dick Boushey,  Horse Heaven's own Paul Champoux or Jim Holmes of Ciel du Cheval are as well known as some of the state's most prominent wine makers. In many instances though, some of the very hardest work being done in the industry goes unnoticed. Mimi is one of those talents, and while you may never see her name on a bottle (you can actually) her talent and enthusiasm is a vital part of the equation for Chateau Ste Michelle.

"We broke this vineyard out of sagebrush in 91, so these are my babies." Says Mimi, who appears every bit as warm and welcoming as a familiar family member the minute you meet her. She walks me through the Canoe Ridge Vineyard rows of Chardonnay. Canoe Ridge sits along the Columbia River, really, with a strong arm you could get a rock to the water, and it's thanks to that river's climate modulating influence that world class wine grapes can be grown here, in what is frankly the desert. Canoe Ridge is alarmingly sandy in places, like dunes almost, not the kind of place you'd expect anything to be growing.

Mimi started with Chateau Ste Michelle thirty three years ago. She started with no vineyard experience whatsoever, but rather studied horticulture at WSU and was growing potatoes mostly, when CSM bought her farm. Then in 1991 she was told by someone at Chateau Ste Michelle that the Canoe Ridge project, the one she was charged with cultivating was "going to be a world class vineyard." And as dubious as she was then, she's convinced today. She's also a big part of the site's success.

Mimi's familiarity with each block and her depth of knowledge come from her experience to be sure but that experience is also balanced with a real curiosity about the work that's being done nearby by CSM's red wine maker Raymon Mckee. As we walk though the Chardonnay blocks Mimi teaches me what she's learned from the winemakers, and her experience. We practice tasting the fruit for ripeness. We pluck off a few grapes and squish them in our mouths. "We're looking for a balance between acid and sugar, chew the skins, are they crunchy, or squishy? Are you tasting green apple, or peach?" We spit out the seeds looking for brown seeds, a sign of ripeness, over green. Mimi's interest in what winemakers are looking for hasn't seen her make any of her own yet. (Though she does have her own Mimi bottling of Chardonnay.) She has made jam from some of the wine grapes but has yet to see any scores from Wine Spectator for those.

For Raymon Mckee a colleague like Mimi is a valuable asset to his work and reputation of Canoe Ridge. "It's very special to work with Mimi, because she knows intricate and minute details about the Vineyard, through decades of different seasons and growing conditions.  Mimi has dedicated herself to Canoe Ridge Estate for more than 24 years, and the vines (and resulting wines) have gotten better each year because of her attention and passion."

"We continually find the small ways to make the wines better.  For example, one of our top blocks of Merlot has an area with gravel and an area with deeper sand, running perpendicular to the rows.  This results in some variability in ripening.  Mimi lets me pick out the block at two different times, to get the riper gravel bar section a week or so before the deeper sandy section of the row.  This has made the wine just a smidge better than if we picked out the row altogether.  I could not make the wine as good as it wants to be (as great as it can be), without her input, experience and help.”