Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Raptor Ridge: Telling Tales of Terroir

In culture upon culture throughout the centuries, the traditions, norms and mores of a given people have been passed down through the tradition of storytelling. It is through stories and the transfer of knowledge inherent in the medium that we know who we are and where we came from. It's not too great a stretch to say that winemakers are storytellers, too, transferring the knowledge of the vines, grapes, and soil from the vineyard to the consumer.

The Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is defined by its elegance and at Raptor Ridge, winemaker Scott Shull is an ardent believer in the unique nature of that expression. Through his wines he hopes to allow all of us to experience the stories of the Valley and the vineyards.

Scott founded the estate winery, in the Chehalem Mountains AVA in 1995 with the 18 acre Tuscowallame Vineyard. Since then, he has become one of the Valley's most reliable storytellers. The winemaker, like the bard, must allow the story to tell itself, yet as the keeper of the story, it's his role to make sure that it's told properly, and that the truth within those wines is preserved. The wines of Raptor Ridge include a vast array of single vineyard Pinot Noirs and cuvee blends and Scott's goal is ultimately to make sure nothing gets in the way of the tale emanating from the vineyards.

Scott's approach to both his estate fruit and the fruit he's sourcing from multiple vineyards is very hands on. From cropping and trellising to leaf pulling, Scott puts careful thought into the vineyard practices that he believes will ultimately result in the truest expression in the bottle. In both the single vineyards and the cuvees, the aim is to provide a clear reflection of the vintage and place, be it Shea Vineyard or the Willamette Valley Reserve blends. Scott's been at it long enough that he knows what each wine is capable of and the story it can tell and his role is to help it achieve that potential.

Like those storytellers who came before him, Scott is taking a page from both the old traditions and the scientific methods of today. Scott's winemaking approach is not dogmatic. Rather, he believes in doing what is necessary to highlight the best elements of the wine and that might mean a combination of, say, cross flow technology for filtration and following Biodynamic principles like racking under a new moon. The methodology is focused on the Pinot Noir and what it needs as opposed to a winemaker's ego.

The Raptor Ridge Pinot Noirs are expressive and elegant. The Reserve blends, both 07 and 08 certainly give a nod to the vintage and are classically Willamette Valley. The winery's intention behind the Reserve bottling (begun ten years ago), was to provide a signature wine that Raptor Ridge could be known for in some of the 25 states it's distributed in. The Reserve bottlings are barrel selections and blends (the 2008 is a blend of 8 vineyards) that Scott thinks best tell the valley's story for that particular vintage. These Reserve wines are not only wines that Raptor Ridge can stake its broader reputation on, they have become favorites with the wine club members as well.

Raptor Ridge also produces six single vineyard offerings, including their Estate, sourced from the Adolfo block. The aim of the single vineyard bottling is to express that site's unique identity. The Shea Vineyard bottling remains the most popular, but having tasted the Meredith Mitchell I can understand the surge in popularity that Raptor Ridge is seeing in this wine.

The 2007 Willamette Valley Reserve is an elegant bottling and the acidity of the cooler vintage makes for an expressive wine. The blend for this particular vintage resulted mostly in Chehalem Mountain AVA from the Hawk's View Vineyard making up 30% of the blend. The aromatics lean towards Burgundian aromas of earth and moss, with a background of baking spices. The wine brings on blackberries and cola across the palate with soft tannins and an acidity that makes it a wonderfully balanced wine and one more example of why 2007 was such a wonderful vintage.

The 2008 Stony Mountain Pinot Noir delivers dark fruit and herbal aromatics. The palate of the wine has loads of black cherries, stone and nutmeg, ending in a spicy finish. The vineyard is located in the McMinnville AVA on a very steep slope, located near Maysara's prized Momtazi vineyard. I think we can expect the profile of this vineyard to continue to grow.

The 2008 Meredith Mitchell Pinot Noir is a broad shouldered, full-bodied Pinot that is dark hued and rounded but still carries ample acidity. Aromatics of cola, and dusty cherries and a hint of that 60% new oak comes across in smoky notes. The wine is full rounded with bramble berries, raspberry compote and a finish with white pepper. I am absolutely crazy about this wine, and I encourage you to look for it. It's on my shortlist of the 08s I've had.

The 2008 Willamette Valley Reserve. This super concentrated Pinot Noir is loaded with dark fruit aromatics, smoky cherries and spice.   Rounded and full bodied, this wine has superior structure, tannins and acidity.  Red berries ripe to bursting, baking spices, and leaning toward forest floor as spice carries out the finish.


An eloquent tale well told about the artistry endemic to the WV. Cheers.

Thanks for the repost Clive! I love how you capture Scott's intent in this article. Thanks also for the recent mention of our 2013 Tempranillo! Much appreciated.

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