Monday, February 06, 2012

Shot Through the Heart: Scott & Dana Frank take aim at the Loire

From Jenny Mosbacher

If you are even a casual drinker of Oregon Pinot Noir (or a casual reader of The Northwest Wine Anthem), at some point you may have familiarized yourself with the story of how this notoriously temperamental little grape came to be the dominant variety of wine grown in the state. The short of the story is that a few viticultural nonconformists in the 1960s gave the proverbial finger to prevailing agricultural wisdom by putting roots down in a little-known northern backwater called the Willamette Valley. The rest, they say, is history.

But in between then and now, a major prop for credibility of Oregon Pinot Noir and shorthand for defining it apart from other New World wine regions has been a constant allusion to the motherland of the vine: Burgundy. See, the Willamette is tied to Burgundy by an invisible latitudinal thread-- the north 45th parallel, providing a climatic similarity perfect for Pinot Noir production. Even the French themselves seem convinced by our comparison, and have since endorsed us as a kind of satellite Burgundy, exporting over big-name talents like Veronique Drouhin (Domaine Drouhin Oregon) and Dominique Lafon (Evening Land Vineyards) to make wine from Oregon fruit. Now it is commonly accepted to hear Oregon Pinot Noir described with the adjective “Burgundian,” a synecdoche for any example displaying characteristics of earthiness, acidity, and less-intense fruit than other New World Pinot counterparts.

Nearly fifty years later, Oregon stands as a premium spot for Pinot Noir, no props required. And yet, allusions and comparisons to the big “B” are still de rigueur. Luckily, the Willamette Valley still attracts those nonconformist-types. Pleased be to meet Scott & Dana Frank and their wine label, Bow & Arrow, bent on expanding your geography knowledge.

Burgundy is not the only place in France growing Pinot Noir. Bow & Arrow would like to direct your attention roughly 500km or so westward (and coincidentally, also along the 45th parallel) to the Loire Valley. Some really amazing winemaking goes on there, and were this blog not focused on the wines of Northwest North America, I would be tempted to break out pages and pages of love letters dedicated to the Loire (Muscadet, Savennières, Anjou, oh my!). The region is known for wines of great quality at accessible pricing, geared more towards a presence on the dinner table than in an investment portfolio.

And just like Oregon, the Loire is a happy home to iconoclastic vignerons willing to push the envelope, er, label . As Scott put it, “Why are we acting like Burgundy is the only region that can inform what we can do here?” Thankfully, he is providing a dissenting opinion for us to taste that happens to be delicious. Delicious things, by nature, tend to be very convincing of their cause.

The first of Bow & Arrow’s wines is a Pinot Noir from the 2010 vintage. It is sourced from a venerable site in the Chehalem Mountains, the 35-year-old Medici Vineyard. An eight-hundred-foot elevation paired with a cooler year makes for a wine with racy acidity, highlighting bright and fresh cherry fruit on the palate. There is a definite undertone of earth and funk, almost mossy quality that carries throughout. As the wine opened up over a few days it developed a darker fruit character, and the spicy tannin became more apparent, but the oak was still barely perceptible and it maintained its lightweight mouth-feel. “I suppose I could say I made it in Sancerrois style but really I just went for high elevation, cool climate Pinot from really old vines and picked early,” said Scott. As evocative as it is of wines from the Loire, the Pinot Noir shows a lot of spiritual similarity to the more delicate and nuanced Pinots from Oregon’s history, from the likes of the original rebel winemaker, David Lett of Eyrie.

We can look forward to even more breakout Loire-lovin' on the horizon as Scott plans to roll out a Bow & Arrow Gamay Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Melon de Bourgogne within the next few years. As for the rebel and his cause? The Loire aside, "[we wanted to] make the kind of wines that my wife and I and our friends like to drink. We simply want to see if you can do that here." I think we already have our answer.

Where to buy (in Portland): E&R Wines, Division Wines, Cork, Corkscru, Woodsman Market, New Seasons Market - Arbor Lodge, New Seasons Market - Concordia, New Seasons Market- Seven Corners.  Also look for it at Storyteller Wine Company and Barbur World Foods (These last two places are the goods).


Let it be known that you can also find the lovely Bow & Arrow at Storyteller Wine Company in the John's Landing area, and further into SW Portland at Barbur World Foods.

Post a Comment