Monday, December 17, 2012

Troon Vineyard: The Founding & the Future in Southern Oregon

Lucky for us there are those with a sense of imagination and adventure who often times will do what was, until they thought of it at least, the unthinkable. Pioneers are visionaries, whom at the time seem a little bit crazy but whose vision and hard work make it possible for those who follow them to build upon their success. Right around the time when Oregon's most well known wine pioneer, David Lett was planting Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley, Dick Troon was helping to break similar ground in Southern Oregon's Applegate Valley. (To cut you off at the pass I am fully aware that Richard Sommer was the first to plant Pinot Noir in the Umpqua Valley circa 1960.)

Where Lett came to Oregon with a plan, and the very express purpose of planting Pinot in a place that seemed much more like Burgundy than California. Dick Troon just thought that the Grant's Pass area seemed like a nice place to live. Having grown up a farmer and an engineer by trade Troon's turn toward wine was spurred by a visit to Healdsburg. Having come away impressed with Cabernet Sauvignon and Zifandel and given his agricultural roots Troon thought that this could be done in Southern Oregon. And is often the case with pioneers, Troon firmly believed he could do it better. He planted Cabernet and Zinfandel in 1972 and the vineyard operated as just that until he began a winery in 1993.

While Southern Oregon has yet to develop the reputation for those varietals the way that California has, Dick Troon helped to found what is fast becoming an accomplished and recognized wine region. The potential of the region is undeniable. Wines from Cowhorn, Folin Cellars, God King Slave and Quady North, along with those from Troon Vineyard demonstrate what the Rogue and Applegate Valleys have to offer in terms of variety and diversity, but  it may be an American sweet spot for Zinfandel, Syrah and Tempranillo. Particularly in terms of the preservation of acidity within the wine given their cooler climate.

Troon Vineyard was sold by it's founder to other owners, the Martin Family in 2003. Dick Troon passed away in 2011, but the winery has taken seriously it's namesake and the responsibility it has to the region. The vineyard holdings have expanded and a new and visually stunning facility was built in 2005. True to Troon's pioneering spirit experimental varietals new to Southern Oregon like Tannat and Vermentino have been planted. Herb Quady is the obviously talented winemaker for Troon and he has at his disposal a seemingly endless number of varietals and blends, I counted some 23 wines on their website.

The label however has built and grown it's reputation largely on two wines. Dick Troon's beloved Zinfandel (they make various iterations) and Troon's happiest mistake. The Druid's Fluid red wine is a blend that has long included Syrah, and one particular year Dick had harvested some Syrah with insufficient nitrogen. This lead to a stuck fermentation, the wine as a result was fruity, and just a touch sweet. Reminiscent of a German Dornfelder. This easy drinking red wine has become hugely popular. The wine was a previously published Friday Find.

What's clear is that Troon's importance does not just lie in the founding of Southern Oregon but in it's future. With Herb Quady at the winemaking reigns the winery has demonstrated that is not simply satisfied as a destination with impressive views. The wines are very good, the focus (at least in the wines I've tried) is on their fruit, the estate site and the special climate the region grants them. The winery continues to push boundaries and demonstrate a willingness to try new things. That is good for Oregon and for those interested in what its potential might really be.

Zinfandel seems to have found a home in Southern Oregon and Troon Vineyard makes a few of them. Their 2010 Kubli Bench Zinfandel $25 doesn't clobber you with ripeness, raisins and booze. Instead you get blue fruits, savory spice and a fleshy quality that is classically Zinfandel. The acidity that this wine was able to retain takes it to another level in terms of vibrancy. The cooler climate of the Applegate Valley delivers a Zinfandel worthy of anyone's consideration, particularly those who don't think of themselves as fans of the wine. Outstanding.

Reserve Syrah 2008-This is a serious big britches Syrah. The word on the street is that this was a bit of a private project wine for the Martins but it was too good not to share with Troon fans. The wine is comprised of the best Syrah to come off the estate vineyard, selected from only three rows of vines. A tiny 45 cases was made. Overt dark fruit and spices hum in this Syrah.  Flavors of black plum draped in a purple velvet mouth-feel courtesy of the the substantial time spent in new French oak. The aromatics are dusty black cherry and hints of earth. $50

The Old Vine Meritage 2009 is a wine that I felt really bad opening. I say that only because it was clear that this wine is built for longevity, and will only get better. Super structured with flavors of raisin, dusty cherries, chocolate, and baking spices balanced with a stony minerality and lots of tannin. There were moments when flavor elements reminded me of an Amarone. The aromatics are a little closed up right now, but like everything else about this wine it screams try me again in 4 or 5 years. $32 sold out

2011 Foundation '72 Vermentino, I know, right? ANOTHER Northwest Vermentino? Yawn. And by another, I mean the only one, period. At least that I'm aware of, and perception equals reality.  This wine was a blast to drink. This wine is mostly Vermentino with a small percentage of Viognier blended. It’s a crisp white wine with aromatics of crushed stone, lemon zest and wild flower. The stainless steel fermentation preserves the  wine’s great acidity and bite. Flavors of green apple, citrus fruit and mineral finish complete a perfect food
wine. $18

These wines were provided as samples by the winery.


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