Monday, February 25, 2013

Mind the Gap: Van Duzer Vineyards

There is so much serendipity at play when it comes to Pinot Noir in Oregon. The foresight of David Lett and others to plant Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley not withstanding. There are geological and topographical realities that, were they not in place, the place wouldn't be quite so magical for Pinot Noir.

The conditions of the Willamette Valley are a marriage of so many elements including soils, the rolling hills created by the Coast Range and the long summer days afforded by the Willamette Valley's latitude. However, without the cooling effect of the Van Duzer Corridor all of those other elements might be for naught.

Brief meteorology lesson: Wind is the atmosphere's way of equalizing air pressure. As air warms it becomes less dense and rises. This creates a low pressure area where the warm air is rising. Areas with cold air have higher atmospheric pressure. The atmosphere naturally seeks to equalize the pressure and so the cold air moves to warmer areas. 

As the Willamette Valley warms throughout the day the air above it becomes less dense, a low pressure area is created. This happens each day in the warmth of summer. Conversely, the air over the Pacific remains cold and once that low pressure zone is created over in the Valley, by afternoon, cold air rushes from the coast through the Van Duzer Corridor to cool off the Willamette Valley floor.

Cold air rushes through the corridor and temperature fluctuation can be considerable, nearly 30 degrees each day. That temperature range, known as diurnal variation can be essential to the production of wine grapes. Warm air during the day allows the fruit to fully ripen and develop flavors and sugars. The cooling down in the evening allows the grapes to preserve their acidity creating balanced fruit, and thus balanced wines.

Van Duzer Vineyards is planted smack dab at the mouth of the Van Duzer Corridor and so has a front row seat to that meteorological manifestation. Their vineyard location places them in one of the coolest places within the already cool Willamette Valley. This accentuates those effects within their estate grown Pinot Noir. In 2010 they brought on a new winemaker Jerry Murray to make the most of the vineyard's potential. To Jerry, that meant tannin.

For Jerry, the Van Duzer estate Pinots were loaded with potential in the form of tannin and his charge was to begin changing the wines structure starting with the 2010 harvest.  Jerry gave me a short oenology lesson on the differentiation of tannin in Pinot Noir. Tannin in wine typically comes from two sources, skins or seeds and they both produce dramatically different results in terms of how they appear in the wine. Tannin from seeds typically shows up as bitter, green and astringent while the tannin produced by skins is richer, rounder and sweet. The last bit about tannin that's important to note is it's chemical structure or lack thereof. Unlinked  monomeric phenols (tannin) tend to be unpleasant, it is only through creating those linkages, and that structure that we enjoy in our wines do we get silky, textured tannin.  (Thanks to Jerry for the crash course on wine chemistry, if you're interested here's a great primer from Wines & Vines.)

"My assessment was that the wines needed a tannin profile dominated by skin tannin and that the tannin needed to be given the opportunity to develop into a “structure”.  This would add depth, texture and length to the wines."   In order to get that structure Jerry did two things: in the vineyard they employed leaf pulling to increase skin tannin in the Pinot berries. In the production phase things were changed to get more precise control on the extraction of seed tannin. (Here's a bit more insight on how tannin extraction occurs.) "While seed tannins make minimal contributions to the tannin pool of big red wines, they represent the largest pool of potential tannins in Pinot Noir. Likely a function of the relatively low contribution of skins to total berry weight in Pinot Noir… “thin” skins."

So in their 2010 releases the folks at Van Duzer are hoping to show a new way forward. I was contacted to try out the 2010 and to compare it against the last two releases from Van Duzer. Additionally they created some very well done and informative videos to explain what they're doing to the wines, as well what great potential their vineyards offer and how they hope to maximize that. I've included tasting notes to follow, my overall impressions were that the 2010 was a pretty wine, which has largely been my experience with this cool vintage. Low alcohol levels and elegant aromatics as well as a candied blueberry note stood out for me in the Van Duzer 2010, I was also very taken with the 2008, flashy wine.

2008 Van Duzer Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir. This is a very nice wine from the 2008 vintage, showing a lot of the fruit that the "can't miss" 2008 vintage was known for with bramble berries, clove and earthen aromatics. Fantastic flavors of sweet ripe cherry and dark blackberry, a rich texture with a really impressive and flashy acid finish. A very showy wine that really delivers on both concentration and mouthfeel. $30

2009 Van Duzer Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir This wine is a bit muted aromatically but if you wait around you'll get touches of orange zest and white pepper. Tart cranberries and early season raspberries as well as a douse of spice on a fairly tannic finish. While 09 has been known for it's "drink now" status, this wine may have more to offer us down the road.  $32

2010 Van Duzer Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir True to the vintage this wine is loaded with elegance in the form of floral aromatics and candied blueberry notes. Elegant sweet light fruit flavors, baking spice and faint hints of smoke in a medium bodied and very pretty wine. The structure and lithe acidity make this a presently pleasant Pinot packed with long term potential. (Man, that was some alliteration.) The first full production of the new winemaking cadre is a very promising one. $32

these wines were provided as samples by the winery


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