Arts and Crafts Were Never This Fun

Sparkle and Fade

A Cabernet Experience

Exploring Terroir with Forgeron Cellars

Oregon's French Connection

Maison Louis Jadot's Résonance

The French Connection

Rhone to Columbia Valley: The Syrah Doctrine

C'mon Get Happy

New Growth at Matthews Winery

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Everyday is a Celebration

Life is full of special occasions but it seems like we're too busy or something to notice. Most of us are guilty and wine lovers perhaps more than others of designating certain occasions "special occasions " and most occasions not special enough.

That's a real downer if you ask me.

There are many occasions to motivate one to pop a cork on a really nice bottle, some of us, and I can be as guilty as anyone can be a bit "stingy" when it comes to determining if an occasion is special enough of not. The foolishness inherent in that approach is that, without being too dramatic: there is no promise of tomorrow. I mean, a piano could fall out of the sky and land on you or something on your way to the coffee shop this morning.

Here's the thing, that kind of fatalistic thinking, while perhaps can be spun as a positive is not really productive. It's  like taking existentialism to a frightening degree. It's one thing to say "YOLO!" It's altogether different to say "YMBDTA" (You Might Be Dead Tomorrow Anyways) and it doesn't really roll off the tongue at all. While YOLO, which frankly is a bit annoying can lead one to take chances, YMBDTA can lead one to just be annoying, not hold down a job, save money, or even brush their teeth.

The idea though of cherishing each moment or celebrating everyday is undeniably a fantastic one. Lucky for us we have some Northwest sparkling wines that are priced for everyday celebration budgets. At some of the Pacific Northwest's larger more established producers like Chateau Ste. Michelle and Argyle they have been creating sparkling wine for some time with Argyle of course offering a range of bubbly. But smaller operations like Treveri and Kramer Vineyards also offer wines that you might offer up for a mid-week celebration.

Michelle Brut NV or non-vintage is a classic take on the dry or brut style so associated with the wines of Champagne. This Michelle line of sparkling wines from Chateau Ste Michelle has really looked at approaching sparkling wine as an everyday food pairing option. The Brut is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris from the Columbia Valley AVA. It's got the classic sparkling mouthfeel thanks to it's methode champenoise production. Apples, hazelnuts and citrus aromas and flavors make this awesomely priced wine an easy excuse to go all YOLO. $13 

Michelle Brut Rosé NV A blend of Pinot Noir, and a bit of Pinot Meunier this pretty pink wine is again a great way to feel like a baller on a Wednesday night. Aromatics of fresh cut strawberries and rhubarb. The wine delivers nice acid and works well with a first course at dinner or just because you can. #BallerStatus $13

Kramer Vineyards 2013 Celebrate Pinot Gris Kramer Vineyards does a range of sparkling wines and their upper range flirt with fantastic. The Celebrate line really offers an affordable sparkling option. The main distinction being that the celebrate wines are given their bubbles not through the traditional secondary fermentation in the bottle but rather via added CO2. This Pinot Gris is vibrant and lively and with the word "Celebrate" and a sorta disco ball motif on the bottle you can shout "YOLO!" from the rooftops. The wine is crisp and clear with aromatics of fresh green apple and lime. $22

Kramer Vineyards 2013 Celebrate Müller-Thurgau Sparkling wine with an umlaut thrown in is always a winning combination.  This bubbly version of that kinda classic German cross, will have you potentially throwing down in the VIP of your favorite German night club. If there is such a thing. At the very least that old Saturday Night Live sketch Sprockets would certainly appreciate the party or maybe TechnoViking? The Müller is all sorts of fruit forward with aromas of ripe tropical and citrus fruits and great acid and fizzy lift. $22

Kramer Vineyards 2013 Celebrate Rosé of Pinot Noir Classic rosé of Pinot Noir notes of rhubarb, rose petals and strawberries. The Celebrate from Kramer Vineyards brings serious fizz to this pink party wine. Acidity and zip with a pink hue are a great way to turn Tuesday into a party or pair with some grilled white meats as our summer winds down. $24

In any case. Celebrate just because.

These wines were provided as samples.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Looking Forward & Looking Back: Gypsy Dancer

Gary Andrus was, from what I've read, a giant of the American wine scene. I never had the chance to meet him. In 1978 he founded Napa Valley's Pine Ridge Vineyards, and then in 1993 he founded one of the biggest names in the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, particularly as the Valley developed it's reputation, in Archery Summit. Gary gained a reputation for focus, concentration and pushing the boundaries to see what was possible. He died of health complications in 2009.

Andrus was a Willamette Valley pioneer pushing the region on it's professionalism. Advocating for the region's quality and boldly establishing price points that reflected the quality of the wine being produced there.  Gary focused on clone selection and was a big proponent of whole cluster fermentation and the use of sometimes ample new oak. His wines at Archery Summit were known for being bold, extracted and with structure that was built to age.
In 2002 Gary and his second wife Christine started a new label called Gypsy Dancer named after their young daughter. The label was an opportunity for Andrus to refocus on a small interesting project, they had purchased a vineyard near Hillsboro as well as vineyards in New Zealand. Gypsy Dancer represented an opportunity for Gary to reconnect to the personal elements of winemaking and Christine and the family were heavily involved.  When Gary passed away Christine took their two children and left the Willamette Valley. " I was so closed down to the wine industry after Gary’s death, I tried to forget and move on with the girls." They moved to South Dakota, but Christine couldn't stay away forever. 

She found herself returning to the Willamette Valley and in 2012 talked with winemaker Rebecca Pittock-Shouldis about wanting to start up the Gypsy Dancer label again. This was two weeks before harvest mind you. Rebecca and Christine scrambled and secured fruit from friends at the Dukes Family Vineyards to craft small lots of what would become the new Gypsy Dancer flagship wine, the Legacy. 

As Christine was visiting with friends in the industry she had let Todd Hamina of Biggio-Hamina know that she had dusted off the Gypsy Dancer label and he mentioned that in 2010 he had made a wine he had described as a "Gary wine." One that he found reminded him of his former mentor and one that frankly didn't fit into the Biggio-Hamina portfolio. That wine has become the Gypsy Dancer's 2010 Tribute. While the Legacy will be each vintage's Gypsy Dancer bottling the tribute wines will be made in particular vintages by different winemakers whom Gary influenced, each one a sort of interpretation on a "Gary wine." And there is still a bottling made by Gary, their 2006 Cuvee Romy a blend of Pinot clones that was made as an Oregonian homage to Domain Romanee Conti's La Tache

Today's iteration of Gypsy Dancer is both a look forward, and a tribute to the past. "What Rebecca and I are doing with the Legacy, is taking what I have learned and her knowledge and practices and creating a new wine going forward that has it’s own merits and style. It is new and fresh and unique. The Tribute is obviously a tribute to Gary by definition, but is also a wine made to pay homage to a man who influenced many accomplished and successful winemakers who have their own wonderful styles themselves." 

2012 Gypsy Dancer Legacy Pinot Noir Classically Oregon but certainly reflective of the warm 2012 vintage. Fruit forward aromatics that offer up late season blackberry, crushed earth and black tea. Though the wine is reflective of the ripeness that 2012 was known for it retains it's elegance with flavors of dried fig, montmorency cherry, cinnamon spice and cola. In their first effort Christine and Rebecca have made a very nice wine and one to note as this new iteration of Gypsy Dancer evolves. $45

This wine was provided as a sample.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Original Oregon: Umpqua Valley's HillCrest Vineyards

The Oregon wine industry and the Willamette Valley have come to be synonymous with American Pinot Noir. It didn't all start there though.

To find the birthplace of the modern Oregon wine industry you'll need to travel south on I-5 from what has come to be known as Oregon Pinot country until you get to the town of Roseburg. The Umpqua Valley is far more rustic and rough hewn than the Willamette Valley which now boasts several James Beard award winning restaurants but Oregon's modern day wine industry and the first Oregon Pinot Noir took root here in the Umpqua Valley before anything in the Willamette. If you've been to the Umpqua you were struck with it's natural beauty almost immediately. As a wine region it's still developing an identity however.

In 1961 Richard Sommer planted Oregon's first post-prohibition vinifera grapes and founded the state's oldest estate winery in Hillcrest Vineyards in the Umpqua. As the story goes he found that site looking to plant Riesling specifically but over four years he would plant a myriad of grape varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon and the state's first Pinot Noir on a former egg farm near Roseburg. His first vintage came to market in 1964, with his first Pinot Noir appearing commercially in 1967. (There is an incredibly indepth look at Richard Sommer on the Prince of Pinot site here.) Sommer died in 2009 at the age of 79.

In 2003 Dyson DeMara and his wife Susan purchased HillCrest from Sommer with the intent of carrying on Sommer's pioneering spirit. DeMara has an extensive background in winemaking with stints at California originals Pine Ridge and Mondavi. The HillCrest winery under DeMara is producing very small lots of hard to come by wines. The wines are not available in any retail market; you have to get them directly from HillCrest.

DeMara is making wines of place with a sense of both the originality that Richard Sommer brought to the Umpqua and an old world style. The use of a basket press and a patented concrete fermenter hint at DeMara's seriousness when it comes to minimal intervention and old world technique. The lots they use are tiny and the wine is laid down in most cases a minimum of two years. Under many circumstances if you see a wine from 2008 on the market today from a region like the Umpqua that is still establishing itself you might get a little nervous. The 2008 Massimo Cabernet from HillCrest is the best wine, hands down I've had from the Umpqua Valley. So rest assured the wines of HillCrest are worth the difficulty to obtain.

2008 Massimo, Cabernet Sauvignon Easily the best Umpqua wine I've had to date. It's aromatically effusive with dried fig, graphite and crushed stone aromas. Elegance and balance as well as a definitive old-world style are the signature of this Cabernet. Fruit takes a back seat to minerality and floral elements. The wine comes from a 13 acre parcel of old-vine Cabernet original planted by Sommer in 1964. The wine was fermented in concrete and aged four years in French oak, largely neutral barrels. It makes a case for the Umpqua Valley, Oregon Cabernet and old vines all at the same time. Fantastic wine and I'd love to see more Northwest Cabernet done in a style like this. $65 

2011 Cadiz, Tempranillo Tempranillo has become part of the identity of the Umpqua Valley and this bottling is another good example of why. Tempranillo has been made in so many different styles but this cool vintage wine is floral, bright fruit and lots of elegance and great structure. Again the use of concrete fermentation accents a minerality in the wine, and it spend two and a half years in French oak barrels. At $28 this is a very nice wine for that price.