Monday, April 13, 2015

Coloring Outside the Lines: Portland's Jackalope Cellars

As a civil engineer Corey Schuster designed roads; but it was a winding road, and certainly not one of his design that landed him at a Willamette Valley tasting room and ultimately opened his eyes to the possibility and joys of making wine.

Corey was in the midst a successful career in civil engineering, growing up outside of Chicago it seemed like the right direction, and frankly he really didn't have much else in mind. From there he landed in Colorado and eventually in a bit of a rut, to hear him tell it. Corey retired early, in some sense and from there he traveled throughout Southeast Asia and eventually he'd come to find himself at an engineering firm in Portland. 

When the economy went bad Corey along with a lot of folks with good jobs were out on the streets and he bounced around a bit before he landed in that aforementioned tasting room. From there his wine interest led to working harvest at Owen Roe, and it was soon after that he started making his first wine. In the 2012 vintage Corey launched his label Jackalope Wine Cellars. For Corey the draw has always been the community as much as the wine, and that hasn't changed in the five or so years that he's been involved. In fact, now producing his wines at Portland's SE Wine Collective, that community is a bit of an incubator and think-tank for Corey and its other burgeoning wine-making talents. (He worked there managing the bar for awhile too.)

"We're all relatively new, and we are going through a lot of the same things, it's great to feel like you've got that in common, and it's nice to be a part of something like that. We're all having the same issue, like How am I going to pay for bottling? I don't know."

The first wines in 2012 were Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, and his second vintage, and current releases are the same varietals from some different sources. "I got into Cabernet Franc while working at Owen Roe, I talked with David O'Reilly about what fruit he might have available and he sold me some Pinot Noir from Eola-Amity and Cab Franc from Six Prong Vineyard in Washington's Horse Heaven Hills." 

Corey's first three vintages (through 2012, 13 and14) have been "warm" years but he's learned a little bit from all of them. "That first year I decided to make the jump late in the year, so I really didn't even have time to think about the vintage. While 2012s are not my preferred style I couldn't have done any better, the fruit was perfect, the wines made themselves and the wines sold really easily. In my first vintage it was important that I sold everything." 

"As an engineer I never had something I could hold in my hand and say, I made this. I've definitely had the scientific background but I've never tapped into my artistic side. I mean, as a civil engineer you're making roads. I chose this though, versus engineering which was more or less chosen for me." Corey's been getting great reception from the wines, and has found it's a great feeling when for example friends asked to have his wines at their wedding. 

The 2013s were a bit more challenging for Corey and while it was a warmer vintage compared to recent years like 2010 and 2011 the wines are lean and elegant. Both wines are absolutely outstanding and unique, Corey has found that artistic side, and it suits him.

At the risk of using too much hyperbole his Cabernet Franc is the most interesting I've had from the Northwest. There are some stellar examples in both Washington, at Chinook and Oregon's Quady North. Corey walks between both styles with a definitive wildness but really, it's a sort of wild elegance. The parcels are tiny so normally I would recommend you go online and pick some up for yourself here but they're sold out. Call one of these places and tell them to hold it for you. Seriously.

2013 Jackalope Cellars Cabernet Franc, Quady North Vineyard Applegate Valley 
This is an out of sight wine. Aromatics are wild lavender, smoke, earth and savory herbs. This wine takes the peppery elements that can be so much of the signature of a great Cab Franc and balances them with bright red fruit and earth notes. This wine is alive, the alcohol is low, the acid is beautiful. This wine is pretty, intellectual and a little bit crazy. Do what you gotta do to find this wine it'll change your opinion of the variety. $27 (Sold Out)

2013 Jackalope Cellars Pinot Noir, Sojourner Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills
Pretty, pretty Pinot Noir. I've had very few examples of 2013 at this juncture and I'm aware of the mini-controversy but I think this vintage will pan out for folks like myself who like a cooler more elegant wine, despite the overall warm growing season that was 2013. Aromatics of dried violets, clove, and early season blackberry, with a lively palate that gives balance, fruit and minerality. For $25 this is ridiculously good. $25 (Sold Out)

These wines were provided as samples. 


Thanks for the nice article, and the tasting notes as well. I think it will be fun to see what Jackalope does with Cab Franc in the future. It will be fun to see someone locally make a name with that grape.

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