Monday, January 18, 2016

Don't Sleep on John Grochau and Grochau Cellars

(I don't know if Dee Snider is still a live, but come on man. For the love of God, those eyebrows look like hell.)

The "rockstar winemaker" concept makes me want to vomit in my mouth, by the way. I may be alone at this party, but I doubt it. Unfortunately there's plenty of this sort of back-slapping, pseudo celebrity anointing in the wine world.  Even in this quiet corner here of the Pacific Northwest. There are folks, 1,050 Google results for that term "rockstar winemaker." More than a few of those named winemakers from Washington and I did find one for Oregon. After page 7 I got bored. There were tons of entries from Paso Robles.

There are some folks out there who are uber-talented but they're winemakers. They ain't rockstars.

Sure there are some wineries that have dialed in their marketing. They've got a great vibe, slick packaging and tons of hipster street cred. Just as there are some wineries playing to the score formula as well. Tons of tannin, new oak out the wazoo, chasing that highfalutin' Robert Parker score. That doesn't make them rockstars, just unoriginal and frankly, in some cases, insufferable.

One cat who is making super nice wines that I feel never gets enough attention, is that dude John Grouchau at the eponymous Grochau Cellars. John is not a rockstar, he'd be the first to tell you. When you think of John in fact, terms like humility and humble are the first to come to mind. While his label while not be on the lips of those who speak of what's hip and hot in Oregon wine. The wines are really some of the most consistently high quality coming out of the Willamette Valley and at a very fair price-point. (Grochau Cellars reminds me of the Portland area indie record label, Kill Rock Stars, formerly of Elliot Smith fame; John lives in Portland. Coincidence?)

I was proud to write a feature article about John in Peloton Magazine and I'll borrow a few quotes from it for this piece. The fact is I've known John now for a few years and his wines, and the way he talks about them have never changed. Except that they change every vintage as they should.

"I feel that you get the best translation of site from the wines that you do the least amount to.  The more you manipulate, the more you add, the more “same” the wines can become.  I don’t set out to make the same wine every year, the wine needs to reflect from where and when it came.  Sameness is boring, while it is a necessity for a large winery, it is not what I want to do.  There are many right ways to make wine, and a few wrong ways; everything in between is style.

For Grochau Cellars, who opened a new tasting room last Spring in the Eola-Amity Hills, it's about those sites, special places tended by dedicated farmers that make the Willamette Valley such an outstanding place to make wine. "As I started working with more vineyards I realized it is all about the place from where the grapes come.  The vineyards have their own signature, their own style; and pinot noir is such a transparent grape when it comes to showing where it was grown.” To allow the wine’s signature to really come through, John works closely with the vineyard manager, paying close attention to how the fruit ripens, and sometimes agonizing over when to pick. Being hands on with the fruit in the vineyard allows him to be hands off in the winery.  

John does a number of single vineyard and AVA Pinot Noirs and they all typically have one thing in common, whole cluster fermentation. John uses the stems and rachis to add structure to his wines. John first came to appreciate wine working in the restaurant industry and has always believed a proper food-wine needs structure.

2012 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, Grochau Cellars
A side by side tasting of two of John's 2012 Pinots demonstrates the variance of his Single AVA wines, even in a warm vintage that's been consistently well received by the wine public (while it's not necessarily my favorite). With a growing season as ripe as 2012 there's a bit of fear that consistency and fruitiness might wipe out variance and diversity. Fear not! The Dundee Hills Pinot is effusively aromatic with lots of earth and peat notes, dried violets and hints at graphite. John always uses a fair bit of fruit from Anderson Family Vineyards, one my favorites, and one that's somehow stayed fairly under the radar over the years. The wine veers toward floral as well as bramble berry, with notes of blackberry and black tea, and a touch of gunpowder on the palate. While I've not been in love with the 2012 vintage and its general ripeness, this wine's structure and elegance win me over. $33

2012 Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir, Grochau Cellars
Further to the south of Dundee John's 2012 Eola-Amity Pinot is a study in black fruit and earth. Aromas of ripe black plums, fennel, and turned earth. The palate balances more inky blackness with touches of minerality and firm tannin. Again, a pretty wine but notably riper and rounder than its northern neighbor in the Dundee Hills. The wine opens over a couple of hours to show a bit more depth with clove and cola also coming to the fore. $33

2014 Melon de Bourgogne, Grochau Cellars
Pinot Gris can be so ho-hum and so I'm happy to report that Grochau Cellars doesn't even produce one. Instead try a Melon de Bourgogne, as the name implies the grape originated in Burgundy but it's been made famous in the Loire as Muscadet. The Grochau Cellars' Melon is a departure from the heavy influence of lees you'll often find in Muscadet. This Melon is angular, lively and pulsing. Aromas of crushed stone, cut apple and citrus fruit. A palate that zips with nerves and high acid, lime, and wet stone dominate. $18

All wines provided as samples.


Good timing.

John IS a rockstar winemaker!


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