Monday, February 08, 2016

Can't Knock the Hustle... Jasper Sisco

Jay Z said a lot of things that rhymed in the track Can't Knock the Hustle, but most appropriately he said "I sip wine and spit vintage flows, but y'all don't know... you can't knock the hustle."

Justin Paul Russell rhymes with hustle. Coincidence? I don't think so.

When we first met Justin he was already hustling, trying to cobble together some funds via an Indiegogo campaign so that he could launch his label, Jasper Sisco named for his great grandfather. That was then and this is now, and if nothing else, we've all gotten older. Time is brutal like that. I caught up with Justin after sampling some of his new releases.

The hustle is still strong with this one, in case you weren't sure, starting a winery is not exactly a picnic. "I wish that I could say I was running a full time wine game at this point but currently I'm still juggling two part time gigs to make sure labels make it onto bottles and the lights stay on. But there have been lessons a plenty. If anything the wine game has taken my normally creative focused thinking and shifted it into high set analytical gear. And by that I mean there a lot more grey hair that has developed just from planning out the next move in the cellar, for the winery, and for Jasper Sisco in general. But it get's me up in the morning.  And I hope to be able to focus full time on it by the end of the year."

While he's still "grindin'" as the kids say, (Do the kids still say that?) Justin is moving Jasper Sisco onward, and upward. There have been plenty of recent, substantial developments besides his grey hair. When the label got started he was working out of a corner of the Maysara winery's cellar and credits the Momtazi family with helping him get his start in the business. Once he moved to the SE Wine Collective location in Portland his production went from 84 cases to the 1,100 neighborhood. And now Justin and Jasper Sisco are onto a new neighborhood as he's setting up new digs in Portland's Sellwood neighborhood on his own. He's hoping to open the doors in May. Justin is also diversifying his wine offerings, and will be up to eight wines with his next release, including a sparkling Muscat, as well as a Cinsault rosé and a Pinot Noir from the eastern side of the Willamette Valley.

Justin's current releases include some different sources for Pinot Noir and a little white wine gem, fancied after the Edelzwicker style. Good luck coming up with a rhyme for that one Mr. Carter. 

Like all good stories, the Edelzwicker-esque story began with too much booze at a barbecue. Justin had been tipped off by Cana's Feast winemaker Patrick Taylor that Washington was the spot for  the Muscat grape with a proper concentration of flavors and so Justin set his sights there. The results gave Justin the same sort of family feeling that got him into this business in the first place. 

" I found Muscat for sale in Fruitland, WA. I agreed to visit the site before opening google maps to the realization that the site was more than a 6 hour drive from Portland.  But not one to go back on my word, I made the trek in early summer of 2104. The place is magic, 1400 ft elevation directly above the Columbia river. nine acres managed by the Benson family who also run the only gas station/postoffice/coffee shop/ food store/auto body shop within an hour or so drive. After spending the weekend with the family it was apparent that we were at the same place in our journey in the wine world." 

2014 Jasper Sisco Gratus Bynum, Fruitland Valley Vineyards
A blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Muscat from this little known Eastern Washington vineyard offers a twist on varieties you may be familiar with on their own. Justin sees it as a place to be excited about "This site has a ton of potential, 2014 was the first year of viable fruit and this year I'm seeing better concentration of flavor and acids across all the varietals."For those who don't know, (Or couldn't be bothered to click the link above, lazy.) an Edelzwicker is German for "noble-blend" and is a mainstay style of wines from Alsace. This wine hints at sweet ripe honeydew and honeysuckle, maybe hey even a little honey, and to throw off our theme, sweet hay, but hey. There's a fair bit of sweet fruit on the palate as well and the rounded mouthfeel comes from the skin contact used on the Muscat. Great acid zips along as an undercurrent to sweet lychee fruit. $18

2014 Jasper Sisco James Clifton Pinot Noir, Zenith Vineyard
This is the first 2014 Oregon Pinot Noir I've tried and while a bit youthful it's apparently a vintage for my palate which prefers zip, herbal elements and earth to black on black on blackberries. Aromas of dried violets, peat and dried fig and an accompanying flavor profile of black fruit, yet quite fresh with strong mineral elements and a zippy fresh mint finish.  I've found Zenith to be more concentrated fruit in the past but I love the dichotomy at play here, ripe fruit really loaded with a strong mineral streak. "Zenith for me feels like one of the heritage sites in Oregon,so when Vincent Fritzsche connected with me Tim Ramey who manages Zenith, I jumped at the chance to work with the fruit. Eola-Amity Pinot noir is something that I've always been drawn to and the wines of Vincent, St. Innocent, and John Grochau from that site have always been some of my favorites.  I love the classic violet, sage, floral, more feminine style of wines that come out of that AVA. It felt like a great counter point to the depth and heft of Momtazi." $34


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