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Entries in Willamette Valley (13)

Monday
Aug052013

K&L Trip Reports: This One Time, at Pinot Camp...

Soil types at Penner Ash.

By: Jim Boyce | K&L Staff Member

Oregon Pinot Camp 2013 kicked off with a reception at Sokol Blosser winery with fifty producers in attendance. With temperatures in the mid '80s, the weather could not have been any better for soaking up the beautiful wine country view, enjoying great food and wine, and meeting great people. We were informed that Oregon summers do not typically start until July 4th, so (this being early - June 22nd) we best enjoy the sun while it lasted. Sure enough, the next three days had us dodging raindrops and using the graciously provided umbrellas!

The goal of attendees at Pinot Camp is to get the vineyard-to-bottle rundown of what it takes to make wine in the crazy climate of Oregon. We were brought to Penner-Ash, where they had dug two pits - the first of marine sedimentary origin; the second of volcanic basalt only 200 feet away -  to demonstrate the vast difference in terroir characteristics of the Willamette Valley. While there, we were presented with a small group Pinot Noir tasting to highlight how wines grown in each distinct soil type differ. (For example, Pinot Noir grown in marine sedimentary soils usually has a darker fruit profile, with prevalent baking spice notes and “spikey” tannins.)

After that, we were brought to Elk Cove Vineyards for the farming presentation. Here we were educated on vineyard and clonal selections, canopy and water management techniques, and farming decisions for the future. They really emphasized the fact that finding the right sites to plant is paramount, farming in the Oregon climate requires constantly adapting in the vineyard and trying new, innovative technology on all scales. 

Moving on to Lemelson, we learned about (and tasted) the impact that winemaking decisions have on the wines. Decisions that relate to timing of harvest, reception, pre/fermentation, aging, and finishing all have a perceptible effect. Each producer has their own definition of the 'best' strategies, and what works for one producer can differ greatly from the next guy. Steve Doerner illustrates this point very well at Cristom, where he will use different percentages of whole clusters depending on the vintage in his winemaking.

The camaraderie of Oregon winemakers stood out as they told stories of how it is not usual to call around to see how a neighbor is dealing with early frost or migratory birds decimating the crop. Or how they dealt with the 2010 vintage, the coldest on record in the past 30 years of Oregon winemaking. (Only to be outdone by 2011, which had the latest latest bud break in history!) As the winemakers talked about all these tough vintages, they always paid homage to Oregon's pioneer winemakers who,  in the late 1960s and early 1970s, decided against popular opinion that great Pinot Noir could be made here, and dove in head first.

We tasted many Pinot Noirs from the 2010 and 2011 vintages, which offered a refreshing look at how these two difficult vintages are coming along now. (They are coming along beautifully, in case you were wondering).

But what's a Pinot Camp without whites? Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, the faces of Oregon whites, took center stage, but from the very beginning we also saw many other white varietals including Chardonnay, Riesling, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, Gruner Veltliner, Gewurztraminer, Moscato, and Tocai Fruilano! While a few of these newcomers have yet to find their footing, the majority were serious winners. 2011 - a cold, wet, and very late vintage - produced some of the finest white wines I've had from Oregon to date.  

Overall, we experienced a nice balance of old favorites and new arrivals, and it was great to see some long lost old faces to make grand returns. The perennial offerings from Bethel Heights, Chehalem, Cristom, Domaine Drouhin, Elk Cove, Eyrie, Ponzi, St. Innocent, and Willakenzie continue to impress, along with new personal favorites like Anne Amie, Stoller, and Trisaetum.

We lingered at the Trisaetum tent more than once to 'cleanse our palates' with some of their insanely good Rieslings. The 2012 Coast Range Dry Riesling (24.99) is full of nervy, racy acid, great weight, and mouthwatering minerality. The 2012 “Estates Reserve” Riesling (a 50/50 blend of Coast Range and Ribbon Ridge fruit - $34.99) is a Spatlese style Riesling with plenty of stone fruit and mouthwatering acidity. The 2010 Trisaetum "Coast Range Estate" Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir ($49.99), made from a blend of four barrels, has huge aromatics, juicy berry fruit, cola notes, and baking spice nuances. Keep an eye out for a K&L/Trisaetum Pinot Noir coming in the near future!

While the summer is still here, make sure to try a bottle of 2012 Patton Valley Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Rosé ($16.99), easily one of the favorites of the trip. Full of fresh strawberry and watermelon fruit, light spice, and impeccable balance, this is a refreshing warm weather winner. The 2010 Stoller "Reserve" Dundee Hills Chardonnay ($25.99) and 2011 Domaine Drouhin "Arthur" Dundee Hills Chardonnay ($29.99) are both shining examples of what Oregon can accomplish on the Chardonnay front, with both showing a combination of new world fruit and old world acidity and balance.

The last night of OPC was a traditional salmon bake at Stoller Winery. This is where the big guns are pulled out, with magnums and jerobaoms of older vintage wines as far as the eye could see! My notes (and memory) became a little fuzzy that night, but I do remember trying some older Argyle sparkling, '05 Willakenzie and '08 Penner Ash “Shea Vineyard” Pinot Noirs, in addition to another 20-30 more wines.

Salmon bake at Stoller.

My last day finished up with some important stops in Portland: breakfast at Voodoo Doughnuts, a tour at Clear Creek Distillery, and a house smoked pulled pork sandwich and beer at Cascade Barrel House, all of which are must visits for anyone in the Portland area! OPC really reinforced my adoration of Oregon wine. With the beautiful countryside, great people, and delicious food, wine, and beer, Oregon should be near the top of everyone's travel list!

-Jim

 

Tuesday
Aug142012

Travelogue: Brick and MJ's Oregon Tour, Part Two, Tasting Marathons

Left: The Maresh family from an Arteberry poster circa the late 1970s. Note a baby Jim Maresh! Right: Jim Maresh, all grown up.

By: Bryan Brick | K&L Domestic Wine Buyer

When last I left you we had just gotten pounded a bit by Mother Nature and had already been extremely happy with what we were seeing from the 2009, 2010 and 2011 vintages. The great news is that the rest of this day did nothing to persuade us away from that happiness.  From our wet but enjoyable walk and tasting at Westrey we headed to one of my favorite new wineries in the Valley: Arterberry Maresh.

I had been to Arterberry Maresh once before and sort of had my mind blown by the dichotomy of intensity and subtlety that these wines possess. These are wines to wrap your head around (not to mention the fact that a man as young as winemaker/owner Jim Maresh can be already making wines at this level). His secret, by his own admission, is that he works with some of the best old vine vineyards in the Dundee Hills, first and foremost his family’s Maresh Vineyard.  One of the oldest sites in all of the Willamette Valley, the family originally planted it to Pinot Noir in 1970; this fruit is legendary and not only produces fantastic Pinot Noir but possibly the best Chardonnay in the Valley. Case in point: the barrels of the 2011 Chard we tasted with Jim. Everything was sort of mind-boggling, and you could see how the individual parts were going to make a whole that would be something incredibly special. The levels of density, texture, acidity and complexity in these puzzle pieces were rivaled by few on our trip in either red or white wine. 

We left the barrel room and went upstairs to taste through the current and upcoming vintages of the Pinots. I hadn’t tasted the 2009 Maresh Vineyard Pinot ($49.99) in awhile, and it instantly reminded me of why I was so head-over-heels in love with this wine when it was released.  The delicate but forward nose of wild iris, rosewater, lavender and white cherry is, for me, worth the price tag alone. But wait, there’s more! A silky soft texture glides weightlessly over the palate with flavors of bitter cherry, anise seed, cola, licorice and warm red soil, with a long chain of lovely tannic weight arriving on the finish. This wine is pure class from a vintage that is all about power and extraction. Then we launched into the 2010 vintage wines, which play right into Jim’s style. Vibrant, sassy and plucky, these wines were all outstanding in their own ways but my two favorites were from new vineyards in Jim’s lineup: Gehrts and Weber.  The 2010 Gehrts is a wine that is purely of the soil and the 2010 Weber is sexy, powerful and will possibly be the longest lived of the bunch.

Compost tea at Winderlea.We had to scurry off too quickly from Arterberry Maresh (an ongoing occurrence this trip) to head down NE Worden Hill Road for our next appointment and lunch: Winderlea Vineyards.  Before we set down to a beautiful meal that included a fantastic salad, and I don’t use those two words in a sentence often, with rabbit and fresh cherries, we took a quick look at the vineyards and learned about some of the biodynamic farming practices Winderlea has used since 2008. Believe what you will about some of the mysticism behind biodynamics, the fact is that farming this way has much less negative impact its subjects [the vines] and on everything around them.  While tasting through the winery’s lineup, the 2010 Dundee Hills Chardonnay really struck me as a delicious wine. It surely didn’t hurt that it paired beautifully with that aforementioned salad.  Fermented in 85% oak but only aged in 15-20% new wood, this wine had impeccable energy and framed the zest that the 2010 whites show so well. Butterscotch and caramel notes hide underneath a pear-driven nose as flavors of clementine, chalk and fern fronds unfurl easily on the palate. Both the company and the wines couldn’t have made for a better lunch.

As our fearless leader Tom Elliot began to crack the whip again, we all ran out of the sleek, modern-yet-beautiful tasting room at Winderlea with a mouthful of insanely delicious cookies made by a local caterer and headed down the road to DePonte Cellars.  DePonte wines have long been somewhat a mystery to me personally. I’ve always loved there brisk, racy and varietally correct Melon de Bourgogne, but their Pinots have been a little more elusive. Sometimes I find these wines delicious, with deep set, dark, bass-toned fruit with huge dollops of earth, sometimes I find them to just be a bit muddled and in need of further bottle aging. The wines we tasted that afternoon were in both camps; there was the ripe and ready 2009 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, which was really one of my favorite early releases from the vintage. The 2010, which was already floral and effuse, was in need of time to rectify its spiky acidity and long earthen streak, which are not yet fully integrated into the wine.

By this point we’d probably tasted around 40-50 wines from five different wineries, there were still three more to go and it wasn’t yet 4 p.m. I hit the wall, temporarily, and I think I dozed off for 5-10 minutes in the back of the Hyundai Sonata that we were driving speedily through the valley as we tried to make up time from appointment to appointment. It was shocking how fast that sedan could go on the gravelly backcountry roads of Yamhill County when pushed!

When pulled up to Shea Wine Cellars and Vineyard I let out a stretch and a yawn and got right back down to business. We met Dick Shea, his lovely wife Deirdre and their new winemaker Blair Trathen, who seemed like a thoughtfully talented New Zealander (which there seems to be many of in the Willamette Valley).  Shea may be one of the most famed vineyards in all of Oregon, certainly by the critics’ standards, and it is easy to see why. The level of detail here is impeccable; Shea’s 140 acres in the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA make for heftier, ripe, masculine Pinot, and the fruit is sought after by a who’s who of Oregon wine. It was an intriguing exercise to taste through the barrels of Pinot Noir from 2011 and even more interesting to taste through six of the single vineyard block bottlings from 2010. Easily my favorite of the bunch was the 2010 “Block 7,” which is made solely from one clone of Pinot Noir, the Wädenswil clone. This it made perfect sense to me. I’ve always liked Shea when it is more restrained, throttled back, if you will. The cool 2010 vintage and the feminine, aromatic charm of the Wädenswil clone did just that, leading to a wine with a much more red fruited nose, sexy spice components and a floral pitch that I thought may not be everyone’s favorite, certainly not the critics, but a note that I really enjoyed.

Next we were off to a tasting, dinner and concert at Penner-Ash. But alas, it didn’t really work out that way. The folks at Penner-Ash recently started holding events at their winery, which is a state of the art “green” facility perched high on a knoll with a panoramic view of the Chehalem Valley and the Dundee Hills. Most have gone off without a hitch, but on this night things seemed to be a bit chaotic. Both the caterer and the musician were late, really late. People were filtering in for the show and food, and there was nothing ready to go. Lynn Penner-Ash was giving us a tour and walking us through her wines while all of this was happening, and she seemed to have it all together, whereas I would have been pulling what’s left of my hair out! As people were milling about, we got down to business tasting Lynn’s bold, fruit- driven, modern-styled wines. Sadly, both MJ’s and my favorite wine was one that we’ll barely see, the 2010 Rubeo, which is a very unusual blend of 30% Syrah and 70% Pinot Noir. Sure people are sneaking Syrah into Pinot more and more these days, but few do it with the precision and grace than is found here. These two varieties mesh perfectly to become more than the sum of their parts, creating a versatile, gulpable, yet classy red. Kudos to Lynn and the rest of the staff for keeping it together on what I’m sure was a stressful evening.

At this point we had a decision to make: cruise back to the house, freshen up and come back to the festivities to relax for the evening or try and squeeze in one more winery. What do you think we did? Of course we tried to fit one more in. We headed to the  fairly large facility that houses the NW Company, a large custom crush facility that also owns a historic vineyard, Hyland. We toured the vast facility and were interested in the potential of the project, in fact we found out that we already carry some of the brands that they are responsible for, such as Grapesmith & Crusher. But what really got us excited was the possibility of doing our own custom Pinot Noir for one of our house labels through them. We’ll keep you posted!

Tired and hungry, we were all being a bit indecisive about dinner, but one of us must have spoken up because we ended up at one of the best old-guard restaurants in the Valley, Red Hills Provincial Dining, which resides in a beautifully restored craftsman house right on Highway 99 in Dundee. The food here is rustic, charming and simple while losing nothing in the way of flavor. Every bite I had that night restored some of my will after a long, but enjoyable, day. Then of course I hit the nearest corner store for a six-pack of beer and nursed a couple until I passed out from sheer exhaustion.

Part 3 coming soon with visits to Ponzi, Trisaetum, Tendril and others!

-Bryan

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Bryan Brick

K&L Wine Merchants

Redwood City

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Monday
Jul232012

Travelogue: Brick and MJ's Oregon Tour, Part One

Tasting at Westrey in the Dundee Hills.

By: Bryan Brick | K&L Domestic Wine Buyer

Back in July Mike Jordan and I had the distinct pleasure of taking a trip to the Willamette Valley for a week. We were super excited about this opportunity and had a crazy schedule where we visited seven or eight wineries in a day, so don’t think we were just sitting around getting drunk all day. (Although we did sit a lot, and it is possible that someone on the trip may have been over-served.) Our goal was to find some new wines, check out the new 2011 vintage and make new connections with wineries and renew some old connections. I think we were successful on all fronts.

Mike and I flew into Portland on Thursday, July 7th in mid-afternoon on a surprising empty Virgin Airlines’ jet. It was only the second day they were flying from SFO to PDX, so I don’t think people had caught on that they were flying up there for super cheap yet. We got off the plane, got our somewhat ridiculous rental car, a flashy white new Dodge Charger sans Hemi, and went straight to meet our traveling companions for the first part of the trip. In front of Higgins Restaurant and Bar in NW Portland, a local institution, we met Tom Elliot, owner of Northwest Wines—the best distributor of wines from OR and WA in California—and our salesperson from Northwest Wines and all around gentleman Jake Higgins (no relation to the restaurant). A quick shake of the hands and we were off to the races.

Our first meeting was with Ed with Angel Vine. Ed is doing something that is certainly a little bit different in that his focus is on Zinfandel, specifically Zin from Washington and Oregon. I bet you’re saying to yourself, “huh?” but it is true. There is very little Zin planted up there, something like 60+ acres, but he has a good line on some really amazing fruit. Producing around 2,000 total cases a year he is certainly passionate about what he is trying to accomplish, which is to try to make balanced and tasty wines. He told us that his idea was to try and make Zin like you would Pinot Noir, and the restraint and class of his wines certainly reflect that. The 2008 “Les Collines Vineyard” Walla Walla Valley bottling is a perfect example; this clocks in at a paltry 14% ABV and has the delicacy and weightlessness of nice cool climate Pinot Noir. We tried six wines from him that afternoon and everything was interesting at the very least.

From there we were headed to dinner at Irving Street Kitchen with Andrew Rich of Andrew Rich Wines. Andrew is a supremely nice guy and we had a really good dinner with him at this open, airy, woodsy restaurant in the middle of the Pearl district in NW Portland. The food has a distinct southern bent but is totally Portland: rich, bold flavors using local, super fresh ingredients. Andrew’s wines went great with the food and the company made it all the better. His 2011 “Croft Vinyard” Sauvignon Blanc ($18.99) has long been one of my favorite SBs made in the US with its dried grapefruit, talc, quinine and Meyer lemon flavors and long but delicate acidity. In a word—refreshing. The other wine that did exceptionally well that night was the 2010 “Prelude” Pinot Noir. With its red berry, rose petal, clove and raspberry preserve flavors it was great with the rich, saucy food. Entering with gobs of fruit and developing a pleasing earthen bitterness towards the finish this was fantastically complex for around $20.

After about a three and a half hour dinner we got into our cars and headed southwest into the Willamette Valley where we had a beautiful house booked at Stoller Vineyards near Dayton. We were dead beat, so beat that we didn’t even have time to stop and grab some beers for the house. I think I went straight to sleep knowing that the next day was going to be some sort of tasting marathon. I was completely correct.

We began our day just up the road at Stoller Vineyards at 8:30 in the morning; that is right, 8:30! This is what we do, the sacrifices we make, to bring you the best possible wine we can bring you. Our tour started with an incredibly informative tour around the 200+ acre property of which 185 acres are currently planted to vines. This vineyard is easily the largest vineyard in the Dundee Hills and is at the southernmost boundary of the appellation. We saw what seemed like all 80 blocks that they had planted, even their little experimental blocks of Syrah and Tempranillo, really cool stuff, and I loved hearing about the level of attention and detail that they put into this ever-improving vineyard. Then it was a quick tour though the winery and some 2011 barrel tasting with their young and talented winemaker before we tasted the line-up of current wines. Far and away the highlight of these current releases was the 2011 “JV” Chardonnay. Fermented in stainless steel without malolactic fermentation has this wine, even in its youth, incredibly complete and fresh, with aromas of plantain and buttered brioche and building flavors of honeysuckle, jasmine, Bosc pears and passion fruit on the lightweight frame. Such a pretty wine. Tom from the outset was trying to keep us on schedule knowing what kind of day we had in store and was rushing us off to the next appointment while the last wine was being poured. We knew he was right.  We sped off from our new friends at Stoller with a much better sense of their wines and what they were trying to accomplish than we had when we arrived.

Next up was a quick jaunt north, while still keeping us in the Dundee Hills appellation to meet David Autrey from Westrey. Rather than meet David in a shiny, fancy winery, we met David at his “estate” vineyard: Oracle Vineyard. Did I mention that it was starting to rain, hard? Well it did and we were out in the vineyard complete with booties to protect from any phylloxera transfer we may have picked up from any other vineyards we may have been in earlier. But the rain and baby blue booties couldn’t put a damper on this exciting vineyard and the wines that David and his partner Amy Wesselman produce. Tasting in a metal tool shed off of a tractor just added to the rustic charm. I’ve maintained for some time that Westrey’s wines represent some of the best values in the Willamette Valley and this did nothing but bolster my claim. The perfect example of this was their 2010 Pinot Gris. This maybe the best we tasted on the entire trip due to its power and heft, both of which it has in spades. Where most people are making light, fruity, crisp wines (which there certainly is nothing wrong with) Westrey goes a different way. To me it tasted like great Grand Cru Pinot Gris from Alsace, and I believe my tasting partners all agreed. Where else are you going to get that for less than 20 bucks? But that wasn’t all; their 2009 “Justice Vineyard” Pinot Noir was also superb, showing the marked acid of the vintage with scrumptious black fruited stuffing and cola/sassafrass spice. This was truly a fun and informative trip with David!

Part 2 coming soon with the craziness that is Arterberry Maresh, the green Winderlea, the boldness of DePonte and the pure texure of Shea. Many of these wine are not yet in stock, but should be here soon. Check KLWines.com for our current selection.

Quote of the Day (source requested anonymity): “I don’t have ladies in my life, I have dogs!”

Bryan Brick