If you follow us on Facebook or Twitter, you might recall seeing some pleas for "no rain" or "sunshine" dances over the past few weeks. That's because I was up in Oregon interview winemakers for this blog, spending everyday looking at and tasting from the carefully tended clusters of Pinot Noir from some of our favorite wineries - Westrey, McKinlay, Chehalem and Bethel Heights - among others. And it seemed to me, what they all needed was just a few more weeks of mostly dry weather and partial sunshine to maximize their potential.
Entries in Willamette Valley (12)
"Luck is when an opportunity meets a prepared mind."
This is the guiding principle of Ernie Pink and Dena Drews. It’s what led them to buy a cherry orchard 15 miles south of Salem, Oregon in the Willamette Valley, convert it to a vineyard and start making wine. It’s what led our domestic buyer Bryan Brick—on a never-ending quest to fine great Pinot—to find them, and we’re sure it’s part of what will get you to take a chance on their wine.
Still, it wasn’t all luck for the Amalie Robert estate. It took passion, diligence and an attention to detail to get started. Like a lot of people in the domestic wine business, Ernie and Dena weren’t raised in the wine life; they were Pacific Northwest computer nerds first. Trading in keyboards and operating systems for shovels and dirt, they planted grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay and Viognier to silty Bellpine soils. Their first harvest was in 2002. They sold their dry-farmed fruit to a who’s who of Oregon wineries—Elk Cove, Erath, Cristom and Beaux Frères—and made a little wine on the side, always true to the soil and expressions of the vintage, but never enough to make a dent in the marketplace. In 2006, the couple completed construction of a winery as well as their first estate crush, the results of which have just arrived at K&L.
The Amalie Robert wines are only available in a handful of states and have only recently become available here in California. We’re thrilled to be among the first retailers to discover them. These Pinots are elegant, feminine and built to last, whisking the Pinot-lovers on our staff away to their happy place. The 2006 Amalie Robert “Amalie’s Cuvée” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($54.99) has a sexy sous bois/musk note to complement the lighter, more ethereal strawberry chiffon, cotton candy and talc aromas that comprise its bouquet. It the mouth it is bright and lovely, with pretty, resonating acidity on the attack. Tart cherry, raspberry and red currant fruit fill the palate like Red Riding Hood’s basket with a lingering finish redolent of lavender and wisteria. This is a very special wine showing much more balance than typical for the vintage.
The 2006 Amalie Robert “Dijon Clones” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($42.99) is dominated by clone 777, with smaller proportions of 667, 114, 113 and 115, and each selection adds something to the blend. Spicier on the nose than the Amalie’s Cuvée, the Dijon Clones wakes your senses with prickly notes of clove and nutmeg. There’s a nice tension as the wine opens up between the spice and pure red cherry fruit and an alluring fried mushroom umami quality. The wine expresses the vintage by being very ripe, but does it well with spot on flavors and nice drive. It is tangy and fresh with plum, cassis and currant fruit on the pretty, refined finish.
Name: Harry Peterson-Nedry
Number of years in business: 29 years (Began first vineyard, Ridgecrest Vineyards in 1980, first vineyard in Ribbon Ridge AVA)
How would you describe your winemaking philosophy?
I’m a believer in setting up a dynamic tension between what might seem to be polar opposite approaches.
We strive for elegance, complexity and ageability in our wines. This means pitting the controls that keep key variables the same—fermentation-to-fermentation, barrel-to-barrel, etc.—against ongoing experimentation and innovation—i.e., left brain vs right brain. Complexity and nuance come from inherent fruit differences and from intentionally varying some things—like forests/barrel makers (e.g., we use 10 different coopers in PN) and yeasts in barrel and small stainless fermented whites, and four different vineyards in blended wines—while predictability of general style benefits from strictly controlling temperatures and yields and the like.
Elegance comes from using restraint (on new oak, on ripeness, on fermentation extraction regimes), yielding finesse rather than power, with an emphasis on balance and texture. Texture is vitally important to us. That doesn’t mean when we experiment each year that we don’t push the envelope—e.g., playing with an 88% whole cluster lot in 2008, whereas normally we might use 15% average.
On the one hand, we are driven by science (e.g., in closure trials and decisions to go screwcap 100%, even on reserve wines; in extreme lab analytical work; in rigorous experimentation every year), while on the other hand, we make final picking decisions by flavors and taste, not grape chemistries. We do not change our brand look and approach, and yet we are always trying new varieties and wine types—e.g., Gruner Veltliner begun in 2008, sekt-styled semi-sparkling Riesling begun in 2007, a Passetoutsgrains since 1992 (called Cerise).
What wines or winemakers helped influence your philosophy?
The standards for the varieties we make are always the Old World, and I drink the best from those regions, whether Burgundy, Alsace, Germany or Austria. They aren’t on average superior to us and our peers, but the best wines from those regions, in the best years, are examples I take to heart and try to emulate.
How involved in grape-growing are you? Is there a particular vineyard site that wows you year after year?
I started our winery not with barrels and tanks and a building, but with 37 acres of planted vines and almost nine years of maturation before my first commercial vintage, 1990. We source almost ALL our fruit from our own vineyards, the only exception being some Chardonnay from friends that helps us short-term boost production of INOX, our stainless steel fermented Dijon Chardonnay. Vineyard is critical to our operations. We log lots of walked miles in our 4 estate vineyards, especially during final ripening.
It’s difficult to say we like one child over another. However, the Reserve Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are almost always exclusively or close to exclusively from Ridgecrest Vineyards—the oldest vineyard, the first on the Ribbon Ridge AVA, the ocean sedimentary soil site and the highest elevation vineyard, meaning it is harvested last. For white wines, in general, there isn’t a better site in Oregon than Stoller Vineyards and for Riesling, specifically, our Corral Creek site is superior. Sorry to qualify so much, but Wows come at different times, in different situations.
How do you think your palate has evolved over the years? How do you think that’s influenced your wines?
I’m less impressed with size and power in wines these days, preferring elegance and nuance now. That means varieties like Riesling and Pinot Noir excite me more, and aged wines from ageable varieties get my attention, even Cab and Merlot.
What kinds of food do you like to pair your wines with?
I think white wines are underappreciated by the average American consumer, because they’ve been told that if they are serious they need to be drinking red. And my table would suffer greatly if limited to red wines—I appreciate lighter fare like fish (sushi, shellfish, halibut, cod, sole, salmon, etc.), pork, innovative vegetable dishes and desserts, all of which have good matches in our portfolio of wines, especially with 60% of our production being white wines.
What changes are planned for coming vintages?
Any new (top secret) varietals, blends or propriety wines on the horizon? We are just releasing a tiny production Reserve-Reserve type wine we call STATEMENT, from 2006 vintage and released only in “declared” vintages—with another scheduled for 2008. We’ve also begun releasing two special whites: SEXT, a sekt-type semi-sparkling 5% RS Riesling (patterned after Moscato d’Asti as a dessert wine); and Gruner Veltliner, beginning with the 2008 vintage—looks surprisingly authentic at this stage.
Is there a style of wine that you think appeals to critics that might not represent your favorite style? How do you deal with it?
BIG and imbalanced wines aren’t my interest, although I realize that sometimes critics are saddled with picking wines out from a multitude and, mistakenly I think, use size and overtness to make their selection. Big wines from extraction or wood or overripeness or ML or….hit American between the eyes, but I don’t think that’s necessary except perhaps when consumers’ are beginning and need 2 by 4 guidance. With maturity, both critics and the consumers they counsel should better value finesse, elegance and nuance of flavours, aromas and textures.
What do you drink when you are not drinking your own wine?
You’ve hit on a pet peeve of mine. Drinking one’s own wine, except in making or evaluating it, is the height of narcissistic or self-serving behaviour. We should be proud of our own wines, but not to the point we take it with us to restaurants or buy it in shops. Eating out and drinking wine with friends is a perfect opportunity to continually reshape our palates, appreciate new wines and winemakers and regions, to recalibrate the standards by which we measure ourselves.
I DO tend to stay in the varietals I make, mainly because I make already what I prefer, drinking the Old World and newer serious winemakers—i.e., Burgundies, Rieslings from Germany, Alsace and Austria, White Burgundies, interesting whites like Albarino, Gruner, Sylvaner, etc. And great coffees.
Do you collect wine? If so, what’s in your cellar?
I have a cellar going back to the early 70s, with a sprinkling of ancient collectors items. Lots of Burgundy, Bordeaux, CA Cabernet, Oregon Pinot Noir, and 10+ year old aromatic whites. I buy auction lots from friends in the industry and trade cases with various people, like Navarro.
What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing the wine industry today?
- The Economy and the resultant slashing of prices to unsustainable levels. There will be a culling of brands and wines of unpredictable quality on the market—hopefully the inroads into the average American’s lifestyle won’t be lost.
- Three-tier distribution becoming archaic, due to the creation of only 4-5 mega-distributors, which treat wines as commodities and which fail to serve small wineries.
- General proliferation of brands and confusion resulting for consumers.
- New diseases in established wine regions.
- AND OF COURSE, the changes to established growing regions, their varieties and quality and reputation, due to Global Climate Change.
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