Saturday, April 28, 2018

Sidetracked: A Journey Gloriously Interrupted

This morning I decided I would go and redo my tasting notes for the Walnut Ridge post (coming) and was on my way out West 11th passing Fern Ridge Reservoir when I saw a Sarver sign. I had been meaning to go out there and for some reason today was the day. I turned off and wandered up the hill till I saw the sign. Stuck me as funny: the next person down the road with a gate has a hand done "Sarver" sign on an arrow pointing on down the road. I turned up the driveway to the winery and had to stop and take a picture. I know everyone loves the big full, lush vineyards hanging with fruit and sun-dappled leaves, but for me, THIS is the best time of year. In the days before "Bud Breck" there is a sense of anticipation, of tension, in the air. The vines have been storing up all this energy since the fall and are about to let loose!

 When I got up to the winery I was greeted by Django Winehart, who is really in charge. 

 I sat down at the tasting bar and introduced myself to Cookie, who is the manager of the tasting room and has a very keen nose for wines.

I decided to start with the whites.
The Pinot Gris was soft and pretty due to barrel aging. It had hints of coffee and toast above the cut apple on the nose and much like most of the southern valley's Gris still has the fresh bright fruits swirling about.
I was pleased with a bit softer apple, almost like applesauce before it is fully cooked and spiced. Lovely wine.
Next came the Reisling. My taste for wine grew up in Germany beginning in 1975 so I know the smell of an outstanding Reisling. That diesel smell that comes from perfectly made wine is a signature. You KNOW you are going to have a taste treat when you even get a hint of that smell. This wine had that smell and was just delightful! It was not overly sweet and had a soft mouthfeel with a long aftertaste of apple and cooked pineapple with none of the burnt notes or dripping sweetness. I highly recommend this wine, and DO NOT LET THE SMALL PUT YOU OFF!!! This wine should be drunk now but you can keep this one down for a while.
I just can't get over how great the Rose' is! The flavors of bright red fruit and crisp berry nearly leap out of the glass, and the color is bright as light through a ruby. When you come you have to try this one.
One of the wonderful things about Oregon wine tasting rooms is the person behind the counter.  Can you imagine fielding questions all day from "Do all these wines come from the same grape?" "How come the Pinot Gris grapes are not white?" Why does this smell like gasoline?" while putting up with perfumes and cigarette smoke and trying to help people taste the wines?
Thanks too all very much for working so hard in the tasting rooms!

Chris, the owner and winemaker, was in from working on the road and was kind enough to take me on a tour of the winery. 
The estate grown grapes are mostly whites save for the Pinot Noir. They get red grapes from Southern Oregon and Eastern Washington and produce some outstanding wines.
Black rubies in a glass.
I was lucky enough to barrel taste the Malbec just out of MLF so it had just a hint of carbonation. So smooth and delightfully rich with shades of strawberry and plum over a solid tannic base. The grapes come from the Umpqua Valley and from what I have seen are doing very well there. Now we don't have to go all the way to Argentina for a good Malbec!
 Do you think Syrah is a dark grape? Wait till you hold your glass of Malbec up to the light and see nothing! Now I know what I am going to use for the next eclipse.

We walked to the back and I saw steel barrels among the wood. I had never seen, or at least never noticed them before in any barrel rooms I had visited. They are just for storage and settling but the look kind of cool among the oak.

Back in the tasting room, people had started arriving for an afternoon visit. There were a few tourists, some locals who seemed more family than customers but still bought wine. 

I had the cheese of the day, an English Cotswold with fig and apricot along with bread fresh from the oven, sliced apple, and green olives.
The view from up here is one of the most beautiful you will ever see, and a perfect way to spend an afternoon with friends is to pick a slightly overcast, drizzly day and sip your wines while you watch the landscape change as the light plays over it. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Spectacular Afternoon on Terroirtorial Highway

Yes, I know I spelled Territorial wrong but hey, my blog.

I am gathering wines for the 85th Anniversary of the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art on the U of O campus, hereafter referred to as The Schnitz.
By the way, if you need an art fix and need a good story to tell, go visit now and see the Masterworks on loan including Schnabel, Twombly, de Kooning, Ernst, Kline, and many many more.
Anyway, back to wine. I set out yesterday afternoon and was on my way to Benton Lane, headed north on Territorial from Elmira and decided to stop at one of Lane County's many wineries, Bennet Winery
The wine there is among the best I have tasted this year. They have a few bottles of the '13 Duet left and it alone is worth the short drive out Hwy 36 just past Territorial Hwy. 
When I tasted it, just opened, it had a tightness that soon gave way to delicate yet complex dark cherry with hints of plum and jam. This is a drink now and it IS a food wine.bennett-vineyards-cheshire-valley.jpg

Next came the same wine from '14. Ripe and rich, this is a great introduction wine for Pinotnovices (not my word). It is very well balanced, has a broad spectrum of tastes from spice to jam, and just has an amazing mouthfeel! This will age well but is a drink now!

The remarkable difference in the two wines is a reinforcement of the delicacy of the grape and how anything may alter the taste during growth. The '13 struck me as a settled, calm, earthy wine while the '14 was exciting and vivid!

Gene and Lisa have a great story to tell and lead an adventurous life of global travel and exploration many of us dream of before starting the vineyards.
They grow three Pinot Noir grapes, 115, 777, and Pommard. Their winemakers perform the balancing act with the three very different grapes to create their wines.
(here is a great piece about clones) The use only these to make the estate wines. 
The '14 Pommard is just outstanding! Ripe and rich with berries and smoked meat with hints of leather and earth. It has a soft and gentle mouthfeel and is very well oaked. Great choice for heavier foods like roasts and stews.
The '15 Pommard is much brighter and crisper with hints of smoked meat and rich earth under a canopy of fresh berries and cherries.
But, I must say my favorite was the '14 Reserve. This wine is aged in 35% French oak and is the most complex and interesting of the wines tasted.
The nose is dark berry, seven spice, and has faint undertones of smoked meat. The taste is bright and rich with a fine balance and soft mouthfeel.
 This is one of the best examples of what great Belpine soil, beautiful grapes, and a good winemaker can create here in Oregon.

Whites were next and I enjoyed the White Pinot Noir and the Pinot Gris. Both very enjoyable and perfect coming into nice deck weather.
The White Pinot Noir is a little surprising as it has a zesty brightness with pear and white peach on the nose and the tastes of with fresh cut strawberry and hints of vanilla that are really pleasingly smooth.
The Pinot Gris was green apple and light spice with lime zest. Great wine for white sauced pasta.

If you have not found an excuse to drive out through our vineyards and visited the wineries of Lane County, go to the Lane County Adventure center and pick up a Pinot Bingo card.  You get a print of the painting at the top of the page. I signed 500 of them so if you get a row you get a small print in a nice wooden stand.
The original 60"x60" painting is now in the Horizon House Collection in Seattle where it hangs among the works Jacob Lawrence, Frank Okada (my teacher), Dale Chilhuly, Marc Tobey, Morris Graves, and many more Northwest artists. I still have to pinch myself sometimes!

My next stop was at Benton Lane Winery. I have known Steve and Carol since the early 90's and have been a wine club member there for nearly that long. There is something special about the wines they produce. The rich soil of a 100-year-old sheep ranch and the deep Belpine soils let the vines produce a stunning complexity of flavors and every year it is different. That is one of the things I love about Pinot Noir.
I only had a few moments but tasted through the wonderful wines and listened to the comments of the others in the room. Pinot Noir seems always to spark interesting conversations about taste, travel, and terroir. 
Of all the wines they make and sell, the 2015 Pinot Blanc released this year is the most surprising. If you, like me, have found few reasons to pursue Pinot Blanc wines this one with make you sit up straight and look around. The magical quality of this wine laced with crisp apple and pineapple, spicy high notes and a perfect mouthfeel make me want to check out some others around Oregon.
One of my all-time favorites.
All of the wines are good to great but the First Class 2015 Pinot Noir is one of the most interesting and complex wines I have tasted this year. It develops slowly in the mouth and the different flavors merrily swirl around your tongue seeking the perfect taste receptor.
Not an easy drinking wine and perhaps not for beginners but take your time with it and discover the joy of tasting and smelling the various layers.

More later about a visit to Walnut Ridge, LaVelle, and Brigadoon

Monday, April 2, 2018

A Month of Visiting Lane County Wineries!

The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, located on the University of Oregon campus, is celebrating its 85th Anniversary on May 11th!
I have been tasked with gathering wines for the event and will be visiting all the wineries in Lane County, taking photos, writing tasting notes, and interviewing some of the people involved with creating a dynamic and important industry here in Oregon.