When I think of Pinot, Willamette Valley comes to mind only a step behind Burgundy. To be fair, I am biased – Oregon was my first trip without my parents as a teenager. I spent a year in school in Oregon as well, at Willamette University, across from the Capitol Building. But there is another basic bias, I have been to Oregon. From the serene beauty of Crater Lake, to the quaint towns of the Oregon coast, and the majesty of the mountains – it is easy to fall in love. The valley itself, nestled between the foggy, dreamy Pacific Coast and the power of the Cascade Range, allows for a cool, dry growing season so well suited to the Pinot Noir grape.
The history of Oregon Pinot, from the early days of David Lett and Dick Erath in the 1960s, to the 500 wineries of today, was one of community. When asked at the seminar “What does Willamette Valley stand for?” Eugenia Keegan quickly replied: “Quality and Collaboration”. And the latter brings us to the Auction itself, now in its fourth year, it represents the winemakers of the valley coming together to showcase their region. Small lots of 5, 10 and 20 cases by 86 producers will be offered, including six unique lots of Chardonnay, made by previous and current auction chairs, often in collaboration (the 2016 poured at the seminar was made as a collaboration between Bergström and Adelsheim wineries). Scheduled for April 5-6th, it will bring trade professionals to Oregon, allowing them to experience the Valley for themselves.
We tastes six Pinot Noir wine at the seminar, as well as a lovely and fresh Rosé, from Big Table Farms and an Auction Collaboration Chardonnay. The Pinot Noirs spanned the last six vintages, from 2011 to 2016, and allowed us a peek into the evolution of the wines in the bottle, as well as the specific terroir and winemaking styles represented. I was most taken by the 2013 Soléna Estate Zena Crown Vineyard and the 2012 Penner-Ash Wine Cellars Hyland Vineyard Pinots. Both showed the structure and masculine nature I often see in Oregon Pinot Noirs, with juicy red berry dominating. The Penner-Ash clearly darker, riper, showcasing the rich vintage, with a core of deep plum fruit on the back palate and a rich, spicy finish. It handles the oak beautifully, adding a layer of velvet onto the dusty and brash fruit. The Soléna, on the other hand, is a lighter, more perfumed wine, opening with violets and sour cherry tones, leading to a bright, fresh mid palate of cranberry and tart red cherry. The vintage shows itself here as well, with the beautiful fresh acidity and the higher, more nervous structure. I really loved the raspberry notes on the long finish.
Of the younger wines, I must mention the 2015 Drouhin Oregon Roserock “Auction Cuvee” Pinot Noir. While still quite primary, it showed a unique dry cherry and dry cranberry on the nose, with a core of black cherry fruit and savory herb on the palate. This is still painfully young, and in need of age, but the sweet cherry finish makes the sacrifice worthwhile. I would love to see this wine after a decade in the cellar. I must also say a few words about the Chardonnay, a grape that, after a slow start, is quickly gaining ground in Oregon. The 2016 “The Pioneer and the Punk” Chardonnay, a joint venture of Josh Bergström and Dave Paige, was a treat. Still youthful, with a hint of vanilla over the bright citrus of the nose, the wine opens to reveal a bright palate of dry pineapple, mango and a touch of tart lemon curd. The mineral notes and the brighter lemon zest are hiding underneath, waiting their turn, but give them a few years and this wine will really begin to sing.
I would like to thank both Shirley Brooks and Eugenia Keegan for their insightful and education seminar, and to Jarvis Communications for the invitation
Call me a skeptic, a cynic even… but hard to define words are a sign of danger for me. What exactly is “Natural” wine? I understand the term organic - to an extent, for it too has limitations. I get the point of eco-friendly, bio-intensive agriculture. But “Natural” does not come to me, forgive the bad writing, naturally. I can admit it - I too had negative experiences with wines that use the term as a cover. But Natural, Organic and Low-Intervention wine-making, both as a terms and as ideologies, have come a long way; and so have the wines. I was stunned at the quality across the board of this year’s Raw Wine Fair in New York City. Wines exhibiting bright, crisp fruit, deeply aromatic, elegant and speaking of place and time. From the superstars of the movement like Cornelissen, Scholium Project, Radikon, Gravner to the multiple newcomers and risings stars across the globe - there was a clear message sent at the fair: “Raw Wine is not a Fad”.
Listening to Isabelle Legeron, the Founder of Raw Wine, describe the her vision of Natural wine, one thing was clear: it is all about the agriculture. “We can talk about the cellar later,” she said, “90% of the work is in the vineyard.” Her passion was infectious - “terrior is life in the vineyard”, and I cannot agree more. In a world looking more and more at organic food, organic agriculture, organically farmed grapes for wine are surely as important. I will add, certification itself is not the answer, it is the commitment that matters. Isabelle pointed out that only 7% of the world’s wine grapes are farmed organically and, certification discussion aside, that is shocking. Unlike food, wine is a luxury good, and thus, in my opinion, should set the standard even higher. If I had any doubts about the message of the movement and of Raw Wine, Isabelle blasted every one of them. This isn’t about a specific ideology - it is about a commitment to Nature itself. And that I cannot argue with.
I want to take the opportunity to thank Isabelle Legeron, Raw Wine, Heritage Radio Network and the producers themselves for this eye-opening experience! I cannot wait to taste more and learn more.
A fresh, bright and fruity Riesling, just bottled, can be an absolute pleasure… but what is it like in a year or two? Can that freshness fool us, make us fall in love prematurely? Perhaps, but that is why I was happy to try some 2015 and 2016 Rieslings from the Field Blend Selections portfolio and compare notes. I must say that both vintages are beautiful in their own right, with the 2015 now beginning to shed some of the primary fruit and reveal a deep minerality and brightness that will surely last decades. The 2016 are demure, elegant, but don’t mistake their bashfulness for weakness – they will woo you with their softer, yellow tones and seduce with their grace.
2016 Weingut Ökonomierat Rebholz Birkweiler Riesling trocken showed bright yellow peach and mineral notes on the nose. The palate was ripe, with lovely stone and tropical fruit, opening with a broader feel but getting a touch lighter toward the back-palate. The finish was bright, zesty with a hint of almond.
2015 Weingut Ökonomierat Rebholz Siebeldinger Im Sonnenschein Riesling Großes Gewächs opened with a hint of petrol, but it quickly blew off to reveal a stony, chalky nose with a ripe, citrus driven palate. This is a rich, dense wine, already quite complex – alternating between the riper tropical notes and the dry and bright mineral. A powerhouse that should age into an excellent example of the style.
2015 Zilliken (Forstmeister Geltz) Riesling was rather reticent on the nose, but bright and fresh on the palate, with a plethora of autumnal fruit. It showed drier than one would expect, with a lighter, softer touch toward the finish.
I clearly enjoyed the 2015 Zilliken (Forstmeister Geltz) Saarburger Rausch Riesling Kabinett on release but oh my, it really is in a lovely place now! It is still showing much larger than expected, but with 69g of RS it really is a powerful Spatlese. Ripe while peach, apricot and baked apple dominate the nose and the palate, with a rich, creamy note and a bright cranberry streak through the middle. The wine finishes with ripe mango and citrus zest, and I can easily see this aging wonderfully.
2016 Schäfer-Fröhlich Riesling Vulkangestein trocken showed an intense mineral and wet stone profile, with a core of ripe peach and zesty, spicy citrus rind. Lighter that it showed a year ago, this wine becomes all about the texture, stone, flint and a long, spicy finish.
While I was not terribly impressed with this wine on release, the 2016 Schäfer-Fröhlich Bockenauer Felseneck Riesling Kabinett was showing its colors today. Very floral on the nose, with white peach and yellow flowers. The palate was rich, with red berry, peach and citrus notes, leading to a zesty finish with a hint of pineapple.
2016 Schloss Lieser Riesling SL Feinherb is a great introduction to Riesling. I really enjoyed it last fall, and it is still showing the same bright, lively stone fruit, with just a hint of sweetness and cream. The minerality takes over on the back palate, leading to a fresh, bright finish. A perfect summer wine.
Today’s stunner was the 2016 Schloss Lieser Niederberg Helden Riesling Spätlese. I already fell in love with this wine, having tasted it on release and in Germany last year. Where last year the wine showed ripe peach and nectarine, the wine is now dominated by an elegant minerality that underscores the power and potential of this wine. Complex and complete, the wine only requires your patience… and it will blossom.