November 24, 2015

The drive

The questions this harvest were always about the drive and how I move my wine production from the city to the country.

How's the drive?
Do you miss making wine in Portland?
Do you live at the winery during harvest?

The answers, for the record, are fine, not really, no.

Looking east across the valley from Eola Hills Road

Yes, I live in NE Portland and after six years at winery facilities in the city of Portland, I now drive all the way to the Eola Hills between Dundee and Salem to make my wine.

So how was the drive? Marvelous, mostly.

I grew up in Los Angeles, maybe I'm just used to driving. The hour+ commute each way to my winery home at Grochau Cellars was often just the time I needed to clear my thoughts, listen to my muse, occasionally respond, and generally make sure the countryside and each harvest day and night passed marked.

Willamette River in September from the Wheatland Ferry
The route was mostly the same. Interstate 5 south to Exit 263, then west and a bit north to the Wheatland Ferry, the only car crossing between Newberg and Salem. From the west side of the Ferry, it's just a few minutes up the hill to the winery.

On late nights after the Ferry stopped running, I'd drive back through Dundee and Newberg to Portland. Too busy during the day, late at night the route is quiet and direct, and one September night anyway the stars bright over the Dundee Hills after midnight took my breath away.

A bouquet of fresh hop flowers found on the roadside one morning

Mostly it was a freeway drive without much traffic, then two lane roads through the hop yards of the Willamette Valley, the old school car ferry and my thoughts. And occasionally stopping on the side of the road to finish a conversation before losing cell service.

The sunsets this harvest were exceptional almost every day
I thought I'd spend more nights at the winery, just for convenience. I found I liked getting back home each night, and without proper camping gear (which is changing) I only spent one cold night on the crush pad, under the stars and more thoughts

More on that soon enough.

November 20, 2015

Red ferments, waiting, punchdowns, doing nothing

Last time I wrote about making white wines. Essentially, that means pressing the grapes right away and fermenting the juice on its own. This method keeps the white wines pale in color and free of astringency that the skins and other solids would give to the wine.

With red wines, you ferment the juice in contact with the grape skins, pulp, seeds, maybe even the stems depending on your preference. The point is to extract lots of things from the grape solids to provide color, flavor and texture to the red wine. Only after fermentation is done do we separate the new red wine from the grape solids.

A fermenter bin full of destemmed Pinot Noir grapes

I'm not sure how to describe my wine making methods other than to say I take a simple approach. I don't add yeast, nor do I add any yeast foods, texture enhancers, and whatever else you can find in the winery supply catalogs. I don't cook that way and I don't think the best wines are made with the intention of totally controlling the outcome.

This harvest, fruit quality was exceptional, meaning there was so little rot or other issues in the grapes that you knew right away on each harvest day that things were going to go well. Think of the nicest fish you've ever cooked - perfectly fresh, like a dream, so you know all you need to do is prepare it simply and the meal couldn't be better.

Making wine is no different. Not every lot of grapes may have the integrity for such a simple approach. Rainy years are particularly difficult as molds and other things can start growing in the grape clusters, potentially hurting the quality of the wine. In 2015, the story of the harvest for me was a consistency of fruit quality from every site I work with so that, as usual, nothing really had to be done.

Pigeage or foot treading the gapes for gentle extraction the old fashioned way.

What does that mean? Fruit is sorted and destemmed (in most cases) into well cleaned fermenter bins. The next day I will do one pump over, or remontage, where I pump the grape juice from the bottom of the vat and spray it gently over the surface to mix and aerate things, much as you are adding oxygen to bread dough in the kneading process. That oxygen feeds the yeast to promote a strong native fermentation.

Then I do nothing. For days.

Ok, I wait, and of course I check on things each day, take temperatures, smell, generally assess how things are going. But I don't punch down the grape skins, mixing things in the fermenter. Instead I'm waiting for fermentation on the surface to build to a point where carbon dioxide production from that activity is strong enough to really make you notice.

Only then do I punch down the fermenter for the first time. In some harvests that can take up to 10 days of waiting. This year, fermentations took off after 5 or 6 days, most likely because even with our cooler than expected September weather, ambient temperatures were higher than you'd see in a normal year of harvesting in early October. Even slightly warmer temps means slightly faster starts to fermentation, one of the many little attributes of each vintage.

Before anyone worries - what, fast fermentations? That sounds bad! - let's not get ahead of ourselves. I'm saying that my natural fermentations run on their own schedules each year, and this year things started a bit more quickly than usual. However, the most significant difference in my red wine making this year compared to prior years is that fermentations lasted longer than usual.

The view as I punch down a fermenter of Pinot Noir.

As fermentation continues, I will punch down (mix) the fermenters only once a day, and then not even every day. Wine making school will tell you this will ruin a wine. Without enough mixing, vinegar bacteria or other issues will take hold. My experience is different, and I've found that punching down only a handful of times over the entire fermentation period allows the delicate texture of the wine to come together. Think of lace - work it too much and it tears. Treat it gently and you preserve a delicate, beautiful integrity that means everything.

Close up of the foamy goodness of native yeast fermentation of Pinot Noir.

Some years, even if fermentation takes 10 days to start, after another 10 days the wine is dry (finished fermenting) and the fermenter is ready to drain and press. But this year, even with quicker starts to fermentation, nothing fermented too fast and many of my fermenters took 24 and up to 28 days from harvest to be ready to drain and press.

The dark, already pretty clear color of free run Pinot Noir.
That extra contact time with the grape solids often gives a wine more savory, complex flavors and aromas beyond fresh fruit qualities. The potential downside of longer "skin contact" could be increased tannin, perhaps even bitterness, and perhaps losing too much freshness. It's a balancing act, but with warm summer and perfectly healthy fruit, I found that the added skin contact time for the new wines helped draw out a vinuos quality in favor of loads of fresh, dense fruit. Some of that is good, too much is not really wine but fruit juice.

By contrast, the lighter colored, murky press wine that needs settling.
As usual, when draining a fermenter and pressing the grape solids, I let the new wine settle for a couple of days before filling barrels. The goal is to allow a good bit of the suspended solids to settle out, so that there's some but not too much lees (sediment) in the barrels as the wines age.

November 05, 2015

Pressing white grapes

With red grapes, the basic process for making wine is fermenting the grape skins, pulp, seeds, maybe stems and of course the grape juice all together. Only when fermentation is done do you load the press with the grape solids and press out the wine.

Old vine 108 clone Chardonnay from Namaste Vineyard
With white grapes, things are easier and more difficult. Easier in that you typically press the grapes right away to get just the juice – no pulp or seeds or skins – and ferment the juice in tanks or barrels. There are no daily punch downs as with making red wine.

But it's harder to press unfermented fruit. Grapes are pulpy and don't want to give up their juice too easily. Grapes are also sticky and attract lots of bees, so loading the press is a little more dangerous if you don't want to get stung.

Loading Pinot Blanc into the press by hand, one shovel load at a time

This year I worked with Chardonnay from three different vineyards and Pinot Blanc from a single site. Having a small press at the new winery – something we will likely change in the years ahead – meant loading the press several times. By hand, one shovel full of grapes at a time for literally tons of fruit. Forget crossfit, this is body by harvest, good honest work that gives you time to think.

The beautiful inside of a well cleaned, several years old French oak barrel for white wine

As with my red wines, I like to let the freshly pressed white juice settle to a few days before filling barrels. This process allows the gross lees, or sediment, to settle out so the white juice is more pure for its fermentation. Fermentation in always native with my white and red wines, meaning no yeasts added, fermentation happening only with yeasts on the grapes and in the air. After fermentation, the wine stays on the sediment in the barrels – mostly yeast cells, what we call the fine lees – to age and gain richness.

Pulling a sample of fermenting Chardonnay from a barrel

This year the Pinot Blanc fermented dry – no sugar remaining – in just a few weeks, which was fairly quick. The Chardonnays have taken longer, with one barrel just about dry, a few others nearing the end of fermentation, and two barrels still with a few percent of sugar nearly two months after picking. Some producers worry about slow fermenting whites but I like the longer ferment, provided things continue to move.

The yeasty glow of fermenting white wine in barrel
While harvest is now done, the one bit of harvest work that continues is keeping my eye on those Chardonnay barrels, to chart their progress, taste as things go to make sure nothing funny is happening, and wait for fermentation to finish on its own. Sometimes it can take until the following spring, which is fine.

This sample of Chardonnay is nearing the end of fermentation

In life I think the longer the cure, the stronger the bond. I don't mind waiting, though I'll keep checking in to see how things progress. And because I love the perfume of new (and old) wine. 

October 30, 2015

First fruit

Freshly picked Pinot Noir vines at Armstrong Vineyard on Ribbon Ridge
Harvest 2015 began on Saturday morning, September 5, at our site on Ribbon Ridge, Armstrong Vineyard, with cool and dry weather more typical of late September when I'd normally expect to start picking grapes.

This cool end of season weather was key to the wine quality this year. Had we seen normal early September weather, in the 80s up to the '90s, things could have been grim. Grapes racing to ripeness, dehydrating and losing elegance and grace.

Instead, we had perfect picking conditions and fruit got to the winery nice and cold, something I never expected with a year this early.

Please tell me that's all there is!! ;-)
This year I upped production from Armstrong, but I definitely had to take a deep breath seeing 20 quarter ton bins of fruit loaded on the trailer. Five tons of fruit day one? That's almost more than I made in the entire vintage of 2010, admittedly only my second year when I worked with just two vineyards. Still.

Whole cluster Pinot Noir from Armstrong Vineyard

With more fruit this year, I experimented with a heavy proportion of whole clusters in one fermenter. That means sorting the fruit as usual, but bypassing the destemmer to allow the intact grape clusters into the fermenter. I typically destem the grapes, but I like the effect stems can have on wine texturally and aromatically. We'll see how this one turns out.

Happy guy in the driver's seat on the fork lift, for hours
Harvest day 1 turned out to be a pretty typical "fruit" day. Get up early, get out to the vineyard to oversee the pick, then get to the winery to get ready to process fruit before the grower trucks it over. Then hours of processing the fruit, with me on the fork lift driving as carefully as possible in some tight winery spaces. Then cleaning up, almost endlessly, and taking initial numbers of sugar, acid and temperature for each new fermenter.

This day we filled 5 fermenters, and once things were all done, around 10pm, I turned the lights off, locked the doors, drove home and thought about doing it all over again tomorrow with the first pick at Crowley Station.

A bit of interplanted Chardonnay in with the Crowley Station Vineyard Pinot Noir
So day 2 of harvest, down to Crowley Station early in the morning, loading a rental truck and driving the fruit myself up to the winery. This first pick at Crowley Station was the west block, a mix of clones plus a little Chardonnay that we co-fermented with the Pinot just for fun. Really just about 1% of the fruit was Chard, we'll see if we can pick out any uniqueness it may have added.

The rest of Crowley Station we held off picking for another week and a half. So this was a light fruit day, just 1.5 tons, but as you go through harvest you have the newest fruit to deal with but also all the prior fruit in various stages of fermentation. It starts to add up quickly.

Meanwhile there was planning for day 3, which would bring the first white grapes, Chardonnay from Methven in the Amity Hills. More on that and the rest of harvest next time...

October 25, 2015

Harvest 2015: Introduction

Eola Hills harvest sunset, looking to the Van Duzer gap in the Coast Range
I learned it again this year, after the earliest and hottest Willamette Valley summer in memory, the same lesson of every season, even the coldest, latest harvest on record a few years ago and every year since.

Yes, always. 

Somehow, against all seeming odds, the grape harvest always works out. I learn it, believe it, then apparently have to learn it again each year. 

I don't mean to invite a true agricultural disaster. Perhaps in some year to come the crop will truly fail. But would we not continue on regardless? Yes, future unconditional tense.

Things during the year aren't always so clear. All anyone could talk about this year was the heat, how we had no winter, how spring came earlier than ever and would we be harvesting raisins in August?

The truth is always something a little different.

I think certain events this year help explain the wines I have resting in the cellar after we indeed had the earlier harvest I've heard of in Oregon (maybe '92 was earlier?). 

I'm amazed that no lot of grapes came in with higher sugars than I'd like. None came in without the acidity I desire. And everything tasted ripe or frankly ripe enough. Think of medium rare meat, that's how I like my ripeness.

The summer of 2014 was hot and gave the earliest harvest I'd seen. I started picking on September 13 last year. Then fall hit hard and winter even came briefly with some sneaky cold nights in late November and December. We did have winter, though it was short.

Rains didn't translate into mountain snow, and when January arrived with March-like weather, local ski slopes were bare and growers were quick to prune in anticipation of a very early budbreak.

Budbreak in mid-March 2015 in my rows at Zenith Vineyard 
Sure enough the vines woke from their winter naps in mid-March, a full month earlier than normal. Then flowering, when the grapes set on the vine, happened a month early in May. Color change in the red grapes, or veraison, in July instead of August. 

Everything was happening early, but would the critical event happen, again any prediction? Would fall come early as well so we could pick cold fruit that ripened slowly at the end of the season?

Incredibly, that's what happened. Around August 28, it's like the summer switch flipped to fall. Sure we had some warm days in September, but only after unusually cool weather around Labor Day that set a fall tone for the rest of the season.

Harvest began a full eight days earlier than last year, on September 5 with approximately 5 tons of Pinot Noir from Armstrong Vineyard on Ribbon Ridge. 

How did all the fruit turn out? How did everything ferment? And how was it largely working on my own making 23 tons worth of wine, full time, no longer balancing a day job?

Stay tuned. I promise to continue, it's definitely worth it.

August 16, 2015

Provence, 1970 and Bordeaux

Earlier this summer I enjoyed the page-turning Provence, 1970 by Luke Barr. It's a lovely culinary read about many things, in part the changing culinary trends of the time that brought something of a sunset of a generation, an era.

Published two years ago, the book details the author's grandmother M.F.K. Fisher and her chef/author/media star colleagues including Julia Child, Richard Olney and James Beard. The group - a mix of friends, acquaintances and strangers - meet up in Provence in late 1970, cooking, drinking wine and generally digging into the essentials of life, pleasure, insecurity and the meaning of our lives, our work and love.

The turning point hinges on the culinary movement away from more fussy, classical preparations in the kitchen to the more simple techniques and focus on local, seasonal ingredients. Olney represents the new wave, and M.F. and Julia more the old school, even as Julia is revolutionizing food by bringing old school French cooking to the world via a widely viewed television program.

The old school recognizes things are changing, but they still want to do things their way. As M.F. puts it in a letter to Julia Child, "One reason we are friends is that we both understand the acceptance of NOW."

The book contains several recountings of elaborate meals and menus, with impeccable wines usually selected by Julia's enophile husband Paul. As with the times, most choices were French and Bordeaux at that. How the wine world has changed.

But reading the menus, I thought to open a wine of similar age to the 1962s and such they were enjoying. So the 2006 Ch. Olivier from Graves, a producer I first came upon very early in my wine interest with a highly reviewed new release at the time, the 1989.

I remember that '89 was pretty good older school Bordeaux red, but this 2006 was everything that's unfortunate about modern Bordeaux. Where the old school approach was redder, translucent and more delicate, the new school is maximum extraction, with dark colors, thick textures and dense flavors. At nine years old, this wine was all that but hollow in the middle and rough throughout, just overworked, like it's trying to hard to be something SPECIAL and isn't even charming. Which wine simply must be.

Of course in the book the wines are always lovely. Perhaps I'm too critical, Or perhaps not. The characters all had strong opinions and I'm sure they argued about the wines. I finished Provence, 1970 and exhaled, thinking what I would give for just one dinner with that group, just to be there. The book is as good as we'll get for now.

June 19, 2015

At last, it's time - full time

Nearly sixteen years after I first volunteered in a commercial winery, ten years after seriously committing myself to an apprenticeship in wine, and six years since I founded my winery, Vincent Wine Company, I am delighted to say that today, June 19, 2015, I am quitting my day job in higher education and entering the wine business full time.

It has been a long time coming, it's taken a lot of patience at times, but it is finally here. Dreams do come true.

Don't get me wrong, what I did today in resigning my position as Director of Professional Development at a local university was difficult for me. I came to my higher education career fifteen years ago, after several years in various editorial positions in book and periodical publishing.

I am passionate about helping people learn and grow, be it from classroom learning or simply reading on one's own. In this career, my work has been largely to identify what people need to know to help them in their professional lives, then to find the right people and work with them to create the experiences the audience needs.

I'll miss that work. But I won't miss it nearly as much as I'm looking forward to my future in wine. Let's not even get into university politics and bureaucracy. I will not miss that.

I've heard it again and again in my years in wine - don't quit your day job. And I didn't, I took that advice seriously. My one overarching goal, beyond making great wine, was to accomplish enough each year to continue my quest to make great wine. You know, sell the wine and you get to make more.

So far, so good. But there's only so far you can take things as a side project, no matter how large a side project it's become. And there's definitely stigma in making wine while still working outside of wine, as if you can't be that serious about the wine if you're not full time, and you certainly can't be too serious about your day job if you have this side passion.

My life has been about making these two worlds fit together. Sometimes it was painful to hear people tell me I must not like what I do for "work," or I must be cutting corners on the wine I make, simply because they couldn't accept the whole picture of my life.

But the truth is, that dichotomy exists and sometimes has been terribly difficult. I'm very happy to let it go.

Before you get worried and say, what if it doesn't work? It might not. But I'm six years in, things have gone well, even better than I could have expected (especially knowing what I know now). At this point, my best business option is to immerse myself more fully into wine. It's not a lark, it's not numbers on a page, it's a real business with a track record and, like a child, it demands more attention.

The good news is that I don't have to leave behind my passion for learning and reading. One opportunity I see in my wine business, of course beyond making the best wine I possibly can, is to create opportunities for people to learn and grow in their own wine knowledge. I'm not thinking of some kind of hospitality center that many wineries provide. Instead it's something more personal and intimate.

We'll see how all that shakes out, but for now it feels great to seize this dream fully, after a long wait, after a lot of difficult work.

It's finally here. I can't wait. And I know the work's only just begun.

May 03, 2015

Five years

My first official vintage. (photo courtesy of M. McCall)
Cue on of my favorite David Bowie songs.

Today is an important day for me, five years almost to the minute when an unexpected email came to me. It lead to the first order of Vincent Wine Company wine, a case of my 2009 Vincent Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills, my first vintage.

I have an uncanny mind for remembering dates and events. (I'm inversely terrible at remembering people's names or the plots of movies, don't ask why.) I often can't help but think what happened on a given day one year ago, 10 years ago.

It's even true of entire years, and wine plays into this when I think of 1982, the year I learned to surf, the year of great wines in Bordeaux and an El Nino winter in my native California that was great for the waves but lousy for the grapes. These connections in my personal history and matters of public record fascinate me.

It's funny that the one time recently when things totally slipped my mind was the 10 year anniversary of this site early this year. It just slid by unmarked at the exact moment.

That's not happening today. Perhaps I always knew that anyone could start a blog, which I did, and never doubting that it could happen and continue to happen if I just kept writing, maybe it all didn't make the ten year mark so significant.

But someone emailing me, totally out of the blue, that became an order for a case of my wine? That happening was always in doubt, never expected, and certainly nothing I could simply do myself or declare and make it be so as with this blog. That makes it so much more meaningful to me.

I love making wine. It's an indulgence though as I've written here previously it's also very necessary, it's what I do, even at the start of war or when my father called me with his terminal diagnosis. It's just who I am and how I've come to try to express how I feel about things.

I just can't keep making wine if no one wants in, so that email meant the start of something that continues to this day and I hope never goes away. Fire needs air, spring needs the winter, and wine making needs a person wanting in. Several in fact, but it had to begin with one.

That reality was and remains the scariest part of this whole winery business thing. What if no one still wanted in? How would I continue being able to do what I do, be who I think I am, at least this (major) part of me?

So, thank you. That email five years ago today, May 3, 2010, means everything to me. It brought this dream to life.

Though this business isn't without its quirks. As it turns out, that wine was never delivered, that order never finalized. I've learned to sell all your wine, you actually have to sell more than all your wine because things fall though or get delayed, orders get changed. It's tough sometimes.

But no matter, I still have a case of that wine in my little library, and it's still drinking lovely and should for several more years. There's no rush on this bottle if you still have one (nice to hear a great report recently on it from a CA customer).

Like good wine, it needs time. And to twist my mom's favorite Wizard of Id cartoon playing on the old Orson Wells line about selling no wine before its time, time's not up. I think it's only just beginning.

April 16, 2015

Shadows in the Vineyard, by Maximillian Potter

Sometimes the most unlikely catalyst serves to open doors of new understanding. So it is for me with the book Shadows in the Vineyard from writer Maximilian Potter.

I posted on Twitter a few weeks ago when I started the book, a little nervous seeing a first paragraph that reads so over the top and frankly sappy that I nearly put the whole thing down.

Somehow the book grew on me. Perhaps the subject matter is simply that interesting to me. I kept finding pieces of the narrative that connected with me. And Potter, even with his heavy prose, really seems to have captured, and been captured by, the profound magic of Burgundy. I believe in that.

The story itself makes for a fun read. A plot to poison the finest vineyard of the greatest domaine in Burgundy is discovered and ultimately foiled (spoiler alert, though not really).

Add to that a broad brush of French Revolution history as well as fascinating details of the monks a thousand years ago who cultivated the vineyards and lieux dits of the Cote d'Or, much as we know them today.

I found it interesting to learn that the scourge phylloxera were originally called “la nouvelle maladie de la vigne.” A new malady, to put it mildly.

I knew that the Benedictine monks who cultivated the Cote d'Or followed a particularly strict life, but didn't know their discipline was what St. Benedict termed "The Rule." I suppose we all must have rules.

It's understandable. Potter's hardly alone in revering M. de. Villaine, a legend, the general manager of one of wine's crown jewels and apparently quite a well mannered guy. What's not to like there? He's also proprietor with his wife Pamela of their own estate, Dom. A. et P. de Villaine in Bouzeron, producing of lovely, pure wines from the Côte Chalonnaise. I personally love these wines, and not only because I can still afford them.

Then there are various passages in the book that simply struck me well when I found them. On p. 85, a bit on Bouzeron had me reflecting on moving my own wine production out of Portland, perhaps allowing for a similar positive distance between work and home as that of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in Vosne and home estate in Bouzeron.
Bouzeron’s simplicity was one of the things that had drawn Monsieur Aubert de Villaine to the village five decades earlier. Its simplicity and its distance from Vosne and the Domaine. Monsieur de Villaine believed it was important for him to have a life removed from the Domaine. The drive was sometimes a nuisance, but it provided both a real and a psychological buffer, enabling him to drive into and away from the world of the Domaine. Plus, Bouzeron had splendid if underrated vineyards of its own, wholly unlike those in Vosne-Romanee.
Then on the next page, Potter suggests something of de Villaine that I think about a lot in my own work with the terroir of the northern Willamette Valley.
In Bouzeron there were no expectations. He would be free to discover the terroir in his own way. There were no pressures other than those he chose to impose on himself.
The most lasting parts for me touch on the magic of Burgundy, the spiritual work of farming grapes and vinifying wine, particularly the Pinot Noir. This work is very difficult, stressful, not simply romantic by any stretch. But it is special, important work because of magic, in Burgundy and elsewhere.

Of Jean-Charles Cuvelier, a manager at the Domaine:
[H]e continued to believe in magic. That’s part of what he loved about the Domaine. In every vintage, in every bottle there was magic. There was hope. There was rebirth. The magic of the Domaine, the magic of the family he had there, is what enabled him to get through Annick’s long bout with cancer and then begin his life without her.
Quoting Francois Millet of Comte de Vogue, another top Burgundy producer, after the poisoning scheme at the Domaine was discovered:
Burgundy is a place that has been and must be free of such evil so that man can focus on the poetry of nature that God has given us, and we can focus on our responsibility to honor that.
And then quoting Pierre de Benoist, nephew of the Grand Monsieur and maker of A. et P. de Villaine wines in Bouzeron:
People say that wine is grapes in a glass, but I have a different view. The grapes are gone. They are no more. What’s left are the juices, the souls of the grapes, the ghosts of the grapes. These souls, these ghosts, these are what we drink; their spirit infuses our own.
These sentiments may seem overly romantic, but they are part of this life, even here in Oregon. There is a much deeper purpose in this work than commercial success.

Potter concludes with an image of a sunset in Vosne, in the heart of the Cote d'Or
It was the sort of light that left you with no choice but to have faith, to believe.
I'm struck how growing grapes and making wine almost require this sentiment. This work can be full of anxiety. A man wants some reassurance, some hope. He needs it. And I enjoyed reading that Potter gets that.

April 06, 2015

Actual Texas wine from Duchman Family Winery

I wrote again last week about Texas wine that's not really Texas wine.

So on my recent visit to the hill country around Austin, it was a pleasure to find some Texas producers that are loud and proud about working with 100% Texas grapes.

(To be clear, I'm fine if you want to work with out of state grapes. Oregonians do it all the time. You just need to be up front about it.)

One label I noticed on a visit to a pretty good grocery store was Duchman Family. They're clear about what's in the bottle, even if the Texas grapes mostly come from the High Plains AVA, 400 miles away in the Texas panhandle.

I didn't know that at the time, but I wanted real Texas wine and I was attracted to a producer featuring the likes of Trebbiano, Vermentino, and Sangiovese instead of inappropriate staples like Cabernet and Chardonnay.

Too bad this grocery didn't have their Aglianico, Montepulciano or Tempranillo, who knew Texas wines could be so adventurous with grapes that work in hot, arid climates. That's not to mention the slighly alkaline sandstones of the High Plains, which sound interesting compared to the acid soils of my Willamette Valley.

I selected the Vermentino (naturally) and the Sangiovese. Both were just under $15 a bottle, so very reasonable for wines made just down the road in Driftwood (incidentally the home of the excellent Salt Lick BBQ, a nice outlet of which you can find at the Austin airport).

How were the wines? Good, especially if you're in Texas looking for some local flavor.

The 2012 Vermentino Bingham Family Vineyard High Plains AVA seemed a bit more like sauvignon blanc in character, with a green herbal streak and melon aromas and flavors. The acidity appeared low, the wine having a plush texture and a sense of fruit sweetness despite being dry table white wine. Though this didn't have the golden qualities of my favorite Vermentinos, I did find this enjoyable to drink over a few days.

The 2012 Sangiovese Reddy Vineyard, also High Plains AVA fruit, had a nice ruby color. It also seemed a little vegetal, with chile pepper and red fruit aromas, some oak spice and soft flavors, the acidity more pronounced on the finish to tie things together nicely. A few of us finished this easily on one night.

On my next visit, I'll definitely look out for things like the other reds and the Trebbiano, and see what if anything they're growing in the striking hill country limestone.

March 26, 2015

Back in the Texas Hill Country

I'm back in the hill country outside Austin, TX, visiting in-laws with my wife and kids. It's been a few years since I was last here and I've been quickly reminded about something I blogged some years back that really annoys me and is worth revisiting.

Lots of "local" Texas wine isn't local wine at all, and it's really hard for consumers to know. If you're in Texas and want wine from Texas-grown grapes, look for the words "For sales in Texas only" on any local winery label, and then make sure you put that wine back on the shelf and keep looking.

"For sale in Texas only" on the label means that wine is not 100% from Texas grapes, if any Texas grapes were used at all.

Obvious, right?

It's true, the hot, often humid climate here is a tough environment to grow vinifera grapes (the mostly Eurpoean varieties we all know and mostly love - cabernet, pinot, chardonnay, etc).

It's also true that many states across our country not named California import some grapes or finished wine from my native golden state. It's just that many times they'll admit it, or at least not have some obscure designation that hides the truth.

I only learned this through my own experiences tasting "Texas" wines over the years. In-laws would proudly pour me "local" wine, but I couldn't believe the wines actually came from here. They simply didn't taste like it, and then the labels didn't say it either but they didn't say anything about where the grapes came from. Just the for sale in Texas only designation, which I researched and found the truth.

How disappointing. It's frankly shameful and, especially in the name of promoting Texas wines by helping local producers quietly fill out their production with non-local wine, it does such a disservice to Texas wine.

People thinking they're drinking the real thing, but really getting duped, that isn't any way to build an industry. I wish Texas would do better here.

Why? Because there is good Texas wine, from actual Texas grapes, grown in the incredibly lovely, rocky limestone soils all over this state that are worth trying.

I'll admit, I haven't tried too much I would recommend in the traditional sense (this is fabulous, you should search it out where ever you are!). And I haven't tried much of anything that I think was fermented on its own and bottled without filtering or other winery fuss. Please help me if I'm missing under the radar producers.

But there are some good, drinkable wines here that taste best to me in the local setting where they have a context that amplifies their uniqueness and makes them especially memorable.

In my Texas wine experience, that means I look for wines mostly from grapes suited to hotter or at least really sunny climates. Think of the grapes of southern France, Italy, even Corsica, rather than the our typical American favorites like the Cabernet of maritime Bordeaux or the Pinot and Chardonnay of cool Burgundy.

Just make sure you read the label carefully. Good producers will tell you they use Texas grapes. I notice some seem to push that, perhaps to fight back at the obfuscation. Good for them.

[edit - so just after posting this, we went out to dinner with a group of locals. One ordered a bottle of "local" Pinot Grigio for the table and got called out nicely by her friends for always supporting Texas wine. Of course, the back label said it's "American" white wine, meaning the grapes could have come from anywhere in the US. That's not exactly clear about the source but at least it begs a question if anyone is paying attention. Of course I didn't say anything, and what was likely cheap Pinot Gris from California was lauded as "Texas wine" and no one cared. And that's the lesson, no one really cares. And so it goes...]

February 18, 2015

New for 2015

Wouldn't you know it, the tenth anniversary of this very site passed two weeks ago unmarked. So it goes. Unlike other parts of my life, this site hasn't been too preoccupied with its milestones.

2015. It's still a relatively new year. What does it have in store? A lot, I expect.

It's been ten years of this site, ten years since my decision to take my apprenticeship in wine more seriously. Ten years of sort of documenting the way, from cryptic harvest reports when I was working for others to my own experiments in the garage that led to my own commercial winery starting in 2009.

Now I'm entering my seventh year as Vincent Wine Company and planning more than 1,000 cases of wine production this fall. That's a lot compared to the old garage days of 25 cases at a time.

Much has changed in ten years, and it seems fitting to make some more changes. Growing production is one, possibly adding more grape varieties is another, even possibly working on a new estate wine project with a grower friend is still another potential change in the air.

Among other things.

More on that soon enough.

November 30, 2014

To Burgundy and Back Again, by Roy Cloud

Something I've done more since harvest ended last month is read. Because it's still a very busy time for wine sales and shipping, I haven't read nearly enough. That should change this month and next, as holidays allow for more time and the new year is predictably slow for wine sales.

I have a number of books - wine related and not - on my night stand, and one I finished recently is To Burdundy and Back Again, by Roy Cloud. It's not a great book, but it's a fun, engaging and personal story from the proprietor of Vintage '59 Imports.

The story is set in 1997 when Cloud is starting his wine business and he goes to France with his French-speaking brother to search for producers to import. Cloud's father had recently been injured in a bike accident, and the transitional journey serves as catharsis for the brothers.

I enjoyed the stories of traveling in French wine country, from Alsace to Burgundy to the Rhone and Provence, with in depth sections on producers as unconventional as Marc Tempe in Alsace to the elegant and haunting wines of Joseph Voillot in Burgundy. As armchair wine travel, this book is an easy, fun read.

On a more personal note, I especially enjoyed the extended quote and then riff on Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, with the brothers retracing some of Hem and Fitzgerald's well lubricated road trip from Lyon to Paris, starring a roadside picnic and fresh Maconais white drunk straight from the bottle. I love that book and loved finding such rich reference to it here.

Cloud has a writing degree and there's more structure to the book than just the story of a wine importer starting out. I didn't necessarily think the book succeeds on that higher level. It's just a fun read, the kind of book that makes you hungry and thirsty as you get out a map to chart locations along the route. There's no higher compliment for wine/travel writing.

November 29, 2014

Ten years

What do you say when you haven't spoken for so long? I think about that. It's good to be back.

The last few months have been the busiest of my life, wonderfully so. It just can't go on like this forever, working a full time job, making and selling my own wine, working as a partner in another wine business, not to mention duties at home as father and husband. It's a little crazy to be honest.

But it represents something I set out to do ten years ago that actually came to pass, by hard work, persistence really, and definitely a lot of patience. I wouldn't want it any other way.

I kind of have a thing about remembering dates in my life. So it strikes me today that exactly ten years ago, after a tumultuous Thanksgiving weekend where I was preoccupied with taking a job I didn't want just because I thought (with some prompting) that we could use the higher salary, I drove home from the final interview and had what you might call a "come to Jesus" moment. 

In the old Honda, driving home on I-5 through north Portland on a grey Monday morning, I committed to a life in wine. I thought, I have a job that I'm pretty good at, with a lot of flexibility and paid time off. Why not use that to work days and even harvest seasons in wine? Who knows where it might lead? Certainly it would be better than that shit job that could have ruined everything.

I had no idea anything would actually come of it. And I don't think anyone in my life - including me - really knew what I was doing. It seemed so far fetched to make my own wine commercially some day that I didn't exactly declare that goal to anyone, for a while anyway.

I just went for it, getting more involved in the local industry in many different ways, the stories of those years recorded here by intention and chance.

I started this blog pretty soon after this day ten years ago. I thought that I'd write to process what I was learning and doing in wine, and I'll admit I thought maybe someone who was searching for me would find it and get a really good sense of where I was coming from in wine.

Ten years have gone by so quickly and I still feel like I've only just begun, perhaps like a vineyard that takes years to bear fruit and then a few years more to really start hitting its stride. 

So it's good to be back writing. And better to think of what's to come next.

August 31, 2014

East coast get away

We're back from a two week trip to New York City and state, as well as New England. This was a family vacation so not wine focused. However,  with distributors in both New York and Rhode Island, I had to take advantage of visiting the area to work the market a bit. If you're in the area, look for my Vincent wines in excellent shops like Frankly Wines in lower Manhattan and The Savory Grape in East Greenwich, RI, among other shops and restaurants.

Two of my sisters live in the NE, and one I mentioned with her husband a few months back in the post about 1978 Chateau Gloria. Every wine has a story, good ones anyway, and this one was fun to retell with the protagonists, reliving a special and emotional part of our lives.

Then in New York City, where we began and just finished up our odyssey, we visited with old San Francisco friends now living on the upper west side. How lovely to spend time catching up, eating delicious home cooked risotto and roast chicken, and drinking a few memorable if not A-list wine.

First to toast old friendship, the NV Pierre Gimonnet Champagne Selection Belles Annees Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs, which we picked up at an otherwise sizable but lackluster shop around the corner. I didn't realized it's only 4-5 atmospheres of pressure, meaning less carbonation than typical Champagne. That and being just a touch not cool made it delicious but a bit flat on the palate, lacking the dynamic edge I think either a touch more sparkle and/or just a few degrees cooler would have given. How's that for geeky.

Then with dinner first the 2011 Antoine Jobard Bourgogne Aligote, crystaline and razory crisp with lemon and leesy aromas and flavors, flavory but so clean on the finish, thirst slaking, perfect with the meal. Must be older oak aged, perhaps a bit of stainless steel or perhaps not. I would love to find more of this.

Then a taste of red, blind without being wine geeky about it, just efficient. Youthful vibrant magenta in the glass, floral and clearly syrah, bright flavored but with good depth, green olives, purple fruits, so floral but deliciously so. I guess something from Domaine Faury, perhaps their St. Joseph Viellies Vignes. No, it's old vines but Victoria, Australia, the 2011 Jamsheed Shiraz. Revelatory and on par with the best of the "new California" school, leaner but so delicious and lengthy, sneaky excellent without hitting yourself over the head with oak barrels. Not sure the price, but if I made syrah and this were in my barrels, I'd be very happy.

After eating, we walked down to Lincoln Center for gelato. We found a crowd of perhaps 2,000 seated in the courtyard of the Metropolitan Opera House, watching a recording of an opera that I believe was Italian. Regardless, the air was light and just warm enough, the gelato amazing along with the look on my son's face as he watched the screen intently. What a New York night, just what I wanted the kids to experience. A true get away for us all.

August 09, 2014

New Vincent wines coming

Readers, if you're interested in getting on my mailing list for Vincent Wine Company wines, do so now to make sure you get in on the first offer I'm doing this month on upcoming 2013 vintage wines.

The new wines go into bottle in September and will be released and shipped in the fall, once weather has cooled and at least the bulk of the upcoming harvest is done. 

My mailing list is simple. Join with your email address and you'll get access to everything I make at the best prices I offer. I even custom bottle 1.5L magnums, and offer free shipping on case orders over $300.  I don't kick you off the list if you don't buy, or do anything lame like some producers seem to do with their customers. I'm not made of money either and I appreciate anyone who's interested in what I'm doing, at any level. Ok, end of sales pitch.

June 21, 2014

New (and old) California comes to Oregon

Exciting things are happening in California wine. But I'm not talking about Napa and cabernet, or Somona and pinot. Not even central coast and syrah and other Rhone varieties, as well suited as these varieties are in their respective regions.

What's truly exciting in my native state are wines from varieties long disrespected in California like trousseau gris (grey riesling) and verdelho, among many others, as well as modern favorites from appellations well known and obscure alike but made in less conventional ways. Grapes harvested at moderate sugars and fermented in ways both new and very old. Be it no added yeasts or little or no sulfur, as was the way for centuries, or fermenting in concrete tanks shaped like eggs, things in California are very different from what I left behind in 2000 when I moved north to Oregon.

SF Chronicle wine writer Jon Bonne has christened this back to the future movement "the new California wine," which is the title of his eminently readable and fairly comprehensive book published in late 2013. Bonne contrasts the latest trends in CA wine with the more conventional oaky fruity wines that Bonne has dubbed "big flavor" wines.

Indeed, so much modern California white and red wine seems built to overpower the senses. Big ripeness, big alcohols, big textures, pungent aromas if not always fragrance and full bodied flavors that lead to wine notes full of words like "rich" and "plush" and "jammy."

California makers undoubtedly react abrasively at descriptions like that, and it's true that generalizations are full of exceptions. But so many of them will also tell you all about waiting to pick grapes until the flavors "explode" in your mouth, with well worn narratives about the difference between sugar ripeness and true physiological ripeness to explain where that heft comes from and then how wines of high alcohol are not inherently out of balance if married with proper fruit density. That's "big flavor" and you'll even hear arguments that California is made for this approach. Why try to make "light" wines that apologists will try to pass off as "elegant" when the terroir largely tells us to make wines the size of mid-70s American gas guzzlers?

It can be entertaining hearing Californians (and true, some Oregonians) try to thread the big flavor / elegance needle.

I've stayed in touch with California wines over the years, and let's be clear that whether it's the late picked and typically high alcohol (but balanced!) wines of the Scholium Project to more recent efforts from lower ripeness producers like Forlorn Hope, the new California wines hardly lack for flavor. What they do have, in the latter case anyway, are brighter acidities.

Strangely, acidity has gotten the reputation of shutting down flavor in wine when the opposite is true. Acidity is the tent pole or laundry line on which the fabric of a wine's flavor can be displayed. Acidity provides length of flavor too, so "big flavor" wines without acidity that allegedly "clips" the finish of a wine may really be "big impact" wines that lack length and real closure, or finish. What they do have is another explosion of flavor when you take the next sip, and the market still loves these wines.

But things are changing. The other day I have the chance to taste through a mix of "new California" wines distributed in Portland by PDX Wines, producers like Forlorn Hope, Dirty and Rowdy and Broc. Interestingly, several of the producers on display weren't new or newish at all, Calera, Sky and Kalin Cellars among them. These older producers haven't changed much of what they've done for years. Trends are simply shifting and what's old is new again. It's nice to see.

In my own production, I'm not driven by trends, rather by my tastes and my personal exploration in wine making. Then I think I'm not nearly trendy enough. How do you stay front of mind in the market? But you can't work like that and, even if the road is tough, it's reassuring to see old school producers that I aim to be in the far future both surviving and perhaps thriving as they keep on doing their thing. Think Neil Young in the early '90s when grunge rockers made him their godfather.

With all that, some thoughts on what I tried. Overall, I didn't love every wine and I won't deny that some of those I loved I still might struggle to find the right setting and people for. That's my issue though, not anything about the wine. What I find most exciting about the new California wine is how much the wines will force us to grow and change as tasters, not so that we accept "flaws" as good, rather that we don't dismiss what's unusual simply because we're put out of our comfort zone. Which most critics of new California wine tend to do. But that's another story.

The wines:

Hardy Wallace from Dirty and Rowdy was pouring two wines that I enjoyed. The 2013 Semillon was grassy and fresh, more like old school sauvignon blanc to my taste, perhaps due to partial skin fermentation? The 2013 Mourvedre Especial, fermented on the skins for a few days and pressed off to finish in cask had an amber, light red wine color but works more like rose. Autumn leaves, strawberries, fascinating. I love that D&R are doing several different mourvedre bottlings and I'd like to try them all.

I have a couple wines from Forlorn Hope in my drinking queue at home so it was nice to meet winemaker Matthew Rorick. He's doing some crazy, challenging things. The 2012 Verdelho was a bit wild, with a cloudy appearance, a lifted fragrance and waxy, broad flavors with fresh acidity. The 2013 Trou Grit (trousseau gris) was a bit more conventional, showing a little botrytis richness and delicious ripe apple flavors. The 2012 Mil Amores red blend was definitely not overripe, with an herbal, floral pungent aroma and tight flavors, I'll think about holding the bottle I have a while. And the 2009 Deus Mathieux Petite Sirah was a lovely example of this variety, briary, spicy black fruits, definitely the most conventional tasting wine of the bunch. Fascinating things here, I must try more.

Don Heistuman from Bebame was there pouring his 2013 Rose from 3/4 cabernet franc, the rest gamay noir. So pale and fresh, this is wonderful California rose. And then a lovely rouge of mostly cabernet franc, with a simple aroma but pleasing grip on the palate, the Loire valley inspiration ringing true in the Sierra foothills terroir. No surprise on the wines here, it's another example of old being new again as Don's partner in this delicious and affordable wines is Steve Edmunds of Edmunds St. John, the Neil Young of CA winemakers.

Calera's two chardonnays were standouts, the 2012 Central Coast bottling surprisingly finessed and true and the 2011 Mt. Harlan a notch or three higher, with a mealy terroir quality that you simply can't invent in the cellar. Wow. I hadn't tried Sky Vineyards in years but the 2009 Zinfandel Mt. Veeder is 15.1% alcohol but old school translucent, peppery zin that screams of what's good in larger scaled California wine. Barolo and Chateauneuf can routinely hit such alcoholic heights and we don't necessarily turn our noses up. Why should we here? Lovely, classic stuff. I didn't love the 2012 Pinot Noir Central Coast - it was fine - but the 2010 Pinot Noir de Villiars was all class.

And then there's Kalin, truly the old becoming new again. Kalin Cellars has never followed a conventional path and, while I'm not sure, I wouldn't be surprised if these wines are in fact new releases. There's the 2000 Semillon, long a reference point wine in CA. This one is toasty with fat, waxy lemony semillon flavors, a little wild from volatile paint notes mixed in but so fresh and lemony on the finish you can't help but stop and think for a while, about the wine, about what food it should pair with. Then you sniff it again. That's what great wine does. However, I didn't love the 1999 Pinot Noir Cuvee DD, very mature looking and minty smelling. Would have like to try this one several years ago.

Of the other newer generation producers, the 2012 Wind Gap Syrah Nellesen Vineyard was astonishing. Floral, peppery, truly syrah with density but not heft, really nice wine. Then labels new to me, a Cotes du Rhone like blend from Folk Machine that was delicious table wine and a basic Chardonnay from Brea that would be perfect in keg and carafe at restaurants anywhere. Assuming you don't mind crisp, dry chardonnay without much if any oak influence.

June 15, 2014

Reflecting on dad

It's Father's Day in the US, a day to reflect on being a dad to my two kids and think back to my late father's role in my life.

One of the most difficult things about him being gone is not sharing the wine business I started shortly after his death in 2009.

I remember, and perhaps recounted here, my stupid first reaction to hearing on the phone that he had terminal cancer and wouldn't be here much longer. I said something like, shit, I'm finally starting my wine business and I want you here for it.

He was gracious with my awkward moment, and of course I shouldn't have said it, but it's true. I miss him all it the time, for so many reasons, not the least of which is his business knowledge and advice. I'm reduced to imagining what he would say and I think he did a pretty good job as a dad because I can hear most of the answers. He's truly alive in me.

A special connection we shared was our birthday, once de Mayo. We were both born on Mother's Day, May 11, and our last shared birthday in 2008 again fell on Mother's Day. We celebrated together here in Oregon, a weekend I'll never forget.

It's fun having that same date as our starting point. I remember his wedding anniversary in 1992 when I was exactly as old as he had been on his wedding day. We had lunch that day and I remember remarking to him that I wasn't nearly as ready as he must have been for marriage. There were several opportunities in my life where I could mark myself directly to the events of his life.

And now that I've surpassed his age at my birth by a few years, the game extends to remembering back to exactly how old my dad was at a particular time in my early life.

This year our birthday again fell on Mother's Day, and it brought me back to 1975. I turned six that day, my dad 45, my age now. We were on a family weekend in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, fishing for trout and spending time together.

Sunday came and we celebrated together with my mom and aunt, the birthday boys and Mother's Day moms. It was so special and here I am exactly that age now, feeling a lot younger in my mind than my dad seemed to me at the time. Funny how that is.

So for this birthday I had to open something special. Not great wine, not fancy wine, but special wine, in this case a bottle of 1969 Concannon Petite Sirah Livermore Valley.

My dad loved Petite Sirah and Concannon was a favorite budget choice. He was self employed, had seven kids raised by a stay at home mom. They didn't drink much fancy wine, but he enjoyed different wines and loved my interest in all the details about wine - where it's from, how it's grown, how it's made, ultimately what we think of it in the glass.

The challenge with Petite Sirah is finesse. It's the BBQ ribs of wine, delicious but more powerful than nuanced, more about a mess a flavors in your mouth than discretion or restraint. Most young Petite Sirah cry out for age. Most older Petite Sirah, in my experience and opinion, are more about lasting than transforming into something of the highest distinction.

With all that and my father in mind, I opened this bottle a month ago and quite enjoyed it. In part for the wine - it was alive and flavory, not particularly complex or compelling but a good drink as the Brits might say - and in large part for the significance.

I imagine my dad had this vintage a few times back in the early '70s. Maybe he stashed a few in the tiny basement "cellar" of a few cardboard boxes of wine he kept over time. Perhaps not, but who cares.

Here I was, el dia de la madre, once de Mayo, the first time without my dad. But there he was, there he is, with me nonetheless, whether he knows it or not.

It wasn't the first time a wine has so powerfully brought me together with someone distant or gone. I imagine it won't be the last either.

May 22, 2014

2012 Merriman Chenin Blanc The Brasher Block

I haven't posted in quite a while but this wine is so good, I'm compelled write.

I've long thought that Chenin Blanc is a white grape variety that should do really well in the new world. Not as cheap, sweet, insipid white wine that we know from California jug wine.

Instead, as it can be when grow in the right places and farmed with the belief that it can produce quality wine. Wine that's rich but nervy, golden fruited and waxy, even honeyed. To my knowledge, there are still too few good examples. Perhaps I should make one.

I'm inspired by a wine like this, the 2012 Merriman Chenin Blanc The Brasher Block, from nearly 40-year-old vines outside of Yakima, WA.

It's deeply aromatic, with red apples, wool, herbs and wax scents. The flavors are rich, with yellow fruit, wax and bright acidity that dominates a bit but also carries the finish. The wine will need time to show its best, but it's electric now and already simply delicious.

I'd age this three to five years, or maybe a few more beyond that, and expect the intensity of the wine to unfurl on the clothesline-like acidity. Great job Merriman and my old bud Erik Brasher. I love this.

April 15, 2014

A long time coming but worth it

Something I love about wine is its longevity. Perhaps I just want to think I'll last as long as some wines, a hundred years or more. Really I think it's more about two things. I love that drinking old wine allows us to experience something from decades ago or more. What other food incorporate such time travel?

I also love that you can drink something you may have drunk decades before, meeting again like old friends, reconnecting.

It's true that you can even reconnect with a wine you've never really known, just seen, and a place you've only been once and people you hardly knew, but remember. The 1978 Chateau Gloria from the Bordeaux commune of St. Julien is one such wine for me.

Let's go back to fall 1992. I was a young geek, already entranced by the magic of wine. I was living in southern California at the time but traveled to New England to spend Thanksgiving with my sister and brother-in-law in Rhode Island.

Over the weekend we traveled to western Massachusetts, the Berkshires, somewhere I hadn't seen before and haven't since. It's just stayed with me, sweetly.

We stayed one night in a rustic house owned by my brother-in-law's dear uncle and godfather, deep in a birch forest that reminded me of Austria. This uncle had not so long before seen tragedy, having survived a horrible car accident that killed his wife a year or two earlier, a truck having crossed the median and hit them.

I'd met the couple at my sister's wedding a few years earlier still and they struck a chord with me. They meant so much to my brother-in-law, who in turn befriended me when I was the very young, youngest brother of his girlfriend, and they meant more to me in that moment for it.

These thoughts made our visit to the Berkshires a bit more deliberate, for me anyway, and memorable in return. The uncle wasn't there, but had invited us up and assured us to make ourselves at home. We walked in the woods, cooked food and generally got away from it all after a lovely but busy Thanksgiving holiday.

And there was wine - wine we drank and wine I just looked at and wondered about.

My brother-in-law knew I was already into wine and he shared with me before our arrival that his uncle loved wine as well. Sure enough, there was a nice if modest rack of a variety of wines, any of which I would have liked to try but one in particular that called out to me, the 1978 Ch. Gloria.

There we several bottles in fact. I thought, surely as we are making ourselves at home, surely we could open one, no? But my brother-in-law is far more disciplined than I and he telegraphed that, no, we aren't touching the uncle's collection. Beside the fact that that's horrible wine karma, these were a collection of a man and his deceased wife. There's no coming between that.

Still I've always wondered about that wine. What was it like? How did he select it and how long ago? And why? I imagined it was a special wine for them, something only they knew. The wine may be fairly common, but their connection to it would be something only they had. It was special at least for that. Someday I would find it for myself and see.

Sure enough, the wine comes up at auction not infrequently, and for a lot less than you might imagine if you've kept up with the continually soaring prices for new release Bordeaux. Not infrequently, you can find 30 year old wines for less than new releases cost, the top vintages aside. Old wines from good producers in good vintages seem to fall through the cracks.

I've bid on this wine unsuccessfully a few times, holding out for the lucky auction where I'd get it for a song. Sure enough two bottles came my way, and the other night, nearly 22 years after thinking about this wine, wondering what it would be like, I opened a bottle with dinner.

I'll admit, I didn't expect much. Perhaps I got lured into the low price, but surely the wine would be old and tired. Even in 1992 I remember thinking, hmm, 14 year old Bordeaux, maybe it's too old? Nonsense, of course, but I had a lot to learn.

I still do.

The dry cork of the 1978 Chateau Gloria broke in half as I eased it out of the bottle. I poured the wine carefully, its mature ruby color translucent and limpid. I sniffed and it was more than alive, perfumed like a mature Chinon, with tobacco, leather, gravel and plum scents. The flavors were similarly delicate but complex, medium bodied, soft and resolved with fair persistence, soft and flavory, very alive if totally mature.

I thought of the Berkshires, of autumn leaves, of the woods, of cool, earthy scents like a forest walk on a cold fall morning. And I thought of passing time and loss, and then of joy, of longevity, of the wonder of a glimpse into the past that's not the past anymore at all.

It's right here, always.

December 28, 2013


I've been thinking about this post for quite a while, moreso this past week while I'm away from Portland and my wines. 

As a winemaker, there's so much work to do throughout the year. Working with growers, visiting the vineyards to monitor the growing season, making the wine of course each fall, and then worrying all year long as there's everything at stake in the new wines but really little you can do about what they are and what they'll become. 

The cliches about winemaking being like  parenting are apt. And just as it is nice and even a requirement to take time away from one's own children to restore and gain perspective, it's important to step back from your wines and see things more clearly. 

I've come to understand that winemaking is really all about trust. Trust in your vineyards and the grapes they produce, trust in yourself as the one guiding the grapes through the process of becoming wine, then trust in the truth of those new wines so that what you put into cask at the end of harvest to age over the winter and beyond is, as one might reluctantly admit, what it is. 

Wines, like love, just are. We can analyze them, doubt them, even fear them at times, that they aren't as real as we thought or hoped, or are going to slip away if we do something wrong. 

But that's not how this works and as a winemaker I'm coming to understand that I need to trust my wines implicitly. And I hope they trust me as well. That's all that's necessary. The rest will take care of itself, in time. 

So often when I talk with other winemakers, I hear their fears. Of rain and other weather issues, of a lack of dynamic flavor in the juice, of problems or supposed problems or deficiencies in the fermenting wine, a lack of enough mid-palate density or aromatic complexity, things that yeasts and texture enhancers and whatnot allegedly help. Not to mention new barrels for their flavor impact. There's so much that people want to add to their wines in the name of making them better.

But what about trust? Why not just trust the grapes and a simple process? We work so hard in the vines, we're committed to bottling by site or region. We usually vintage date things. All these things are about variety, place to place, year to year, and yet so often we work against that to dial in some kind of consistency, a lack of variety, in the name of better wine, ensuring profitability, even simply sleeping more soundly at night instead of worrying about everything that's wrong.

That's not to say one should be neglectful or fatalistic. Not at all. No, we should trust in what we know we have and let the wines be their best. Wines can do nasty things. They can be horrible at times. Our role is to not freak out and overreact. These things pass, usually, and we will live with then no matter what. Our part is to trust in what we know is there. There are no guarantees about how things will turn out, just a certainty that the best results will come from giving up control and trusting in what's there. 

Lately I've been thinking about what I put into barrel this past fall. I was so excited at the time. I knew these wines were something special. Then time passes and I have doubts if they are what I thought they were, if I was mistaken or fooled. I can check in on them, and I do, but they don't always show me what I want. They can't, nor should they. Wines, like people, are in motion. They don't stay put well and that's something else to love about them. Talk about dynamic. 

Now I'm away from my wines and I understand anew what they are. They're changing but what they are doesn't change. I know now that, no matter how things go, they will turn out. Not perfectly, necessarily, but truthfully. 

know what I have, how real it is. And I know I can trust. You can too.