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

Trust

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. 

December 27, 2013

Book review: The Road to Burgundy

After far too long a delay, I just finished reading Ray Walker's The Road to Burgundy. Why the delay? Reasons reasonable and not, none to do with the book. Well, mostly. 

Let's start by being clear - this tale is a fun read for armchair wine geek travelers and non-geek dreamers alike. It's not fine literature and the editor in me wanted to break out the red pencil more than a few times. Then I would remember, this isn't my story, just sit back and enjoy it. 

And I did. 

How can I resist the story of an impossible dreamer who throws all common sense aside for his passion? Especially if that passion is making wine, from Pinot noir no less?

Yet for me sometimes that was the problem. While I in no way want to compare my story to Ray's - there's really no comparison - so many of Ray's challenges hit close to home, sometimes way too close, to my own journey from wine making novice to established professional.

Like Ray, I've found most people along my journey to be surprisingly supportive, even miraculously so at particularly necessary moments. Ray compares the  kindness of Burgundians to the indifference of Californians. I kept thinking - Ray's descriptions of Burgundy reminded me of Oregon. People helping for no reason or pay. People working on a small scale for the wine and not the fame. 

Then there are those horrible moments and people who can do nothing but push their awfulness your way. Why? There's no answer, just the reassurance that you're not the first, nor will you be the last, to feel the brunt of someone's fear turned into abrasiveness. 

Reading Ray's recounting of his weird experience with the facility where he made his first vintage was particularly painful for me. I took a while to get through that part, but that's just me, not the book talking. 

Mostly, I loved reading over a tale I largely knew already after I'd followed Ray through the years as an internet acquaintance. I remember his posts online about wanting to work harvest, then the move to France and trials along the way. There was even a terrific Graperadio podcast with Ray, early in his quest when he was still presuming all he could aim for were low level grapes, not the crus he ended up with. 

I also took a bit longer than I might have to finish this book just for the time to process the joy of Ray's story juxtaposed with the bitterness and suspicion of him that I've witnessed in the online world. 

It began with seemingly well intended people who were so condescending in their concern that Ray didn't have the experience necessary to pull off his project. Concern is one thing, but some people were outright hostile to Ray's dream. 

I've never understood why that was, but thinking about it all caused me to slow down my reading of this book. I just couldn't make sense of it, and that was only worsened by more recent nitpicking of everything about Ray from him as a person to his incredible honesty about his concerns for his wines as they were being made, to the usual complaints about when is he going to ship wine, does he even know how to navigate that, surely this will all still blow up in his face. Etc., etc. 

I've never met Ray but it's to the point where the insane criticism I've witnessed about a nice guy who's clearly more complex then one book can convey - aren't we all? - made it harder still to let go and allow the story to envelope me. Not so reasonable, I know. But there you are. 

Ray's book ends on a happy note and by the looks of things, Ray isn't resting after what was just his fifth vintage in Burgundy. Now he's apparently involved in a Nebbiolo project in Piedmont. Could the next book be The Road to Barolo? I'm hoping so.

Just spare me your "wisdom" about how this skinny kid from California, who probably just got lucky in France, is really going to fuck it all up in Italy. Good grief. Just read the book, preferably with some Burgundy in your glass, and enjoy. I know I did. 



December 23, 2013

Celebrating a Christmas past

The holidays are for celebrating and that includes special wines, though not simply wines for drinking. We can always find a drink. Rather, I'm looking for something more, wines that take me some place in my life as well as the wine's life.

In wine, we often talk about terroir, a wine's sense of place or "somewhere-ness," to borrow author Matt Kramer's term. Wine is great for its ability, at its best, to transmit something specific to its place of origin, something worth savoring.

Less often do we note the intangible connections wines bring to our lives, the parts they play as a perpendicular in our lives. Take for instance the Christmastime wines you may have enjoyed over the years. Those wines can provide a thread between the years and our memories, where the taste of one wine now can convey us and add definition to our past. We may not understand that definition, we may not be able to make sense of it, but there's something there, and wine for me anyway is the conduit.

So the other night, the Saturday before Christmas, I opened this surprisingly delicious if still very young Burgundy, the 2006 Ch. Chorey Beaune "Les Teurons" 1er Cru. The wine is one thing - oak framed, perfumed with a scent of hazelnuts, red fruits and shoe polish. The texture is finely tannic, with flavors of slightly bitter tree bark and red fruits that evolve and gain richness over the evening, the whole thing taut with a sense of energy and youth that suggests long cellaring potential. 

This is fine wine, plain and simple. 

But this wine is something more. Five years ago on this same Saturday night before Christmas, I remember similarly enjoying a great bottle of Barbaresco from Produtorri del Barbaresco. Perhaps I wrote about it here. The wine itself is just a connector here, to that snowy December when my dad was ill. I lit a fire that night and enjoyed the wine so much, knowing we had no control over how we were getting to the airport the next day much less whether or not any planes would be leaving.

I just needed to get home for that last Christmas with Dad and for that night, the wine made those worries melt.

Somehow we did make it to the airport, thanks to a neighbor from New Hampshire who knew how to drive through plowed walls of snow and other road hazards that had shut the city. And somehow we made it to LA, thanks to Jet Blue. I don't remember many other flights getting out of Portland that day and with the roads in horrendous shape, it wasn't like we had any other options. Missing that Christmas certainly wasn't an option so this had to work, and it did.

So, with this delicious Burgundy and a roaring fire on a cold but thankfully snowless night - we're traveling south tomorrow to spend this Christmas with my mom -  I'm at once totally satisfied in the moment but also compelled to feel again that impossibly important journey five years prior, the touchstones equally delicious Barbaresco and Burgundy that had no intention of being part of my life but are. 

What more could I want.

November 17, 2013

Armagnac

Photo from Chambers Street Wines's website
I'm not a huge spirits guy. Sometimes distilled drinks strike me as little more than poison.

Ok, maybe that's too much, but do you know what I mean? Spirits are tough on the body. Some are just so good, they seem to rise above and are truly the water of life. Or that's bullshit but they're just worth it, body be damned.

Whatever your feelings about spirits, I'm excited to have tracked down some Armagnac from 1989 to sip on for the holidays and beyond. That year is special to me, my first visit to France.

I can't provide any of my own tasting notes just yet. I'm just excited to read what I've found online from places like Chambers Street in NYC, which just offered some Armagnac from the '80s from Ch de Pellehaut. Apparently K&L in California has also offered various bottlings from this producer, imported by Bay Area-based Armagnac expert Charles Neal. I remember Charles' selections from my SF days years ago, mostly country wines from SW France and then a nice selection of Armagnac.

Then I found an incredibly informative blog yesterday, Sku's Recent Eats, about all kinds of whiskeys and then brandies, among eating adventures in my native Los Angeles. I must check out more details here before my latest So Cal visit next month. For you Bourbon fans, check out the blog's comprehensive breakdown of the mysteries of who's actually distilling what brands on your store shelves. There is so much to learn if you're really interested in what you're drinking and where it comes from. Bourbon especially seems notorious for brands disguised from huge distillers. I suppose the same is true of so many common wine brands. I guess I'm just more comfortable with how it works in the wine world.

For now, let's remember that brandies like Armagnac and its more famous neighbor Cognac are essentially distilled wines, and whiskeys like Bourbon and Scotch are essentially distilled beers. There's much more to it, but when I learned that basic breakdown, things suddenly seemed to make more sense.

That is, until you drink a little too much of this stuff. Any night changes course when the liquor comes out, sometimes for better, sometimes not. With that in mind, I'm excited to get my hands on some good Armagnac. Just know these bottles are going to last. There's no sense poisoning yourself with such special, handmade spirits.

October 28, 2013

Vincent winery open house Sunday, November 3, 3-6pm in Portland

If there's tradition here on this blog, it starts with holding free tastings of my wine and inviting any readers and companions to come sample. Back in my home wine days, I would literally open the garage door and invite the world in to taste. It was a great way to meet readers of the site and get more and more feedback on the quality of what I was up to.

Now five harvests into my commercial winery Vincent Wine Company, things are different but also exactly the same. Now we throw open the big garage door at the SE Wine Collective winery in the heart of SE Portland and invite the world in to taste. Our next tasting is this Sunday, November 3, 3-6pm. Location is 2425 SE 35th Place at Division in the heart of SE Portland.

There's still no charge to taste, and we're again pouring with our friends Helioterra Wines so there's even more wine to taste. What's different now? Sales - you can buy all the bottles you like. Stock your cellar, gather gift bottles for friends and colleagues, come taste but also bring wines home with you.

Hope to see you at the winery.

October 17, 2013

Harvest 2013

It's taken longer than I'd hoped to sit down to recount this past harvest, which for me wrapped up last Saturday, October 12. In a normal year, that would be early to be done bringing in grapes. To be completely finished with harvest, with all the new wine in barrel or tank, by October 12? That's crazy.


Such was/is the harvest of 2013 in the Willamette Valley.

My story is unusual this year. I picked virtually all my fruit between September 17 and 20, in ideal conditions. Many wineries were bringing in some fruit at that time but hardly everything, and many others didn't pick a thing until late September, after several days of occasionally heavy rain.

Somehow the vineyards I work with, even in the cooler Eola Hills, were ready before the rain. And not just sort of ready. The flavors were just where I want them, the sugar and acids too. After the very warm summer, I never thought we'd be harvesting grapes with such freshness and life. I was super happy with things at picking, and only happier (though a bit sheepish) as the rains fell. Many vineyards stood up fine through the rains, but not all. Some growers had it really tough. I certainly am not happy for anyone's struggle.

I just lucked out. My grapes came in all at once, they didn't require much sorting, fementations took off naturally after just a few days, and things progressed largely without any issues. I could bore you with a few things - the fruit flies this year were horrible - but really things proceeded well and the wines I have in barrel are terribly exciting to me. They still have a long way to go until they'll be ready, but some things you just know, and I'm feeling pretty good about the '13s.


September 28, 2013

Harvest 2013 update

What a crazy grape harvest 2013 is turning out to be in Oregon's northern Willamette Valley. The short story? Harvest began last week under sunny late summer skies, then picking shut down for days as rain fell intermittently throughout this past week, more picking resumed in the last couple of dryish days, again picking has stopped for an unseasonably wet and windy weekend, and with perhaps 50% of the local grape crop still on the vine, growers and winemakers look at a rainy forecast for clearing and dry days to resume picking.

What does it all mean? First and most importantly, rain isn't bad. People sometimes freak out about rain and down in my native California it seems even the threat of rain brings out the naysayers who write off a vintage before grapes have even been picked. Grapes are tougher than people think, even Pinot noir, and personally I'd rather have lighter more delicate wines from wet harvests than heavy, overripe wines from drought conditions.

That's not to say the wines of 2013 in Oregon will be light. I actually brought in 90% of my grapes last week before any really significant rain, and I'm thrilled with what I have happily fermenting away in the winery as I type. My red wines won't show any affect of the rain we're seeing right now, and that will make for interesting comparisons to wines made from later picked grapes.

This vintage is making me think of a more extreme 2005, where we had a nicely warm summer though not as warm as this year, then an early window to harvest at the earlier ripening sites where grapes were picked without any weather issues. At the end of September 2005, the heavens opened and it rained hard for a couple of days, not unlike this past week. Picking resumed amid up and down conditions, much like we've seen the past few days. Then as the season drew out, some really nice picking windows reemerged and the last of the grapes came in under fair skies. And you know what? 2005 is one of my favorite vintages of the past decade plus.

Who knows how 2013 will turn out, and I sympathize with those who have lots of fruit still out there hanging in this nasty weather. It's easy to say the grapes are tough when you don't really have anything left out there (just a little Pinot blanc to bring in in a week or two). But the truth is, I was afraid of extreme ripeness this fall after the consistently warm but rarely super hot summer we had. Seeing the fruit I brought in last week at sugars in the 22 to 23 range, with pHs in the 3.2 to 3.3 range, wow, that's chemistry I'd like any day. What about the flavors? I thought everything tasted nicely ripe, with the Bjornson fruit reminding me of 2011 with dynamic fruit expression at low sugar and low pH, just what I want and something I never expected given the growing season.

In all, there's no judging a vintage when so many grapes are still on the vine. Given when I've brought in, I'm thrilled for 2013. Given the fruit I've tasted that's still out on the vine, I'm excited so long as we do indeed see some prolonged drying and final ripening time. And before anyone writes things off because of rain, just remember 2005.

September 11, 2013

Harvest approaches

Pinot Noir grapes nearly ready to pick at Crowley Station Vineyard
It's always a controversial time of year. The grape harvest approaches and there are the usual conversations among winemakers of varying stylistic and ego tendencies.

"I was out in the vines yesterday. Looks like things are getting close!"

"What? I haven't even begun sampling."

"Maybe you should. I'm going to start picking next week."

"No, I don't work with early ripening young vines like you do. I won't even begin to think about picking until the end of the month."

"I want fruit in before all the acidity ripens away."

"That's not a problem with my old vines. The flavors aren't there anyway. You can pick by the numbers. You need to wait for the flavors to develop."

Blah, blah, blah.

The upshot is - no one can agree what grape ripeness really is, much less when to best capture it with the all important decision - when to pick.

I was out in the vines the other day - incidentally, with a playwright friend who's latest script is set in the OR wine country - and found things progressing very fast toward harvest.

I'll just admit it. I'm an early picker. I want fruit that isn't too ripe, with good natural acidity and more focus in the final product than huge, explosive flavors that may impress up front but then fade, leaving you hanging.

A big sky from the top of the hill at Crowley Station
This year in the Willamette Valley, flowering was early. Think of that as the time you put something in the oven to start baking. Put it in early and you figure you'll be taking it out early, especially if the temperature was running warm. Sure enough, summer has been warm - rarely hot though - and the grapes have been progressing toward "done" consistently ahead of a normal schedule.

Normally we might harvest in the last week of September into mid-October. In 2011, we harvested in late October into early-November, ridiculously late compared to the norm. This year, we're looking at a harvest perhaps a week earlier than "normal."

How did things look the other day? Sugars in Pinot Noir grapes ranged from 18 to 21 brix, or percent sugar (essentially). pHs were in the 3.0 to 3.15 range. By the numbers, I'd love brix at 22 to 23, and pH in the 3.3 range, perhaps lower, perhaps a bit higher if necessary to wait for - yes - flavors.

Flavor is more complicated than it might seem. Winemakers always talk about flavors - wanting explosive flavors that they'll capture in their wines. Except I don't really want explosive anything in my wine. And we all know from cooking that if you're going to cook something first, then add it to something else to cook together, you probably don't fully cook the thing at the outset to account for the additional cooking it will see.

Translated to grapes and wine, I want grapes with flavors that are appropriate for wine, not fruit juice. Wine is the product of fermentation, an additional kind of cooking if you will, so I'm looking for flavors that will translate well through that entire process (I haven't even mentioned the curing process of aging wine in barrels). It seems though that many winemakers want flavors in their fruit that, once made into wine, seem to lack energy or complexity, more like a bucket of ribs (delicious as that can be) instead of the more subtle, perhaps more complex flavor of appropriately rare beef.

Ok, enough with the analogies. The other day, the grapes sure looked, tasted and even measured out in ways that suggest harvest is just about here. Once we're through this week of hot summer temps, we'll see a cool down and perhaps some rain showers. Then I think it will be time to pick.

We'll continue to measure sugar and acidity. We'll continue to taste. But like with cooking, sometimes you just know when it's time, when something is ready. My focus right now is on that moment, for each vineyard I work with. It's exciting to know it's getting closer, really close. 

August 18, 2013

Reading wine

I'm a talker and talkers don't exactly have a reputation for listening, however misguided that may be. I love listening, even if it's not always obvious. I'm a reader, an apprentice, a wine taster and now a wine maker. I want to learn, to know what you're thinking. I want to read you. To listen.

So it is with wine. We use terms without even thinking what they really mean. "This wine speaks to me." "That wine was singing last night." "This one didn't have much to say." Even the notion of terroir requires the wine to speak and us to listen - to the sense of place, the somewhereness of the wine, its reflection of the growing season and grape.

As tasters, we must listen, and listen carefully in the case of more delicate grapes and wines like Pinot Noir and red Burgundy. I make Pinot in part because of that. I want a wine that compels me to listen.

Last night I opened the first of several bottles from Pierre Guillemot that purchased recently, red Burgundies from several vineyards in the village of Savigny from a producer known for delicate, perfumed, ageworthy wines. I opened this one - the 2009 Guillemot Savigny-les-Beaune Jarrons 1er Cru to get a read on it, and the others by extension, to listen and then to consider when the others might speak their best.

No surprise, this wine is an infant and was decidedly not singing. It was delicious, with a transparent but deep red raspberry color and a dusty through quiet aroma. Its perfume has not yet evolved, something careful aging should bring. The flavors were bright but rich, showing the warmth of the vintage, with a young, unresolved texture much like fruit that needs another day or two on the counter to smooth out and come together fully.

The read on this wine? Leave it and presumably its siblings in the cellar for several more years. Not that you can't enjoy the wine now, and I did. Nor was any of this surprising - the wines of Guillemot always need time. So much more from this wine will come in time, or should. So much more of its story, what it really has to say. I'll be reading and listening, however long it takes. Reading requires patience, something I also don't always have a reputation for having...but how can you not when your devotion is wine.

August 10, 2013

Wines of Corsica: Antoine Arena

I had the pleasure of tasting through a line up of red and white wines from Corsican producer Antoine Arena last night at Storyteller Wine Company in Portland.

As readers and Twitter followers may have noticed, I'm a little obsessed with Corsica, declaring this the Summer of Corsica. Ok, that moniker hasn't actually caught on. It's more a sound-of-one-hand-clapping movement, but I'm happy.

I love Corsican wine. Perhaps it's too much to say this, but they make me better. They inspire me and make me pause at the same time with their beauty. It's love, it's that simple. I want.

Antoine Arena makes wine from the Patrimonio AOC in the north of the beautiful island. The line up this night was three white and three reds, all recent vintages that I didn't fully note. So consider these thoughts as impressions of the range of Arena wines, not necessarily specific comments on specific wines.

The Bianco Gentile is apparently an indigenous Corsican white grape variety, the wine pure and delicious, round and yet focused as I'm finding so many Corsican whites. The Blanc Carco is all Vermentinu (Vermentino in Italy) and lovely with mineral and lemon flavors. I'd love to try older examples to see how this ages.

This wine is so beautiful it's crying
Then the 2010 Blanc Grotte di Sole, oh my, this is the wine of the line up for me. All Vermentinu again, as so many Corsican whites are. There's truly old vine intensity here, just a deeper, richer but still delicate impression, truly compelling and wine to age for many years I would imagine. I believe all these whites were 2010s, so very young still. Correct me if I'm wrong on the vintages for the first two, readers.

Moving on to the reds, I must say that if there's a weak spot in Corsican wine, it's the reds. They are or can be delicious, but some just aren't nearly as compelling as the whites and pinks. Maybe it's a factor of my tastes evolving, where I'm not necessarily so big on the riper, coarser wines of southern climes compared to perhaps more focused and precise reds of northern Europe or cooler southern climes. That's speaking very generally of course.

The first red is the 2010 Cuvee 0, a no sulfur cuvee that reminds me why I like sulfur. I think in analogies, so consider sulfur in wine like the focus mechanism on a camera lens. Sulfur to me, in judicious amounts, helps the truth in a wine come into focus. A lack of sulfur on the other hand is sort of to wine like room temperature is to milk. Sometimes things you don't want end up happening. This wine is delightful to some people, but to me the lack of sulfur seems to leave the wine muddled, with a bitterness on the finish from (I imagine) less desirable yeast or bacteria. This is a wine I'd rather drink at the domaine or at least on the island.

Then the '10 Rouge Carco that's made with a bit of sulfur and has more non-literal clarity than the 0. I am reminded of southern Rhone reds, another factor in me not loving the reds as much as other Corsican wines. The whites and pinks somehow taste like Corsica to me, even though I've never been there. The reds make me think more of the Rhone, which isn't bad, just not as distinctive. More tasting is necessary. This is good wine, just not as compelling to me.

Finally the '09 Rouge Grotte di Sole. Now we are talking. Rhone-esque but with an intensity that makes you notice, a character that's compelling and makes me wonder what the future holds. It's smoky though apparently there isn't a lick of wood in the whole cellar (I believe everything is done in concrete). There's great texture, something I'll say of all these reds. No polish. No falsely rounded edges. No, these are wines that stick rather than slide away, like wines that seem to be afraid of owning up to who they really are.

This red Grotte di Sole is just fascinating wine, but for the #summerofCorsica perhaps this is more appropriate for the coming #winterofCorsica. Yes, I'm planning already. You don't need to doubt it.

More on Arena at Kermit Lynch's website. And for you French language enthusiasts and/or those who like pictures of the insanely rocky vineyards, check out Antoine Arena's website.

July 22, 2013

Summer of Corsica

I fell in love with Corsica at first sight. Maybe it was something to do with leaving London on a grey, sleety February morning and arriving in Ajaccio to find spring sunshine, a blue sky and flowering almond and mimosa trees. It was irresistible and I was enchanted.
Um, I know that feeling. Don't you?

So begins chapter seven of Rosemary George's classic book French Country Wines, entitled "Wines of Corsica" and full of interesting anecdotes about the island of beauty, or "the very beautiful" as she translates the Greek name Corsica Kalliste. I love that, "the very beautiful."

Before remembering and revisiting this chapter in a book that I've long owned, before this year's Tour de France spent its first few days on the impossibly gorgeous island, before I realized what I was doing, I declared this the summer of Corsica. You know, #summerofCorsica.

As someone replied to me on Twitter, the summer of Riesling is so 2009. 

Fear not Riesling fans, the #summerofCorsica hasn't caught on. And to be sure, Corsica shouldn't be limited to just summer. The warm island produces fairly full bodied wines that don't necessarily say summer. The Roses of course are summer fare. The whites too. But both, and certainly the warm, sometimes a bit roasted reds, can shine all year round.

Prepare for the #autumnofCorsica" and certainly the #winterofCorsica, when we in the northern climes could use some of that summer sun in a bottle.

For now, it's summer and I'm working my way through the wines of several of the better producers from the very beautiful. I'll report further when I've made it through more of the wines, but so far, I am in fact enchanted. And I don't expect that to change. Some things just are.


July 14, 2013

When is it time?

Carefully evaluating the 2012 Pinot Noir
People always ask the most interesting - and often hard to answer - questions about the winemaking process. I love that they're so interested, but I wonder if my answers satisfy.

Where is your vineyard? I don't have one, but I work closely with growers. Where is your winery? I don't have one, but essentially rent space in a shared facility. I thought you said you were a winery, how's that? A winery is a business, and a winery is a facility. I have a winery business but rent space in someone else's winery facility. Blah, blah, blah.

Some questions can annoy, even if they shouldn't. When do you put the pepper into the wine to get this peppery flavor? I taste blueberries - when you put those in? I practice being patient and friendly in these situations. People just don't know much about something I'm totally obsessive and geeky. Doesn't make it easier though.

And there are questions that I never thought I'd get (I'd heard about the added flavor questions from friends). The one that I think about the most? When. When is it time to bottle the wine? And how do you know when it's time?

Good questions. Some things you just know. One, that something is good. Two, that it will go into bottle as a particular cuvee. Three, that there are no deadlines in winemaking, but there are reasonable conclusions we can make about what and when certain things should happen.

When is a wine ready? When it's ready. That is, when it's done with its chemical changes through two fermentation processes, when it's fallen clear (or mostly clear anyway), and that it's ready to begin consuming or begin its continuing maturation in a glass bottle, or both. In short, when the particulars are established about the quality, stability and clarity about a wine, it's at least close to time.

For me, wines go to bottle after about a year of maturing, after careful evaluation of each barrel. Over time I'd like to experiment with holding some wines in cask longer. For now, I know this - the time is close. And I'm very excited.

June 24, 2013

Flowering 2013, part 2: Eola-Amity Hills

After the lovely early morning stop at Armstrong, it was on south to the west side of the Eola-Amity Hills growing region to Crowley Station Vineyard, the first of three sits I work with in this excellent sub-AVA of the Willamette Valley.

Crowley Station is nicely situated vineyard on a southwest slope, fairly exposed to the cool Van Duzer winds that shoot through a gap in the Coast Range. Sure enough, even on this mild Sunday morning the cool breeze was notable as we walked the rows.

Despite the relative low elevation here, around 300-400', those winds make this a cool, slower to ripen site. Because of this, I expected flowering wouldn't have begun, but sure enough, flowers. Many flowers. Not like Armstrong but clearly advanced  and immediately suggesting to me that Armstrong is no anomaly. This is shaping up to be an early year.

From the top of the original block of Pinot Noir clones 114 and 115 at Crowley Station Vineyard, dry farmed, pretty old school. And that hay bale stacker in the neighbor's field is pretty cool too.

Flowers! This was one of the more advanced clusters but still, most plants had flowers already.

Looking back up the hill and the cover crop in every other row, things are moving along at Crowley Station. Looking forward to our second year working with this fruit. Next visit I'll try to get a shot of the soil - an interesting mix of very old (millions of years) ocean sediments - complete with fossilized shells here and there in sandstone - and the occasional piece of decomposed granite carried here in the Missoula Floods in more recent times (15,000 years ago, give or take).

Then it was over the hill to the east side of the Eola Hills, the heart of the AVA where you find Zenith Vineyard. Our rows are on a rocky knoll midway up the hill, originally left unplanted because there "wasn't any soil," according to grower Tim Ramey (relaying the words of the prior owners the O'Connor family).

The soil is a mix of Missoula Flood sediments, very thin in this specific block, over hard sandstone, a few blond chunks of which you can see in this picture.

Here's a view looking down the hill in our rows of Pommard clone. Again, there is cover in every other row but notice how much shorter the growing shoots are here compared to the other vineyards. Tough soils made great wine, and you can see how the vines just don't have a lot to work with here. Which is great.

Getting down at vine level, you can see how far the vines here have to go to fill the trellis wires. This block never has a lush canopy, but again that's fine - we're growing grapes, not just leaves.

Somehow I missed a shot of flowering clusters, but you get the point. On this warmer eastern side of the Eola Hills, I expect things to be a little more advanced, and sure enough there were more flowers here than Crowley Station, fewer than Armstrong. Still, lots of progress for early June.

Then it was on to the final stop, Bjornson Vineyard higher up in the Eola Hills on wildly different soils.

First, on the way, I couldn't help capturing the hay rolls, England style but very common here too. There's something serene around the way they lie in the field, but maybe that's just the city boy in me talking. These rolls don't represent work to me.

Ok, now at Bjornson and what a view. We're around 500' now in the Eola Hills, a few miles north of Zenith and surrounded by vines - one neighbor is Seven Springs vineyard - and higher up the hill Christmas trees farms. I describe Bjornson as a saucer, not quite a bowl, with an aspect to the southwest. This view is nearly due south toward Salem and the southern Willamette Valley.

Here's a view looking up one of the block, this the Wadensvil clone that I got a bit of last year along with my usual Pommard. Young vines and bushy already, with cover in every row still to push the vine roots deep.

Bjornson is higher than my other sites, which typically means a bit later ripening. The Van Duzer winds that make it over the tops of the Eola Hills flood down on this site, making for intense but still Oregon delicate Pinot Noir with exceptional acidity, even in warmer years. Sure enough, flowering had barely begun here. This shot was typical of what we found this day. Lots of inflorescence (pre-grape clusters), not a lot of flowers and definitely no fruit set yet. That's fine, it's so early and we don't need everything ripening at the same time if we can help it.

What about the soil here? The Bjornson family is excavating for a winery site on the property, which lets us see a fresh cross-section of classic Nekia soil. What's that? Essentially one to two feet of very red clay over easily fractured but otherwise pure volcanic basalt rock. Compare that to the more famous Jory soil, similar except for having several feet of clay over the basalt. Nekia is super thin and seems to give a more powerful wine than I get from Jory soils but still with the delicacy that great Pinot must convey. I love it, and Bjornson is a vineyard to watch.