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Oregon Wine

Becoming One with Wine

Uploaded by Craig Camp on 2018-03-27.

The world feels somehow different today at Troon Vineyard. I guess you can’t reinvent a vineyard without reinventing yourself. Reinventing and reinvigorating people and a vineyard at the same time is about the simplest way I can explain our transition to biodynamic farming. Everything just feels more alive.

Over the last week what was all planning, items on a Trello board, started to become real. New equipment, new ways of thinking and a new spirit all converged at Troon Vineyard this week. The first step was just a simple piece of string

 Twine ties in a block of our vermentino

Twine ties in a block of our vermentino

After years of plastic ties in the vineyard, many of a particularly noxious green color, we have replaced them with hand-knotted pieces of twine. The contrast between the bilious green of the old ties and the warm, earth tones of the twine ties running down the rows tying the canes to the wires could not be more obvious or meaningful. A simple change that tells of significant changes to come, we are becoming entwined in nature.

A somewhat physically more prominent change was the arrival of our Clemens radius weeder or “weed knife”.  While a big financial investment, an efficient tool to control weeds is necessary if you are going to forgo chemicals like the seemingly ever-present Roundup. Many may debate about the evils of glyphosate, and all too many sustainable certifications allow it, but common sense tells us that chemicals like these are just not part of nature’s plan.  It’s hard to describe how well the Clemens does its job as it fluidly dances the blade around each vine almost in slow motion - we actually it is in slow motion as the tractor can only go two and a half miles an hour while doing this work.

Other new mechanical arrivals include the Clemens multi-clean undervine brush, which, as the name implies, literally whisks away suckers and weeds around the base of the vine. Then there is a tank-like Domries disc and a Domries tri-till cultivator. We now have the tools to do the job right.

 Creating a vortex while stirring BD 500

Creating a vortex while stirring BD 500

Then there was the really good shit, literally, which arrived this week. Now living in Southern Oregon, that phrase tends to refer to other local agricultural products, in our case, it was actually shit. This was the famed BD 500, the cow manure aged in buried cow horns. For this first application we had to purchase some finished BD 500, but by next spring we’ll have buried and fermented our own. The finished preparation does not remind of the original state or aromatics of the raw materials as it looks and smells more like very rich potting soil. To prepare 500 for application requires stirring it a very particular way. Troon winemaker Steve Hall selected one of our oldest barrels (for the history of place it had experienced) then after adding the 500 to around forty gallons of water we begin the stirring process. Steve and I alternated during the hour long process. First you stir in one direction until you build a deep vortex then suddenly reverse direction going violently from order to disorder. You repeat this process over-and-over for the full hour. This was a uniquely satisfying  experience as you bond with the preparation that will become one with your soil. A very different experience than wearing haz-mat gear demanded by standard vineyard applications. Once prepared we poured the BD 500 into the sprayer and as the week came to a close our entire property had received this application. 

Just knowing that the first biodynamic preparation is in our soils gives me both a sense of peace and accomplishment. We are on an entirely new voyage with a new mission. Just as the vines are reborn each spring, this spring Troon Vineyard is reborn along with them. Soon the buds will break into a whole new world of winegrowing. 

Biodynamics will reinvigorate our soils and our vines, but it is also reinvigorating us. It is those combined energies that will be expressed in our wines. Wines full of energy are exciting wines and we could not be more excited about making them. Our desire to make special wines from what we know is a vineyard, a terroir, with exceptional potential is what started us on this voyage to begin with. 

We are at the starting line of a long struggle to achieve our goals. Now that we have taken our first steps we feel like a sprinter whose energy has just been released by the starting gun. 

The vines, the soil, the place, the wines and the people are all becoming one.

 Alberto spraying BD 500 in a block of zinfandel

Alberto spraying BD 500 in a block of zinfandel

Pursue Your Passion

This article first appeared in the Dracaena Wines blog series"Pursue Your Passion""the story of one person in the wine industry, as told by them"

It all started with Watergate. How topical is that? That scandal hit just as I started college. Armed with no passion except football at that time in my life I suddenly saw a bigger world and signed on to my college newspaper. I was going to be Woodward and Bernstein.

I packed on the history hours eventually spending a semester in Europe "studying" (Nixon resigned during my flight back). While I was graduated as journalist, just four years later I was part of a start up wine importer and distributor. Now instead of reading All the Presidents Men I was immersed in Lichine, Penning-Rowsell and Bespaloff.

What happened? On that trip to Europe I was introduced to wine and food. Having grown up in a land were food and drink were eptiomized by Pabst, Manhattans and friday night fish fries the experience was a revelation. A chain reaction was started. This growing transition from news to wine was fueled by my friend Don Clemens, who had landed job with Almaden Imports, who in those days (the late 70s) had a cutting edge portfolio. My mouth still waters today as I remember drinking Chapoutier Tavel with ribs at Don's apartment. There was no going back.

In 1978, with zero experience, I talked my way out of journalism and into wine with a new job as the midwest rep of Peartree Imports, whose main brand was the Burgundian négociant Patriarche, but the portfolio was rounded out with a range of spirits guaranteed not to sell in 1978. I hit the books for my first sales calls - work-withs - with the sales team of Union Liquor Company in Chicago. I memorized each vineyard and the precise details of each spirit. On my first day I jumped into the salesman's car and we headed into Chicago's war zone. The main brand of these salesmen was Richard's Wild Irish Rose in pints. We'd get let in the back door of a fortified "liquor store" that consisted of several revolving bulletproof windows where customers would place their cash and, after spinning the window around, would get their pint of Richards. The salesman (there were no women in those days) would get his order for 100 cases of Richards, get paid in cash for the last order, then I had a few minutes to pitch my brands to the owner. I was not very successful. Then the owner would take his shotgun and walk us back to the car so no one would steal the wad of cash we'd just received. Even with this dose of intense realism I was not deterred.

The dismal state of the wine industry in those days ended up being an amazing opportunity. In 1979 I joined Sam Leavitt as a partner in the newly formed Direct Import Wine Company and over the next twenty years we built the first mid-west wine company focused on imported and then domestic estate wine. First came Becky Wasserman in Burgundy, Christopher Cannan in Bordeaux (and then Spain), Neil and Maria Empson in Italy then new upstarts from California like Calera, Spottswoode, Shafer, Corison, Iron Horse Soter and Sanford. Not far behind were Northwest wineries like Leonetti, Domaine Serene and Panther Creek. The first big break we got was selling the 1982 Bordeaux futures to the famed (but long gone) Sam's Wines. I literally got paid for these future deals with bags of cash often holding $20,000 or more. Chicago was the wild west of the wine business and, yes, [he too had a gun.]

This was a very special time for me. It was a great privilege to work with people of such integrity and creativity. They all inspire me to this day.

Then my partner wanted out and I did not have the money to buy him out so we were acquired by The Terlato Wine Group. I had a five year contract to stay, but those were some of the darkest years of my life in wine. Instead of integrity I was tossed into the world of simply moving "boxes". When my sentence was up I escaped to Italy for three years and due to the graciousness of extraordinary winemakers like Luca Currado (Vietti), Manuel Marchetti (Marcarini), Tina Colla (Poderi Colla) and Andrea Sottimano in Barbaresco I dug deeper into the spirit of what makes a wine great. Many hours in the cellar and vineyards with them brought me back to the world of wine I loved.

Refreshed and inspired I returned the the United States and now have spent almost 15 years divided between the vineyards of Napa and Oregon. During these years I have drawn on the knowledge and inspiration of all of the great winemakers I have known over more than three decades in wine. I will freely admit my winemaking heart now firmly resides in Oregon. There is a fresh spirit here. You just know the best wines are yet to come and I relish being a part of that energy.

In the end there is no final satisfaction in winemaking, because there is no such thing as perfection. The concept of a 100 point wine is simply absurd. However, while you may never be totally satisfied with any wine you make, you can be totally satisfied by experience of making them. There is a deep satisfaction at the completion of each vintage, be it great or difficult, that is not only deeply rewarding, but addictive. You have to come back for more.

I think we should start flowering in the Applegate Valley next week. Only in agriculture are you reborn every year.

Punched Down

 Punching down Troon Tempranillo in the rain under our old oak tree.

Punching down Troon Tempranillo in the rain under our old oak tree.

There are thirty one-ton fermenters spread out before me under the oak tree behind the winery. They all need punch downs and I'm the only one there to do them. It’s raining and at this moment there is nothing romantic about winemaking, fortunately I know that once these wines are in the bottle there will be more than enough romance to make me face this line up of fermenters tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow…

Now it's night and most of me hurts and I'm exhausted, but tomorrow I will be up and ready to go as I know that my life with these wines will make the effort more than worthwhile.

But why is there just me a 63 year old available for punch downs this morning? Welcome to the Applegate Valley where there's not an intern in sight. Welcome to winemaking on the frontier. The Applegate Valley is an exciting, but emerging fine wine region and the niceties of established regions like the Willamette Valley or Napa Valley just don’t exist.

As tiring and challenging as it is, the lack of accoutrements is also liberating. You are forced into choices that make you rediscover how natural the winemaking process truly is and that so many of the interventions used almost without thought in more established regions are unnecessary.

You soon come to understand that these interventions are not only unnecessary, but detrimental as they strip wines of real character leaving pretty, fruity wines with indistinguishable personalities. When I first saw an optical sorter in the Napa Valley I was blown away. Out of one end came perfect grapes, looking exactly like blueberries, and on the side it discharged everything deemed less than perfect. My initial excitement slowly dissolved as I tasted the wines in barrel then bottle. What I thought was perfect fruit yielded wines that were one-dimensional. Those perfect grape blueberries ended up making a wine that tasted a lot like it actually came from blueberries. The strange thing about those perfect grapes is that they only look perfect. If they were truly perfect winemakers would not be forced to add acids, water and use enzymes and other additions to put back in what the optical sorter took out.

At Troon there are no optical sorters in sight, nor in all of Southern Oregon as far as I know. All of our sorting is done during the pick in the vineyard. Instead of making wine with blueberries, we make wine with the grapes that nature gives us. That means along with those perfect grapes some are a little more ripe and some a little less. In the fermenter, together with the indigenous yeasts of the Applegate Valley, this varied fruit creates wine that is anything but one-dimensional. The grapes that are a little less ripe contribute vivacious natural acidity and those a shade overripe contribute body and richness - no additions required. Oh yes, and often we include stems in the ferment. In the tank it may not be pretty, but together they make wines that are alive.

Wines that live make me feel more alive.

Varietal Vigilantes

In the United States we tend to think of wines being driven by a single variety. That there is somehow something purer about being made from one type of vine. The varietal vigilantes are always asking, “is this 100%?” Due to the heavy emphasis on varietal labeling they don’t realize is that historically wines made from a single variety were the exception, not the rule.

Some of the greatest names in the world of wine: Bordeaux, Châteauneuf du Pape, Côte Rôtie, Chianti, Rioja, Porto and Champagne are, and have always been blends of varieties. There are classic marriages like: cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot; marsanne and roussanne, syrah and viognier that have defined their wine regions. Without a doubt there are great mono-variety wines like Burgundy and Barolo, but many a classic wine region discovered over the centuries that blending produced not only the best wines for them, but a more consistently good wine vintage-to-vintage.

I believe that the Applegate Valley is one of those regions where blending creates the most complete and complex wines. In almost all of our wines at Troon Vineyard you’ll find more than one variety in the blend. We think deeply in making these choices looking for varieties that together create wines with greater nuance and personality than they could on their own. My goal in blending is to make the wines come alive and to craft wines that could only come from the Applegate Valley as making a wine of place is at the center of everything for me.

Blending is one thing, but I believe you need to go farther and actually co-ferment the varieties that you believe make will make your best blends. When you blend finished wines you can make wonderful wines, but when you can ferment the different varieties together they meld in a new an magical way that simple blending cannot reproduced. When fermenting together Mother Nature’s natural chemistry is amplified and a whole new wine emerges from the fermenter. When co-ferments are combined with natural yeasts and natural malolactic fermentations a unique purity of place and variety is expressed in your wine.

One of the better examples of this magic is our Troon Vineyard Longue Carabine, conceived by winemaker Steve Hall, which is created by blending several different co-fermented lots. The characteristics of each variety in the 2014 blend (38.5% vermentino, 33% viognier, 33% marsanne, 1.5% roussanne) shows their distinctive highlights in the expansive aromatics and rich texture. Longue Carabine is a one-of-a-kind wine totally unique to the Applegate Valley, Troon Vineyard and Oregon.

Being able to create wines like this is one of the inspirations that led me from Napa to the Applegate Valley in southern Oregon. The freedom to constantly experiment and push your wines forward is truly exciting - and truly fun!

2014 Troon Blue Label Longue Carabine, Applegate Valley 

Isn't That the Point

11_Pinot_Black.jpg

It very strange how in winemaking you can end up at the same point in very, very different ways. "It is important to understand that a point is not a thing, but a place," notes the Math Open Reference. The point we are always trying to achieve is a pure expression of our three "V's": vintage, variety and vineyard.

To achieve this with varieties as transparent as chardonnay and pinot noir takes a clear vision of where you are going. To arrive at the same point in winemaking is not to make carbon copies vintage-to-vintage, but to arrive at the place you feel each vintage is taking you. Patient, careful winemaking allows wines of very different vintages to arrive at the place, the point, you are seeking as a winemaker. To arrive at this point you have to let the wine achieve its own natural balance for the year that created it. So in some years you have structured wines and in others a more natural richness and forward personality. Just because they are different does not mean they have not arrived at the exact point you are trying to achieve.

Two such vintages are 2011 and 2012 in Oregon's Willamette Valley. In 2011 rain and cool weather made fruit sorting an art form if you wanted to make exceptional wines. We rejected bin after bin and individually sorted and selected each bunch that made it into the fermenters. The end result speaks for itself in the beautifully lifted and structured 2011 Cornerstone Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, White Label. The wines from this year are naturally tight and are only now starting to reveal their delicate layers of complexity. As someone who cut their pinot noir teeth on Burgundy I particularly love this wine. Then there was the sunny, gentle 2012 vintage where there was hardly a thing to sort. In fact, the 2012 chardonnay fruit was the most beautiful and defect free I've ever seen in Oregon. The 2012 Cornerstone Oregon, Willamette Valley Chardonnay, White Label reflects this generous vintage, not by being soft, but with a rounded firmness that will develop for years to come. I think this is a perfect example of the extraordinary potential of chardonnay in Oregon and why I am convinced this is the best region for chardonnay in North America.

It is exciting to release such a distinct range of personalities with our Cornerstone Oregon releases this fall. For me such differences are the things that make wine so exciting and pleasurable. After all, isn't that the point.

Skating With The Love Puppets

We're sometimes marionettes when it comes to food and wine matching, but Love Puppets and skate can cut those strings. Skate wing is one of my favorite fish dishes and meaty, rich fish like this sometimes go better with red than white wines. Especially the way I cooked it, quickly floured and sauteed, then served with a beurre rouge - in this case accented with some pancetta and capers. Easy and delicious.

What better to go with skate wing and a red wine sauce than Love Puppets. The Love Puppets here (I'm not sure what you were thinking of) is a lovely Oregon pinot noir from Brandborg Vineyards. The 2006 Brandborg Vineyards Love Puppets Pinot Noir catches all the romance that is pinot noir. Very spicy, brightly fruity and charming, but with just a touch of the earthy, wild mushrooms notes that always highlight the best pinots this is a wine you can drink now or over the next several years. The San Francisco Chronicle placed it in their top 100 wines of 2008 and I can see why. Besides that, it's a bargain at only $30.

The real love puppets are the husband and wife team of Terry and Sue Brandborg who make this excellent pinot and a host of other wines from cool climate varieties in their decidedly very cool climate in the the Umpqua Valley in southern Oregon, which they are so successfully pioneering.

All to often we seek romance in winemaking, but rarely find it in these days of corporate wine factories, but the Brandborgs are the real thing and you can taste their passion for both wine and each other in the wonderful wines of Brandborg Vineyards.
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Oregon 2008 Updates

 

The growing sense of optimism over the 2008 vintage in Oregon has spilled over the edge of the fermenter into outright excitement. Veteran winemakers throughout the Willamette Valley are letting their enthusiasm for this vintage show now that almost all their fruit is harvested. Here are some comments on the 2008 vintage from some of Oregon’s most important winemakers.

Brian O’Donnell owner and winemaker of the one of Oregon’s finest estates Belle Pente describes 2008 this way, “In terms of my impression of the harvest, I’m really excited!  We brought in 10 tons October 1st that is now done, and these are some of the most delicious young wines I’ve ever tasted!  The chemistry on the stuff we picked later is a little bizarre, but with a few tweaks it should be fine….we’re planning to let fermentation run a little hotter than normal and do longer than normal post-fermentation maceration to try and “burn” some of the obvious fruitiness out of the wines to let the site characteristics show thru better. But frankly, I think we’ve got a tiger by the tail, and she’s wild and sassy and will take a lot of good (and lucky) winemaking decisions to get the best out of her.”

Few growers and winemakers have the depth of experience possessed by David Adelsheim one of the true founders and pioneers of the Oregon wine industry. About this vintage he comments,  “Another weird year.  Three weeks late, rain in July and August, and still we saw the beginnings of drought stress in some sites.  We starting picking on Sep 29th and finished this past week on Oct 18th.   A third of our Pinot noir was picked by Oct 3rd; during the next 10 days (which were damp) we picked only a few lots of white grapes; everything else was picked in the final six hectic days.  And the quality is looking pretty grand.  It will need to be – our crop levels were off by 30% compared to 2007”

Jerry Murray winemaker and vineyard manager of highly regarded Patton Valley Vineyards says of 2008, “The harvest has looked great.  We pulled in the last of our fruit yesterday.  Considering the way the season started out, late bud break and all, mother nature has given us exactly what we needed to not just to avoid a disaster but to really ripen fruit in a way that should make some amazing wines, true pinot.  The chemistry of the grapes has been just about perfect, great acidity, moderate alcohol, great color and phenolic development.  As a winemaker you hope for this sort of vintage every year but I would be surprised if you get more than a handful in a lifetime.  All that is left is to see the quality through to bottle.  It is very exciting.”

Top: Vines at the Belle Pente estate vineyard change color. Below: Harvest in Tony Soter’s Mineral Springs Vineyard

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Oregon Winemakers Optimistic

Experienced Oregon winemakers are quietly enthused about the potential of the 2008 vintage. Winemakers are rightfully conservative in their assessment of a vintage at this point in time because you never really can be sure about the quality of a wine until it’s actually wine. However, with experience winemakers obviously develop a pretty good idea of what to expect. Those expectations are starting to sound quite high for 2008.

Laurent Montalieu is one of the Willamette Valley’s most experienced winemakers. A veteran of Willakenzie Estate, today Montalieu owns Solena Cellars, the Northwest Wine Company and his newest venture, the ultra-premium custom crush winery Grand Cru Estates. Montalieu, pictured here (left) sampling a vineyard with winemaking consultant Tony Rynders, who is also winemaker at the new Grand Cru estates, has one of the widest experiences with the full range of Willamette Valley vineyards as his Northwest Wine Company deals with vineyards located throughout the Valley. Montalieu comments about this vintage, “The beautiful Indian summer has saved us one more time… essentially right now I am looking at hanging the balance of our fruit as late as possible….. if the fruit is not getting worse it has to be getting better…. So far the ferments have shown great purity of the aromatics  and the extraction level will be quite structured .We are in for a treat of a vintage, remember 1999?”

Winemaker Scott Wright, owner of Scott Paul Cellars, also has a great depth of experience with Oregon vintages. Before founding his own winery, Scott was general manager of Domaine Drouhin Oregon. Wright says of the 2008 vintage so far, “We’ve been very happy with the quality of the fruit we’ve brought in so far – very clean and healthy, excellent flavors, really nice pH & acids – potential alcohols in the low 13s – exactly what we’re looking for. Yields have been on the low side – averaging about 1.5 tons per acre so far. We’ve got about 2/3 of our fruit in now, and will likely finish up today and tomorrow. The potential is there for a really nice vintage!”

Superstar winemaking consultant Tony Rynders (pictured above, right) had a decade knocking out one 90+ rated wine after another as winemaker at Domaine Serene before launching his own consulting company and taking on winemaking duties at Grand Cru Estates. On the 2008 vintage Rynders notes, “Harvest 2008 is well underway in the Willamette Valley.  We have remained about 10 days behind in ripening based on the last ten years.  But is actual fact, we are right at our long term average for harvest timing. After a little rain at the beginning of the month, we have had a nice stretch of weather for the last 12 days.  Flavors have come on strong and the sugars are very reasonable.  This latest weather development has been critical for flavor development and phenolic maturity.  The cold soaks are showing beautiful color.  The wines are going to be very pretty with excellent balance. We are about 60% complete with another 20% due in the next three days.”

You are hearing similar comments from winemakers throughout the Willamette Valley. The potential is there for a very special vintage in the classic Oregon style, which emphasizes balance, structure, aromatics and elegance with moderate alcohol levels. I’m looking forward to drinking these wines.

Pictured below, a picker in Tony Soter’s Mineral Springs Vineyard.

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Oregon Harvest 2008

Oregon's grape harvest continued today in perfect, cool weather. In Tony Soter's outstanding Mineral Springs Vineyard (pictured here) in the Yamhill Carlton AVA they decided to put in the extra time needed to harvest the entire vineyard today as the fruit was in perfect condition and rain is forecasted over the next several days. Most of this vineyard is planted in a unique clone of pinot noir discovered and then propagated by Soter from an old vineyard in California. It has no name at this time and Mineral Springs is the only vineyard anywhere planted with this clone. As it is yet formally named, I'll call it the Soter Clone. This combination of distinctive terroir with a unique massal clone makes this one of the most exciting vineyards in Oregon.

 

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