Category Archives: Josh
Here are some recent shots taken from around the winery during the past couple of weeks:
The fermentations continue to tick along and so far, we have put some lovely Shea, Bergstrom and Le Pre du Col lots into barrel.
With much more to come, have a great day!
Dark, cold and cloudy, with thick fog today but it is our first bad weather day in three weeks and it is our final day of picking. The 2011 vintage is finally over. I know, I know….. I post only two or three blog entries at the beginning, and then you miss the middle, and then you get the end in one big lump sum. Sorry about that, but this was the most compressed and potentially difficult vintage that we have seen in Oregon’s recent history and my thoughts were focused at the task at hand.
Whew….. sigh of relief or sigh of content? I don’t know yet….. but I have a pretty good feeling about this one. The first two wines that we have put to barrel are very charming. Everything else is either still cold soaking or just starting to ferment…. I am holding my breath. A this point we are still trying to deal with sleep deprivation and cold wet clothes. I feel like this vintage aged me a bit more than usual. We are normally tired after a vintage, but we are all exhausted today.
The days have been long and hard and my team has labored valiantly for two weeks putting in 18-19 hour days of relentless and backbreaking work. Most of those early mornings and nights were below freezing temperatures and made for very hard work weighing, sorting, punching down, pumping and processing 200 tons of icy cold wine grapes. It sounds like “The Deadliest Catch” but isn’t that traumatic as we allow ourselves the luxury of eating wonderful meals and drinking fine wines between the cold, wet and dark hours of work. That and wine-grapes don’t pinch you, nor can you fall overboard… I guess.
Speaking of meals; we have been blessed this year. Blame it on my harvest in Burgundy (where each harvest meal was ritually 3-4 courses long) or my incurable hunger for the celebration of the harvest, but we have eaten, drank and celebrated very well this October and now into November. Caroline, my mom and our culinary hero Kris Utz have put together some amazing meals for us and I think that, regardless of the long hours of work, we have all put on a pound or two this year. Twice a week we have bathed ourselves in the bubbling crusty goodness of “Pizza Day” where Kris Utz, of Renaissance Catering, has wood-fire baked some amazing pies with: Oysters, Clams, pepperoni, chanterelles, bacon, butternut squash, crème fraiche, swiss chard, arugula and garlic were the guest stars. Life is so incredibly good when Pizza has got your back.
How could it be possible to not love what I do? Today I filled my first 2011 barrel of Pinot Noir. The fact that it was November 4th was already tickling my brain, but better yet is that moment in and of itself…. filling my first barrel of the year. Watching the crimson blood-like liquid fill that new barrel and have the warm blast of woodsy smoky air mingle with the sweetness of the new wine as it pushes up towards my nose and flashlight as I enviously watch the barrel fill. That is a special moment. I have done it hundreds of times for more than 13 years but every time I do it again for the first time, my pulse quickens and my breath slows; relishing the moment. Completing a year’s work is very satisfying. One barrel down, now only 300 more barrels more to fill.
The picking was fast and furious this year for sure. In a year where the weather spreads out the picking a little bit more, we will start picking at the end of September and finish around Halloween. This year, because of the short picking window and the fact that we absolutely had to hang fruit as long as possible, we all had to pick all of our fruit in a 8-12 day period which is very difficult. A vintner’s picking decision is one of the most important of the year as it will set the ripeness and thus style for the vintage. An early pick can lead to wines with higher acids, lower alcohols and more elegance, whereas a late pick can drop acidities, raise alcohols and set more concentration or ripeness and darker flavors. This year however, there was no luxury of deciding whether or not to pick early or late for style, we simply had to let the fruit hang for as long as possible without incurring massive financial losses due to rot or birds or rains. The very late season meant that we needed as much time on the vine as was possible. And I think that we may have gotten that window, much like last year in 2010.
The harvest may be over, but the work is far from done. We are looking at one more month of hard work within the winery working the fermentations, then pressing out tanks and finally filling our barrels. By Thanksgiving open house weekend we should be close to finished but there will probably be a few fermentations still kicking around.
Stay tuned for more thoughts about the vintage and the new wines. Cheers! And stay warm!
Today is Friday October 28th, 2011 and we are right in the middle of this harvest. So far we have brought in about 110 tons of fruit from our most precocious vineyard blocks in the Bergstrom Vineyard, de Lancellotti, Shea, the Winery Block, as well as all of Le Pre du Col vineyard and about one third of our Chardonnay from Anderson Family Vineyard, Carabella, de Lancellotti and the Winery Block.
The first week of harvest was very busy and we put in five 18-hour days in a row as we brought in our most ripe fruit. The Bergstrom Vineyard and de Lancellotti Vineyard early picks were slow to sort but the overall quality of the juice and musts is high, so I am optimistic. The Winery block also looked good and we decided to implement 50% whole clusters in this cuvee which is the first time that we have used so many whole bunches since 2005 and I am also happy about how that is looking and smelling. We also included whole cluster in the Shea fruit.
The earliest pick from Shea Vineyard came from Block 9 which is one of our two Wadenswil clone blocks on the East Hill. This is our ripest block every year and so it was harvested on October 23rd. The rest of Shea Vineyard will be harvested on Halloween and again on November 4th! I can’t believe that I am scheduling picking dates on November 4th (Temperance Hill is also scheduled for that date.)
The rain arrived this afternoon and it is expected to fall overnight and then clear up again in the morning giving way to one more week of great weather. It is during this final window that we plan on harvesting our higher elevation and coolest sites such as; Temperance Hill Vineyard, The Gregory Ranch, our final blocks of Shea and the rest of our Chardonnay. Three weeks ago, I was worried we would not see these vineyards come in this year….. oh me of little faith.
The Pinot Noir juices are soaking up with deep colors and lovely aromas. The Chardonnay juices are simply delicious and I am beginning to truly become excited about this vintage. But we have a long way to go. Only two tanks are fermenting at this point and those are the early picks from Shea and Bergstrom Vineyard. For the most part the winery is cold and still, save for the busy action of weighing, sorting and processing fruit.
Our crew this year is also a lot of fun to work with. We have three local guys; Justin, Ted and Nick, one local gal named Anne, one transplant from Colorado named Edward and some guest appearances from sales representatives (thanks Jeffrey!) from in and out of state. So far we are having a great time and enjoying the rush of this harvest. We are eating and drinking very well thanks to my mom, my wife and Kris Utz at Renaissance catering (Kris’s family owns the Black Walnut Inn in Dundee and he is a great chef who caters weddings, events, private parties etc…..) The crew’s antics and good nature are keeping me in stitches which is important this time of year.
Talk to you soon, or see you around the crush pad.
Here are some images that I have seen over the past two days of harvest. Everything is going very well and the fruit is looking and tasting very good. This could be a very good year and worth all of the waiting after all! The long term forecast is good and we are all in high spirits! Cheers.
Happy harvest and welcome to my annual harvest journal. Here is where you will find my thoughts, reflections and images that come from the busy harvest season. It is our thirteenth vintage at Bergstrom Wines and 2011 is sure to be special as it is the latest harvest that we have ever kicked off; today is Friday October 21st and we begin our harvest tomorrow!
For the second year in a row, Oregon experienced a cool and wet spring which has put our winegrowing efforts several weeks behind schedule right from the start. All year long we have been trying to play catch up in hopes that we would get the kind of weather in the fall that would allow us to make up for lost time that we experienced in the spring and it looks like our prayers have been answered. After a very warm and beautiful summer stretch in July, August and September, October started out with a whimper with cool temperatures, rain and the forecast for more of the same. But the skies cleared over one week ago and we have seen the sunshine and even some 70 degree days which has brought several of our vineyards’ fruit to near maturity and it is now time to start picking, after a long year of biting our nails.
2010 was very similar to this scenario and the good news there is that the 2010 wines are some of the finest that we have ever produced! The 2010 wines are almost electric in their appeal with juicy pure fruit expressions and a sweet balanced succulence that will make them extremely drinkable young but also capable of extended cellar ageing due to their lower alcohol levels and higher natural acidities. Cool and challenging vintages may be tough on the human spirit but they oftentimes yield wines that make up for all of the toil and turbulence.
I won’t sugarcoat this vintage however, as some of Oregon’s higher elevation vineyard sites are still not at the ripeness level that we would like to see for quality winemaking and unless we receive one to two more weeks of pleasant weather, without torrential rains, early frosts, outbreaks of rot, or flocks of hungry migratory birds, these vineyards will struggle and may not be harvested. If they do arrive at flavor maturity, they will be harvested in the first week or two of November which is just unheard of. I have often times harvested Riesling in November, but rarely Pinot Noir. Late harvests are always stressful but can often times yield some of our most interesting wines. Some of my favorite wines came from late vintages like 1999, 2007, 2008 and 2010.
The entire West coast of America is experiencing difficult harvest conditions this year. Many of our colleagues down south in California are complaining of very difficult harvest conditions with widespread rot and unripe fruit in certain varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon. Washington State as well is struggling to ripen their fruit and with such a late harvest, they face the real threat of early winter frosts which could terminate the season abruptly and prematurely. That would be catastrophic for them.
The good news at Bergstrom Wines is that 85% of our fruit is ready to be harvested; high acids, low potential alcohol levels (11.5-12.5%) but great flavors and seeds that are showing good physiological lignification. As is tradition, we will start the harvest with our ripest fruit which comes from blocks 1 and 2 in the Bergstrom Vineyard in the Dundee Hills. These Dijon-clone Pinot Noir vines are always our first to ripeness and even in a year like this one can get overripe if we leave them on the vine for too long. Later that afternoon we will begin to harvest some of our finest Chardonnay blocks from de Lancellotti Vineyard, Anderson Family Vineyard and Carabella Vineyard before returning to de Lancellotti Vineyard the next day to begin the Pinot Noir harvest there. Those first two days of picking will be fast and furious and represent about 15% of our total harvest and we will probably not slow down much from there until November. The weather forecast looks favorable, and frankly, we are a little restless of waiting around.
Stay tuned for an action packed thirteenth year of winemaking at Bergstrom Wines. It could be an epic year for many vineyards and it could be a very challenging year for others. We will soon see. Cheers and happy harvesting to all!
My final two weeks in Burgundy were spent at two domaines: Domaine Bernard Moreau in Chassagne Montrachet and Domaine Guy Roulot in Meursault. Like Etienne Sauzet, both of these domaines and their winemakers are at the top of their game and extremely respected throughout the Cote d’Or and the world for their white wines and their very small bottlings of Pinot Noir. It was an incredible honor to be there and accepted by them and their team.
At domaine Bernard Moreau I was greeted and welcomed by the winemaking family of Bernard (father), Alexandre (winemaking son) and Benoit Moreau (vineyard manager son.) Here, this incredibly jovial and hardworking family make about the same amount of wine as Bergstrom Wines in a small winery that is about 1/3 of the size of mine. Their speciality is Chardonnay from the village and Premier Cru vineyards throughout the village of Chassagne Montrachet but they make absolutely stunning Pinot Noirs from Chassagne Montrachet, Volnay and Pommard. These are serious wines and seriously delicious as well.
Domaine Roulot in Meursault is considered one of the finest white wine domaines in the world. Jean-Marc Roulot is a multi-generation winemaker (just like at the other wineries) and he takes Chardonnay to another level. The Roulot wines are intensely mineral and energetic with incredible acid and structure. These great wines of pure breed need years in bottle before they show their true greatness. Here Jean-Marc runs a very tight ship and his full-time cellar master and vineyard team take care of the winery and its multiple small lots of Chardonnays and Pinot Noir with great care and pride. Just up the street from Domaine Coche-Dury and just down the street from Domaine des Comtes Lafon… this neighborhood is filled with Chardonnay royalty and I was very happy to be there.
Both of these domaines focus on Chardonays from single vineyard parcels in their respective villages and that is what they are best known for. But both of these producers also make a miniscule amount of very delicious Pinot Noir every year from purchased fruit or small holdings from neighboring villages.
Chardonnay harvest in Burgundy rolls much like our harvest does in Oregon, we schedule, we pick, we sort, we press, we settle and we make wine. What Burgundy has that many American wineries do not have is a “culture” of harvest that emphasizes the celebration of the ritual of bringing in fruit, and the intentional placement of the exclamation point on a year’s worth of hard work. This is the end of the circle; the grande finale of the year for winemakers, and in Burgundy they do it right.
To give you a better idea of how the culture of a Burgundian harvest day is structured; my days at the wineries usually went something like this:
8AM: We start the work day by placing vineyard bins in the vineyards or emptying and cleaning the grape presses of the fruit from the night before. The courtyard of each winery is filled with 40-50 harvest workers, who have come from all over France to pick grapes. They are jovially drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and talking about the party that raged the night before, and how sore they are from stopping over to pick grapes all day….. but there are no unhappy people here. Most of these workers are lodged and fed by the winery . Some of these harvesters have been harvesting at the same winery for more than 30 years! They actually schedule their annual vacation time to leave home and come here to pick fruit.
8:15-9:55: We Receive fruit, and begin pressing fruit, chaptalizing juice, taking juice to barrels, cleaning most of the technical work and enological adjustments if needed are happening in this period.
10:00: The “Casse-Croute”, or the “Breaking of Bread.” Here everyone stops what they are doing, whether in the wineries or in the vineyards and bottles of juice and wine are opened, sausages and cheeses are sliced and bread is passed around for the morning snack. This moment is sacred for the harvest workers, and a great French tradition. This would qualify as a LIABILITY for most American businesses. Liability is not a word that French businesses recognize when it comes to traditional and cultural terms such as “drinking wine on the job.” But, this is not a party, just a break.
10:30-12:30: More work, but slightly happy and dizzy from the “Casse-Croute”.
12:30-12:50: A refreshing pre-lunch beer. Each winery had beer on tap from keg somewhere in the cellar and the harvest workers would return from the fields dripping with sweat and sticky grape juice to quench their great thirsts and clean up prior to lunch. We took the opportunity to share in that refreshment.
12:50-2:30: The wives and girlfriends of the winery’s Moreau family cook a wonderful meal for 50 people and all of the vineyard workers eat side by side with the winery workers and the family. Each lunch and dinner involves at least 3 courses of food with bottles of house red and white wine on the tables. cheese, as well as dessert and coffee are offered afterwards. The Harvest workers all stretch and lazily enjoy the sunshine in the courtyard. Some revisit the beer keg prior to jumping back into the harvest vans to head out to the vineyards for the afternoon pick.
2:30-7:00: more work, slow at first then we find our rhythm and work hard until dinner time, sometimes through dinner and straight on until the late night. The afternoon is the most serious part of the day as far as long hours of hard work.
Dinner+: Work may continue to midnight or past depending on the fruit that was harvested that day.
So you see, harvest in Burgundy is about making wine but also about enjoyment and
celebration; balancing hard work with a healthy amount of eating and drinking and relishing in the moment. To nourish the appetite and the spirit and to complete the year’s cycle of growing and making wine are the annual objectives of a harvest in Burgundy. I loved how the villages came together to celebrate the year. As we worked to finish our respective work, vans decorated in grape leaves and clusters and ribbons poured through the village honking and the harvesters who were all crammed inside were singing and yelling at the tops of their voices to announce to the rest of the village that they had finished their harvest and were preparing for the annual “Paulee” which is the traditional all-night party full of great foods and lots of wine where each winery celebrates the last day of picking. For one final night the 30 to 40 pickers will join the family and the winery staff to sing and dance and eat and drink and be happy about a year’s worth of hard work.
In conclusion, I travelled back to Burgundy to open my eyes, to become inspired and to potentially discover new practices or techniques that would make me a better Chardonnay producer and a better winemaker in General. And although I did discover many interesting winemaking techniques and approaches that I will look to implement in my wines in the coming years, I also discovered what I already knew; and that is that great wines only come from great places. Terroir does exist if you go to the source and taste the wines. Authenticity in wine, which is what we strive to produce, can only come from great Terroir. Whether you are in Burgundy or in Oregon, to taste a great Chardonnay or Pinot Noir usually means that there is a special vineyard that has fortunately fallen into the hands of a caretaker whose goal is to simply tell this special vineyard’s message.
I also went back to Burgundy believing that it was the King of Chardonnay and that my small and young region of Oregon had promise to someday compete at their level. I returned from Burgundy more inspired than ever that what we are doing with Chardonnay in Oregon is exciting and full of promise. I could not be more proud than I am today to be an Oregon winemaker, and to be one of the wineries who are trying to redefine American Chardonnay. Stay tuned for positive results.
Over the past decade we have returned to Beaune several times for family vacations and the marriages of friends. But it has been 13 years since I was a young aspiring winemaker studying and working in this sacred place of wine and vines. I have ever since longed to return as a professional , to work a vintage, to see with experienced eyes what I saw as a neophyte so many years ago. And as mentioned earlier, Burgundy’s historically early 2011 harvest was the perfect opportunity to come back. Especially since Oregon is preparing for its potentially “latest” vintage ever recorded.
As a young student in France, everything was new. And so, everything was painted with a shiny, naive varnish of optimism and unlimited possibilities. Everything Burgundian was the ideal for me; snails, Epoisse, croissants, pain d’épices, Boeuf Bourguignon, cassis, mustard, jambon-persillé….. it was all so heavenly. It was only later on, once back home, that I would meet the great personalities of the Cote d’Or: Montrachet, Musigny, Romanee Conti, Corton Charlemagne…… the wines that would change and shape me and influence how I approached my life’s work making wines in Oregon. Now I had the chance to return on a professional level and to see things with different eyes. Maybe I would even see some things that would open my eyes and change my outlook.
I was scheduled to work four separate internships in Meursault, Puligny Montrachet and Chassagne Montrachet. Together, these three villages make up the holy Trinity of noble Chardonnays on the Cote de Beaune. These three tiny little communes, surrounded by a few hundred hectares of vines, (alongside the village of Chablis, the Grand Cru of Corton Charlemagne and some random small Chardonnay plantings on the cote de Beaune and the Cote de Nuits) make up all of the white Burgundy that is available to the world…. not a whole lot of wine. I guess all good things do come in small quantities. This is the birthplace of Chardonnay and in these small villages of roughly 300-1,000 inhabitants, most everybody farms Chardonnay, makes Chardonnay wine, or works at a Chardonnay oriented winery. Compare that to Oregon where out of 420 wineries who today produce an average of 5,000 to 10,000 cases, only 4% of our state’s total annual production is Chardonnay.
The first domaine where I was supposed to work harvest was actually finished with harvesting all of their fruit before I landed in Paris. So unfortunately, I will not be able to report to you on the secrets or methodology of Domaine Leflaive in Puligny Montrachet. But I doubt there are any other secrets than great Biodynamic farming and attentive winemaking which make these some of my favorite white wines in the world….. maybe next time. I can tell you first hand that trying to book airline tickets for a harvest anywhere in the world might mean that you will miss the beginning or the end of that endeavor, especially if you are buying tickets early in the season when they are less expensive. Luckily our timing was mostly right on.
Domaine Etienne Sauzet was the first domaine that I had the honor of visiting and working at. The Domaine is a small family run estate which is immaculately kept and beautifully positioned high atop the village with the Puligny Montrachet vineyards practically sprawling into their backyard garden. Here, they make a wide array of small lots of outstanding Chardonnays including: Le Montrachet, Bienvenue Batard Montrachet and Batard Montrachet (from their Grand Cru holdings) Puligny Montrachet Premier Crus: Les Folatieres, Les Champs Gain, Truffiere, Perrieres, Combettes, Champ Canet, Les Referts, La Garenne, Hameau de Blagny and many, many more! These are some of the most prized Chardonnay vineyards in the world and they have prime holdings in all of them, totaling 12 hectares (over 25 acres)which is actually larger than the average sized winery in Burgundy!
Etienne Sauzet was the name of the grandfather who handed down the domaine to his daughter, the wife of Gerard Boudot. Gerard has run the domaine at the top level for more than 3 decades and has made an incredible name for himself and for the domaine during those years. He is now in the process of transitioning the domaine’s management to his daughter Emily and her husband Benoit, who currently make the wines at Gerard’s side. I was fortunate enough to work with Benoit and Emily for one week at the Domaine as they harvested their 2011 crop.
The winery is small and cramped for space but beautiful and a wonderful blend of old world and new world with shiny temperature controlled stainless steel tanks in a lovely tiled tank room that sits above the maze of vaulted barrel caves below and alongside the winery building.
Interestingly enough, Puligny is one of the few villages in Burgundy without a labyrinth of caves carved into the ground far below the street level as the water table is high in this town and caves cannot be dug in certain areas.
Benoit, the winemaker, is very easy going and steady in how he approaches the vines and his wines. At 34 years old, he calmly and confidently manages the domaine’s operations. Together with Emily, this young couple is at the top of their game and it was very exciting to watch.
I was lucky enough to be there for the harvest of the Grand Cru vineyards and several of the Premier Cru and Village level wines. One of my biggest goals in going to Burgundy for harvest was to be able to taste the fruit as if came across the sorting table and I was able to do this with the Batard Montrachet, Bienvenue Batard Montrachet, Folatieres, Hameau de Blagny and Champs Gain vineyards as they came in during my stay at Etienne Sauzet. What blew me away about the flavors in this fruit (lemon head candies, granny smith apple, unripe pear, limeaid flavors) was how I had tasted fruit flavors reminiscent to these so many times before in my Chardonnay fields back home in Oregon…… when I thought the fruit was still not yet ripe enough to pick! Wow; eyes wide open now.
As a new world Chardonnay producer, I have always picked based on ripe pear, golden delicious apple and melon flavors in fruit. Often times that can lead to ripe Chardonnays with good acids but not the acidity levels you would find from Burgundy. I have always thought about picking Chardonnay earlier but was too worried about the outcome. And as our friends Eugenia Keegan and David Adelsheim said as we shared a glass of white Burgundy at a wine bar in Beaune later that week: “The good news is, everyone in Oregon will be able to pick Chardonnay at those high Burgundian acid levels this year!” We laughed heartily and uneasily as we all subconsciously gnawed at our fingernails. Harvest in Burgundy was ending and our harvest was still more than a month away.
To be continued…..
As many of you may already know, I had the opportunity of a lifetime this fall as I was able to return to Burgundy to work the harvest at three of my favorite White Burgundy (Chardonnay) producing domaines. As Burgundy enjoyed a very early harvest and we, here in Oregon, are experiencing our potentially latest vintage in history, I figured it was as good an occasion as any to do two vintages in the same year, both in the Northern Hemisphere.
I chose to only visit and work at Chardonnay producing domaines as I am a devout Chardonnay fanatic (of the classic old world style) and a great lover of white Burgundy wines. I believe that the energetic elegance, laser-beam structure and seamless grace that can be captured in a bottle of Burgundian Chardonnay is unparalleled in the world of wine today. I also believe that Oregon’s potential for great Chardonnay production is not only envisionable but palpable. We are on the brink of something great here, and I had to go back to the birthplace of Chardonnay to make sure that I was on the right track…. or at least not completely kidding myself.
I have long looked to Burgundy for inspiration in my winemaking and winegrowing efforts. It was in Beaune that I lived and studied as a young postgraduate student in 1998 and 1999 and my wife (and business partner extraordinaire) Caroline is from Beaune and so our family is rooted on the Cote d’Or. As young winemaker, I would get psyched up for harvest every year by reading one of my favorite books on the Burgundian wines and winemaking techniques; “The Great Domaines of Burgundy” by Remington Norman. We grew up in this great Oregon industry drinking mainly the great Burgundian wines from the 1950’s and forward. For me, Burgundy was the apex of achievement in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and Oregon seemed to me be the torch bearer to carry that message forward.
But it only took a couple of vintages actually making wine in Oregon to realize that Oregon was not Burgundy. How disappointing! There were so many similarities, but even so many more differences that set my two favorite wine regions so far apart. It only took me 14 years of making wine in Oregon to accept the fact that you cannot make Burgundy in Oregon, and that notion was not only ok, but actually a very good thing. We make Oregonian wines, just as authentic and important a version of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and refreshingly different than Burgundy, or California for that matter.
Burgundy is special because it is Burgundy, with its incredibly lush history and traditions imprinted on every ancient rock wall that you pass by in every cobble stoned street of every village on the Cote d’Or. For hundreds and hundreds of years Burgundy has been making wine. It is their culture. 90% of all people who live in the Burgundy region are in the wine business in one way or another. Burgundy has been the favorite wine of every French leader from Napoleon to the string of Kings Louis to Emperor Charlemagne. Burgundy has been nurtured through centuries, from when it was just bare fields first planted to twigs that Romans brought to the area when they conquered the continent, to when the Cistercian monks and the church farmed and identified the best parcels, through the French Revolution and into today’s modern age. Burgundy is by no means an up and coming region for winemaking. It was discovered a very long time ago. Cellars across the world are filled with vintages of Burgundy going back to the 1800’s. I don’t think that there are many more surprises in store for wine consumers when it comes to Burgundy (unless you like price increases.) Burgundy is reference standard for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay tradition and history for sure, but whether it is reference standard for quality of winemaking is the topic that keeps Oregon, California and New Zealand winemakers hot under the collar.
Oregon, on the other hand, has just arrived on the world wine scene in the last 45 years. Many of our pioneers are still alive and producing wine…..and young. Oregon’s wine history is also rich and storied. Oregonians planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay where they were told grapes would not grow. Our cottage style industry started at a level even below where grassroots start with just a handful of zealots and mavericks who “just knew” that they could create something special, in spite of all the warning signs. For many years we trained and worked in Burgundy and forged a solid relationship with that region. Many of the sons and daughters of famous French domaines who are now the young turks of Burgundy worked several harvests in Oregon. A few of the most famous Burgundian winemakers are now in Oregon making wine. Oregon has become the new world bastion for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and is always reaching and striving and pushing to be better, to carve an independent path through the quagmire of the hundreds of thousands of wines crowding the marketplace today, and it is a very challenging but exciting place to live and work and make wine. The sky is the limit here, and unlike Burgundy, I think that we have many many years of surprises up our sleeves.
I am very proud to be making wine in Oregon, and in fact, I wouldn’t want to make wine anywhere else. Other than the lack of sunshine which drives us all to consume massive amounts of coffee and vitamin D pills every spring, it is one of the most pristine winegrowing environments I have ever encountered on all of my travels. But even with my great love for Oregon, I am constantly drawn back to Burgundy. It calls to me. And every year I long to go back and walk through the vines and the villages and smell the wet limestone on the still humid air. I cannot deny Burgundy’s perfume, like a siren’s song……. it makes me restless.
So I just had to take this rare opportunity to go back to Burgundy and work harvest for so many reasons. I had to see my second homeland, the one that I feel runs through my bloodstream, oftentimes literally. I had to see if I hadn’t become too jaded as a new world wine producer. I had to see what they were doing that was so different from us, why are our wines so similar and yet so far apart stylistically? I had to taste wine grapes to see what they considered to be ripe vis-à-vis what we consider ripe. Does Terroir really exist or is it just a French marketing ploy to sell wine in an every competitive market? Why do I love snails in garlic butter sauce so damn much? Many questions were on my mind as we boarded the flight for France. I was on a mission, and did not know what the outcome would be.
To be continued……
To say that the dining scene in Portland is outrageously good would be an understatement. In fact, it is now widely accepted across the United States that our foodies are just about as ravenously successful and attention-grabbing as our musicians, our once small startups that have gone on to become global industries and our groundbreaking efforts in sustainability. Hey, Oregon is an exciting place to live these days!
Now that the winter weather has subsided and spring has dragged its feet long enough, Summer is finally taking the stage and the local and fresh vegetables, fruits, fungi, meats and grains are giving way to bountiful farmers markets, delicious menus and creative and inspiring ways of enjoying it all.
We are often times asked by our clients around the United States; “where should I eat when I visit Oregon?” This is honestly a really hard question to answer given that tourists usually just have two or three days to eat their way through our green state. With the plentiful restaurants, food carts, festivals and farm-to-table events, it is hard to choose just one or two. My wife and I find it hard to keep up with all that is happening across Portland’s culinary scene and we live here!
This weekend however, we did experience one dining experience that I would like to highly recommend. We were fortunate enough to visit “The Wild Goose Farm” on Sauvie Island for a great “locavore” experience. The proprietors have a wonderful small farm tucked away on the North side of the island where they grow all sorts of leafy greens, tomatoes, radishes, nuts, root vegetables, tubers, fruit trees and more. They have honeybees and chickens and they have converted an old barn into a makeshift kitchen, creamery, charcuterie, fermentation hall and more. They have built a wood-fired oven to grill homemade pizzas and to roast vegetables and to cook fantastically flavorful dishes. And they are sharing this experience with a few lucky guests throughout the year.
Their vision-statement on their website goes like this: “We are a 5-acre family farm on Sauvie Island that wants to share the adventure of eating the food we grow with others. We are involved in a kind of public homesteading, learning as we go and sharing the fruits of that knowledge by making and serving good things to eat.”
For a father’s day late lunch/early dinner they recruited the help of Thomas Boyce, formerly the Chef de Cuisine at Wolfgang Puck’s SPAGO restaurant in Los Angeles. After 15 years at the helm of SPAGO, Thomas has moved to Portland and, for the past year has been investigating the possibility of joining the restaurant scene in Portland (He and his wife have also recently started a local bakery called “Golden Oven Bakery.” That news was very exciting, but what was even better was the sneak peak that we received as he and his staff cooked a brilliant meal featuring the fresh vegetables, fruits, pates and cheeses that Yianni and Jessica produce on their farm.
My wife and our two boys and I sat down at a large communal table in a meadow under the pear and apple and plum trees by the old barn, with colorful chairs and tablecloths and aromatic peonies in vases. We joined about 40 other people (there was a table for all of the children as well) some strangers, some familiar faces, but all were excited about the communal and friendly dining experience.
The highlight of the meal was the freshness of flavors, the brightness of colors and the sign that it was spring again in the Pacific Northwest. The Salmon that was started in the frying pan and then finished in the wood oven sang with juiciness. Their homemade cheeses from fresh local milks stood up wonderfully to those cheeses made by well-established creameries around the state
and country. The oysters were so fresh and briny. I have never seen such an intense salad, nor such a large brick of homemade Paté! In short, the meal was superb and as we all sat outside by the orchard and gazed out across the fields to the towering oaks, alders and cottonwoods with the sun breaking through the clouds, I was very happy to be living and eating in Oregon.
To book an event at the Wild Goose Farm, just visit their website www.wild-goose-farm.com. Yianni offers multiple ways of enjoying their hand-crafted products including educational seminars on growing, fermenting, and enjoying great foods.
The Winemaking year begins as the vines emerge from their winter’s rest and the buds on the woody canes begin to swell and then reveal leaves and then shoots and then flowers that will ultimately grow and ripen into this year’s wine. With temperatures now creeping into the low 60′s on a regular basis now in the Willamette Valley, we are seeing budbreak occur in most sites. And, with warm temperatures and sunshine forecasted for the next 7 days, we should see green leaves on the vines within the week!
The growing season starts with budbreak and from here, the young shoots of the vines will be succeptible to disease, pests and the weather all year long. From this date until harvest, everything we do counts.
This is an exciting time for us because we can now officially begin focusing on 2011 as a vintage, and what challenges and pleasures it will bring.
Here are some pictures that I recently took while walking through the vineyards this past week.