Category Archives: Josh
This morning under cold blue skies and a waning moon we began our harvest in earnest by picking two Pinot Noir blocks and two Chardonnay blocks at the de Lancellotti vineyard.
This long dry warm spell that we have so enjoyed is yielding fruit with great concentration but the acids are falling quickly and the sugars are rising rapidly with the younger vines and so it is time to bring them in while they are still in balance.
We are beginning to see some sites where the canopies are yellowing severely and the fruit is shriveling, much like 2003, 2006 and 2009….. hmmmmm… see a pattern here? All year long I have been predicting that 2012 would follow the three year heat pattern that we have seen over the past decade. And yes this vintage has been warm and dry, but we are tracking precisely with 2008 and 2002, not with the hotter vintages of 2009, 2006 and 2003. This is exciting news as those two vintages were classics.
The big difference is that we haven’t had the serious Easterly winds with the drastically high temperatures that we saw in those years which tended to shrivel fruit and create an amarone-like process on the vine, but it is dry and warm and yesterday was quite breezy and so I think that the entire Willamette Valley will be in full harvest mode this week and reaching a fever pitch of picking by the weekend if not sooner.
Our team is happy and has settled in to their full time work routine and at this point everyone has that Disney- like twinkle in their eyes. In three weeks their eyes will sparkle less and twitch more, three weeks after that they will be bloodshot, droopy and trying to find a happy place or maybe even daydreaming about why they signed up for this job in the first place and seriously questioning their current career pursuit of being a winemaker. Yes, we are locked and loaded and ready for a long haul, and it is sure to be an interesting one. They always are. But at least the sun is shining.
Tomorrow we will pick Bergstrom Vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and later this week we will bring in Anderson Family Vineyard Chardonnay, Croft Vineyard Pinot Noir (yes that’s right! A new wine club wine is on the horizon!) And we will also pick the Winery Block Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
And for those of you who are coming to the winery this weekend for Sold Out our annual Wine Club Harvest Dinner Series, you will actually get to see some fruit in tanks this year, and perhaps, after enough glasses of 2010 Homage Pinot Noir we can convince you to jump up on a tank and do some punch-downs!
Until then, pray for steady weather and no warm winds from the East.
Well, after one of the longest and dryest summers in Oregon’s recent history, the grapes are finally hitting the level of ripeness that we are looking for and we are taking to the fields to start bringing in our year’s work.
The 2012 vintage is tracking almost identically in heat units with 2002 and 2008, both stellar vintages which could also be called Oregon “classics.” But 2012 seems to be marked thus far by the extended dry conditions. We had a small shower the other day, almost not enough to matter, but at that point we had experienced over 80 days in a row without measurable rainfall! The vines and trees and shrubs in the valley are beginning to show the stress of the drought and the leaves are beginning to turn yellow and fall to the ground. The grapes are small and concentrated with lignified shoots and seeds. This has really been an ideal Oregon summer; the kind that makes you thankful to put on a sweater when the first frost comes. But there is no frost in the forecast. In fact we are looking at 10 more days of warm dry weather and perhaps even longer. The tasting room and patio are packed with sun worshippers enjoying the dog days of Summer with a great glass of Pinot Noir and a picnic.
Today we started the 2012 harvest with Carabella Vineyard Chardonnay, a perennial favorite and usually a component of either the Sigrid or Old Stones Chardonnays. This will be the only fruit for the day and we will take the weekend off before attacking more Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in ernest next week. But we toasted the start of the harvest anyway with a spirit-lifting flute of Champagne and off we go. It’s time to make some wine again.
I hope you will tune in frequently throughout the harvest as I try to describe it and how it unfolds here at Bergstrom Wines. We have a great team on board to work hard to help us bring you a fantastic lineup from what is promising to be a great vintage.
Caroline and I descended through large billowing thunderheads and landed hard in New York City through gusty winds and a tornado warning and thus, appropriately it seems, began our weeklong whirlwind tour through Manhattan’s neighborhoods and eateries to celebrate our anniversary. We have come to love New York city and its fine dining establishments, neighborhoods, parks, skylines and neon noise…. But it took some time to warm up to.
My father came through New York as a teenager more than 60 years ago on his way to Portland Oregon from Sweden as a young immigrant to the United States. His ship passed by the Statue of Liberty like so many before it and his name is on the wall at Ellis Island. New York was a gateway of hope and inspiration for my father and many seeking the American dream and remains to this day just that.
I remember coming to New York as a kid with my parents on our way to Sweden for the holidays. We stayed in what my mom said was a potentially very dangerous part of town and that we should all stay close together. We didn’t sleep very well. I remember some of Central Park and ice skating at Rockefeller Center. We saw “Cats” and “Miss Saigon” and “Phantom of the Opera” and I remember absurdly tall piles of garbage lining up the streets outside of Carnegie Deli where I ate what remains to this day as the tallest Reuben sandwich of my life.
Later in life I would return to New York as a young winemaker with our young family brand looking to sell wine in this large, dark and intimidating city which had suffered the attacks of the 11th of September just one month prior. The fear in the city was palpable and I remember watching the news which spoke of nuclear threats and the potential for dirty bomb attacks on the Brooklyn Bridge and elsewhere in the city. The flights in and out of the city were terrifying, and I decided that I never wanted to go back to the Gotham that was more like a Batman movie and less like the bright melting-pot metropolis that Simon and Garfunkel or Frank Sinatra had described in song.
But we had had the great fortune of having Daniel Johnnes as our distributor in New York City. Daniel is one of the greatest sommeliers in New York, if not America, who currently manages the wine program for the Daniel Boulud Restaurant group and was at the time the buyer for “Montrachet” Restaurant. He who had his own Burgundy import business as well as an American wine distribution company called Jeroboam. Daniel had tasted our 1999 Pinot Noir shortly after release and asked to sell it in New York. He wanted 20 cases which was 20% of our production that first year. We thankfully said yes, he placed it in some of the finest restaurants in the city and in the blink of an eye, Bergstrom Wines was on its way in New York City, arguably the greatest wine and food city in the world. We were gaining success in New York long before we were gaining success in our home state of Oregon thanks to that fateful relationship.
Now, fourteen years later, New York is our largest market in the world. The amazing and dynamic team at Frederick Wildman sells our wines now, and has for the past 7 years. We have had the honor of serving our wines for the finest restaurants in the city, we have served along two of our favorite Oregon chefs at the James Beard House and we have even had the privilege of making private label wines for the Jean Georges Restaurant Group and Thomas Keller’s Per Se Restaurant. We have visited New York every year for the past 10 years (sometimes up to as many as 5 visits in one year) and although the early years were honestly terrifying for me, the last several years have been nothing short of inspiring.
As a winemaker who loves to cook and eat, I love coming to New York City these days. For sure you can find some of the top cuisine in America in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and most definitely in our home state of Oregon and beyond. But nowhere else in America can you find the sheer density and kaleidoscope complexity of restaurants as you can in New York City. My most memorable meals have taken place here. It is hard to top great experiences at such places as: 11 Madison Park, Jean-Georges, Daniel, Telepan, Per Se, Gramercy Tavern, Le Bernardin, Spotted Pig, Oceana, Aureole, Landmarc, Masa, BLT Prime/steak/fish, Balthazar, ABC Kitchen and so many more, not to mention the ones I still have not been able to visit like WD-50, Momofuku, del Posto, Veritas, Blue Hill, Corton, Bouley, Marea…… the choices are dizzying and my mouth salivates with the mention of some of these great names. And what makes it the most rewarding is not just eating there, but having our wines proudly sold on the wine lists and paired with their dishes.
Restaurants inspire me as a winemaker and business manager. No one else does service like a great restaurant. The way a chef and the front of the house at a great dining room can prepare an experience and an ambiance to surround a stylistic preparation of a dish astounds me. The attention to detail at some of these places is razor sharp and every time I eat at a fine restaurant I leave with a head full of ideas. To me, these restaurants not only nourish the body but they nourish the soul and the imagination.
On our most recent trip to New York, Caroline and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary. We stayed in a great little apartment on the upper West side right on Central Park and we walked the length of the Manhattan every day. We strolled through the park, crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, visited ground zero and the construction of the Freedom Tower, went to the movies….. but mostly we ate. One of the dining experiences is worth mentioning here.
We had eaten twice before at Thomas Keller’s “Per Se” restaurant in the Time Warner Building at Columbus Circle over the past 5 years. As I mentioned earlier, we were fortunate enough to do a private label of 2006 Pinot Noir for the French Laundry, Per Se and Bouchon restaurants, which was the catalyst for first visiting this restaurant back in 2007. I have to be honest that without this private label, we probably would not have been able to justify the price tag of a meal at this Michelin 3-star world-famous establishment. With a three month waiting list to get a reservation and a prix-fixe menu which not only dishes out more than 12 courses and guarantees 3-4 hours at the table, the price tag is hefty and the overall concept was intimidating. But all of that noise just seemed to evaporate once you enter this space and they hand you a flute of Champagne and seat you in front of one of the grandest views in New York city.
The first time we ate at Per Se, I declared it the finest dining experience I had ever had. It was more than that, it was like an epiphany or a catharsis of so many thoughts and emotions and flavors. In short, it was simply astonishing. I rushed out and bought all of Thomas Keller’s cookbooks immediately afterwards (not that I could actually cook any of that stuff.) The second time we visited Per Se, it was impossibly even better than the first. So when we returned to the restaurant this past week to revisit our old friend, I wondered if this was going to be a waste of money…. After all, we had been here twice before and I doubted that the kitchen staff and sommeliers could top our past two A-HA moments. Boy oh boy was I wrong.
When you enter the restaurant, which is admittedly a bizarre experience as it sits on the 4th floor (alongside Porterhouse and Masa restaurants) of a high-end shopping mall with a Whole Foods in the basement, you are immediately greeted with a flute of Champagne. This is done intentionally as I would later discover so that all visitors are immediately soothed and relaxed and the palate is awakened with a burst of acidity and bubbles to prepare for the meal to come. The dining room is fairly modern with hues of gray and earth tones which early on was a source of criticism amongst restaurant goers and critics as being too modern and a far cry from the French Laundry’s décor in Napa Valley (Per Se is often times called French Laundry East.) There are enormous bouquets of flowers and plants that dominate two sides of the dining room. The flowers are intentionally chosen for their non-aromatic qualities so as not to interfere with the dining experience. The entire north wall of the restaurant is floor to ceiling windows which look out upon Columbus circle and Central Park and the view is breathtaking.
There are two options for menus at Per Se: the “Chef’s tasting menu” and the “Chef’s vegetable tasting menu”. Both are 12-15 course menus which highlight the Keller style and expression and both menus are re-written every day. The extensive and impressive wine list is now on i-pad which is helpful as the previous paper version was a 2×2 foot brick which weighed about 15 pounds. (They currently pour Bergstrom Wines’ Sigrid Chardonnay and Gregory Ranch Pinot Noir.) The table is repeatedly presented with 7 different breads which are all baked on site as well as two choices of artisan butter; one unsalted from a California dairy and one salted from a Vermont dairy, both of whom have exclusive contracts with Thomas Keller for this very purpose. As well the table has a selection of 8 or 9 different artisan salts from around the world which are also contracted exclusively to Per Se and the French Laundry.
The meal begins with some of Thomas Keller’s signature dishes which you can find at both the French Laundry and Per Se and then launches gradually into an seamless progression through soup, seafood, pasta, meats and dessert which boggles the mind and threatens a sensory overload. Here is our menu from September 10th 2012 leaving out one or two of the trademark classics that are peppered into the service: I will apologize in advance that there are no photos to go along with this menu as this is not a restaurant that encourages photography table-side.
These three courses were paired with a 1978 Domaine Raveneau “Montee de Tonerre” Chablis 1er Cru:
Smoked Yogurt “Bavarois,” Young Radishes, Sorrel,
Salad of Heirloom Cauliflower
Cider Poached Saco Pears, Garden Mache
And preserved Walnut Puree
Thomas Keller’s “Bacon and Eggs”
With Ossetra Caviar
The next three courses were paired with a 2006 Domaine Roulot Meursault Perrieres 1er Cru:
Hot Smoked Elevages Perigord Moulard Duck Foie Gras
Granny Smith Apple “Relish”, Pickled Pearl Onions,
Frisee Lettuce and Dijon Mustard
Grilled Piment D’espelette-cured Snapper
Compressed Persian Cucumbers, Thompson Grapes, Belgian Endive,
Cilantro Shoots and White Sesame Puree
Butter Poached Nova Scotia Lobster
Sunchoke “Tourne,” Almond-Crusted Medjool Dates
Red Ribbon Sorrel and Saffron-Vanilla Sauce
The next two courses were paired with a 2001 GAJA “Costa Russi” Barbaresco:
Hand Cut Tagliatelle
Hand-shaved black truffle
“Cuisse de Poularde Farcie aux Ris de Veau”
Spiced poached Figs, French Leeks, Tokyo Turnips
Watercress and “Sauce Perigourdine”
The final two courses were paired with a 1989 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc:
Herb Roasted Elysian Fields Farm’s Lamb
“Fleur de Courgette Farcie a la Merguez, “Fairy Tale Eggplant en Persillade,”
Summer Squash and “Paloise Reduction”
Meadowcreek Dairy’s “Mountaineer”
Marscapone enriched Polenta, Over Roasted Juliette Tomatoes
And Petite Lettuces
“Biscuit Dacquoise”, Whipped Orange Cream
And Garden State Rasberry Sorbet
Chocolate “Bavarois”, Juniper “Ganache”
And Peppermint Ice Cream
“Ants on a Log”
Per Se Raisins, Salted Peanuts, Lime-Celery Soda
And Concord Grape Sherbet
And if the meal hadn’t concluded in a grandiose enough fashion with cheese, three desserts and mignardises, a server brought out a wooden chest filled with at least 30 different hand crafted chocolate truffles that are all made on site as well showcasing some astonishing pairings of fruit, spice and chocolate wizardry which was very impressive.
I have collected the menus from my previous dinners at Per Se and what is striking is that you will never eat the same meal twice (other than maybe the trademark “salmon cornetto” and the “oysters and pearls” which Thomas Keller has made so famous at both Per Se and the French Laundry. Urban legend even has it that the restaurant staff keeps a record of who as eaten at Per Se and what they ate so that they have a new experience each and every time they visit the restaurant.
What makes this meal so impressive, more than the simple fact that the food is flawless, exquisite in preparation and presentation and balanced with all of the complex flavors almost making it seem effortless when you know that there are at least 20 chefs in white robes and toques behind the kitchen doors maniacally tweezing the final touches onto artistic like culinary renditions… is the service.
At Per Se you will be waited on and served by no less than 12 different servers and Sommeliers but you will not notice them because they float around the table and the dining room as if in a choreographed invisibility dance. I have read that Thomas Keller and his general manager actually brought in classically trained ballet and dance instructors to teach the service staff the kind of dance moves that would help them move around the dining room more graciously and effortlessly and so as not to draw attention to themselves. And it works. At the end of the meal you realize that you had several friendly people serving the meal but not once did anyone break into a conversation to ask “isn’t it delicious?” or, “how are we doing here?”
And finally, the one thing that set this meal apart from our first two experiences at Per Se was the cadence and quantity of the meal. Although the menu looks intimidating and large, we walked out of the restaurant that night refreshed and full of energy. Our previous visits to the restaurant we had to ask the service staff to please stop sending food to the table as we were at bursting point. This meal was exquisite in that everything was perfect and in the right quantity so that we left the restaurant feeling exuberant and once again inspired.
I don’t know when the next time will be that we visit Per Se, but I do know that we will be back in New York City soon to try something new and different and I am already excited for that day. Now back to the winery…. And pronto! Because harvest is coming.
In two weeks from now, on June 19th, Bergstrom Wines will be back in the James Beard House in New York City to feature our wines alongside some fantastic Northwest inspired dishes! Three years ago we were fortunate enough to go to the Beard House for the first time with our friends from the Painted Lady Restaurant in Newberg. This time around we are headed to New York with our longtime very good friend Jason Stoller Smith, executive chef for the historic Timberline Lodge.
You may know Jason from his tenure at the Dundee Bistro in Oregon’s wine country, where he was head chef for many years lending his creative thought and great personality to a delightful yet fairly traditional American bistro-style menu which kept many winemakers and wine tourists happy and full. Jason has also been the head chef and organizer of the traditional Northwest style salmon bake which you may have enjoyed at the International Pinot Noir Celebration or Oregon Pinot Camp. Jason had the privilege of showcasing the Salmon Bake at the White House for President Obama two years ago and has received interest from all over the world for this meal.
What you might not know about Jason is that he has a fantastically creative “wild side” to his cooking which he has secretly honed over the past decade or more. Inspired by the cuisine of master chefs such as Grant Achatz of Chicago’s “Alinea” and “Next” or even Ferran Adria from Spain’s infamous “El Buli” who are know for developing and fostering the molecular gastronomy movement, Jason is experimenting with unique new techniques that best showcase Oregon and the Pacific Northwest’s unique agricultural flavors in a brave new way. The other talent that Jason has sharpened over the past decade is a wonderful knack for pairing complex and diverse flavors to Pacific Northwest wines. The wines from our cool climate are known for their textures, nuances and delicate frames with ripe but fresh berry flavors, sweet spice and earth components. Heavy dishes can easily overwhelm our wines and overtly light dishes can be overwhelmed by the wines. It is a balancing act for sure.
It takes a deft palate and a creative approach to truly match wine with food so that neither dominates the other but both work in concert to reveal aromas, flavors and textures that you might not have noticed while just enjoying one aspect of the meal on its own. As well, to balance this act and provide a dish which pleases the eye and the imagination, a chef must have a special touch.
I believe that Jason has done just this with his menu that he has prepared for the James Beard House dinner which we will present to the membership in two weeks. It captures the imagination and pleases the palate for sure and I believe that the Beard House members will be delighted.
We had the opportunity to showcase this meal, in a rehearsal dinner for the New York event, this past Saturday night on Mount Hood up at Timberline Lodge’s historic Silcox Hut, Oregon’s highest elevation dining room at 7,000 feet. The Silcox Hut is perched near the top of the Timberline Lodge’s ski resort, one mile above the actual Timberline Lodge. Originally the Silcox Hut served as the wheel house and warming hut for the Historic “Magic Mile” chairlift which was America’s second chairlift and the world’s longest when it was built in 1939. It also served as a hiking lodge for climbers starting their journey up to the summit of the mountain. The Silcox Hut looks like an old Viking Lodge, constructed out of volcanic boulders and large timbers woven together with steel and a craftsmanship that speaks of a different era. A large fireplace sits at one end of the long room and a small kitchen sits at the other. Out one set of windows you look up towards the summit of Mount Hood which rises another 4,000 feet above the Silcox Hut and out the other set of windows you look directly south down the Cascade mountain range towards Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington and the Three Sisters. It is a stunning setting for a meal and I have been fortunate enough to help with three dinners up at the Silcox Hut; Once in the winter, once in spring and once in the middle of summertime.
The room was filled with Bergstrom Wines club members, Timberline staff and members of the local wine press who were shuttled up to the hut from Timberline Lodge via snow-cat tractor. It is a rough and cold trip up the mountain but everyone was jovial in anticipation of a great meal.
And a great meal it was. Jason has structured a multi-course meal to showcase not only the flavors of the Bergstrom Wines but also his thought processes on Oregon’s different AVA’s (viticultural appellations ) and soil types. The theme of the night was “A Taste of Oregon Terroir” because Jason understands very well, after years of working and talking with Oregon winemakers, that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay have unique characters that come from the soil in which they are grown. Whether volcanic, sedimentary or windblown in origin, the different soils and hillside exposures in Oregon’s Willamette Valley lend themselves to the noble wine varieties that best express the soil. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling are vehicles to taste soil. Here is how the meal was served:
Reception: Strawberries and Caviar, Hazelnut Shell smoked bacon wrapped prunes, Rosé Gelée with Crispy Salmon skin and Grape Gremolata. These three enticing and unique appetizers were paired with the 2011 Bergstrom Wines Rosé of Pinot Noir which is made in a lighter style to showcase light red fruit flavors like strawberry and grape and melon with bright acidity and a good tannic structure. The focus of this wine is the serious side of playful and is meant to be refreshing and vibrant. The three appetizers were perfect matches in three different ways.
Amuse Bouche: Nitro-whipped Potatoes with Chicken skin and Brioche crunch with Vanilla crème fraiche and preserved lemon. This was meant to be about 3 or 4 spoonfuls, much like a soup course, and was paired with the 2010 Bergstrom Wines Sigrid Chardonnay. What a wonderful pairing this was. The saltiness of the salmon skin and the buttery texture of the potatoes with the aromatic notes of vanilla and lemon were a fantastic match with the Sigrid Chardonnay and this was a crowd favorite for sure. I have always turned to seafood as the perfect pairing for our white wines but this was outstanding. This was simple, decadent and balanced all at the same time. Good thing it was only 4 bites because I probably could have eaten a hotel pan of this concoction.
First Course (Marine Sedimentary Soils): Sea salt cured Steelhead with Sea Scallop, Fino in Fondo Tartufo salami, freeze dried currants, Radishes, Fennel sprouts, Root beer noodle, Espresso-rye soil. This was paired with the Bergstrom Wines de Lancellotti Vineyard from the 2008 and 2010 vintages to show difference of year but similarity of expression from one sight over two years. The de Lancellotti Vineyard Pinot Noir is known for its earth driven sweet spiciness, an herbal component and rich fruit character. One diner told me afterwards that he believed this was the lynch-pin course and his favorite of the night. I loved it for its diversity of different flavors, all of which you could find in the wines. I loved Jason’s take on flavorful soil which was essentially rye bread soaked in espresso and then dehydrated and crumbled with some espresso grounds and this powdery mixture was placed on the
dish next to the steelhead for seasoning. I also loved the fact that this dish put me outside of my traditional comfort food zone as it delicious looking but on the other hand with the radish, the greens, the salami, the two types of seafood, the soil and the Willy Wonka-ish rootbeer noodle, I did not know where to attack first.
Second Course (Volcanic Soil): Nicky Farm’s Wapiti Elk Strip Loin with Duck Heart Confit, alder smoked Morels, baby carrots, semmelknoedel, ice-axe mustard seeds, Pine Nuts, Red fruit soil. This amazing dish was paired with Bergstrom Wines the BergstromVineyard Pinot Noir from the vintages of 2008 and 2010 to once again show a taste of place stretched over two vintages. The Bergstrom Vineyard Pinot Noir is known for its red fruit character, meatiness, ferrous minerality and floral qualities. I loved this course. It was honestly amazing and I relished every bite. There was so much happening on this plate that once again I did not know where to start but when I finally made up my mind how to start, I was
astonished at how quickly I had nearly licked the plate clean. The red fruit soil was a brilliant combination of dried strawberries and raspberries crumbled to look like volcanic clay rock. The Elk was cooked sous-vide and so the texture was lovely. The alder smoked morels were a revelation. These were foraged up on the mountain, dried halfway and then smoked over Alder wood and the resulting flavors were a perfect match for the earth component in the Bergstrom Vineyard wines.
Intermezzo: Oregon Cherry Sorbet with Wild Ginger. Local fruit and local wild ginger all within range of the mountain….. delicious and refreshing and set the palate up for what would be possibly one of the greatest dessert courses I have ever experienced.
Dessert Course (Laurelwood Soils): Hudson Valley Foie Gras Torchon with compressed Hood River pear, crabapple mostarda, Yogurt biscuit, orange fizzy rocks, powdered rocks of Oregon white truffle oil, smoked hazelnuts, mountain mint. This revelation was served with the Bergstrom Wines 2008 Dr. Bergstrom Late Harvest Riesling, a wine that we only made once from two very special barrels of wine and that we only serve at special wine dinners like this one. I honestly don’t know where to start in describing this course. It was literally one of the greatest plates of dessert food that has ever crossed my lips. My wife and I oftentimes lament about how a great meal is often times concluded by a crummy dessert be it a slice of chocolate death cake that weighs in at over 5 pounds or overly sweet panna cotta, crème brulee with a sugar crust thicker than the polar ice cap, or something stale or suffering from freezer burn. This however was a masterpiece of dessert creativity. It was refreshing, it was surprisingly light even with the Foie Gras and it stimulated the senses and was the perfect conclusion for a great meal. The pear looked poached but it was fresh because of the sous-vide style compression process. The biscuit which looked like biscotti and had a similar texture and crisp was absolutely awesome when you realized that it was made of yogurt. The last time I had fizzy rocks in my mouth, I was 10 years old and loved the explosive reactions in my mouth with the sweet and sour combination, but in this dessert it added liveliness and texture and a wonderful citrus aroma and flavor that sang with the Riesling pairing. This food and wine pairing could not have been better.
After having tasted this rehearsal dinner as presented at the Silcox Hut with my wines, I am sure that the Beard House membership will be impressed. There is no doubt in my mind that these diners will be pleased. But more important than that, I am sure that the spirit of James Beard, a Portland native, will be present and proud of Jason. As one of the new generation chefs carrying the torch for Pacific Northwest, he is indeed reaching the top of his game and has a glorious career in front of him. Bravo Jason!
I had the great pleasure of travelling to North Carolina this week for my first ever market visit in that state. I have travelled a fair amount to support our sales across the country in the past, much less so this year but curiously, to me, North Carolina is always in our top five states for Bergstrom Wines sales and I had always marveled at how much wine was being demanded from this state. And so I just had to go and see for myself what was happening down there.
Our distributor, a small, hard working, high quality outfit named “Bordeaux Fine and Rare” who, as you can see from the name, focuses on European wine treasures is owned and operated by Mr. Bill Bowman. He helped to set up my three day whirlwind tour of the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill) and Charlotte. The trip was a great success with visits to numerous restaurants and retailers, but the highlight of my trip was a Bergstrom Wines dinner that we put on at the “Umstead” Inn and Spa in the Cary area around Raleigh and Durham.
The Umstead’s flagship restaurant called “Herons” is a top notch dining establishment in the careful hands of executive chef Scott Crawford and Sommelier Hai Tran. The dining room looks out over the lush landscape of pines, maples and magnolia trees densely but almost artistically arranged, hovering over a decorative pond and peppered with red Cardinals perched in their branches. The forests here are stunning and rich. The wine list is almost as deep as the forest outside and impeccably organized with new and old vintages from world class properties around the world.
The food that comes out of the kitchens here is well thought-out with care and imaginative zeal. I was blown away by the careful preparation and artistry that these men and their staffers put into our winemaker dinner, and the time that they took to pair each wine with a thought provoking dish. The menu was as follows:
BERGSTRÖM WINE DINNER
May 15, 2012
Vanilla-Corn Salad, Green Strawberries, Crisp Tapioca
Old Stones Chardonnay 2010
Smoked Duck, White Peach, Saffron Sunchokes, Brioche
Sigrid Chardonnay 2010
Quail & Foie Gras
Pecan Pudding, Spiced Sweet Potato, Wild Huckleberries
Gregory Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010
Morel Mushrooms, Caramelized Onion, Peppered Cherries
Bergström Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009
de Lancellotti Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010
Liege Waffle, Muscovado Mousse, Smoked Fireweed Honey
Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010
The dinner went off without a hitch and a few of the pairings, namely the Sigrid and hazelnut soup were eye-opening. And how about pairing Shea vineyard with dessert? The meal was stunning and it was great to see a packed room full of happy foodies who felt the same way. How wonderful and refreshing it is to do a wine dinner where the wine and food work together to bring to the palate nuances and textures and flavors that they simply cannot reveal on their own. I give a very big thank you to the staff at the Umstead for making this dinner one of the great highlights in my winemaker’s dinner series this year. Bravo Umstead!
To make the evening even better, as if it could have gotten better at this point, when I had bid farewell and thank you to the last guest, My friend and distributor Bill decided to switch gears and decided that what we really needed of course was more wine. Since I had been talking about Oregon and Burgundy and my education in classic wines all night long, he treated us to a rare opportunity to taste two monumentally historic and classic wines side by side from the legendary Burgundian Domaine de la Romanee Conti as a post-meal celebratory moment to catch up, talk about wine, life and North Carolina.
We had the chance to taste the 2005 Domaine de la Romanee Conti “La Tache” and the 2006 Domaine de la Romanee Conti “Richebourg” And what was interesting with this tasting was not only the chance to taste wines that are extremely rare and sought after (Even as an avid buyer and drinker of the world’s greatest wines, I believe that I have only ever tasted “La Tache” on 4 or 5 other occasions, and never from my own pocket book) but the chance to examine the vintage differences with the 2006 and 2005 years from Burgundy; one warm and one classic.
The Domaine de la Romanee Conti is a storied multi-generational wine domaine in Burgundy’s Vosne Romanee village and they just happen to farm and make some of the most sought after Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay in the world. These wines are made in miniscule quantities, fermented using a traditional whole cluster style, aged for 18 months in French oak barrels and then aged an additional 18 months in bottle prior to their release to the market where their wines are so allocated and expensive that, according to the wine critic Robert Parker, they are now the wines of Millionaires exclusively, as only they can afford to find and drink them on a regular basis with prices per bottle varying between $700-$3,000. and even more, sometimes ten times more, at auction. This is the winery that every top shelf Pinot Noir producer in the world aspires to be some day. These are the wines that originally inspired me as a young winemaker just returning from Burgundy and put the shine in my eyes and hope on my horizon when it came to farming and making wine in Oregon.
I have been talking a lot recently about the merits of 2010 and 2011 from Oregon; cool, long and complicated vintages that will yield wines of high acid content, low alcohol content and that take time to come around and develop their hidden nuances and complexities. Juxtaposing these vintages with the warmer and riper 2009 vintage which yielded delicious, opulent mouth filling wines of higher alcohol and lower acidity levels has been interesting from my perspective. Which style of vintage is better for Pinot Noir? Which style of vintage do you like the best? Are warmer “California Style” vintages in Oregon a good thing and do they make the kind of Pinots you are looking for? Or maybe more appropriately; do you have the time, patience and cellar space to wait for the cooler vintages to come around? I personally think that this is a hot topic in the world of Pinot Noir.
Well these were my thoughts as I tasted through these two amazing wines from two drastically different vintages in Burgundy and here are my notes as I tasted each wine carefully over a two hour period watching and smelling and tasting them slowly evolve in the glass. (I should also mention that each wine was decanted upon opening and sat in decanter for the rest of the evening.)
From a vintage that has been hailed as one of the classics of the decade, these wines were densely packed and youthfully tannic in their youth and will take years if not decades to fully open up and express their true characters and terroirs. This wine had a gorgeous color but not a color that I would call dark or brooding, just a classic Pinot Noir dark ruby red with garnet tints. The wine opens up with Umami driven aromas of soy, sesame, salted edamame, wasabi paste…. It reminds me of a sashimi plate in a glass and is very savory. Then the wine develops a chocolatey or spicy style sweetness which helps to round out the savory meaty core of this wine. After 30 minutes, exotic spice aromas like sandalwood, graham, incense begin to explode from the wine and the savory component now smells like sweet tarragon. This wine makes you think and then re-think. Eventually the sweet fruit and meat core turn into something reminiscent of tomato leaf, meat, basil, reminiscent of Margherita pizza aromas and very high-toned and treble but then after one hour that dissipates and chocolate, malt, easter candy, and cinnamon or Mexican chocolate aromas and flavors can be found. Finally in the second hour when there were only a few drops left of this wine, the aromas and flavors were of game-meat like lamb and rosemary with a tremendous strength and purpose. This wine probably would have continued evolving for several hours if we had had the patience to wait. A stunning bottle of wine from a great terroir.
This wine is what I would consider a classic cool climate vintage wine and one that will need patience and time. The complexities were astounding and although delicious tonight, we probably did this wine an injustice by not waiting 5-10 more years to begin drinking it.
2006 Domaine de la Romanee Conti “Richebourg”:
From a warmer vintage that has produced lush, ripe, opulent Burgundies, these wines are showing tremendously well young and may be more of a crowd pleaser vintage than a candidate for long term cellaring as their fruit and their punch are their best attributes and are showing those characters in spades right now. This wine had a smilar color to the La Tache although slightly lighter at the rim of the glass. This wine immediately showed its charm and fruit up front with red fruit aromas like cherry and “fraises des bois” with a sweet cinnamon character that reminded me of freshly baked pastry or streudel. This wine has elegance and a sense of nobility with its lofty aromas and purity but tremendous silky frame. This, like the La Tâche, develops some soy and sesame type aromas but is much softer and gentler. As well this wine shows off some of the higher toned whole cluster influenced aromas of tomato leaf and tarragon to match the sweet easy fruit which is very ripe and forward. Interestingly enough, over the two hour period that we tried both wines, this wine had very little evolution of complexities but continued to show the great fruit and spice character and lush broad personality that it had upon opening throughout. This wine to me was a classic warm vintage wine that is showing beautifully now and although it may continue to age well and develop interesting tertiary notes, this wine will be better in its youth than with long term ageing.
You can maybe draw your own conclusion from these tasting notes, or maybe you have even had the opportunity to try wines from the same winery from two different years (hot and cooler) and you have a preference for styles. In this tasting, although honored to try both wines (what a privilege, Thanks Bill!) I preferred the 2005 wine from “La Tache” as I believe that this is the wine that will continue to evolve and develop intense complexities and multiple personalities for the next 20 or 30 years while the Richebourg from 2006 will come to be known for its generous noble fruit and spice character which is hard to resist now.
I honestly did not know what to expect going to North Carolina. I had no idea what the landscape looked like or what the people would be like. What I found was more than a pleasant surprise. The landscape, although fairly flat where I was, is richly lush and the people are warm and welcoming and proud of their state and their barbecue (vinegar based) and basketball. And I was told that I had to see the coast line and the outer banks and the mountains and the artistic community of Asheville and so much more. So I’ll be back for sure. And I will definitely be visiting “Herons” at the Umstead for another great meal and some more great wines with my friend Bill sometime hopefully very soon.
The Oak leaves are unfurling across the Willamette Valley and along with the Scotch Broom in bright yellow bloom, the lilac and wisteria in explosive aromatic perfume and the birds and frogs driving everyone who keeps their windows open crazy….. it is officially springtime in Oregon’s Willamette Valley!
Unlike the past two winters which were deeply dark and terribly wet and reminiscent of a Tim Burton film, this winter was short and sweet; almost as if it did not happen. We enjoyed many mild days with clear weather and even a whole mess of sunshine which helped the cold months fly right on by. We saw much less of the shades of grey and dark turquoise and much more of the baby blue white and gold in the skies. Is this a sign of things to come? Are we seeing a shift in the La Niña weather pattern which has been hovering over us incessantly for the past two years like that dark cloud over Winnie the Pooh’s Donkey friend Eeyore or the dust cloud which obscured that unfortunate messy kid in Charlie Brown’s gang? Too soon to tell, but I’m going to guesstimate an excited and exasperated YES.
Now let me back up a moment if you will, because many of you have heard me praise the cool, late and less than sunshiny
vintages of 2011 and 2010 as: “two of my favorite back to back Oregon vintages ever” and you are correct. I did say that. It goes along with my new theory and that is this: “The years that are hardest on the human spirit can make the most uniqe and sometimes the greatest of wines.” 2011 and 2010 were indeed cooler and later years than most. And we did see more rain in spring and summer months than in recent memory. In fact at one point during each vintage I honestly wondered if we would ripen fruit at all and, was mentally walking myself through the theoretical steps of how one would appeal to the government for emergency relief funds and wondering if my neighbors were doing the same. But lo, it only took a few brief moments of panic to quickly remember why I was growing wine grapes in Oregon….why the pioneering families had come to Oregon against all odds to plant Pinot Noir and Chardonnay when their Californian counterparts had warned them that it simply could not be done? Cool climate varietals only express their true majesty in a cool climate.
So while we were all nervously watching the skies and listening to visitors in our tasting rooms saying things like “Well I have never seen such bad summertime weather in all my life, and I’m from Iceland” our Pinot Noir grapes were slowly and steadily and happily ripening to perfection. And it took two whole years of suffering to discover what we already knew. There is a reason Oregon stays green all year long. There is a reason why Portland has so many more of the greatest coffee roasters, beer brewers and artisan distillers per capita than anywhere else in America. There is a reason why our state animals are Ducks and Beavers and our tree is the Douglass Fir and not the palm tree……..
It is cool in Oregon. It rains a lot here. We’re all kind of pale, somewhat bloated and marginally depressed or exasperated with the rains, but we’re creative as hell, definitely thirsty, armed with an insatiable appetite for Chanterelle mushrooms and anything that has bacon on it and the sometimes miserable climate and all that it brings just happens to be perfect for crafting world class Pinot Noir and Chardonnays. When the sun does shine in Oregon (which often times can be most of May, June, July, August and September and sometimes October, with many days in November and February possible….) It is one of the most utopian places on earth. But that being said, we still cram fruits and vegetables into preserving cans like jealous hoarders while sipping IPA’s and mashing grapes with our feet in hopes of experiencing a little “bottled sunshine” effect while in the depths of December’s den.
In short, the 2011 and 2010 vintages are nothing short of a pair of brilliant success stories. They re-tell the Oregon story as it was then and as it is today. These vintage wines refresh our spirits and palates and remind us that wines can be gorgeous and complex at alcohol levels below 13.5%. They remind us of the giants whose shoulders I have been riding upon throughout my 14 year career here in Oregon. Men and women with names like Lett, Erath, Ponzi, Adelsheim, Campbell and others who had to face vintages like 2011 and 2010 with borrowed farm equipment and amateur wine knowledge in a wild new landscape that they knew little about and in a wine economy and market that cared very little, if at all, about Oregon Pinot Noir. But they did have a strong feeling that it would work. And now look at the fruits of their labors; 45 years later Oregon Pinot Noir is not only a world class wine category but also an achievement of enormous proportions for the Pacific Northwest and the new world of wine.
Only after all of the crocus and daffodil flowers have pushed and wilted, cherry blossoms have bloomed and fallen, leaves of all shapes and sizes have budded out on all of the trees, the honey bees are busy at work, and the rose festival has bid farewell to its last sailor and packed up the Ferris wheel, only then will the grapevine buds swell and burst open with young shoots reaching skyward. Now it is officially spring and now it is time to get busy making some 2012 Oregon Pinot Noir and Chardonnays!
November 27th 2011
The past few weeks have been very busy at the winery as we hurriedly try to finish all of our remaining fermentations and take our new wines to barrel while also squeezing in four days of open house tasting events. Usually by the Thanksgiving open house weekend in Oregon wine country we are finished with fermentation and all of our new wines are put to bed. This last Saturday we hosted 400 people at the winery for a walk around tasting and we still had 18 active fermentations and a lot of wine sitting in tanks waiting to go to barrels. And yesterday during the middle of our open house we finally pressed out our last tank of Pinot Noir. Some of my friends and neighbors were actually still harvesting and pressing their Riesling and Syrah grapes just last 7 days ago! By tomorrow the shiny stainless steel fermenters will be put away and I will only have about 100 more barrels to fill….. man, is this year finally going to be over? It just keeps going and going this 2011 harvest. Relentless it seems.
The number one question from my clients and wine club members over these past two weekends of open house was: “ So….. how bad was 2011 really?” The common misconception in the wine world is that late and cool vintages often spell disaster. And after all of the jabbering and jabbering leading up to this, Oregon’s latest vintage ever, I can understand why. The delicious news to report is that the 2011 wines appear to be very high in quality! Young, raw wine is usually not very rewarding to taste, as it leaves very little to the imagination with its hard malic acids, youthfully aggressive tannins and boisterous primary fruit characters and aromas. But as I have tasted every wine that I have put into barrel, I find the 2011’s to have a stunning amount of perfume, color, sweetness and suave texture which bodes well for these wines once they have undergone their secondary fermentation in barrels.
I dare say that I like these 2011 wines more than I liked the 2010 wines at the same stage….. and the 2010’s are perhaps the greatest complete lineup of wines that we have made at Bergstrom Wines to date! Could it be? Two potentially great, dangerously cool, wet and late vintages in a row? Yes, I believe it is true. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay love the cool climate and love the struggle and long hang time that comes with ripening at the edge…. and Oregon has one of the best suited cool climates for these varietals around. Oregon weather that may not be supportive or nurturing of the human spirit has proven time and time again to make really good wines…. Which in turn can be used to help us to raise the human spirit when in need. I am happy that vintages like these arrive and freak everybody out only to later prove the point that we are in Oregon growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for a very good reason. It is here, sandwiched between two warm-climate states, that our cool, even marginal grape-growing season pushes our quality and our nerves to the edge. Only at the brink can the greatest wines be achieved if you are talking about Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. For Cabernet it is no mystery, you need heat. For Pinot Noir, you need difficulty.
The dark and deep wine stains on the cracked and sore hands of my sleepy-eyed crew will attest that this was a difficult and even grueling harvest for us all. We are tired now but almost finished with our work. The light at the end of the tunnel is not a train. These days we are spending our time prepping and cleaning barrels in the cold rain and building barrel stills in the cellar and filling them up with warm, new delicious wines. The Chardonnays are all bubbling away and I am happy to report that the absence of bird pressure this year means that we will have enough Chardonnay in 2011 to actually sell to you! Usually I produce (between “Sigrid” and “Old Stones” Chardonnays) about 100 barrels of Chardonnay in a year. Last year the birds ate 75 of those barrels worth of wine as it sat in the fields. This year they spared us, and our grapes, and we have a happy bubbling cellar full of Chardonnay. So I am relieved and grateful.
I thought it would be fun to introduce my crew to you as their hard work has helped us to achieve our goals this year. They have all been a great pleasure to be around; very funny, great charisma and all hard working. This year we have worked alongside Anne from Portland, Justin from Dundee, Ted from Salem, Nick from Newberg, and Edward who is a new transplant to Portland from Colorado.
Travis and my family and I give a hearty toast to their efforts and to another great vintage at Bergstrom Wines. I hope that we will see you all around the winery before the holidays. If not, on behalf of the Bergstrom Wines family, I wish you all a happy holiday season and may the new year bring you health, happiness and continued prosperity.
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!