Ever wonder what judging a wine competition looks like behind-the-scenes?
Well, here’s your chance to find out!
I’m delighted to share this LUX Photo Essay’s behind-the-scenes video capturing the 2018 SIP! McMinnville Food and Wine Classic wine competition I recently helped judge, along with Mattie John Bamman of Ravenous Traveler,David Bellows of Chemeketa Community College Wine Program and Vidon Vineyards, Hilary Berg of Oregon Wine Press, Maxine Borcherding of Taste and Compare Academy of Wine, Spirits and Food, Mary Cressler of Vindulge, Julia Crowley of The Real Wine Julia, Christopher Czarnecki of The Joel Palmer House, Carl Giavanti of Carl Giavanti Consulting, Ted Lauder, and Patrick McElligott of Chemeketa Community College Wine Program and Sineann Wines.
SIP! McMinnville Wine and Food Classic celebrates its 25th anniversary as one of Oregon’s premier cultural, 100% volunteer-powered events this March 9-11, 2018 at McMinnville’s Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum.
This highly popular food and wine extravaganza takes place April 9,10, & 11th at Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum.
Personal fave: The once-in-a-lifetime after-party at Joel Palmer House in Dayton. Hosts Chris and Mary Czarnecki opened their kitchen, cellar and hearts to SIP! Classic wine competition judges and volunteers with staggering generosity of spirit. Much mushrooms and Oregon pinots served, and even more memories made.
The Hedonistic Taster | № 33 | Left Coast Cellars – Willamette Valley, OR.
by L.M. Archer, FWS | Bourgogne + Champagne ML
“Wine should not be regarded simply as a beverage, but as an art of living, a pleasure.” – Henri Jayer
Today’s Tasting: Left Coast Cellars – Willamette Valley Oregon
Left Coast Cellars’ Willamette Valley estate sits atop the Van Duzer Corridor, nearly 150 acres of its 350 acres planted to vines upon a steep natural amphitheater overlooking an expansive meadow and spring-fed lake. Diverse microclimates and soil types inform the wines produced here.
Wine: Left Coast Cellars Latitude 45º Pinot Noir – Willamette Valley Estate
Chapter 24 Vineyards winemaker Felipe Ramirez points out color-coded maps of Witness Tree Vineyard developed by international terroir specialist Pedro Parra .
The story of Chapter 24 Vineyards is a story about coming full circle, a story that begins and ends in Oregon’s bucolic Willamette Valley, but at its heart straddles France and Chile.
A cross-continental collaboration featuring Burgundian consulting winemaker Comte Louis-Michel Liger-Belair of Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair in Vosne-Romanée, Chilean winemaker Felipe Ramirez, and film and TV producer-turned wine impresario Mark Tarlov, the project centers around producing small-lot, ultra-premium pinot noir that reflect a distinctive ‘sense of place,’ or terroir.
The name “Chapter 24” refers to Homer’s final chapter of his epic “The Odyssey.” The wine’s name “The Fire” Pinot Noir nods to Willamette Valley’s volcanic basalt soil, while the wine label contains a rose and arrow, symbols of “The Odyssey’s” catalysts – women and war.
As Chapter 24 Vineyards advises “Our wines are for those of thinking age.” Indeed. Get your drinking caps on for this one.
Wine:The Fire Pinot Noir – Willamette Valley
Suggested Retail:$60 (NOTE: Only 300 cases produced.)
In November, I visited Comte Liger-Belair at his estate in Vosne-Romanée. His estate contains some of Burgundy’s most illustrious grand crus and climats, an estate also informed by the work of Pedro Parra. In a ‘full-circle’ story moment, tasting the wines of Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair book-ends a tasting I did last July at Chapter 24’s Witness Tree Vineyard with winemaker Felipe Ramirez while in town for IPNC. In both instances, a remarkable purity of expression carried through, reflective of site and vintage.
Look for more on my tour of Oregon vignerons’ Burgundian cellars in the February 2018 issue of Oregon Wine Press.
“We all have two lives, and the second begins the moment we realize we only get one.” – Confucius
In another life, winemaker Dave Specter didn’t drive a forklift. Or a tractor. Or make wine in the Willamette Valley.
In a previous life, Dave Specter and his wife Sara suited up, sucked it up, and slugged it out in the corporate Midwest – the former as an attorney, the latter in advertising.
Until 2008. By then, Sara had endured three miscarriages within 13 months, Dave’s work obligations associated with his law career had devolved into a nightmare, and the couple’s seven-year marriage hung on life-support.
A couple of years earlier, a well-meaning marriage counselor had suggested that they find a ‘couples project’ to help resuscitate their relationship. They chose wine making. That project eventually restored Dave’s equilibrium, recalibrated their relationship, and catapulted the couple across country for a visit to Willamette Valley in 2008.
There, snuggled into a cozy B & B in Newberg, the couple dreamed aloud about someday buying land in the Willamette Valley and making wine professionally.
Shortly after they returned from that trip, Sara’s mentor and friend Kelly was diagnosed with stage-4 pancreatic cancer, which ended her life 10 short months later. Explains Sara, “Kelly’s life, and her fight for it, was a key inspiration for our decision that Dave would leave his career as an attorney and chase the winemaking dream.”
In 2009, events dominoed with alacrity, and irony. Dave gave his notice, and found a professional winemaking mentor in Cincinnati, under whom he worked for three years. After Dave won two amateur national winemaking competitions, the couple sold their home in Ohio, and decamped to Oregon in 2012. Once in the Willamette Valley, while Dave worked a harvest internship at Alexana Winery, Sara discovered and purchased a site on NE Bell Road in Newberg – very near the B & B where they’d previously stayed.
The winery name “Bells Up” refers to a specific moment by classical music composers when they instruct French horn players to lift up the bells of their instruments in order to project sound with maximum intensity. Dave, a former French horn player in high school and college, alludes to the winery as his “Bells Up” moment.
I first met Dave and Sara at their winery for an exclusive tasting while in town for IPNC this past summer. These samples include some of their pinot noirs, as well a bonus syrah.
Note about serving Bells Up wines: I highly recommend decanting these wines approximately 30 minutes prior. Like any Burgundy-inspired wines, these require a little time to open up and best reveal their secrets.
Wine: Bells Up Titan Pinot Noir – Willamette Valley, OR.
Producer Specs: “Named for Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D Major “Titan,” this classic Oregon pinot noir mingles 24% Chehalem Mountains Pommard (25-year-old vines) grown in volcanic Jory soil, with 38% each of Yamhill-Carlton Dijon clones 115 and 777 (15-year-old vines) grown in sedimentary Willakenzie soil. Aged 10 months in French oak, the harmonious result epitomizes 2014’s perfect growing season.”
Robe: Clear ruby robe.
Nose: Red fruit aromas – currant, cranberry, raspberry.
Palate: Red fruit notes carry through on the palate. Light body, balanced acids and tannins, light finish.
Suggested Pairings: This lyrical, light-hearted wine pavanes across the palate with melodious ease. Inspired pairing with pan-seared sea bass, cranberry beans and celery coulis.
Wine: Bells Up Titan Pinot Noir – Willamette Valley, OR.
Suggested Retail: $40 (116 cases produced.)
Producer Specs: “The 2015 edition of Bells Up’s flagship Oregon pinot noir mingles 42% Yamhill-Carlton Pommard (6-year-old vines) with 29% each of Yamhill-Carlton Dijon clones 115 and 777 (16-year-old vines), all grown in sedimentary Willakenzie soil. Aged 7 months in French oak (30% new), this bold, fruit-forward, well-structured Pinot is a result of 2015’s extremely hot summer, with 25 days of 95-plus-degree heat during the growing season and very little rain. The small clusters and berries yielded intensified flavors and aromas.”
“Both vineyards/growers [used] are side-by-side on Cooper Lane in Yamhill…Tonnelier Vineyard and Yamhill Vineyards (also a B&B)…The Pommard came from the one due south of Tonnelier. There’s a bit of a slope but it’s not dramatic. There’s definitely a little micro-climate right there that keeps it a touch cooler.”
Robe: Clarion ruby robe.
Nose: Savory black olive, dusty red fruit, potpourri on the nose, with an aromatic back note.
Palate: Red cherry, currant and cranberry carry through from front to mid-palate, with spicy back-palate notes. Light body, well-balanced acids and well-structured tannins, medium finish. Suitable for both early drinking and cellaring.
Suggested Pairings: A lovely harmony between dark and light notes, this wine adds coloratura to any meal, spurring lively conversation.
I’d recommend Bells Up 2015 Titan Pinot Noir for a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner, given its savory notes and crescendo of cranberry and spice on the palate.
Wine: Bells Up Winery Firebird Syrah – Summit View Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley AVA (Oregon side.)
Suggested Retail: $36 (70 cases produced.)
Producer Specs: “Released in April and named for Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite,” these grapes were sourced exclusively from Summit View, one of the highest elevation vineyards in Milton-Freewater, Oregon—at 1,150 feet. This site’s vines are rooted in Ellisforde silt loam, a deep, well-drained glacial soil that produces full-bodied fruit with concentrated flavors and vibrant acidity. Aged 7 months in French oak.”
Robe: Opaque porphyry robe.
Nose: Black fruit, ‘funk-free’, fragrant violet aromas.
Palate: Black currant, blackberry, brambled bouche. Medium body, well-balanced, plush tannins, lengthy finish.
Suggested Pairings: A deep-tenored wine of subtle power that pairs well with hearty winter fare in front of a roaring fire.
As a Burgundy and pinot noir aficionado, I do find occasional sucor among syrahs from of Walla Walla Valley and The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater. This wine ripples across the palate with surprisingly suppleness and grace.
Bells Up 2015 Firebird Syrah wine talks softly and carries a big finish.
Bells Up Winery | 27895 NE Bell Road | Newberg, OR 97132 | P: 503.537.1328
Much has been written about the history of Brooks Winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley – about its founder Jimi Brooks, about his untimely passing in September 2004 at the age of 38 to an aortic aneurism, and about the remarkable banding together of community to complete his unfinished harvest that year.
Much, too, has been written about the legacy of Brooks Winery – about Jimi’s son Pascal, just eight when his father passed, about Pascal’s future, and about that of the winery. A film, American Wine Story, even chronicles the story.
Much less has been written about Jimi’s sister Janie Brooks Heuck – about her assumption as Business Manager of Brooks Winery upon Jimi’s passing, about her active role helping raise nephew Pascal, about her tireless efforts burnishing the Brooks Winery brand, achieving Demeter biodynamic certification, expanding the vineyard holdings, all while residing full-time in Pebble Beach, CA. with her husband and family.
These tasting notes derive from a private tasting conducted by Janie Brooks Heuck at The Bench at Pebble Beach with myself and Suzanne Kendrick of New Zealand’s Wine-searcher.com.
A gracious host, Brooks Heuck put us through our paces with three whites and three Pinot Noirs, all creations of long-time Brooks Winery artisan winemaker Chris Williams. These wines echo with the soul of Beaujolais-trained Jim Brooks in their elegance and refinement, but they also capture the unfettered, utterly authentic spirit of the Willamette Valley. The seaside scenery only enhanced these pours.
Wine: Brooks Winery Riesling – Willamette Valley, OR.
Some wines sear the soul and haunt the palate. Grochau Cellars strike such a nerve. On the nose, these wines seduce, flatter, cajole – only to attack the palate with tensile nerve and unflinching precision before finishing with haughty grace – much like a taunting tango dancer. Or a really lean, mean (ok, maybe not mean), ex-professional Loire Valley bikeracer-turned-wineseller-turned Willamette Valley winemaker like John Grochau.
Grochau earned his stripes most notably at Erath Winery, and later with Doug Tunnel of Brick House Vineyards, before starting Grochau Cellars in 2002.
Recently, while in Oregon attending IPNC,I had the honor and privilege to sit down with John Grochau for a private tasting of Grochau Cellars wines.
I have long admired Grochau Cellars wines for their consistency, quality, and ridiculous affordability, especially his Commuter Cuvée Pinot Noir.
These wines did not disappoint.
Wine:Grochau CellarsMelon de Bourgogne | Willamette Valley, OR.
Suggested Pairings: Never heard of Melon de Bourgogne? It’s a white grape originally from Burgundy transplanted to the Loire Valley’s Nantais, a wine region famous for Muscadet. This one’s talking to you. It wants seafood. Now.
Wine:Grochau Cellars Chardonnay – Bunker Hill Vineyard | Willamette Valley, OR.
Nose: Mild, discrete hints of fleurs blanches on the nose.
Palate: Did not see this one coming. White Burgundy – say hello to my little friend Meursault–meets-Puilly-Fuissé. Lovely juxtaposition between a smooth entry, rich mouthfeel, and polished finish against a chiseled brightness and elegant core.
Suggested Pairings: A texturally interesting wine that compliments lightly sauced or roasted fish or fowl served along seasonal sides like grilled mushrooms.