Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Day In The Willamette Valley - Part 5, Colene Clemens

It's a good thing these folks have one of those blue signs, because no one would ever drive the last 2.5 miles on a gravel road just to see what's up there unless they knew they'd find something. 

I don't know the story behind this place and their website is under construction, but I decided to stop by as I was on my way home because Doug Ackerman had said it was beautiful, and it is. It's a BIG facility, obviously designed for way more production than they're getting from the newly-planted vineyard. Outside, it's kinda rustically Northwest-ish. Inside it's a little over the top for my taste, but certainly not in the fashion of a couple other places I can think of.

They offer two wines, a regular and a reserve pinot noir. Apparently there will be more in the future as their vineyard plantings come on line. It's indeed situated in a beautiful spot above Ribbon Ridge

The wines are black-fruited, well made and use more oak than my ideal but the fruit seems to have soaked it up pretty well. Fairly large in scale, they'll appeal to folks who aren't as infatuated with finesse, elegance and acidity as I am - folks who really like Lynn Penner-Ash's wines, for example. Kinda spendy, too. Still, a nice addition to the valley.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My Day In The Willamette Valley - Part 4, J. Wrigley and Noble Pig

Cathy Pollack from Noble Pig and Jody Wrigley from J. Wrigley were pouring at Republic of Jam, so I had to stop in and partake in addition to saying "hi" to Lynnette and Amy. Warning: These two are whacked; Cathy just slightly and Jody off the charts. Or maybe it's the other way around, I can't be sure. If you talk to Jody, though, be sure to ask her about her stump.

Both women have interesting stories to tell about how they got into the wine business and I won't repeat them, but Cathy's is especially interesting and poignant and can be found on the Noble Pig website. 

By now my palate was getting a little tired (this is actually part FIVE because I'd been to Scott Paul but I'm saving that one) so I only have brief descriptions of the wines. Noble Pig was pouring a 2008 pinot gris and a 2009 pinot noir. The gris may be a little more in the Italian style than I might like, but it's certainly zesty and would show well with food. The pinot noir is a nice wine showing black fruit and a round character I think of as prototypical of the McMinnville AVA, where the vineyard is located. Of course, I might have completely screwed that part up because it was made with purchased fruit! Nice wine, though, especially for a first effort. 

Jody was pouring a 2009 pinot noir, the "MAC Cuvee", also from purchased fruit. Once again showing the black fruit and round character of the McMinnville AVA. Another nice wine, though perhaps a little lower in acid than I would consider ideal. A hazard of the 2009 vintage. 

These folks are doing a nice job, with first-class presentations (though I had a little tete-a-tete with Jody about smaller, lighter bottles) and top notch point of sale materials. The wines are good wines that will only get better as Cathy (a UC Davis grad) and John Wrigley get used to working with their own fruit which will come online over the next 2-3 years. If I had to pick a nit, it would be that hitting the market right out of the chute at mid-to-high 30's price point is a tad ambitious.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Day In The Willamette Valley - Part 3, Wild Aire

By contrast with Byron's crowd, Wild Aire across the street had three occupants; Jean and Matt Driscoll and Matt's guitar. That was it and you know, it's too bad. These folks know how to make wine, but they're sure flying under the radar - at least in the "usual suspects" of Portland local retail. OTOH, they're pretty widely available in McMinnville, Eugene, Salem and at Wine Club and K&L in California along with some nice restaurants in Oregon and some PLCB stores. Go figure.

They're getting fruit from some pretty nice spots, I'll tell you. Shea, Momtazi, Clay Court, Zenith, Illahe and one I'm not familiar with in the Chehalem Mountain AVA, Lia's. The wines - at least the three pinot noirs I tasted - are right in my wheelhouse with gentle power, heady aromas, high acids and low oak levels. All were good and fairly-priced, but I was especially taken with the 2009 Clay Court, which comes from a Parrett Mountain vineyard formerly known as Eastburn and now owned by Elk Cove. The vineyard is Laurelwood over Jory, so the wine shows a lot of red fruit character and it's really pretty. Naturally it's the most expensive of the bunch at $42. The "Timothy", their basic bottling, is $20 and worth every cent. 

If they're available near you take a chance on a bottle or two - or get some shipped to you. You won't regret it.

My Day In The Willamette Valley - Part 2, Seven of Hearts (An Early Look At 2010)

I was just at Byron's last week and tasted through his lineup, so I only stopped in to drop off the bottle of Brick House chardonnay I'd bought for him and to say hi, especially since he was buried in tasters at the bar. He insisted I stick around so I lurked in the corner for a while thinking I was going to get out of his way anyway . . . until he thrust a glass at me saying, "2010 Armstrong Vineyard". How could I pass this up? Doug and Michele Ackerman, good friends, own the vineyard and Byron was one of three people who bought their first crop (third leaf) in 2010. The other two are Vincent Fritzsche of Vincent and Brad MacLeroy of Ayres.

Turns out he'd pulled some samples of the three lots he'd fermented and taken them to dinner the previous evening. The event was a gathering of the three winemakers along with Doug and Michele, presumably to taste all the product. Brad couldn't attend so his father-in-law, Don - who is actively involved in the winery and vineyard - stepped up to the plate. 

The first lot I call "Dark and Brooding". It's 100% Pommard and 30% whole cluster. It has that dark, round, almost meaty flavor profile I love from the Pommard clone. I think I'd be happy if Byron bottled this by itself tomorrow, but he's going to tinker with blends.

The second I call "High-Toned. It's 100% clone 777 and 100% whole cluster, and shows all the lifted aromatics and racy flavors you could want. It's also a bit lighter on its feet. The stems definitely show on the nose and the palate. This one will make a nice component wine but on its own the slight greenies from the stems would bother me. 

The third I call "Spicy and Full-Bodied". This one's all clone 115 with no whole cluster. It's a brute and pretty tannic at this point, showing the typical 115 spiciness. Very dark, too. 

If these are representative of the 2010 vintage we're looking at something quite good. Fortunately, the youth of the vineyard allowed an early pick before the birds got to the fruit, so that disaster was avoided. 

Byron was able to tell me, between dashes to serve real customers (disclosure - I'm pouring with him Memorial Day weekend) that he's planning on some of the wine from Armstrong to go into his Willamette Valley and Reserve blends, some of it to maybe be bottled as a Chehalem Mountain designate and some to be bottled under the Armstrong Vineyard label. I'm so happy that Doug and Michele are getting good quality fruit from their vineyard and that three of my favorite people are getting to work with it. 

Well done, everyone!

My Day In The Willamette Valley - Part 1, Brick House

This and the next few posts will be some quick and dirty summaries of what I tasted yesterday as I ventured forth into the wilds of Yamhill County.

Brick House was having an Equinox event to celebrate the release of the 2009 Boulder Block pinot noir, so what the hell. Out I went with no plans beyond that. The day got very, very long so I'll report in stages.

When I pulled up to BH I thought I had the wrong day. A couple of cars and that was it, and it was already 12:30. Hmmm.

Right day. First pour out of the gate was the 2009 chardonnay. As Rich Trimpi says, if you don't like white Burgundy, you won't like this. Just wonderful, full of white peach, Granny Smith apple and minerals, and a steal at $25. 

Next up, the Boulder Block pinot. This is from a part of the vineyard that is a vein of volcanic, as opposed to sedimentary soil. Whereas Ribbon Ridge usually shows black fruits, this wine shows red fruits like the Dundee Hills, which are also volcanic soil. This is a real beauty and doesn't show any of the heat of the vintage. I don't think it will make the long term, but over the next five or six years you couldn't do better.

Alan also poured two not-yet-released wines, the '09 Cascadia chardonnay and the '09 Evelyn's pinot. They were both so tightly wound any attempt to review them would be futile. 

For those of you who are worried about Doug's business because of my reported lack of people . . . well, don't be concerned. By the time I left about 20 people had shown up including a first for me - a couple being driven in a Lincoln Town Car by a liveried driver. Had I seen these in Napa? Hell yeah . . . all the time, but here? At Brick House or any of the other low-key places I frequent? Not until now. We're headed down a bad, bad path that's probably unavoidable.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wild and Wacky Weather

Oops. It's now Thursday and this was written yesterday. Just roll your clocks back 24 hours.

It's still with us. Last night there was a severe thunderstorm warning for most of the city and the suburbs east of the Willamette, and on my way home around 9:00 there was one, solitary lighting flash near Beaverton. It was so bright I thought that a thousand traffic enforcemet cameras had flashed at once, and it was followed by probably the loudest peal of thunder I've ever heard. And that was it. No more lightning and no more thunder, though we did get a little shower of pea-sized hail around 9:30 along with some nice gusts.

Today is a rinse and repeat with mostly steady rain. Possible thundershowers this afternoon and evening.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

We're Jammin', Jammin' Jammin'; I Want To Jam It Wid You

It's probably way too early in your day to put up with my bad jokes but this one, lame as it is, was just too good to pass up. Sorry.

Sunday I decided to venture out in the midst of an interesting weather day. It began with an appetizer of rain showers and wind gusts, followed by an amuse bouche of sun breaks and a main course of heavy squalls with small craft warnings. Holy Weather Channel, Batman!

As I made my way down Highway 47 from Forest Grove toward Carlton I discovered that Mother Nature had given us a new water feature; the upper Tualatin River had become Lake Gaston. The entire valley was flooded and the only thing missing was a waterskier or two. Perhaps some fishermen.

After a quick stop at Patton Valley Vineyards to check on their lineup (more on this later) I made it the rest of the way to Carlton to see how my good friend Byron Dooley's latest wines were doing. Byron, as you've read here before, has been doing great things with his Seven of Hearts and Luminous Hills labels. Other than to say that he's still chugging along I'll pass on a further review or he'll have to put me on the payroll.

So now we come to the subject of today's post - The Republic of Jam. This little venture was started by Lynnette Shaw, who has created some really interesting stuff. Using all local fruit where possible, she concocts some of the wildest and most delicious combinations of flavors I've ever run across. Strawberry and basil anyone? Spiced cherry conserve with cinnamon, clove and cardamom? Mostarda di Carlton with apples, shallots, serrano chiles and various dried fruits? Simply delicious.

What Sue at Rose City Pepperheads has done with simple combinations of chiles and fruit, good as her products are, has been made pedestrian by what Lynnette is doing. I wish I could remember the manner in which she served her things, but I think I remember the strawberry/basil being served on blue cheese and a cracker of some sort. It was delicious and would have been wonderful with one of Byron's pinot noirs - of which I'd consumed enough to explain my memory lapses.

Give Lynnette a visit, preferably in person at her world headquarters on Main Street in Carlton, but definitely on her Facebook page or her website:

I'm Back

After a year that can only be described as "interesting" in the interest of not boring you with my troubles, I'm back and blogging. I'll try to be much more regular with my posting, which you can consider either a blessing or punishment.

Thanks to all of you who have stood by me and who continue to read me despite the giant gap in communication.