January 21, 2006
I don't have much pruning experience, so the afternoon quickly turned into a terrific lesson in the art of pruning. Winter pruning is structural, where you cut back last year’s growth to leave only the healthiest and best positioned cane and renewal spur for next year. The cane will produce fruiting canes in the coming season, and the spur will provide a few additional fruiting canes positioned to be selected as next year’s main cane and renewal spur.
Despite having read some about winter pruning, and knowing a thing or two from my gardening and vineyard experience, I still couldn’t quite envision how vine pruning happened. My friend suggested that I start by focusing on what I would definitely eliminate, which meant virtually everything. Then I could select from what remained with relative ease.
I was impressed with his quick analysis of the vine and crisp cuts of the woody growth. My attempts were slow and uncertain, but I could see how the puzzle of deciphering each vine’s unique shape could become addictive.
Even this time of year, sap may weep harmlessly from the cuts on the otherwise dormant vine. With the vine now pruned, the leftover cane is tied down to the lowest trellis wire, carefully so that no buds are rubbed off. The cuttings are collected and burned or composted. Winter pruning is done.
We moved down the vineyeard row, studying each vine, making cuts, and moving on. After some time, another friend came by and we happened upon a nearby place to sit and check out the view and sample a couple local wines.
This is the heart of the Dundee Hills, vineyards like Arcus, Goldschmidt, Maresh, Prince Hill, and Le Pavillon among many others on the southern exposure of Worden Hill Road. The engorged Willamette River lay in the distance on this unusually dry afternoon. The air was chilly and fresh, this special place glowing in this late sunlight.
We tasted two Pinot noir from 2003, both warmly alcoholic and not to my taste though well made and enjoyable in the setting. Then we decided to take an impromptu and possibly illicit tramp by and though some of the local vineyards. We talked about vine age, training, growth habits apparent in the unpruned vines, and pruning techniques displayed on the recently cut vines. I couldn't help but think of returning during the growing season to see how the vines transformed during the year.
Then the tramp turned a bit grueling, over a fence and across a rushing creek, and then a long uphill climb on a path cut mysteriously through brambles. Our destination was a recently established vineyard and winery of another friend, producing small amounts of high quality, previously homebrew-only wine.
We tasted from two barrels of ’05 chardonnay, naturally fermented, both gorgeously pure and fresh with uncommon minerality. The new barrel is particularly impressive for not being woody. Of course, they’ve yet to go through ML, so it’s very early. But I suspect this will become fine wine and I’ll be happy to elaborate then.
And then outside again, through a hazelnut orchard and another vineyard with old Riesling vines with their ungodly thick tendrils, and back to where we began. The sun was down now and it was time to head out, my boots muddy and my head spinning with satisfaction.
January 17, 2006
No, not the majesty of roll. It’s the mystery of terroir in the northern
Such was the title of Dr. Scott Burns’ presentation the other night to the Geological Society of Oregon. More than 60 people filled a lecture hall at
Burns is a passionate speaker, not what you might expect in a geologist. He began by apologizing for his scratchy voice, worn out from a heavy dose of consultation and media requests in the wake of recent rain-triggered landslides. Then he launch into a high volume, fast-paced hour-long presentation covering everything from the origins of the
Burns is rare in bringing obviously extensive knowledge about geology together with great knowledge and clear passion for wine. Frankly, I expected a geologist who knew little, really, about wine, but Burns is one of the most articulate and, in my opinion, informed wine lovers out there. Generous too.
I was hoping he’d spend less time on background material and more on the rocks. This was a geology meeting after all, my first ever. But the audience was clearly beyond the typical rockhound, so I suppose Burns was smart to give context even if it was old news.
But once Burns started talking about the earth, wow. He provided great information I hope I convey at least mostly accurately. First of all, good news. The soils are old here, meaning low nutrient levels in general for grape growing. 96% of grapes in the region are on either very old, or just about very old soils.
The underlying geology of the northern
Local soils largely came from
The most common soil types in northern
Willakenzie soils are apparently being reclassified more specifically than before. But as we know them, they are marine sediments found in the
Demonstrating the different tastes of soil types, Burns closed by generously poured samples of two 2001 Chehalem Pinot Noir.
First the Stoller Vineyard, from the far west of the Dundee Hills on a lower hill exposed perfectly to the sun. Jory soils all the way. This wine smelled rich and alcoholic, with macerated cherries and a roasted quality. It was actually quite nice, wood-marked as both wines are, but soft and a little squishy.
I preferred the Ridgecrest Vineyard, with its wood spicy, light black currant aroma and brighter flavor. Willakenzie soils here,
So are all Geological Society meetings like this? The meeting ended, but there was a buffet after-party in the department office that looked interesting. Then I thought, don’t push your luck. So off into the rainy night.
January 07, 2006
I took the opportunity recently to taste new releases from two of
Belle Pente is located just outside
I’ve tasted many Belle Pente wines over the years. As good as the reds have always been, the whites impressed me first, particularly the Riesling made typically in an Alsatian style – drier and fuller bodied than you tend to find in
On this day, Brian was pouring two whites and three reds. While the reds are usually fermented with “wild” yeasts, Brian says that
The ’03 Pinot Noir Murto vineyard, from 30-year old vines, smelled a bit oaky at first, but shows more restraint that might be expected from this torrid year. Black cherries, spicy earth and oak, young wine that should settle down some with age. The ’03 Pinot Noir Estate showed lots of Christmas spice, with gingerbread and mulling spices mixed in with good fruit and clean earth flavors. Another nice wine and not too large scaled. Clearly a step up was the ’02 Pinot Noir Estate Reserve, a long, very refined and elegant wine with great depth and intensity, beautifully integrated flavors, good structure, the is perhaps the most impressive wine I’ve had from Belle Pente. Highly recommended and among the best ‘02s I’ve tried.
Next to Brian was the impresario of
John was pouring only one white, the top shelf ’03 Chardonnay Abbey Ridge. He says matter of factly that you need to think about white
On to the reds, first was the ’03 Pinot Noir Gherts vineyard from the Dundee Hills, the source of all these Cameron wines. Located below Domain Drouhin on the southwestern side of the appellation, the Gherts vineyard bottling seems promising. I enjoyed the ’02 for its freshness and drink younger personality, but this ’03 seemed a bit muddled and unfocused. Either it’s in a bad place or perhaps it’s just a victim of the hot year.
Next was the ’03 Pinot Noir Abbey Ridge, which I’ve tried twice now and find delicious. Ripe, fairly rich wine but still elegant as I like this grape to be, with good structure. Abbey Ridge may have produced the best wine of the ’03 vintage. Finally, the ’03 Pinot Noir Clos Electrique, from Cameron’s “estate” (which looks more like a shack, a really cool shack but this ain’t no grand estate) vineyard. Planted in the mid-to-late 1980s with wide spacing, it’s lower in the Dundee Hills than most and seems to produce a richer, black fruited wine where most of the Dundee Hills vineyards give redder, cherry flavors. As with the ’02, the ’03 is dark and brooding, young and unevolved, with fine tannin and good length. This is a wine to cellar but I expect it will show more complexity and subtlety in time.
But wait, John’s a passionate Italophile (Ital-o-phile? Ital-i-phile? Fan of