Brian’s Journey to the Pacific North West
Brian, our Domestic Portfolio Director, recently returned from a trip to the Pacific North West. What follows is a recap of his observations and experiences.
December 7-9th, 2011
The best part of my trip was experiencing the incredible experimentation going on right now in the Pacific North West. Oregon and Washington State have nurtured the growth and mentored the next crop of winemakers who don’t believe that they should follow the press/points or a dogma of their predecessors. Instead, this recent crop believes in the potential of the grapes and region; their quest rooted in the search for cool climate vineyards, for growers using organic farming practices (especially “dry farmed” sites), and for those who are converting to or utilizing biodynamic principles.
As it happens, we represent two of the leaders in the biodynamics in Oregon. For proponents of this methodology, it’s the basis for their wine and their culture. For detractors, it’s looked at as hocus pocus and witchcraft. Now, in my opinion, those who have become polarized to one side define themselves not by where their passion takes them, but what they don’t do. And for an industry like ours, that’s no way to make wine.
Paul deLancellotti and the Momtazi family from Maysara farm biodynamically because they’ve found that it’s the healthiest expression of their land that produces the cleanest fruit from their vineyards. They both look at their vineyards as living organisms. Any farmer practicing organics or biodynamics will tell you that you’ll feel the difference when you walk through the vineyard. This is one of those intangible aspects of the wine industry that cannot be brought to the market or exhibited at a tasting. But it’s also one of those factors that make what we do and how we do it so important.
I’ve walked through many bio-dynamic vineyards, and there is always an overwhelming feeling that you are at harmony with your surroundings and NOT at odds with what and where you are. For those of you who have never experienced this, the best analogy is the physicality of being on an oceanfront beach. There’s a sensation and reality that things are supposed to change and fluctuate with nature. The cycles of a vineyard are very much slower than the tides of the ocean, but it is truly the same feeling as the sand be pulled and pushed back and forth by the tides; it’s the fact that you shouldn’t dictate or manipulate the natural order.
Paul deLancelotti’s vineyard sits on a graceful plateau or “bench” in the Chehalem Mountain Range. The secret to the deLancellotti Family vineyard is the silica base of the land. This gives the wines a delicacy and salinity that hardly any other Pinots from the Valley can achieve. The 17–acre property looks directly over “Ribbon Ridge”, home to benchmark producers like Brick House and Belle Pente. Stay tuned, because Paul has his eye on a slice of that Ridge, where he hopes to plant Pinot Noir.
deLancellotti has this incredible air of confidence and contentment about his vineyard and the path he’s decided to take with his property. In the next few years, he will begin to bottle a large percentage of the fruit that he has sourced out to many of the top winemakers in Oregon. This will enable him to produce a second bottling of Pinot that will complement his signature wine. This makes us all happy, as we’ll have more wine from Paul to go around, but it also gives him the opportunity to have his “Estate” Pinot Noir be almost entirely made with the Pommard clone (the vines that show the most depth and intensity of all his holdings).
It’s also refreshing when someone who is known for Pinot production talks more about the potential of Chardonnay in his vineyard. There are about 3 ½ acres of land to be planted to Chardonnay next year. Once the site of a vegetable garden, this gentle slope (pictured) will become what Paul feels it was always destined to be. Paul’s 2010 chardonnay will be bottled in late January and released to us about 4-5 months later. Out of barrel, the wine is linear, clean and minerally. Raised in neutral oak, it has structure from the barrel, but no “lip stick” aromatics. This wine is a soulful expression of cool climate Chardonnay from coveted South East facing slopes in the Chahalem Mountains.
The Momtazi family has 252 acres of their Estate under vine. All of the vineyards are farmed biodynamically and grafted from the original rootstock of the vines planted in the late 90s by Moe Momtazi.
This property is almost entirely self-sufficient. There are two reservoirs, a wood mill, a rock quarry, and a winemaking facility. The family has just finished building an impressive structure that is home to the tasting room, offices and (next year) their brand new gravity flow winery. 95% of the materials for this building were milled, sourced and fabricated from the Estate. With an acre of interior space made from thousands of tons of rocks and wood that filled the land, it is incredible that things like this can still be done and achieved in this day and age.
At the end of the last Ice Age, the Missoula Floods ripped through this piece of land and crafted the contours of the Willamette Valley. This is what makes each property so unique and (when it’s not foggy and raining) creates one of the world’s most beautiful vistas. The Floods deposited a variety of soil types in Oregon and Washington State (mostly a clay and loam based, some sand/silica, and a mineral rich red earth called Jory soil).
The map shows the distinct vineyard blocks that are the base for each Maysara cuvee. What makes Maysara unique is that there is over 600 feet elevation gain in the vineyards. From the property’s lowest point at 120 feet to around 600 feet, the soil is clay and loam based (similar to most of the valley). From 600-780 feet, there is Jory soil (a red earth loaded with iron and mineral deposits). Quite a bit of the McMinnville AVA has this top soil. What makes this part of Maysara’s vineyard special is that there’s 10 feet of this earth before the base of loam and calcareous sub-soil. Only the fortunate have access to this part of the Estate: the wines of Maysara (of course), and St. Innocent sources a wonderful patch of land that sits at the crest of the Estate’s highest point.
With five vintages under her belt, Tahmiene Momtazi has come into her own at Maysara. She is the eldest daughter of Moe and Flora Momtazi, and along with her sister Naseem, is the heir apparent to take over the Estate. Her wines have an immediate elegance on the front palate, but a lasting muscular character on the finish, like all good Pinots. Jamsheed is the true essence of the vineyard blocks (with each block being blended into the wine) and a harbinger to what the vintage has to offer. In 2008 and 2009, these are all good things in store for these wines.
3 degrees is sourced from the Estate’s younger vines and is the brain child of all three sisters. A great cliff note into this Estate’s focus and higher end releases.
There are exciting things happening in the Pacific North West. At TEW we are lucky to have producers like deLancellotti and Maysara who are willing and able to adapt to their land to produce wines with sole and integrity. Also, it’s to all of our benefit that they both choose to farm biodynamically, so we have the opportunity to learn and grow with this ever changing part of the wine world.