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Monday, July 27, 2015

Lenné Estate: A Sense of Wonder

“Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.” ― Franz Kafka

That sense of wonderment, do you still have yours? Or has it been beaten out you, by a seemingly cynical world? Many of us may recall those bygone years; with our mouths agape looking at this amazing and wonderful world we all live in, but perhaps a bit differently now. I got to thinking about that sense of wonder, on my way home from the Oregon Wine Trail last year. 

I was waiting to catch my flight back to San Diego last year; thinking about all the different and unique styles and variations of Pinot Noir I encountered over the course of a week. Sitting at the gate, I watched two small boys playing on the 'people mover' [boys will be boys] they both were so amazed by this ingenious contraction [a god-send for weary travelers]. They were running on it the wrong way, only to give up for a moment, returning back from whence they came. But they were undaunted in their efforts; they'd try it again, and again. All the while, big ear-to-ear smiles on their faces and carelessly laughing, even though they knew that swimming upstream would result in a return trip, back to where they started. 

It's with that sense of wonder that I introduce you to Steve Lutz from Lenné Estate who I had the great privilege to meet last year during a one of many press trips I took last year before I started working fulltime as the Wine Steward for Vons.  
Lenné Estate is a premium Pinot Noir producing 20 plus-acre vineyard site near the town of Yamhill, Oregon. Just speaking with Steve, you quickly understand, his passion for making world class Pinot Noir and having tasted a good deal of his wines he produces, I'd have to conclude, even after a rocky start in the beginning, his vision has paid off in spades. His operation fits in very nicely with the likes of WillaKenzie, Shea Wine Cellars & Vineyard, Solena, Soter Vineyard and the very well-known Beaux Freres.

Steve, like those kids at the airport I mentioned above, never allowed several of the challenges [35% of the vines were lost in the first year, ouch!] he, his wife and his partners faced just attempting to establish the vineyard in the early days, deter him from his dream and as he has said, "I didn't choose Lenné, it chose me". 

"There are many gray areas in wine, but if there is one truth, it is that great wines come from poor soils." ~ Steve Lutz

He believed in the site and knew deep down, if he could just get those vines established on that awful clay-like, rocky soil called Peavine, [a nutrient poor soil] then his Pinot producing dreams would be realized. Peavine soil is similar to Wilakenzie soil and Steve says, "It's the worst organic soil in the country" it's so inhospitable to young vines, but once established this very unforgiving soil, can impart unforgettable expressions of Pinot Noir, that keep folks running back for more.  

As you can see from the image above, the steepness of the site made farming difficult and the vines were dry-farmed from the start. As a result of the crazy 2003 heat spike, they lost a few acres of newly planted Pommard vines. As our group [myself, another wine writer and Steve’s PR guy] walked through the vineyards with Steve, you could see, he was undaunted by these set-backs and was determined to capture the amazing potential this site offered, but only if he was patient. A lesser person may have given-up and thrown in the towel. Speaking with him in the vineyard, looking at a part of his site he named "kill hill" you could hear in his voice and see in his eyes, he still had that sense of wonderment, you knew he could see the beauty of this site, far beyond what we were looking at in this moment. 

As we were sitting around the table tweeting our hearts out, during a live tweet and taste at Lenne Estate, Steve commented that "I wouldn't trade this site for any other spot in Oregon" and went on to say, "I'm where I want to be". And looking out from our view, sitting on the tasting room deck, we could see nothing but the beautiful Oregon country side, making his point for him in spades. 

"The site started to reveal why you grow Pinot Noir in difficult places: to produce delicious wines totally reflective of one specific place." ~ Steve Lutz

For folks curious about whether or not, Lenné Estate is "organic" or sustainable or maybe even Bio-dynamic? I'll let Steve answer that question, in his own words “Being organic isn't a goal, making great wine is and doing it in a sustainable way is just common sense to us.” I love this straight forward answer to what seemingly is the first question out of every wine writers mouth these days. There is no reason that sustainability and profit [today's bogeyman] can't walk hand in hand, it's a model I've not only heard spoken of, but one I've seen with my own eyes being put into action at many wineries across this country, both large and small. 

This is a very young winery, and vineyard, it was nothing but a gentle sloping pasture back in the early days of the 21st century. After having tasted a bevy of Steve's wines, sitting on the deck of the tasting room, on a brilliant Oregon day [the weather, the week I was there, in two words, picture perfect] I have to conclude this 21 acre parcel has to be one of the very best in Oregon, the Pinot Noir I tasted spoke to me, quite eloquently,  struggle is part of life and sometimes you get to taste the sweet success of perseverance. 

2008 Lenné Estate Karen’s Pommard Yamhill-Carlton District: Steve remarked, that he thought “this 2008 was the vintage of the decade” and that was not the first time I've heard that same comment from many other winemakers in Oregon.  After putting a small splash in my glass, wow the nose just popped, with aromas of fresh baked cherry pie, damp-earth, wild-flowers and sweet spice from time spent in oak.  

The sweet invitation offered by the nose, had me easily surrendering to the first splash down on the palate, boom dark cherries, black cut-tea leaves, brooding tannins, lively acidity easily carrying the abundant red/dark fruit to a lengthy polished finish. This wine sells or sold for $55 but with only 49 cases I’m not sure there is much left to be found.  I scored this wine 92 points; it’s a showcase of Peavine perfection. 

The 2010 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton District: Wow, a brilliantly ruby colored wine, shimmering in the glass, gorgeous aromas of sandalwood, summer ripe cherries and fresh cut wild-flowers. 2010 was not a perfect growing season, by any stretch of the imagination, marked by late October rains and a long, cool growing season, leaving the grapes to struggle to find the perfect ripeness. You can taste these factors a bit on the palate, a bit rustic than the 2008 and completely different then the fruit-driven 2009. 

But still, this wine did not fail to impress me with an interesting layer of minerality [ancient sedimentary soils of the Yamhill-Carlton District] swirling about in the background, red berries and dark blackberries mingling nicely with the baking spices and vibrant acidity. This wine sells for $45 and there appears there's still some available for purchase. I scored this wine 90 points.

The 2012 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton District: A completely different expression of Pinot than the others, most likely one of Oregon's most perfect growing seasons and also that of many West Coast Pinot Noir producers. This wine is currently not available for purchase, but you should look forward to putting in your order soon as it becomes available. This one will go fast, have no doubt. 

The nose is alluring, sweet baking spices, sandalwood, ripe blackberries and summer florals tease and tantalize the first sip. On the palate you find plenty of freshly baked cherry pie, vanilla accents, softly textured tannins and more mimicking of the nose seem to invite sip after sip and perhaps even the eventual slurp oh-my. I scored this wine 93 points, it has the stuffing to age, but the immediate approachability of this wine, will make being patient difficult. 

The wines I experienced here, were truly impressive and I'd invite you find out what all the fuss is about for yourself, because tasting is believing. I'll certainly be updating and adding the Lenné Estate to my wine tasting recommendation list. I don't want any to miss the opportunity to taste what hard-won success looks like. So if you're in Oregon, tramping around on the Oregon Wine trail, make sure you stop-by and see Steve Lutz in his new tasting room, which should be finished in the very near future. Until next time folk, remember life is short, don't settle for commodity wines, sip long and prosper cheers!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Oregon Uncorked: Matello Wines

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

While some wine-writers only sit in front of their computer screens giving their opinions about the wines sent to them from PR agencies, still others venture out to see the place where the wines are made, speak with the wine-makers, taste the wine out of barrel and trod upon the soil where the vines grow. Travel gives writers unimaginable perspective, one simply unattainable by simply reading a book, the back label or a mere web-page. Fortunately for me, I had the opportunity to do just that last year, travel, quite a bit and in more locales than I thought imaginable. I hope to do more of the same this year.

In fact I went to Oregon twice last year, to get a closer survey of the wine-scene, one which is ever changing, but in some ways it's staying the same. I'm hoping to head out to Oregon again this year, I've an invitation for the harvest on the table and I can barely contain my excitement over the prospect, so I look forward to making my way back to Oregon once more in the near future.

Now about the winery in today's spotlight Matello Wines. I was given the heads up by a good friend, his name is Frank Morgan, all around nice guy, and fellow wine-blogger of Drink What You Like fame. He said, "Bill, if you're going to Oregon [lucky-dog] then you need to check Matello Wines and speak with Marcus Goodfellow.  So because I trust Frank, I made the appointment. Wow, I'm so glad I did. Again wow, I was very impressed by the overall quality of the wines presented that day and I'm sure you will find something that you just can't be without yourself.

Marcus, opened at least 7 different bottles of wine that afternoon and each one of them had an enjoyable quality, I really wanted to take one of each home, but Mrs. Cuvee was there to make sure I showed some restraint [buzz-kill]. And besides I had limited return space in my checked-luggage, even with the addition. We got to taste the Vio, Riesling, a White Pinot, a four different Pinot Noir's. The Riesling, made is a dry style was very good, pear, apple, wet-stone and well balanced.

But their 2010 Duex Vert Vineyard, Viognier really wowed me, I'm always a sucker for this varietal, but find it's rarely done right. But this wine had me at the nose and it really delivered on the first quaff, boasting of ample structure and natural acidity. This wine had some very sexy aromatics, fresh peaches and a pop of white flowers. The first slurp was, wow a pitched-tent of near summer-ripe nectarines, citrus and white peach flavors  which combine for a suave blend of richness and energy, coupled with great length. I scored this wine 91 points, it's really out-standing example of cool climate Viognier.

I know my friend Frank is partial to the Durant Vineyards and I can see why, but my palate told me that the Whistling Ridge was the place I needed to be and took two of those bad boys home. The 2010 Whistling Ridge Pinot Noir

This wine offers generous upfront fruit, right along its exceptional structure. Factors that will easily make this wine a keeper for my collection, but it’s sufficiently balanced in its youthful exuberance that it could be enjoyed immediately. The wine is fruit forward, but without being over-opulent. It hits your mid-palate and digs a well of elegant, and yet persistent flavors, baking spices, rich earth, red-fruits, cola. 

The tannins are nicely integrated and the finish long and lasting. I scored this wine 93 points, this wine is a prime example of what Oregon Pinot can deliver in the right hands. Selling for just under $40 is an amazing deal. Not sure he has even released this wine yet, but stay tuned folks, because once he does, this wine will sell quickly, don't miss out! Okay folks like I said, if you don't know about this producer, in my opinion you should and if you read to the bottom of this article, now you know. So if you've not sampled his wines yet, I'd beat a path to his door quickly. If you're in the area, make an appointment if possible or just wait until he releases the wines I've referenced above, you won't be disappointed. Until next time, slurp long and prosper cheers!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Wine of the Week: 2013 Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnay, Castello di Amorosa

 “I'm reflective only in the sense that I learn to move forward. I reflect with a purpose.” – Kobe Bryant

Learning to move forward, is an important concept to learning about and appreciating wine. It's hard to move forward if you simply dismiss, with the wave of hand, all California Chardonnay as a monolithic mess of over extraction, oak soak, and malo. I like to keep an open mind when it comes to wine, for the most part; I do have my prejudices and would be lying if I said differently. But for the most part, I'm willing to give it go, especially when it arrives on my doorstep, albeit unannounced. Unsolicited, but nonetheless a very welcomed #sample

Although I did leave a business card with them, the last time I visited back in 2012. I'm pretty sure some serious reflection was done in preparing this wine, it's far better than the typical 'California' style of Chardonnay and for that reason alone, it's my wine of the week. I like to say, "where there's is passion, there's fire" the effort that went into this wine reflections the passion and energy of the vineyards, the folks who worked the field during the harvest, and the winemaker['s] who put the final touches on the harvested grapes. 

I know, I know, I've heard all the moaning and groaning among the so-called wine intelligentsia who love to mock and scorn the audaciousness of a modern day castle built in wine country [from imported Tuscan stone] of all places. The [infamous] 'they' say it just smacks of the imperialism and at the same time flaunts capitalism oh-my. Besides that, I've heard from those same folks [via blogs and tweets] all the wine made there, is over the top or just missing the mark completely [sour grapes]. But if I had the coin [like the Sheriff of Nottingham] to build a castle like this one, I definitely would. Yes, it does have a real moat as well. I love it, the views from the top are as amazing as the expansive great hall inside. Instead of dismissing the wine because I may not like where it came from, I'll give it a go, examine it solely on its merits and then let the chips fall where they may. It's the very reason folks are still reading this blog, although I hear wine blogs are now out of fashion [I've heard this one before] again.

Now that I've flushed all the bilge water from the bowels of the castle, it's time to review the wine in the spotlight. Love, love the fruit produced from this vineyard site located in the gorgeous Santa Maria Valley. It's hard to recall the last time I had a wine I didn't appreciate in some way or another from this site. Whether it's Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, this amazing appellation has much to offer the the average vinosapien looking for a cut above the ordinary, factory Chardonnay. In this bottle, the judicious use of oak has been employed with only 50% new and 50% second use. Loving aged Sur Lie [on the yeast] and stirred for 10 months. The suggested retail price point may be a bit high for some at $38, but I believe it's worth the price of admission. Only 453 cases were produced, these bottles will quickly disappear. 

It's not often that I give domestic Chardonnay this kinda praise, but one deserves it. In both flavor and texture this wine is rich and creamy. Prepare to be dazzled by an a Chardonnay that delivers intensity and a depth of focus I rarely see. Bosc pears, peach, sweet tangerine delight the senses, nutmeg and vanilla scented oak take a back seat, while zesty acid drives the soccer moms minivan. Full bodied, vibrant and the finish is memorable. Drink now and drink often, my score is 93 points. That's it for today, all the best to you, until next slurp long and prosper cheers!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

J Wrigley Vineyard: One Stick at a Time

"Progress always involves risk; you can't steal second base and keep your foot on first." -- Frederick Wilcox

I had the distinct pleasure of getting to know the Wrigley's a couple of weeks back, while visiting Oregon's Wine Country on a press trip. The primary goal of my trip was to get to know the McMinnville AVA  [also affectionately known as the Mac AVA] much better, I feel I accomplished that goal in spades. I stayed with the Wrigley's for two days, in their tasting room [which you see above, bathed in the glow of the rising sun] and more specifically the 'media-room' reserved for visiting writers and such.

The 'tasting room' is primarily constructed of re-purposed materials, a work in progress which John likens to the progress of a beaver building a damn, it's "one stick at a time", I believe from my observations, that he takes this philosophy into his daily life as well, as he and his wife Jody are building a winemaking legacy, one stick at a time.

As the quote above indicates, you can't steal second, while keeping your foot safely on first base. There can be no "playing it safe" if want to progress in life. John and Jody Wrigley, know and live that quote everyday in spades. John still works full-time and the vineyards command much of his free time, while Jody manages the other aspects of running a winery, marketing and raising the children. The vines planted are coming up on their fifth leaf and from what I've tasted thus far, this winery is going places.

Many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased.~ John Steinbeck

Above is the picnic table, which sits just outside the tasting room door, looking into the Proposal Block. A place where all guests are invited [albeit indirectly] to take in the view after or before their tasting, to enjoy a picnic at their leisure and to take in the spectacular view. On this particular morning, I awoke early to catch the brilliant Oregon sunrise come up in the cool, clean and crisp morning air, where you can watch the fog banks roll around in the valley below. It's a take your breath away moment, one I will cherish in my wine-tasting travels memory banks for years to come. 

You can just imagine the grapes growing in these idyllic conditions, soaking in the warm, but gentle morning sun, the temperature slowly rising over the course of the day, and then cooling down in the evening, sealing in the vine ripened perfection day in and day out, until the harvest. 

“Success always looks easy to those who weren't around when it was being earned...!”

Having spent a couple days up here, I can certainly see why the Wrigley's chose this spot, it's a premium vine growing region located to the South East side of the Mac AVA. In the picture [corner left] above, way off in the distance, you can see the Van Duzer Corridor, what some call the 'freeway' for maritime breezes.

You'll find the Mac AVA is located Due west of historic downtown McMinnville, home to top-notch restaurants, charming boutique wineries and urban wine tasting rooms, you could spend a week in the down to earth town of thirty five thousand folks and just begin to scratch the surface of all it has to offer the thirsty vinosapien. The only thing, I think I would add to enhance some of these amazing rolling hills would be a zip-line. They have one in Sonoma County and it's a blast. 

Now for the wines, I believe I tasted everything they have to offer, my overall impression is outstanding. I was duly impressed, with the overall complexity, finish, freshness and abundant acidity. The 2011 as many folks are painfully aware was a vintage which tested the will of many good-to-great winemakers all over Oregon. Now that said, the 2011 Proposal Block, composed of Pommard, 117 and 115 clones I tasted, will need to see a bit of time in the cellar, before it's ready for prime time. My tasting note, wet, damp earth, and cracked pepper.

The cross flow filtration, helped to suss out some of the reticent cherry, cranberry and the subtle baking spices. I did find this wine more approachable and enjoyable the second day. This bottle sells for $45, again I believe it will develop further with extended time in the cellar, where the patient will be rewarded.

Now the 2012 Proposal Block Estate Pinot Noir, I tasted that same day and again experienced the same bottle again the second day was a stunner. I also was offered and I accepted a sample of this wine to take home, to share with @MrsCuvee. She also gave this wine a big thumbs up, pronouncing it very good. Now here valuation scale is a bit different than mine, she has okay, good and very good. 

For her to say "very good' it is near the equivalent of her being at least 95 points on a wine. But of course I can't speak for her directly. To say the 2012 Proposal Block "wowed-me" would be a bit of an understatement, but that said, I was very impressed and I highly recommend this Pommard Clone dominated wine to you. This wine is made for drinking now and drinking often, but that is not to say it couldn't hold its own with more than a few years in your cellar. 
Over the period of another lovely week in Oregon's Wine Country, I had the good fortune to taste a good many of the wines from the MAC AVA and I'd have to say that self-taught winemaker John Wrigley has winemaking skills sharply honed after just more than a handful of vintages under his belt. Kudos sir, kudos! 

Jumping into the 2010 J Wrigley "Mac" Cuvée, Extended Barrel Aging: I found it a bit lighter in the core, than 11 or the 12, a light garnet color. On the nose, baking spices, cracked pepper and broken wet earth. On the palate cut black tea, rose petals, bright recently ripened cherries. A rustic, short to medium finished wine, its high toned profiles makes it a better food wine, than the flashy cocktail hour dancer some Pinot Noir's tend to be. 

Now on the other side of that Extended Barrel Aging coin, the 2011 was greatly enhanced by the EBA it experienced. All those latent flavors missing from the non-EBA "Mac" Cuvée were out in spades. A silken texture, broadly approachable dark and red fruits, baking spices, black tea, and a brightness and refreshing quality, which invited sip after sip, and perhaps even the eventual slurp or two when no one was looking, oh-my.

One of the more interesting aspects about their property, the majority of which is east and south facing slopes, the large abandoned [amphitheater like] quarry you see pictured above. From this vantage point you see the various soil types which the vineyards are planted in. The property starts at the 210 foot elevation and is 740 feet at its highest point. Their vineyards sit in various soils, which are currently classified as Jory, Nekia, Yamhill and Peavine, although those designations are subject to change via the upcoming USGS reclassification of Oregon soil types. 

But as John is fond of saying, "we are happy that we have both volcanic and sedimentary soils, and he is happy let others chose what the correct name should or will be in the future. If you ever wanted to have an in depth conversation about soil types and the soil diversity found within the Mac AVA, then John Wrigley would be your man. He can talk to you about the soils at great length, similar to the way I could go on and on about the Packers chances this year, after the draft and trade picks have been made. Oy, so don't get me started, I'm only hopefully optimistic, but more on that for another time. 

You know I meet quite a few great folks, who find themselves in the wine business for one reason or the other, but in meeting John Wrigley and his wife Jody, seeing their passion, tasting their wines and the down to earth demeanor, hearing about their struggles and successes, it's my hope this winery takes off and launches into the wine stratosphere with all the best of success, that I think they deserve and have earned. 

In the picture above you see John Wrigley and I feel awful forgetting to have Jody jump into that picture. But what you see above is their simple tasting room, a quiet, off-the-beaten path, place where you can experience world class quality MAC AVA Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, if you find yourself in the McMinnville area, give them a call and then pay them a visit.  Until next time folks, remember as always, life is too short to settle for the ordinary, when for a few dollars more in many cases you can experience the extraordinary, slurp long and prosper cheers! 

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