The Cosmic Brick: Dry Sticks in Oregon Mud

“[I]t is the wine that leads me on, the wild wine, that sets the wisest man to sing at the top of his lungs, laugh like a fool – it drives the man to dance... it even...tempts him to blurt out stories better never told.” Homer, The Odyssey

Having recently watched Oregon Wine: Grapes of Place, I was inspired to share my thoughts on the film, which I found both intriguing and inspiring. Dry Sticks, planted in Oregon mud. The birth of the Oregon wine industry started by wild-eyed idealists, who quickly realized they had a pioneering spirit to make something greater than themselves. Those pioneers of Oregon wine came to rely on one another for support, constructive criticism and enduring friendships. All the various winemakers featured in the video had one thing in common, passion and determination to see their dreams fulfilled despite the many difficulties. As David Lett is quoted by his son, [paraphrasing] "we didn't come to Oregon to make Pinot Noir because we thought it would be easier, just better'.

The "Cosmic Brick" landed with a dull thud in Oregon Mud, but with gritty determination, patience, and long-suffering forbearance, their dreams came to fruition, with what is now, a force to be reckoned with on the world's wine stage. None of the winemakers [pioneers mentioned in the video] came to Oregon to simply "make money" per se, they all had much higher and may I even say, nobler aspirations of building an industry.

Personally, I have much respect for French wine culture, as a whole. It made my heart glad seeing their (French Wine Industry) early involvement in Oregon's fledgling wine industry. The treated the earlier pioneers with respect, because of the respect [via self-imposed strict labeling laws] Oregon winemakers held for their place names, unlike their California counterparts.

The winemaking Oregon pioneers garnered much respect from the French for respecting their place names, refusing to use, names like Burgundy to describe their Oregon Pinot Noir. Because of this, the French came to their aid, granting Oregon wine 'favored status in 1978, sending Oregon winemakers plant material, cuttings. This partnership between Oregon and the French helped put Oregon wine on the map, the cosmic brick exploded.

The pioneers of Oregon Wine, Oregon Pinot Noir, which ultimately came to be known as the Willamette Valley, truly had a vision, collectively they desired to protect their industry early on, and made several commitments to guard the integrity of their new endeavor. One, they stopped the selling of diseased clonal selections by rogue nurseries, two they agreed to plant only clones which were suitable to the environment, three, allowed for self-examination via peer review at Steamboat, and stood together to promote their industry via collective marketing, taxed themselves to fund further R and D.

Finally, they moved collectively against building [via OR AB 100] developers who 'eyed' the rolling hills of the Willamette, prime home building spots. Thus reinforcing the oft-repeated adage, you can easily break a single arrow, but a quiver of arrows prove too strong to break.

Today, the path to creating wines with a "sense of place" has been thoroughly established by the early pioneers and is being carried forward by an ever-changing generation of winemakers, growers who grabbing hold of the past, while moving on into the future of Oregon Wine. I've been to Oregon many times myself, exploring the many wine regions [AVA], I've seen firsthand how different, Oregon Pinot is from its brothers across the pond in Burgundy and those of California.

Each wine region puts its own stamp on its reflection of place, the clonal selection, the choice of yeast manufactured or natural, the decision of barrel types, planting space, whole cluster fermentation, etc. all come together to produce a 'natural' product, that is truly like no other. The path forward for Oregon wine is bright and promising; its evolution will change dramatically, and at the same time remain much the same as the day it was born. Below is a snippet of the video, one you should watch in its entirety, and not just once.


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