Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Ron Coleman, Tamarack Cellars


I've made it pretty clear in the past that I'm no fan of numerical wine ratings. Seems, in fact, to be all the rage these days with us bloggers to say so as often as possible. Kinda like how it never seems to get old for everyone to sneer at oaky Chardonnay. I could type a list a foot-and-a-half long list right now on why the 100 point system is out of whack, makes retailers lazy and leads the wine drinking public way astray.

But what kinda Cork Demon would I be if I couldn't rebel against all doctrine, including my own?

On the walls of Ron Coleman's old firehouse-cum-winery are the blurbs of Wine Spectator, enlarged and framed, their high scoring digits pouncing out at you from every wall. Walking into this, I was more than a little concerned that I was in for a set of tongue-thrashing fruit bombs when I reached the tasting table.

Big they were, to be sure. But they had something special: movement. And by that I mean an elegant progression of flavors through the palate. This made me less wary of the effusion of praise. Hell, maybe there are high scoring wines that have more than power. Huh.

Ron himself just so happened on the scene, looking quite tired from the barrage of tourists there for a bit of vino before moving on to the weekend hot-air balloon extravaganza. He gave me a quick tour of the place before sitting down with me.

Interview with Ron Coleman, Tamarack Cellars

C&D: Tell me about this building.

Ron: This base that we're on was an Army Air Corps base. In WWII it was set up overnight because they had another base, but they needed a place for take-off and touch-downs for the B-25's. This was a B-25 bomber training base. The crews left here and went to Burma and to Northern England and to bomb Hitler, you know, so real heroes. When the war ended the base was shut down, but all these buildings were left. This building was the fire station for the whole base.

How did it all begin, you and wine?

The first bottle I remember impressing me was a '68 Charles Krug, in 1971. So I've been into wine for a long time. First vintage I remember buying was the '73 Germans, they were really good. Then the '74 California Cabs came along, and I just became a wine guy. For many years, just a wine lover, through the seventies and the eighties.

What did you do at the time?

Worked for the railroad. My wife was going to medical school, and I quit the railroad and became a wine wholesaler in Seattle in the eighties while she was in med school. At the end of school she transferred for residency to Milwaukee, she's an eye surgeon. We moved there and I became a sommelier at an old hotel...and sold wine during the day at a kinda yuppie grocery store, did that for four years. When we got done with that, I really wanted to make wine. She wanted to be a small town doctor. So in '93, we moved to Walla Walla. I started working at a cellar rat. In '98, we started this winery. I made 300 cases in '98...we kept increasing, and we're up to about 10,000 cases now.

You said earlier that you had originally wanted to top out at two or three thousand cases. What happened?

You know, making wine's addictive. You get opportunities to get into vineyards that you really want to be into, and it just kinda snowballs. I think in some ways, though, it hurt me to lose that focus. I've always admired the fact that you can go to Bordeaux and drive to the winery don't go to Chateau Palmer and ask, "What winery should I taste?" It's the wine. I like a wide array of wines, I get bored easily. So I end up making a lot of different kinds of wines.

What's your definition of a well-made glass of wine?

Wine's about balance. It's easy to focus just on one tune in wine, it's harder to juggle a lot of balls at once, and have a lot of things going on in the mouth. It's easy to get a great entry (on the palate) and no middle. Sometimes you get a middle and no entry. Easy to get one of the three, you know. It takes three things: entry, middle, finish. I'm old, I've drank wine for a long time. I don't like in-your-face, big, powerful, over-the-top wines. I like wines that taste finished. I tasted a lot of wines that, to me...I feel like I want to take them back to the winery and finish them. I like wines that are very elegant, very long, balanced.

I have to ask you, like everybody, about terroir.

It's French for "Hang on to your wallet, here we come." It's the latest bit of bullshit that people put between knowledge of wine and romance. It's overplayed and misunderstood. At worst, it's thought of by most people as just the taste of dirt from one specific spot. I'll see wine writers go to...we've got vineyards over on Red Mountain. Two famous ones, Ciel du Cheval and Klipsun. And because they're famous and because they're stylistically different, wine writers'll go out there, taste the wines and talk to the owners and they'll say, "Look at the terroir! We're just across the road and the terroir is completely different!" That Red Mountain is basically the same terrain. The dirt is very similar, the climate's very similar. What's different is the way they're farmed. And they just never see that. They never see the science behind it that really creates the differences.

Tell me more.

If you go into Klipsun and walk through you'll see...the way they trellis very hedged, very exposed, really cut down. You go into Ciel du Cheval and Jim does something completely unusual with a big tall fan. And to begin with, the plants are twice as tall. They sprawl on one side. It's very unique, the way Jim farms. What they call 'terroir' is really just an expression, in my opinion, of Jim's ability to grow fruit in a certain specific style. The fruit, the wine is very elegant from Ciel du Cheval, Klipsun they're very powerful and strong.

So this is about canopy management, you're saying.

Exactly. And people don't understand why wines taste the ways they do. And instead of really learning, really delving into it, they fall back on romantic terms. Not a popular theory, is it?

After Walla Walla (and yeah, I checked out the balloons), I turned south. Headed home at last. And I gotta tell ya, being around all this amazing wine made me want nothing less than the absolute ice-coldiest beer I could get my hands on.

(Unfortunately, I ended up in Utah. You know how they are with their near-beer. Sigh.)

But at last, a break from the interviews, the hobnobbing, the tourists...and on to some of the most heart-poundingly fabulous terrain in all the world...Southern Utah.

So there I was in Moab, on my trusty rented steed McCourt, when...what the hell?


Well, I'll just be damned. Syrah in the desert. Stay tuned.


Friday, May 26, 2006

Please Stand By (Glass in Hand, Of Course)

Some dastardly imp has wiggled into my system and taken out my Mobile Technology, dammit. But don't despair. The Cork and Demon will be home soon to fix this nonsense. I may even be able to get an adapter and post tonight after a scheduled interview today. To keep your spirits (and interest) aloft, here's a list of Coming Soons:

  • Ron Coleman's Big Walla-licious Wines
  • "No way is there syrah in Moab, Utah! " Uh, actually, there is.
  • Texas High Plains Drifter (and grower) Bobby Cox spills it all
Also on Cocktails With The Noonday Demon:

  • There are four categories of scenic beauty: Pretty, Beautiful, Gorgeous, and I Just Crapped Myself. Find out where in the world one can find that last category.
  • Crazy for Americana Roadside? How 'bout paintings of Jesus, blowing holes in sandstone, or taxidermy? Southern Utah's own Hole N The Rock Rules.
...And much, much more.

Now go have a nice glass of Mer-lott and relax. I'll be back soon!


Sunday, May 21, 2006

K Vintners Rocks: Literally, Figuratively

Always wondered what this guy looked like. Back in Austin, his House Wine, a Cab/Syrah blend behind a plain white label with fat black lettering, sells out by the palletful. I'd heard some things about him: some connection to rock bands, maybe he was a roadie or something, but now he was all about syrah. Gotta check that one out.

There's no worry of missing his place out on Mill Creek Road. The big white 'K' might make you swerve into the vineyard, though. His spread is less rock 'n' roll and more The Waltons at first glance, a big two storey whitewashed house with massive trees surrounding, all decked out in their new spring green. A quick running stream runs diagonally across the yard. Charles tells me he once saw a river otter swim past. "I thought it was the cat," he says.

He points to a pair of Levi's hanging awkwardly from a tree. "They're vintage," he proclaims proudly, and tells me how he hadn't washed them until he was forced to after a foray into the dusty attic.

The inside of the white 'K'd barn is where Charles has got the rock and roll going on. An inner sitting room is cleverly designed and accented with a leopard skin chair. While the outside's whitewashed, the inside is painted completely black. His barrels stack up on one wall behind the tasting table they've set up for the weekend. Candles flicker everywhere, and you get the feeling you're in someone's personal shrine. Which you are. A current release of a rather kickass high end Syrah/Cab blend bears the name 'The Creator', and a sketch of Charles wearing a halo over his frizzy grey mane. Kinda egotistical, but I'm gonna give it to him. The wine's the real deal. Big and luscious but somehow unheavy, and some of the earthiest American syrah I've had yet.

The earth he's got rocks, too. Or, I should say, is rocks. The vineyard is on an old dry riverbed studded with large stones, the first vineyard I've seen like that on my Western route.

Interview with Charles Smith, K Vintners

C&D: Nice trees.

Charles: These are some of the oldest trees in the state.

What kind of trees are these?

The largest one in the middle is a tulip poplar. That whole thing blooms...


That's the largest in the state, that one.

So, how'd you get involved in wine?

I was thirsty. Wanted to make my own booze.

Right on. What did you do before that?

I managed rock bands in Europe. I Hate Juliet Productions in Copenhagen. Early '90's to 2000.

Who'd you work with?

Oh, the Cardigans, the Raveonettes...a lot of bands from Scandinavia. I worked a lot with Craig Leon, who did the first Ramones record and Blondie, Suicide, Talking Heads, 45 Grave, and on and on.

So, elaborate on the entry into the wine world.

The whole winemaking thing...with my parents. My father's French, my mother's Welsh and we made wine at home, a couple barrels a year for the family from the East of Sacremento, Sierra Foothills area. That's pretty much it. And when I got to my mid-thirties, and I decided, you know, what am I gonna do for the rest of my life, am I gonna stay in the music business? That didn't seem so interesting to me. So I went back to something I always loved, and it was wine. On a road trip with Sune from the Raveonettes, we were driving through Mexico up into the Northwest and we drove through Walla Walla and that was pretty much it. I came back the next year.

You moved to this property?

Yeah. I've never been anywhere else.

Did you look at this property, and go, "Damn, this is the place for Syrah"?

I looked at the property and said, "Damn, this place is ugly, but maybe I can do something". When I moved here, this place was trashed. There was no vineyard here, it was all above ground irrigation, it was just awful. But it was a beautiful spot, the soils were good, and a good location, and I said, this is gonna be the place.

What style of wine did you have in mind to make?

I wanted a wine that was suave, kinda sexy. I want the wines to be feminine, but like a woman who knows what she wants. Something with a lot of finesse and depth and elegance. And I don't like oaky wines, or blockbusters, or monster tannic wines, I like wines that are sophisticated.

When was your first vintage out of this location?


How many cases?


Where are you now?

4500 with K Vintners, and then my other project, House Wine, that's 100,000.

What was the idea behind House Wine?

I came back from Europe, where wine is accessible to everyone and (here) there'd be wines with twenty dollars' worth of packaging and fifty cents' worth of wine in the bottle, and (they) charged ten bucks. And I thought, why don't I put twenty bucks' worth of wine in fifty cents' worth of packaging and charge ten bucks. And that's why I started House Wine. And House Wine had to do with using the most common wine language in the world, 'house wine' is the most common term. And I wanted to be not about the winery or about the varietal but about the wine and the people who were gonna drink it.

Talk to me about the rocky riverbed you're on.

It's a bitch to farm. But it retains the heat, has nice minerality, the drainage is really good, and we're at a little higher elevation than down in the valley, which helps radiate heat in the evening when the sun goes down. So it's really nice. Besides, it looks really cool.

Riff on the concept of terroir.

It's a place. And this is a place, and that's terroir. That's it. If you have an interesting terroir that doesn't stretch over vast amounts of land, it can be very specific. For instance, here, this is a very specific terroir.

What does it impart in terms of structure or flavor?

It imparts the place. Where the wine comes from. It places the wine somewhere in the world, not in a bottle but in the land. It's not my philosophy, it's just a fact. The wine in the bottle in those barrels is from that vineyard and are from those plants that come out of that soil that come from this area. And there's not another wine that tastes like this.

Next up: Ron Coleman of Tamarack Cellars proudly displays the high numerical scores on his wines...and I'm okay with it. Stay tuned.


Friday, May 19, 2006

Justin Wylie, Va Piano Vineyards

Down the road from Pepperbridge, past an orchard of apple trees strapped to trellises is Va Piano Vineyards, where Jean-Francois Pellet has sent me to talk to his good friend Justin Wylie. I turn into the drive that runs between the newly leafy rows and here comes one of those ATV things, bright red, with a fit of dust trailing. "Park your car, and hop on, I'll take you for a tour," Justin says. I'm wondering how I'm supposed to hoist my butt on this little ride, but somehow I can just fit behind him and brace myself on the rack. Off we go.

It's a stunning day, baby blue sky, long rolling hills; the closest of which belong to Justin and his family. Justin is eager to tell me everything there is to know about his land. He reminds me of a kid with that "I made this!" enthusiasm.

What he's made is impressive, not because it's a large property with a gorgeous Tuscan Villa in the middle of it, but what's going on inside. Justin hasn't just built a winery for himself, but for other able investors who want to get started as well.

Again, the kid thing: remember when you drew your dream house in Math class, and how it was really big and cool, and you had all your friends living there, hanging out, and there was a game room, and cool stuff on the walls? It's like that, but for winemakers.

Justin has built himself a sort of co-op. The ample cellar below the tasting room houses the barrels of five other aspiring winemakers, some of whom seemed to have left big careers to do this wine thing: a former CNN producer, an ex-lawyer, a Master Sommelier. While Justin blended barrel samples in the glass for me, I watched as a couple of these guys bustled about, taking their own samples for analysis or sealing bottles with wax guns. The resident grey cellar cat supervises from a perch atop a stack of cases.

Above in the tasting room, unframed canvases line the wall, each a scene of Italian landscape rendered in vivid colors. My inner art hound craved one, but the price tag was too high. The pieces are done by Fr. Bruno Segatta who was once the Dean at Gonzaga University in Spokane. Justin tells me that Fr. Segatta donates part of the proceeds of the sale of these paintings to an orphanage in Nairobi. There are a couple of them so fetching that I'd buy 'em even if the money went to the NRA, but I just didn't have a grand on me right then.

The wines I tried were intensely colored Syrahs, Cabs and blends, all with bold chocolate or liqueur flavors well-balanced with acid structure. Big but not pumped up; the Walla Walla style. Still too heavy for me, but I'm learning a lot about what makes the Wallans tick, and it's interesting. More on that later...

Interview with Justin Wylie, Va Piano Vineyards

You. Wine. How it came to be. Go.

I lived in Florence, Italy in 1995, '96. And from that point, when I came back to Walla Walla...I wanted to buy a piece of land, and have that land for the future, to build a home on. But at the time I didn't know how I'd pay for the land. Everyone around me was growing grapes, so I thought, why not plant a few grapes. At the same time, I'd started making home wine, so I kinda had an idea of what I wanted to do. But I knew to take the approach that the vineyards were the most important, I wanted to learn about the vineyards. Simultaneously I could learn about the wine processing portion of it. I helped everyone I could with crush at the wineries, and I started making wine in my garage. Once I identified the vineyards that I enjoyed, I went out and purchased one acre of grapes from these different vineyards, and I sold off all the fruit but kept a half ton for myself. I worked with those half ton lots for five years. I tried different barrel programs, different fermentation styles, until I had it figured out, this is where I want to go. So then from that point I spent time at UC Davis taking chemistry and sensory evaluation, started a wine group with my friends. We had wine tasting class every Monday night. All my friends were established winemakers, so if I had any questions, I could go and say, here's a scenario, what would you do. And we still do it, we all do it, among all of our friends. We're always bouncing off ideas about different blends or different wines. So that really helped shave some years off the learning curve.

What do you look for in a glass of wine?

My wines, I want to make sure that they're representative of the terroir...I want to make sure they're fruit forward wines that are really well balanced in relation to alcohol. Alcohol is a big thing, I don't want super, overly ripe, over the top ripe fruit and loads of alcohol. So I really try to keep the alcohol in check. And I can do that because I own my own vineyards, I can harvest at different times, I can blend. I try to keep the Cabernets in the 13.5% range, and the Syrahs no more than 14.3%.

Besides your own wine, what do you put on your table?

I enjoy Syrahs...

Any particular style?

No, we drink something different almost every night. We went down to Paso Robles a couple of months ago...for example.

Tell me about this building.

Everything here is authentic. It's a 7500 square foot building. We had an architect design it. The windows are all hand made, the doors are all hand made, and given that aged look. We've really tried to capture a sense of quality, and more important, a time period. It gives the allusion that it's been here for a long, long time.

Your original trade was in granite.

Yes. Hence all the granite around here.

How long were you in that?

Fourth generation. My grandfather started in 1912. So we've been in it a long time.

I've been asking all the winemakers about the hot topic of terroir.

I've been reading all those topics, too. I think terroir comes down to just the flavor profiles in the fruit. It is what it is. You aren't going to change it. The vineyard sites are going to produce what they're going to produce. The Walla Walla has so many different regions within the valley. That really, truly, terroir differs...and the wines are completely different. But I think that through vineyard management you can express those vineyards to their full potential. So I think terroir comes down to...I think it comes down to soil profiles. And management styles, to help bring out the best fruit you possibly can.

Now y'all know me, so it's no stretch that I'd be a sucker for a winemaker in a Black Flag tee shirt. But how's about one who actually makes fantastic syrah? Aw yeah, you know it: Charles Smith of K Vintners up next for the people.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Jean-Francois Pellet

Once I saw the labels again, I immediately remembered both Pepperbridge and Amavi from when I worked in retail. They were described to me as "killer" and "solid", respectively, by a co-worker, but beyond that, I didn't know them from any other of the scores of other Merlots and Cabs at the store.

Let's be honest here. Knowing the story behind a wine label makes the juice inside more interesting. And I'm not talking about those heart-string pulling blurbs on the back of the bottle that some marketing whiz wrote. I mean the real story, which is how the winemaker/viticulturist views what he/she does. Their philosophy about wine.

Everyone's gonna tell you that their goal is to make the best wine possible. But on my travels, I've met a few winemakers with whom I trust that promise wholeheartedly because I see how they take care of their land, their workers, their facilities, and most of Not only did he take the time to talk with me, but he made damn sure I was connected up with whomever and whatever I needed while visiting Walla Walla. He helped me make reservations at the HoJo's, fer chrissakes. That's way above and beyond.

What does this have to do with his winemaking skills? It ain't such a stretch to imagine that a man who takes care of the people around him (from the workers in the field to the visitors to his winery) also takes care of his fruit and his wine. And the proof is there: the Pepperbridge label, which makes only Merlot and Cab, are big beauties with loads of character that have consistently received high scores.

Holy shit, did I just say "high scores" without snarking? Yeah, I did. We'll get into that later. It comes up a lot in Walla x 2. Stay tuned for that.

Interview with Jean-Francois Pellet, Pepperbridge Winery, Amavi Cellars

Let's go back to the very beginning of your wine experience.

I am a third generation winemaker from Switzerland. So I grew up in this business.

Did you always know this was what you wanted to do?

I think from the beginning, I always knew this was what I wanted to do.

What brought you to the Walla Walla?

Ah, this is a long story.

Go for it.

I got my first degree in viticulture, then I went back to school and got my degree in winemaking. Then I started to get the traveling bug. I worked in Germany in 1984, then after that I went back to Switzerland, then took a job two years in Spain to establish two wineries in the Jumilla, which nobody knew about at the time. This was 1990, 1991. In 1995 I got an opportunity to open a winery in South Africa. And my project failed, but...I had worked in 1988 in Napa as an intern, so I called Heitz Cellars back and said, do you want to hire me as a cellar rat, and they said yes, we will, when can you start? I worked there for four years, and I met Norm McKibben through consulting, and he was starting a project here. I flew here a couple of times in '98, and in '99 we decided to move up here.

What attracted you to this valley?

The openness. Coming from's a great country, but it's small and everyone's on top of each other. And look at that. Look at the view we have here. It's acres and acres of land. There's more people moving in here, but it's still pretty open.

We were talking earlier about sustainable farming...

Yes. Sustainable is something that is very important to me. As a matter of fact, I was involved with a similar group in Switzerland in the early '90s. We are based on three pillars, and the most important one is enviornment. But we also look at the social aspect, and the income aspect. We are trying to be stewards of the land, this is our goal. We believe that, after eighty years of corporate America, this whole valley was farmed intensively and depleted of a lot of it's good things. So we want to turn the soil back to a better condition.

Explain how sustainable differs from organic farming.

This is a good question. I think the difference is...we try to be as soft as possible, but at the same time we don't want our hands tied if one year we have a problem. We might have to spray with something a little stronger, and we understand that we might lose three years of trying to reestablish beneficial insects and other things, but we believe--and this is where the economical and actually the social aspects come in--that our goal is to make good wine, and we cannot lose a crop or have a bad crop and make good wine, at the end of the day.

Talk about your own philosophy about terroir.

Terroir, good question. When Pepperbridge winery was established, we were very focused. We only make two wines here, one Merlot and one Cabernet Sauvignon. And the goal is to make the best wines to showcase our vineyard. We want to make a wine that really reflects, has a sense of place of the Walla Walla valley. We're small, we can afford that. I still travel a lot to go see what others are doing, and now you have a tendency to see a lot of wines that taste the same. And the terroir notion means a lot to me, it means a sense of place. As you know, there's a lot of debate on terroir, but I do think we have a terroir here in Walla Walla. This place has been flooded over fifty times, and we are based on silt and loam soils.

Can you give an example of how it reflects in the structure or flavor of the wine?

At Seven Hills vineyard, we get about seven inches, or nine inches of rainfall a year, and we have about ten to twelve percent clay in the vineyard. We get a lot of red fruit flavors and very silky tannins from here...earthy, graphite, pencil lead quality which I really think reflects the terroir and I really like. Pepperbridge gets a little more rainfall, we're about twelve to fifteen percent...we have more clay as well, and the wine tends to be much more on the darker fruit, like dark cherry especially, and some chocolate characters, and a hint of herbal, you know, thyme, sage. I kinda like that, too.


So one of the hookups I got from this lovely gentleman was Justin Wylie, who owns vineyards and a co-op called Va Piano. Read about him next.


Saturday, May 13, 2006

Kay Simon, Chinook Wines

Over the mountains and through the high desert went Maggie and I last week to the expansive Yakima Valley. The Yakima doesn't share the press that Walla Walla gets, and that's so not fair, since a fair portion of wineries in the latter and elsewhere purchase fruit from it. It's Bordeaux variety country: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc a-plenty. But, who's that, hiding in the corner? Is that you, Cabernet Franc? C'mere, you. Don't be shy. Your flashier bretheren always get the attention, but it's your dusty dried flower and bright fruit goodness that I love.

Kay and Clay Simon have a nice chunk of Cab Franc in the front of their Chinook Winery in Prosser, and I'm not the only one eyeing it lovingly. A rather fat bird sits in a nearby branch as if determined to wait there clear through to harvest time to get his share. Kay tells me the birds---and even the dogs---love to munch the berries off the vines.

Chinook Winery makes a bit of all the Bordeaux varieties plus Chardonnay, but it's the Franc I'm most interested in. The Simons make both a red and rose from it. I tried the red, and am ready to testify. It's brimming with Franc-alicious charm. And as the brawniest Golden Retriever I've ever seen glued himself to my thigh, I sat down with Kay for a chat about it.

Interview with Kay Simon, Chinook Winery

C&D: Tell how you started making wine.

Kay: My dad made homemade wine with friends. I was raised in Northern parents drank wine with dinner. That was not uncommon, in the sixties and seventies in California, to have wine with a meal. Not fancy wine, but wine with the meal. So that was something I observed in my childhood. In high school I worked with a public health nutritionist, and at that point I identified...that could be a profession I could follow, nutrition and food. I ended up going to UC Davis to study nutrition, and during my convoluted path that most young people take, I decided that the malting and brewing class would be really fun to take, I love beer. Many of my classmates were also involved in wine classes, so I discovered that there was a major I could move to. I had all the chemistry already, organic microbiology and all that you need. So I changed my major to fermentation science. Graduated with that degree, got a job right away with a large winery. Then in the late seventies I got a job with Chateau St. Michelle here in Washington, they were expanding, they'd been purchased by U.S. Tobacco Company, and they hired a lot of young people with wine industry qualifications. That's where I met my husband Clay. In 1983 we started Chinook with no money and lots of ideas.

What do you grow onsite?

We grow Cabernet Franc, and we have long term arrangements with eight local growers, all within about fifteen miles from where you're sitting.

Do you have control over picking schedules?

Yeah. That's pretty typical, that you drive the schedule. It has to be a two-way street, obviously. If we say we want the grapes picked on Tuesday, they can say, on Tuesday I'm picking for L'Ecole, what about Monday. We have a relationship with growers based on mutual respect. And the other aspect of that relationship is, they don't want to take the liability in deciding when to pick. They'd much rather we be the ones that determine it.

You guys like Cabernet Franc a lot.

We do. We'd been introduced to some foreign made Cab Francs that we like, and some from California. Also because of this particular site, which we chose more as a winery location than a vineyard location. It's a little bit north-facing and a little cool. So Clay thought we could probably ripen Cab Franc here more successfully than Merlot or Cabernet Sauvingnon.

What do you drink at your own table?

We drink some of everything. When we make that weekly trip to Seattle, one of us has the shopping assignment...sometimes, it's something typical of the blend we're working on. And then, the people who sell our wine, what are they excited about? It's interesting to know that, too.

Last question: terroir. Do you have any thoughts on it?

I hate the word. I think that wines should express the place that they come from.

What do you hate about the word?

It's pretentious to me to use a word that has meaning in a foreign language that doesn't really have meaning in our language. And the way I hear it used. And in terms of the science of it, what are you really talking about? Are you talking about the weather? Climate, rainfall? It's imprecise. So it's like, what's the question? If it's should the wine express the place that it comes from, in a multitude of ways, the answer is yes.


Alas, Maggie and I parted ways (after watching Lord of War in a hotel room...Nick Cage is so awsesome...) and while she headed back to lovely Seattle, I forged on to Walla Walla. Up next: Jean-Francois Pellet of Pepperbridge and Amavi Cellars talks sustainable farming and how a Swiss fella ends up in Washington state.


Friday, May 12, 2006

O'Shea and Scarborough: Seattle Garagistes

You gotta start somewhere. For many winemakers I've met, that meant having a lot of clams to buy a nice spread, the Tuscan Villa mockup and the $800 barrels. For a couple o' nice boys from Seattle, you just need to know the right people.

These guys are true garagistes: what the rock stars to-be playing in the basement are to music, these guys are to wine. Their neonate label O'Shea and Scarborough runs out of a tiny garage barely big enough to hold a Mini Cooper. Up on the wall behind an open pack of Ranier Beer is a large black and white photo of the vineyard worker who helped them swipe (er, pick) their first half ton. The crush pad is the driveway, and the restroom's a port-o-potty out back. This is the perfect setting for wine made by guys who love what they do. "The best wine is made while drinking beer," Travis reminds us.

Damn straight.

Interview with O'Shea and Scarborough

C&D: State your names for the record, please.

Travis: Travis Scarborough.

Darryn: Darryn O'Shea.

We're in the middle of a garage in the Queen Anne District. Underneath a condominium. Give me the nutshell on how this got started.

D: That's a damn good question. We were both working for wholesalers in the Seattle area. I actually met Travis when I started selling wine to him at Cassis restaurant, and I was making my first vintage of syrah, 2003. We just got to talking about it and purchased a half ton of syrah...when I first met him, I was making wine in a storage area underneath an apartment that was 8x10, if that big. I started looking for space and my landlord had this, so we started running it out of the garage. We had one barrel, one half-ton fermentor and that was it.

T: I made wine a little bit before in Napa, he was interested, he's been making wine as well, selling wine, we're like, "yeah, we should do it."

D: We like the same style of wine. That's what got us going, we were talking about the style of wine...

Did you make this decision over Ranier Beer?

T: There could have been some Miller High Life involved, as well as some...

D: Absinthe.

T: A little absinthe,too.

D: Definitely some absinthe.

T: I had a little Swiss absinthe hookup at the time that made our decision really clear.

You said you grew up in Napa...

T: Grew up in Napa, St. Helena, class of '97. The Saints.

Go Saints!

T: Yeah. I made my first wine when I was twenty. Not very good wine. It was a bunch of guys sitting on the porch, saying "Yeah, dude, let's make some wine." And we just picked some grapes around midnight, one a.m., brought them back to our place, made it the next day...we had a leaky barrel, our basement flooded, we had malo shooting out on our front porch, the wine didn't finish malo (second fermentation). Oh yeah, we made wine. We had no alcohol at that point, so we liked it.

Were your parents doing it? Was your family into wine?

T: My family were just collectors at the time. My dad would let me drink wine when I was younger, but he would also say, "What does it taste like? What does it smell like?" He gave me an education about it, rather than just, here you go.

So the two of you got together and said let's do it. When was that?

D: That was the summer of 2004.

T: Yeah. Spring or summer.

How did you hook up with the equipment you needed?

D: I had a lot of connections selling for the company Washington Wineries, we represented Dunham and Matthews and JM Cellars out in Woodenville. A lot of Washington wineries. Everyone was more than happy to help us out, whether it was getting fruit to us, we didn't even pay for the first fruit we got...

T: And I have to say, initially, all we were doing was a half a ton. That's it. Just to have some fun. That's what our initial goal was.

D: And it was tasting good, and you get hooked, it's just like anything. You get into it and you learn the fine points of it, and you say, if we do this next year it'll be better...

T: So we say, let's make more, more, more! Let's go over here and do this syrah! Let's do cab, let's do reisling! Whatever we could do.

D: Matt Loso of Matthews Cellars was really, really helpful. He gave us a barrel, helped us get our fruit, and wanted to crush it for us, but we wanted to crush it by foot...go kinda old school and non-interventional.

T: A lot of advice, too.

D: Everyone's willing to tell you what they'd do when you have a question...

T: Which is good and bad...

D: you get everybody on the phone and say, okay, eight guys would do this and three guys would do that, and you figure in what kind of style of wine they're making, and if that's the way you want to go, you follow that advice.

T: And then we do our own thing.

D: That's the great thing about the Washington wine community. It is competitive, but everyone feels like they're in it together and everybody's helping. There's a comradery, almost to a fault, because everybody only drinks Washington wine. It gets old, because everybody's comparing their wines to everybody else's wines.

That's got to cause a kind of homogeneity...

D: I think because many people are sourcing fruit from other vineyards instead of growing their own fruit, so there is a lot of wine that tastes similar.

So let's say in five years, O'Shea and Scarborough gets off the ground...

T: Let's say one year. We need the money.

Okay, one year. What's your ideal case production?

D: Probably 1500 to 2000 cases, where we can comfortably do it. Where it's a couple of guys who know each and every barrel, and you don't spend a lot of time messing around with wine you're not happy with.


The boys are working on a Cab, a Syrah, and a couple of blends. It's gonna be solid stuff. Big stuff, but well balanced. Check out the more in-depth barrel tasting notes Maggie's got on The Wine Offensive. They're also sitting on a fantastic late-harvest Semillon that for the life o' me smells like it's got a touch of the lovely botrytis that gives it a honey tangerine note.

Just remember: you heard of 'em first on The Cork and Demon.

My wine tour is almost complete! I'm in the Walla x 2 Valley now, where people are so friendly it makes my teeth hurt. Gorgeous out here. Before I get to that, I've got a great chat with Kay Simon of Chinook Winery from the Yakima you simply must check out.


Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Inn at Ship Bay: Special Edition Food Worship

I'm here to testify today: Not only is the Inn at Ship Bay on Orcas Island a suh-weet vacation destination, but chef/gardener/proprietor Geddes Martin and crew do killer springtime salads, first courses and entrees that make the whole Orcas Island thing complete.

Now, the caveat of this article is that I'm a little prejudiced, since my buddy Luke is the innkeeper and all, and I stayed for free. Not that it did any good: I spent all that saved money at the restaurant.

Luke told me all about the charms of Orcas: the oyster farm, the views, the hikes...and oh yeah, the food at the inn's really good. I just didn't realize that 'really good' really meant really good.
As many ingredients as possible come from local growers, including fresh free-range lamb, broccoli, asparagus, peas, pears, plums and more seafood than you can handle. Judd Cove Oyster Farm is two minutes' drive from the kitchen door.

I'd been trying to catch up with Geddes for a couple of days. He was power washing a fence at one point; didn't want to bother him doing that. I saw him down in his arugula patch, but by the time I got down there, he was already gone. Finally I nudged my way into the kitchen and asked him a few questions while he cut up fresh ducks.

Geddes was the chef at another resort on the island when he came into the Inn at Ship Bay property as a manager with an option to purchase. More interested in the restaurant than with the Inn at first, he saw the rooms as a way to keep the restaurant's bills paid. But the inn itself is far from neglected. The Martins have repainted, reappointed and relandscaped. The result is a cozy retreat on a cliff that overlooks the bay with appropriately priced rooms and...did I mention the killer restaurant?

It's rare to get the kind of superfresh, high quality meat and produce and not pay out the wazoo for it. The Inn at Ship Bay is pricey, but you'll leave feeling like you got your money's worth.

What's that? You're dying to know more about these Judd Cove oysters? Why, sure! Check it out on my second blog, Cocktails With The Noonday Demon.


Friday, May 05, 2006

Peter Rosback, Sineann Winery

For many small Pinotphile winemakers in the Willamette, the grape is a like a puzzle that can be put together many different ways to achieve different pictures. Choice of clones, in which chunk of land to grow those particular clones, out of which block of that chunk of land to harvest, and which of the wines from the particular block in the specific chunk of land to choose to bear the label.

This is a pursuit of Pinot Noir at the height of meticulosity. And Pinot Geek-osity. At Sineann winery, it results in several vineyard designated Pinot Noirs, all very broad shouldered, intense and high-octane, each with it's own distinct declaration of identity.

Peter Rosback is as intense as his wines. It didn't surprise me at all to learn that he was a hockey player, not because he's a large guy, but because he's...let's say: challenging. Not a subtle guy. Twice I was introduced thusly: "This one's from Texas, she's the one responsible for letting that guy out of the state!" The first time truly was enough (he made up for it later by putting a 375 of Pinot in my palm as I left). His enthusiasm for variety is very infectious, though, and by the time I left, I'd tasted through all seven of his current 2004 Pinots, a few Merlot or Cab blends, three Gewurtzes, one Pinot Gris and a couple of late harvest wines, and so many '05 barrel samples, I lost count.

My time with Mr. Rosback was fit precariously among a trickling in of men who were gathering with him for some pre-dinner barrel tasting. I was lucky to meet two of the men also responsible for Sineann's success--the amiable Kevin Chambers, owner of the beloved Resonance Vineyard, and Hal Medici of Medici vineyards (who stuck up for me when the Texas jokes broke out. Thank you, sir, for your graciousness).

Interview with Peter Rosback of Sineann Vineyards

How'd you get started?

Well, I like wine. I moved here in 1980 from Indiana, and we had a small, burgeoning wine industry. I had a friend, I used to go pick peaches at his place every August. And picking peaches, we'd walk by his small Pinot Noir vineyard, pick the peaches, which were incredible, and walk back. I also had a friend who had the equipment so I thought, okay, for very little money, we could try making wine. That was back in 1985. We made ten gallons, it was a blast seeing the stuff change from this incredible fruit...ferments and turns into this raw, yeast filled, somewhat tart alcoholic substance. And then it mellows out, goes through malolactic fermentation and turns into beautiful Pinot Noir. I was hooked, through that first batch. I made more the next year, more the next year, pretty soon I was making the legal limit of what they'll let you make at home. After a few years of doing that I started helping out at a local winery, Elk Cove. I enjoy making wine so that gave me a chance to help do it on an industrial scale. I used to take my vacation from my engineering job--a day in the winery, a day back in the office--through harvest, as a volunteer. After doing that for a couple of years, they brought on David O'Reilly to be their marketing guy. We used to share harvest, that was the ethic, to share food and wine. He got to try the wines I was making, and after trying the zinfandel a couple times, he said, why don't we get a couple of tons and make it into a commercial wine? It's got a story, it's good wine, he thought we might be able to sell it. Year by year, we added vineyards and grew. Eventually I ran out of time to do both engineering and winemaking. So I dropped the engineering.

(Current case production: 9,000 in 2005)

You've got seven Pinots that we've tasted today. That tells me Pinot Noir is pretty fascinating to you.

Well, first of all, if you look at all my wines, most of them are vineyard designated. It's interesting to me, and others, to have the land express itself in wines. So if the vineyards I get have fruit that makes distinctly good wine, it gets a label. I mean, you tasted three different Gewurtztraminers, they were all different, yet they were made in exactly the same fashion. And Pinot Noir is said to be the one that expresses terroir know, the difference between sites?


Well, that's certainly fascinating to me, and it works well in a business sense. They sell very well, so...I'm not inclined not to do it. I get Pinot Noir off of maybe a dozen vineyards or so, maybe close to fifteen different blocks, and I choose different blocks or maybe the whole vineyard to become the vineyard designates.

Can you boil down for me the most important qualities you look for in a great Pinot Noir?

Wow, that would be like wine in general...which is just depth and breadth of flavor...I like aromatics, although my wines don't tend to be real aromatically expressive in their youth. I think I react best to wines that have a big feel in the mouth, you know they're there, they have a presence. Also I like wines that have a long finish.

Tell me about the glass enclosures.

It's a German system, Alcoa in Germany came up with this. I was told it used to be used for sealing medical supplies, and they adapted it to wine use. We've all been looking for a replacement for cork. TCA ruins two to fifteen percent of wines, depending on who you listen to. The plastic corks cause wine to age prematurely, screwcaps are okay, but I don't trust them for twenty or thirty years of aging. This glass one, though, it goes in, it stays in. It has an O ring that seals within the neck, then there's another O ring that seals on top. You can snap it in and feel it. It feels just a good the two hundredth time (you open it). It's a system that's not only recyclable but it's actually reusable. So it's about as good as you get. And so I got on board early with it, and I've been happy with it.

Is it more expensive?

Yeah, it's about seventy cents a system, whereas the corks I buy are forty. But that's not a factor. I would use them on everything, if it was easier to do.

You've already touched upon this once...terroir is a hot topic in the wine world now. There are those who believe terroir, appellation, even organics are all marketing ploys. Riff on the idea of terroir.

Clearly, clearly, there are differences in wines from different appellations. Appellations are big. They carry a lot of vineyards, by definition. Willamette Valley is huge. Columbia Valley is huge. Clearly, if you taste a lot of wines, there are differences from appellation to appellation. That doesn't get you all the way, because I claim it comes down to vineyard by vineyard, because management matters, especially with Pinot Noir. Your site...we've got this twenty acres out here, it varies from site to site, based on...the exposure and the soils on this relatively uniform hillside. Then you've got vine age, you've got clonal differences, you get variation. That's all there is to it. Terroir is real, it's a subset of appellation. Clearly they're different. I make wines in the New World style as opposed to the Old World style, and if you can't notice the differences amid the twenty different lots of Pinot I get, which are all made exactly the same way, then you don't have the powers to be able to discern anything.

My picks of the lineup:

2005 Oak Ridge Gewurtztraminer (Columbia Gorge): Nice minerality and aromatics. Semi-dry, round fruit.

2004 Oregon Pinot Noir: This one was a blend of the vineyards, and honestly, I preferred it to any of the vineyard designates. A little leaner, a little more aromatic, with no lack of depth.

2004 Wyeast Vineyard Pinot Noir (Columbia Gorge): darker fruit, silky, very fine tannins. Less hot on the finish than some of the others.

2004 Resonance Vineyard Pinot Noir (Yamhill County, Willamette): Beautifully balanced for a big-style Pinot; full and dark fruited.

No one needs me to say that these Pinots are made with incredible fruit and lovingly crafted; Sineann has a cult status all over the nation. They each retail above the $40 mark. For my taste, they're a lot like a favorite alt-rock band turned up way too loud for comfort. But if you like your Pinots turned up to ten, and the price tag don't scare you none, these will offer you a little bit of Pinotgeek paradise.

The secret's out...I'm not in the Willamette anymore. I've moved on to a little slice o' paradise called Orcas Island. Next up is a very special break from all this winegab: I'll introduce you to one of the best vacation inns I've encountered, complete with stunning views, an incredible restaurant with a seasonal menu that conjures the very essence of spring. Don't miss it.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Jim Prosser, JK Carriere Wines

Carolyn at Chehalem made a phone call for me after I'd tasted through the Chehalem lineup, and gave me directions to a white barn. "You'll like this guy," she said. "He's a good guy and he makes great Pinots."

I found the white barn easily, surrounded as she said it was by hazelnut trees. An open barn door revealed stacks of white cases, the only visible clue that somebody was in there making wine.

Jim Prosser was in the middle of an intense conversation on the cell when I drove up. He waved and motioned for me to wait a sec. "Label problems," he'd later tell me. I took the moment to take in the fact that it was springtime in the Willamette Valley. The sky was blue, the hazelnut trees were lush with their bright green spring foilage. I watched a farmer as he drove around the orchard in a John Deere, thinking what it would be like to live the simple life out here in the valley, living off the land...

"They're spraying for worms," Jim told me as he greeted me. "It's a pain in the ass."

With my bucolic bubble temporarily burst, we began the grand tour.

He took me around and told me a bit about the history of the grounds. "This is old Oregon," he said. And it was: the Springbrook Farms B&B across the yard is an historic monument, and its hazelnut orchard has been surviving worms for upwards of 70 years. The white barn itself has a full century behind it. Jim told me that when he moved in, the structure was listing 12 degrees and had to be righted before anything else could go on inside.

The attic, he told me, had something worth seeing, so we hoofed it up creaking stairs. Like everyone else who's gone on this tour, I wasn't expecting what I saw. Suspended a few feet above the floor was an long, slender wooden boat with hand-shaped oars sticking out in all directions. Jim walked around it and gave each paddle a light push until all were swinging silently back and forth. Below the boat and covered with a layer of dust were water-blue wooden cutouts, mostly thin planks, but some with human shapes. This kinetic structure was once in the Smithsonian, but needed a home. Local artist Larry Kirkland hung it in his buddy's barn.

We went into the central room of the barn next, that part with all the beakers, barrels and bottles. The label on the bottles offers up a lot of clues about Jim. 'JK Carriere' is a melding of his grandfather's names, a sort of charm to keep him and his pursuits worthy of their approval. The wasp is a talisman as well; Jim nearly died during a severe allergic reaction after a sting. "That which doesn't kill you, et cetera," he said. He doesn't have to tell you that he's traveled the world, been a business advisor to the Peace Corps, and biked across America for you to sense that he's already done big things. "I used to be in commercial real estate, drive the expensive sports car," he admits. But clearly that wasn't the direction he desired.

His current production is at 1500 cases, and he likes that number. What growing there is to do is in improving the wine rather than making more of it. It was right about here that I thought again of the so-called 'simple' life I'd been mulling over at various stages of my trip. But 'simple' isn't the word. I was thinking of a life that wasn't driven by the quest of business growth and greater profit, but by establishing a lifestyle that focuses on productivity, creativity and passion. Quality versus quantity. Making enough money to do that thing you love to do. It always seems unrealistic when I think of this life, but I began to see that Jim Prosser was living it, folding all of his energy and work into a lifetime's fascination and reverence for one grape: Pinot Noir.

He asked if I wanted to do some barrel sampling. What? Oh, yeah--the wine. Absolutely.

Like most of the other Pinotphiles, Jim's got several single vineyard wines in barrel. Rather than the usual, efficient labeling of the barrel's contents with a marker, each barrel has a thin wooden plank with the name of the vineyard in the same calligraphic hand as the official logo: Shea, Temprance Hill, Montazi. Nice touch.

Out of the barrel, they're showing youthful power and bravado. But unlike some of his peers, this bravado isn't the goal. They're still developing. Jim wants the final juice to follow a classic Burgundian style: elegant and graceful rather than a hussy-like come on, swinging big sexy fruit in your face. I've found more of the latter than the former in my Willamette adventures, and the break from it is refreshing.

We taste a few releases next: the 2005 'Glass' White Pinot Noir, a dry, slightly frizzante refresher for the summer, and two vintages of Pinot Noir. The 2003 was still developing, but well; the 2001 was right-on, coming in at the magic number 13% alcohol, great weight, dried orange peel, herbs, lean power and silky tannins. The man can make some Pinot.

I told him about my trip, my goals and all that. He asked me what I planned to do when I was finished. Instead of my usual speil about how I'll get a job and maybe see if I have enough material for a book or I'm checking out potential new places to live, blah blah blah, I tell him: "I dunno. I'll figure that out when I get back."

He smiled. "You know you'll never be the same, now that you've chosen to wake up." I nodded. I knew this. Beyond wine, this trip was about meeting people like Jim, who had woken up, founded a sustainable lifestyle away from the conventional definitions of success.

What's red and white and makes Pinot all over? Peter Rosback of Yamhill County's Sineann Winery, up next post.


Monday, May 01, 2006

Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem


Miles driven: 4876

Winemakers/Viniculturists Interviewed: 25

Wines tasted: 370

Percentage of Jaw-dropping scenery in Willamette Valley: 99%

The name Harry Peterson-Nedry goes down in the Cork and Demon Hall o' Fame under the category 'Most Willing to Shave Off a Chunk of Time Under Pressure'. He met me over a cup of joe on his way to a very important-sounding meeting in Portland, yet never appeared rushed or annoyed, and even stayed into the time I estimated it would take him to get to downtown. What a champ.

What follows is my longest, geekiest interview ever. If you count yourself as a Pinot dork, this will satisfy. If not, get in touch with your inner wine geek and read on.

Interview with Harry Peterson-Nedry, Chehalem Wines

C&D: (into recorder) This is Harry Peterson-Nedry....

Harry: Kind of a weird name...

Not at all. But do people have to call you 'Mr. Peterson-Nedry, sir'?

Whoever does that...only talks to me once (laughs). Always Harry.

So, give me the nutshell version of how you got started.

I got started being impassioned about wine. I also grew up on a farm in the Southeast, and got a couple of degrees. A degree in chemistry. And that allowed me to earn some dollars but it also gave me the wherewithal when I became so impassioned and found myself in Oregon, that I wanted to go out and find vineyard land and begin a winery...this is the late '70's. It also gave me the wherewithal to actually implement, so an (agricultural) background, and chemistry degree, and a love of wine were basically my undoing. I'd come to the Northwest as an interlude between industry stints. I worked for a large corporation as a chemist, and I was somewhat disenchanted with it, after a couple of years, because of the 'big business' aspect of it, and people were just as petty as adults as they were as children.

Imagine that.

Yeah, and I was naiive at the time. I took a time off, and during that interlude I was writing, one of my other degrees was in English, and I chose the Northwest to come to write. So I was in a mountain cabin for about a year, wasting away my savings account, and when that ran out, I stayed here and went back to the industrial, technical roles. That was in the '70's, and that's when I realized the (wine) industry was going to be important, and I was going to be a part of it.

What was the Willamette Valley like in the '70's?

It was...1966 was when the first grapes were planted by Dave Lett of Eyrie Vineyards, and by the time--say '79--when we started looking for lands, I think there were only twenty-some wineries and there were, maybe...1200 acres of grapes, total? Something like that. Reisling, at that time, was a conversion for people from soda pop to wine, made in a very innocuous, crappy style, and was 23% of everything Oregon did. Right now, it is down to 3%. Pinot Gris had just barely been planted, there were less than 100 acres of it planted in 1980 when we began. We chose to plant in the first two years of our planting two clones of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Gamay Noir. Pinot Gris, we followed in the vision of David Lett on that, and that was a very smart choice.

What's your personal philosophy about Pinot Noir? When did you become interested in it, and what was it about the variety that you liked?

Wine in general--and Pinot Noir is the ultimate reflection of it--is complex, it's intellectual, it's always different depending on where it's grown, and so it's ability to reflect terroir is critical. And it also ages magnificently, which is not to say that it'll live for a hundred years, but is to say that it will gain much in character as it goes through it's ageing process. And I think compared to the Bordelais varieties, Pinot Noir is great because, pretty much straight out of the chute, was bottle shock is over after bottling, it's ultimately very drinkable, and what you get out of a brand new fresh Pinot Noir is very rewarding, but very different from the wine that you'll get as it gradually ages. That's appealing.

That must be interesting from a chemistry point of view as well.

Oh, it is. We actually do a lot of nerd stuff as far as the chemistry of wines as they age, and also as we treat them with different variables. Pinot Noir is so hard to grow and hard to make that it gave me the opportunity to use some tools that I was working with in industry at the time. When you're making exotic metal engine components, you wouldn't think there was any connection, but we were trying to get that industry into statistically designed experiments, where you can tell a lot about what drives mechanisms and how you can improve things. And I used those sort of tools when learning about Pinot Noir.

Since I've been traveling, I've been trying to get my head around the different styles of Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara County to here. Some of them forward and big, others leaner. What are your thoughts on style?

The style that I prefer is one that reflects fruit, but is not all fruit. That has structure, and the structure's largely acid, but with a certain amount of fine tannin. We embrace in winemaking a certain amount of native fermentation, whole cluster in part, but not exclusively. We also harvest fully ripe, which is not to say that it's overripe, but we're somewhat anal about when we pick. It's a matter of one or two days, and tasting through vineyards to know exactly, physiologically we should be picking.

Sounds like you actually use your senses rather than "okay, we're at 24 brix, 25 brix..."

That's very astute, and it was also one of the most difficult things for me to learn...when to pick. I had to unlearn...not unlearn my chemistry but to set it aside; instrumental methods weren't going to tell me how to make great Pinot Noir. For example, a Pinot Noir berry, you can look at in a cluster and tell how close it is to the ultimate ripeness. If you shake a fully ripe cluster of Pinot, a third of the berries should fall off. They shouldn't be photogenic, they should be dusty and, "Oh my God, are these things over the hill?" like a basketball you've left in the closet for six months. That's Pinot Noir at it's ultimate ripeness.

Talk a little about terroir in the Willamette and Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir is the most reflective variety of terroir. It reflects the site differences, I think, more than any other varietal in the red spectrum. Reisling is that for the white spectrum. Terroir is critical in a place like Burgundy and critical in a place like Oregon. We have different soils, different folding of land masses, sheltering...the geographies give you different climatic conditions, the soils are very diverse. When people think of the Willamette valley they think of very rich growing conditions here and they're thinking of bottom land. Of course, everything in Oregon is on hillsides. What we get is not a consistent bottom land of topsoil that was brought in from Idaho, Montana and Washington millions of years ago, what we get are some of the uplifts of ocean sediment, sediment blown in from later times, we get a lot of volcanic material, up to 25 different strata. So the complexity of the terroir is almost mind-boggling.

There are those that would argue that this whole AVA and sub-appellation designation and the terroir of this particular vineyard are all about marketing. What do you say to them?

The main things in order that affect Pinot Noir are gross climate, the terroir, the vintage, and the winemaker. And the fingerprint of the winemaker can be pretty significant. At the same time, all you have to do is have the same winemaker using the same techniques...and make it from different sites. We have three sites with radically different terroir, and we make Pinot Noir very consistently, and we come out with radically different wines.


After the interview, I made arrangements to meet Carolyn at the Chehalem tasting room to check out the vino. The Pinots were all very big and hi-octane, being from the scorcher 2003 vintage; a couple of 'em weighed in at a whopping 15.5% alcohol. Damnation, that's high for a Pinot, I thought to my little self. I asked Carolyn about it. "Harry doesn't like to compromise. In a hot vintage, he still wants to pick at grape maturity, not based on ripeness levels. What mother nature does each vintage is out of our hands."

Maturity, I'm learning, is different from ripeness. While ripeness can mean that the sugar levels are at their appropriate level, maturity means that the whole grape--skins, seeds, and all--has fully developed. In a hot vintage, the grapes become fat with sugar, possibly before the seeds and skins have reached maturity. Since alcohol is directly proportionate to the sugar from which it converts, a hot vintage means a boozy-ass wine.

With that in mind, and disregarding my own preferences, these wines were impressive. Each single vineyard Pinot had its own little statement to make, and did so without boozing out on the finish or lacking any nice Pinot secondary flavors. I've found that the single vineyard thing is a big obsession for the Pinot producers in Willamette. Every vineyard is a big pot of another color tempura to play with.

Enough of all this geekfestation....ladies in the house, listen up!...Jim Prosser of JK Carriere is a total hottie, y'all! Oh, and his Pinot Noir is really kickass. Don't miss it!