Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Oregon Wine: The New Generation

After visiting some of the pioneers of the Oregon wine industry, we made a stop to see a few wine makers and wineries of the new generation, small operations which are only just starting to make their mark. An important question is whether these wineries will survive, and even if so, will they become important players in the industry. Economics seem to be a challenge for these small wineries, and those who meet the challenge well will survive, and hopefully thrive.  It was an interesting visit, gaining a comprehension of the challenges that face new wineries in Oregon. The visit occurred at Ayres Vineyard & Winery, located in Newberg, in the northern Willamette Valley.

Here, left to right, is Harry Peterson Nedry of Chehalem WineryMaggie Harrison of Antica Terra, Brad McLeroy of Ayres Vineyard & Winery, and Marcus Goodfellow of Matello. Harry is not one of the new generation, and is more one of the pioneers, and acted as our guide for our day of winery visits, telling us some of the history of the region and helping to answer our general questions about the Oregon wine industry. Maggie, Brad and Marcus are members of the new generation, and we got to taste a couple wines from each of their wineries. Once again, I should mention that our visit was relatively short so we gained a glimpse into their world, but it is certainly worth much deeper exploration.

The first vines of Antica Terra were planted in 1989 in the Eola-Amity Hills of the Willamette Valley, and the vineyard now encompasses 40 acres. In 2005, a trio of friends, Scott Adelson, John Mavredakis, and Michael Kramer, purchased the winery but needed a wine maker and they sought out Maggie Harrison. For eight years, Maggie had worked at the famous cult winery Sine Qua Non for Elaine and Manfred Krankl. When Maggie mentioned this fact to us, it was with great humility, and not in an effort to name drop. She appeared to be genuine and very personable.

Around 2004, Maggie desired to start her own project though when initially asked to work for Antica Terra, she declined. But she did agree to visit Antica Terra, and give her opinion on their land. When she came to Antica, she fell in love with the land, the terroir, and changed her mind, agreeing to become their wine maker. Now in the sixth year of its operation, the winery has yet to break even, though Maggie seems very hopeful for the future. She also note that Oregon has much more vintage variation than California which is a significant challenge for a wine maker.

The 2009 Antica Terra Chardonnay is made from old vine fruit from Bethel Heights and clone 76 from Johan, and only sees stainless steel. It was a crisp, pleasant wine, with some prominent citrus and melon flavors and a streak of minerality. The 2009 Antica Terra Estate Pinot Noir had prominent spice with a bright red fruit backbone, and a pleasing finish. Neither wine reminded me of an overblown California wine, but instead showed much more restraint.

Brad Leroy of Ayres Vineyard & Winery once worked at the famed Domaine Drouhin Oregon, and has approximately ten years of winemaking experience. Currently, the Ayres vineyard constitutes about 18 acres of Pinot Noir, including five clones, as well as 8 rows of white grapes. They still buy some of their grapes and eventually would like to grow all of their own. They make about 2500 cases of wine each year, a small amount. Brad mentioned that his largest challenge is maintaining a balance, trying not to grow too fast, and ensuring their economic viability.

The 2010 Ayres Pinot Blanc, made with grapes bought from the Willamette Valley AVA, is a very low production wine, with less than 100 cases. It was a delicious wine, with bright citrus flavors, including some pear notes, and a crisp acidity. It was produced in all stainless steel, and maintains an excellent freshness with underlying mineral notes.  I would highly recommend this wine. The 2009 Ayres Pinot Noir, Lewis Rodgers Lane ($35) is from their own vineyard, and is a blend of five clones. It had a compelling nose and taste, a beautiful, complex and elegant melange of black raspberry, black cherry, blueberry, dark spice and earthiness. A lengthy and satisfying finish capped this wonderful wine and I would also highly recommend it.

The first vintage of Matello, which means "little fool" in Italian, was 2002 and they now produce almost 2200 cases annually. Marcus Goodfellow purchases all of his grapes from small family owned and operated vineyards and he requires that those vineyards be non-irrigated. He likes buying his grapes as he feels it gives him greater options. His biggest challenge is economic, trying to become self sustaining, which certainly seems common to the newer wineries in Oregon.

The 2009 Matello Caprice is a blend of 80% Pinot Blanc & 20% Pinot Gris, and only 112 cases were produced. The wine sees only stainless steel and no malolactic fermentation, while also spending 18 months on the lees. It has a richer taste, with a combination of citrus flavors, some mineral notes and subtle spices. An intriguing and complex wine. The 2008 Matello Pinot Noir, Bishop Creek Vineyard, is a single vineyard wine with an alluring nose and plenty of bright red fruit flavors, including cherry and raspberry. There are mild spice notes to complement the fruit.

What are some of your favorite, newer wineries in Oregon?

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