Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Folin Cellars & God, King, Slave: Young Winemakers & Experimentation

You "better like your own wine" and "don't make it just for consumer preferences."
--Rob Folin

This advice would seem to create a dichotomy between passionate wine makers, who enjoy drinking the wines they create, and more mercenary wine makers, who devise wines to please the masses but who wouldn't drink the wine themselves. Would you rather drink wines made by the former or latter? Personally, I would opt for the former, and I suspect many lovers feel the same way.

Continuing our tour of the wineries of Southern Oregon, we stopped at Folin Cellars, in the Rogue Valley, to meet two young wine makers, Rob Folin and Chris Jiron. They provided an intriguing perspective on Southern Oregon, wine making and marketing, and because of their youth, are part of the future of the region.

Rob Folin, pictured above, is laid back and personable, young and passionate. His parents owned a ranch in the Rogue Valley and had some kiwis planted, but they were not working well. Rob, who had a growing interest in wine making, convinced his parents in 2001 to plant some grapes, and now they have about 25 acres of vineyards planted, including grapes such as Viognier, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Rob doesn't believe they should stick with Pinot Noir, but should find the grapes which grow the best in their soils. Last year, their harvest started in October and they harvested about 60 tons but this year, the harvest began in September 11, and they expect to pick about 100 tons.

Initially, they sold all of their grapes to other wineries but eventually Rob wanted to create his own wine so they constructed a small winery, that now has a capacity of about 7000 cases. They still sell about 30% of their grapes, mainly to wineries in the Willamette Valley. For their own wines, they use only estate grapes and produce about 1500-2000 cases annually, though Rob also makes a few thousand custom crush wines for others. He distributes only a small amount of wine outside of Oregon as it is difficult to do so because of all the time and effort involved. His wines are a hand sell, and with such a small operation, Rob doesn't have the time to travel all across the country marketing and trying to sell his wines.

Rob likes being experimental, claiming that his youth allows him the opportunity to work on any wild idea he possesses, especially as there is no one hovering over his shoulder preventing him from taking chances. He experiments in the vineyards and the winery, and is always trying to create new wines. However, he also noted that because of the small size of the winery, he has to be very careful not to make a major mistake, which could significantly hurt the winery. It thus becomes a balancing act, to take risks, but calculated ones which won't destroy everything he has built. This raises an intriguing question: Are young wine makers, in general, more experimental than older wine makers? Are they less adverse to risk?

To Rob, "wine is a story" and he believes in being social, in marketing himself, including through social media. As such, he interacts with many potential customers in Oregon, including young wine drinkers. Overall, he believes that grenache is on an upswing in Southern Oregon, and that Viognier and Syrah are doing well too. Rob also mentioned that blends seems to appeal to younger wine drinkers, who feel that Chardonnay is too boring and Pinot Noir is too pricey. If true, maybe Oregon, if it wants to attract more younger drinkers, needs to produce more wines besides Pinot and Chardonnay.

Folin doesn't use corks in his wines, preferring to use screw caps or vinoseals. In addition, if you peruse one of their back labels, you won't find any tasting notes. Instead, there is a series of blank lines, as Rob believes you should be creating your own descriptors, based on your own taste. He doesn't want to try to tell you what you "should" be tasting in his wines. That might make the wine a harder sell on a wine store shelf if a consumer is seeking a certain flavor profile, which means these wines are more of a hand sell. However, you have to respect Rob's philosophy, placing the consumer's taste front and center over his own.

In honor of Rob's philosophy, I'll do the same in my reviews of three of his wines. Just know that I recommend all three of these wines, and encourage you to taste other wines of Folin Cellars too if you get the opportunity.

The 2009 Folin Cellars Miscero ($34) is a blend of about 50% Syrah, 37% Mourvedre and 13% Grenache with an alcohol content of 14.1%. A Rhone-style blend which is likely to please your palate. Give me lamb or a juicy steak with this wine and I will be a happy diner.

The 2012 Folin Cellars Grenache Rose ($20) was my favorite wine of the tasting. It was the style of Rose that I most enjoy, and I will drink this wine year round, with and without food. Highly recommended to all.

The 2007 Folin Cellars Tempranillo Dessert Wine ($25/375ml) is made in a Port-style from 100% Tempranillo. They only made 48 cases and it will remind you of a Ruby Port. I would love to sip a glass of this with a plate of various blue cheeses.

Chris Jiron, pictured above, helps out Rob and also has his own wine label, God, King, Slave. Chris actually started out wine blogging about Southern Oregon and eventually moved into wine making, wanting to be on the ground floor of an emerging wine region. He began producing wine in 2009, now making his wines at Folin Cellars with an annual production of around 400 cases from fruit that he purchases in Southern Oregon.

The name of his winery derives from a famous saying by Constantin Brancusi, a Romanian sculptor, which states: "Work like a slave; command like a king; create like a god." He has had a few problems with his use of the term "god" on his label, though it doesn't appear those individuals are aware of the quote itself.

He doesn't have a tasting room, but makes himself available to people who give him a call and want to meet him to taste. Most of his wines are sold in Portland and he markets himself, not a brand, similar to what Rob does. As with Rob, social media is very important to Chris too. He feels that the younger generation of winemakers want to create different wines, to experiment, which follows Rob's thoughts as well. Chris though feels that "millennial marketing is silly" and that though the younger generation is interested in wine, it is still the older generation that is buying more of the wine.

The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc ($18-$19) is aged sur lie, has an alcohol content of 13.6% and only about 60-70 cases were produced. It has a richer taste and mouthfeel, with plenty of grapefruit and lime flavors. Good acidity, nicely balanced, and very easy to drink.

My favorite of the three wines I tasted was the 2012 Kinfolk ($24), a blend of 40% Viognier, 30% Marsanne, and 30% Roussanne. About 105 cases were produced and the wines has an alcohol content of 14.2%. It aroma was alluring, a complex melange of fruit and floral, with other subtle aromatics.On the palate, it too had a richer mouthfeel, with a complex blend of flavors, including peach, citrus, herbs, and some minerality. Crisp and dry, it had an extremely pleasing finish. Highly recommended.

The 2010 Syrah-Tempranillo ($27), is a 50/50 blend and about 100 cases were produced. The Syrah is intended to soften the tannins of the Tempranillo and this is the second vintage of this wine. It is made in a lighter style, with restrained tannins, but it possesses deep flavors, from black cherry to plum, intense spice to violet notes. With balanced acidity and a lengthy finish, it is a satisfying wine that would pair well with hearty dishes, from roast pig to a thick T-bone.

Rob and Chris represent some of the young winemakers in Southern Oregon, passionate people who love to experiment, who don't feel bound by restrictions. They feel free to let their imaginations run wild, though they still have their feet on the ground, understanding that it is also a business. They spend plenty of time interacting with customers, and understand the value of social media. They are producing some interesting wines and I see much potential in these two men. As Southern Oregon becomes more and more well know, you likely will hear more about Folin Cellars and God, King, Slave.

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