This summer, I tasted many exciting Oregon wines during a two-week trip that I pulled off with generous support from the Oregon Wine Board and Travel Oregon/Portland. I’m a little too amped up about some of these wines to wait for an editor to approve this story, so I’ll write briefly here about the naturally-working Oregon producers I’m most energized about. To keep things short, only one or two wines will be discussed, with the focus more on the overall project (if you’d like further tasting notes, please ask). Several of these producers have wines distributed nationally, and some are in New York as of just recently. Probably all of these producers are knee-deep in harvest right now! As of my trip to Oregon in July, it was looking to be a very “classic” growing season, so there are high hopes for the 2016 vintage. Note that all producers listed here are fermenting spontaneously, using low amounts of sulfur, and filtering minimally if at all. (For more on natural wines, please see my explainer on Esquire.com.)
Jackalope Cellars: I tasted Corey Schuster’s wines alongside those of Sterling Whitted, below, both at the recommendation of Brianne Day. Corey wound up in winemaking after moving on from his engineering career in 2008. He wanted to do something completely different, and therefore got a job at the SE Division Collective (more on that here), where he helped with harvest and managed the wine bar. He now makes wine out of Brianne’s facility in the Dundee Hills, and is distributed in New York through Avant-Garde.
Of note: The 2015 “White” is a blanc de Cabernet Franc, which seems to be a theme in Oregon (Leah Jorgenson makes one that Jon Bonné has written about; St. Reginald Parish—see below—makes a blanc de Pinot), and originally Corey was even getting it from the same grower as Leah, that being Herb Quady in Southern Oregon, but he’s now moving onto new sources. The nose on this very unique wine is herbaceous, lemony, and floral; it’s refreshing and deeply textured on the palate with a hint of tannin. As well, the 2014 Cabernet Franc was a wine that I would order in a restaurant in a heartbeat—it’s sultry and sumptuous, with herbal notes and rich fruits, but also that singing acid. Corey aged the wine in older barrels with one new barrel mixed in there, and the fruit for this wine also comes from Herb Quady. Others tasted: 2015 Viognier, 2014 Pinot Noir from Crowley Station.
Holden: After working as the wine buyer for several Whole Foods locations in Oregon, Sterling Whitted studied winemaking at Schemeceda in Chehalem, worked harvests around the Willamette and helped out at Teutonic Wine Co in Portland, and came out with his own label in 2011. He feels strongly connected to the winemaking cultures of Northern Italy, and made a trip there to visit producers in those appellations, which was a pivotal experience for him. Hence, Sterling works with Dolcetto, something of a rare bird in Oregon, and makes a skin fermented Sauvignon Blanc in homage to Friulian wine. With his non skin-contact whites, Sterling practices “hyperoxidation,” a process where the wine is oxidized in lieu of adding sulfur at the crush pad; it browns the wine in the short term yet prevents “the enzyme polyphenol oxidase from functioning, which is the component in fruit that turns phenolics brown,” as Sterling explains it. Sterling works out of Union Wine Co, where those super trendy Underwood canned wines are made. Holden wines are in New York through MFW. Both Holden and Jackalope have some of the coolest labels I’ve seen in a while, designed by local artists.
Of Note: The 2014 Sauvignon Blanc saw one month on the skins, and was finished in a combination of stainless steel and neutral barrels. It’s a charmingly straightforward wine full of stonefruits and black tea notes, with balanced texture. The 2014 Chardonnay is particularly flavorful, with 10 months in barrel on full lees, showing beautiful white peach notes and lemon zest. Others tasted: 2014 Johan Vineyards Gruner Veltliner; 2014 Dolcetto.
St. Reginald Parish: I’ve still never met Andy Young, but after I tasted his single-vineyard Pinot Noir wines in the fall of 2015, I linked him up with a friend of mine at Communal Brands and his wines are now brought into New York through them. But while the single-vineyard Pinot wines are great, I’ve really been enjoying Andy’s more experimental juice. I don’t know too much about Andy’s winemaking, but I hear he’s a really good drummer who finally settled in Portland after many years of touring with My Bloody Valentine and others. Once in Portland, he got a job at a wine bar (seems to be a theme amongst upstart producers, no?), and after tasting his way through some ’06 Willamette Pinots, thought he would give it a try. I believe the winery’s name has to do with the fact that Andy was raised by a Baptist preacher in New Orleans.
Of note: St. Reginald Parish makes a refreshing and tasty carbonic Pinot Noir, which New Yorkers can drink by-the-glass at The Dutch until it runs out. It’s really a summer wine, to be drunk chilled on a hot evening. I think this is his most successful wine at the moment, although his rosé of Pinot is very, very pretty and gluggable, the kind of rosé you would have with oysters, and his blanc de Pinot is quite interesting and full of personality. Something tells me that good things would happen if Andy got his hands on some Gamay. Also tasted: 2015 old vines Pinot Gris.
Jasper Cisco: I met Justin Paul Russell during an IPNC event, and realized that he was working out of the SE Division Collective, so I tasted with him there during my visit with Kate and Tom. (Again, see the Vogue article if you’re wondering what this place is.) These wines are really interesting and even somewhat challenging. A few of Justin’s wines are made in an oxidative style, and I believe all the wines we tasted were sulfur-free; there’s some skin contact on the whites. Really fun juice. Currently not distributed in NYC, which I’m sure will change soon.
Of note: The 2015 “Gratus Bynum,” a blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Muscat from vineyards way up in Washington, really captivated me. The small amount of residual sugar performed beautifully alongside the natural acidity from the grapes, which come from a 1400-foot-high site above the Columbia River. The smoky nose is followed by black tea compounds, married perfectly with that touch of sweetness.
Statera Cellars: Another label coming out of SE Wine Collective. I requested some samples of Statera months back, after reading an article about their devotion to Oregon Chardonnay, something that is oft overlooked but, I think, on the rise as winemakers hone their approach to this grape and more is planted. Statera is a collaboration between two friends, Luke Matthews (assistant winemaker at Division Wine Co) and Meredith Bell (assistant winemaker at Omero Cellars, where Chad Stock is in charge). Their wines are in Jura bottles, on the basis that they retain the aromatics. 2014 was their first vintage. Zev Rovine is going to distribute Statera in New York.
Of note: I really like the 2014 Statera from Johan Vineyard Chardonnay. It was aged in only neutral barrels for 16 months, with sulfur only before bottling. The nose is very floral, and the wine boasts all the minerality and acidity that I think people are striving for with Oregon Chardo.
Hiyu Wine Farm: I was directed to Hiyu Farms, a biodynamic estate making some very unique wine that’s about to be released on the market, thanks to a publicist with a very good palate, Samantha Chulick. Nate Ready is a Master Sommelier who worked at The French Laundry and Frasca before intelligently deciding to make his own juice, which I am pretty sure is bound to become “the next big thing” because it lives in that sweet intersection of the artful, the intellectual, and the delicious. Nate is co-planting some very unusual grape varieties based on regional groupings, in effect creating a little map of the wine world (or at least, his favorite appellations) on the Hiyu property, located in the Columbia Gorge not too far from Portland. There’s Savoie, there’s the Rhone Valley, there are Iberian things happenings—it’s very cool. “Hiyu” is Chinook for “gathering” or “abundance.”
Of note: In bottle, I tried a very good skin-fermented Pinot Gris that seemed completely unfiltered—not sure of the vintage, as it was served during lunch and we didn’t get into details. In the cellar, I swooned for a 2013 Gewurtztraminer that saw a few days of skin contact before being tucked away into old barrels. (Nate seems to like letting his wine age in barrel for a long time.) It was smoky and full of stonefruits, not too weighty on the palate, lots of nervy acid. Other wines tasted: too many to note here.
I have more to write, in particular about my visits to Omero Cellars and Beckham Estate Vineyard, but these entail greater complexities than I’d like to delve into here, so please be on the lookout for these stories soon. OK, enough: go out and drink these fantastic wines!