WINE ENTHUSIAST MAGAZINE’S 2016 WINE REGION OF THE YEAR, OREGON’S WILLAMETTE VALLEY BOASTS 14,417 ACRES OF PINOT NOIR
Chehalem Winery, founded by Harry Peterson-Nedry in 1980, resides in the Ribbon Ridge wine region within the Willamette Valley. “In the late 70s, I was making good money in high-tech but wasn’t totally satisfied. I felt the need to fulfill both a creative and a technical drive to be whole,” Peterson-Nedry said. “With degrees in Chemistry and English, I am fueled by using both my left and right brain – and found wine can make this happen. As a chemist, precise technical winemaking was a natural – as natural as Walter White in Breaking Bad, just not as lucrative… or as dangerous!”
When asked what his favorite wine to work with, Peterson-Nedry did not hesitate. “Pinot Noir. It is the ideal wine for a stickler, for a geek who has to get it perfect, to test our mettle.” He goes on to say Oregon’s Willamette Valley has perfected Pinot Noir over the last 52 years – a feat no one thought was possible. “We and all our friends in the Willamette Valley have realized Pinot Noir is all about finesse, balance, bright acids, food friendliness, complexity – not power or size or heaviness – rather a feminine elegance.”
Reaching outside the norm and market trends is the objective at Chehalem – a niche that has contributed to their remarkable success. INOX™ Unoaked Chardonnay, Chehalem’s most popular bottle, eliminates French oak barrels, magnetizing Chardonnay fanatics who desire the purity of fruit. “The smile on customers the first time they try it. This Chardonnay isn’t about oak or butteriness that most people are used to in Chardonnay, but rather crisp, bright white fruit aching to be paired with fried chicken or oysters or corn soup or quiche or nothing!” proclaimed Peterson-Nedry. “It is a surprise and a wine they can drink every night, with anything.”
Peterson-Nedry finds his inspiration in tasting old wines. “In tasting older wines, I read the pages of their history many years later, trying to remember that year myself in a mental diary. I long for my wines to be able to stand as such a memorial, a memento of how it is to be young and full of hope.” And Peterson-Nedry continues to find a challenge in crafting superb red and white wine – something he believes is a perfect fit for his “left and right brain dance.”
THE AWARD-WINNING BECKER VINEYARDS CALLS TEXAS HILL COUNTRY HOME.
Located about an hour outside of Austin in Stonewall, the family-owned and operated vineyard is known for their hospitality, Viognier and Cabernet Sauvignon. Richard and Bunny Becker planted their first vines in 1992 with hopes of producing 1,500 cases of wine. Today they produce 100,000 cases of wine per year and have been served in stateliest settings – the White House and the renowned James Beard House.
“Viognier is unique and not many people are aware of it. It’s a finicky grape to grow but it is delicious!” Nichole Bendele, Becker Vineyards Public Relations and Tasting Room Coordinator stated with excitement. “It forces you to be patient because you know what the desired outcome will be if you use patience.”
Bendele recommends peppered pork loin or a salty Asian dish with Viognier. “Viognier is best served at 55-60 degrees – treating it like a red because it’s full bodied, full mouth feel. It is very food friendly.”
Becker Vineyards also boasts praise with their popular Cabernet Sauvignon and Claret, which is a Bordeaux blend. “The Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic but we also like the grapes to get really ripe and it doesn’t have quite the bite as other Cabernet’s do,” Bendele mentioned.
Guests at Becker Vineyards can begin their unforgettable wine experience with a tour of The Reserve Wine Library located in the barrel cellar – home to the Becker’s portfolio of personal favorites. Take a behind the scenes tour of the production area to unearth the secrets behind the Becker’s award-winning wines and exemplary hospitality. “We are rewarded when customers come in, try the wine and enjoy it and are excited to purchase it to share with family and friends, usually together over a meal. They seem surprised Texas can produce high quality, delicious wines – wine brings people together!”
BLACK ANKLE BOASTS A PRIME VINEYARD SITE MARKED BY ROLLING HILLSIDES AND ROCKY SOILS.
The foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in central Maryland embody perfect soil conditions producing wines of great complexity, subtlety and nuance. The world-class Black Ankle Vineyards, born in 2003, has received numerous accolades for their proprietary wines largely due to soil conditions but also the diligent care and attention to each vine, setting the quality bar for making fine wine in Maryland.
“Most of our wine-making style really happens in the vineyard,” stated Sarah O’Herron Black Ankle Vineyards Founder. “Then we just try to be as gentle as possible in the wine-making so that we capture as much of that interest in subtlety as possible in our wines.”
Black Ankle Vineyards is best known for their Crumbling Rock Bordeaux blend. “It is a classic Bordeaux-style red blend, with great complexity, age-ability and depth,”
O’Herron continued. “I think people love it in part because it is not necessarily what you would expect from a young winery in what is not (yet!) a well-known wine region.”
O’Herron recommends rich foods with Crumbling Rock Bordeaux – grilled hangar steak with blue cheese sauce and mushrooms. “Our pairing mantra tends to be ‘Good wines pair with good food.’”
Blending is the biggest secret to wine-making at Black Ankle Vineyards. The proprietary blends produced are only produced in the best years. “We taste through every barrel to put together the combination that will yield the complexity, concentration and interest we want,” O’Herron stated.
Black Ankle Vineyards guests can expect first-class wine tasting at the inviting tasting room or a serene picnic with a nice selection of cheeses local to the area. Those wishing for a seated and intimate gathering can partake in flights, enjoying five wines, with one to two wines not accessible to the public. “I love the idea that our wines can help spread a little joy in the world!” O’Herron concluded.
THE FOUNDING OF TABLAS CREEK IN 1989 WAS THE BEGINNING OF CALIFORNIA’S RHONE MOVEMENT.
Following centuries old Châteauneuf du Pape blending techniques, Tablas Creek is known for producing wines with complexity, balance and expression.
“Different blending components can bring richness, freshness, spice, or minerality, and we believe that careful blending will produce wines that are greater than the sum of their parts,” stated Neil Collins, Tablas Creek Winemaker.
Utilizing the best lots and large 1,700 gallon French oak foudres, the vineyard produces Tablas Creek’s most popular bottle – Tablas Creek Vineyard 2014 Esprit de Tablas. “It’s modeled after the Chateauneuf du Pape wines and it’s hand crafted to be the prime fruit of each vintage,” Collins explained. “It is a blend of our four estate-grown varietals, propagated from budwood cuttings from the Château de Beaucastel estate.”
Pairing this bottle with a garlic roasted lamb dish and truffle potatoes, served at 56 degrees is highly recommended by Collins.
Tablas Creek offers a variety of wine tasting experiences accommodating casual wine tasters and wine connoisseurs alike. The Collector’s Tasting offers guests the opportunity to taste multiple vintages of their flagship wine, aged in the cellar, plus a few selections of their most exclusive wines. “It’s great when I hear stories about people celebrating an anniversary or a special occasion sharing our wine with loved ones!” Collins exclaimed.
FRENCH ROOTS AND AMERICAN DREAMS TAKE ROOT IN NEW MEXICO.
Founder of Gruet Winery, Gilbert Gruet, came from very modest beginnings and began working at a young age. During a family trip to the southwestern part of the United States in the early 1980s, Gruet discovered New Mexico offered great potential for champenoise sparkling wines and he moved his family from Bethon, France to New Mexico, founding Gruet Winery.
“Everything we do at Gruet Winery in New Mexico is the same as we did in France at our Champagne House,” stated Laurent Gruet, Gruet Winery Winemaker. “We only make our sparkling wines in the method champenoise style, which means our wines undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle which produces the bubbles you see and they are aged for a minimum of 18 months before release. It is a time and labor-intensive method, but to me, there is no other way.”
Gruet’s most popular bottle is their Gruet NV Brut, which is described as a “classic combination of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.” “It has an incredible balance of acidity and a truly expressive aromatic profile filled with green apple, citrus zest and a fresh minerality,” Laurent described. “I think the reason for its popularity is simply the time we take to ensure it is the finest sparkling wine you can get in America. It has a perfect balance in its sugar and acid ratio and we focus on the overall appeal it has on the palate in that way.” Gruet Brut can be paired with any dish – it boasts weight for main entrées likes fish, fried chicken or spicy pork, but is delicate enough to pair with cheeses and fruits.
Laurent refers to Gilbert Grand Reserve when asked what wine inspires him. “I think of our Gilber Grande Reserve, which is named after and dedicated to my father. It’s a tête de cuvée Champagne-style sparkling that is from the oldest Chardonnay vines in our vineyard – ones that he planted with us. Its aged for at least three years and its exquisite in the years it is made. It always reminds me of why we started our winery here.”
POWERED BY SOLAR AND WIND, SHINN ESTATE VINEYARDS COVERS 22 QUAINT ACRES IN THE HEART OF THE NORTH FORK REGION IN LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK.
The first vines were planted in 1998 by Barbara Shinn and David Page, establishing Shinn Estate as a pioneer in the Long Island wine industry for their focus on sustainable farming.
In April 2017, Randy and Barbara Frankel purchased Shinn Estate Vineyards. “We were attracted to the vineyard largely because of the holistic farming techniques,” stated Randy Frankel, now owner of Shinn Estate Vineyards. “When it comes to winegrowing, we do our best to allow nature to express itself with minimal human intervention. We work hard to be transparent with our customers about all of the processes that lead up to pulling the cork on a bottle of our wine – so much so that we include an ingredients list on our bottles to demonstrate how little intervention is necessary to produce a wine of place from distinctive fruit.”
The wines of Shinn Estate have received numerous compliments in popular publications – the New York Times, Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate, and Wine Enthusiast to name a few, and can be found in many great restaurants in New York City. “Our ‘One’ wines are specially made for the sit-down restaurant located in the observatory of the One World Trade Center,” Frankel pointed out.
“At Shinn Estate Vineyard, we have all Vitis Vinifera consisting of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec varietals,” Patrick Caserta, Shin Estate Vineyards Winemaker, explained. “Our Wild Boar Doe is a blend of the red varietals we have planted on our Estate and is one of our most popular bottles. People love saying ‘Wild Boar Doe’ when they come to the tasting room.” Caserta recommends pairing Wild Boar Doe with braised meat or highly-flavored stews.
“Every vintage has its own unique story. I hope our wine truly expresses the North Fork of Long Island while being a good value for the quality of what’s in the bottle,” Castera concluded.
WALLA WALLA VALLEY’S SLEIGHT OF HAND CELLARS IS WELL-KNOWN FOR THEIR CLEVER BRANDING AND GORGEOUS WINES.
Founded in 2007 and named after co-owner/winemaker Trey Busch’s favorite Pearl Jam song titled ‘Sleight of Hand,’ the vineyard has been featured in Wine Spectator magazine with accolades in the industry’s “Top 100” lists. When asked what was is the most challenging in winemaking, Busch said, “Establishing a new brand in a crowded market.”
Busch and his friend and business partner Jerry Solomon successfully made a name for themselves in the industry, named “The Next Generation” of up and coming wineries in Washington State and “The Next Cult Wineries” by Seattle Magazine and for good reason – the demand for their wines is beginning to outweigh production.
Their wine labels, designed by magician Phelyx Hopkins, are inspired by vintage magic posters and compliment the Sleight of Hand brand and wine names flawlessly. Their most popular bottle, The Conjour, a cabernet dominant blend, showcases the wonderful attributes of the fruit from Washington State and features Neil Patrick Harris on the label. “He’s a fan of the wines and is on the Board of Directors at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, where we are the glass pour,” Busch marveled.
Sleight of Hand’s wind-blown loess with underlying basalt soil yields Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Chardonnay and Riesling. “Syrah is my favorite varietal to work with because of its diversity and sense of place,” Busch confided.
Busch and Solomon’s love for wine and music can be felt in the tasting room, with over 2,000 albums satisfying a variety of musical genres, complete with turntables spinning vinyl while you enjoy wonderful wines. “I also love hearing people tell me about special events in their life where my wine was a part of that. That’s humbling,” expressed Busch.
SITTING MORE THAN 1,000 FEET ABOVE SEA LEVEL ON FOG-SHROUDED CLIFFS AND STEEP SLOPES IS THE WEST SONOMA COAST WINE REGION.
The cool, dry and long growing season produces balanced wines driven by the mood of the Pacific Ocean. Red Car Wine has called West Sonoma Coast home since their inaugural vintage of a mere 50 cases in 2000 to distribution worldwide.
Red Car Wine is a devotee of cool climate viticulture offering wines that are pure and elegant. “Heaven and Earth Pinot Noir is our most popular bottle,” stated Brady Morgan, Direct Sales Manager for Red Car Wine. “The south-facing hillside vineyard site offers hours of ‘cool sunshine’ that provides the foundation for what has consistently become a wine that offers perfect balance and acidity. This wine has all the characteristics that Pinot Noir drinkers seek in a bottle – including layered depth, dark fruits, bright acidity, complementary tannins and a balanced oak profile.”
Served just below room temperature, Heaven and Earth Pinot Noir is versatile and can be paired with almost anything from grilled fish or beef in the summer to comfort foods like pork chops or hearty stews in the winter. “This wine is about letting the fruit and vineyard speak for itself. The decision to have a minimal hand in the winemaking is what allows this wine to shine,” Morgan remarked.
A visit to Red Car Wine’s tasting room will leave guests with an artsy vibe while tasting award-winning wines, shopping for fine jewelry and eclectic home décor in a boutique setting.
Each tasting experience is tailored by friendly and informative Red Car Wine staff in a seated, intimate setting. “We attempt to describe the beauty of each wine with tasting notes and physical descriptors but ultimately, they must be seen, tasted and felt first hand to be understood. We hope people will say, ‘do you have some more of that?’” Morgan concluded.
THE NORTHERN WILLAMETTE VALLEY IN OREGON IS KNOWN FOR COOL CLIMATE VARIETAL WINES AND SPECTACULAR SCENERY.
Vineyards, founded in 1997 by Tony and Michelle Soter, boasts 240 acres of Certified Organic and Bio Dynamic hilltop land known as Mineral Springs Ranch. “The Soters had looked for several years in California for property but Oregon promised a compelling opportunity to own their own vineyards and produce estate grown wines made from Pinot Noir,” explained Soter Vineyards Director of Sales and Operations Hallie Whyte. “Fast forward and we are celebrating our 20th year.”
Soter Vineyards Pinot Noir is grown from vines planted in ancient marine sedimentary soils on hill sides to adequately drain the remarkable precipitation the region receives each year. “We prefer to think of ourselves more as growers and that our wines derive their character from the care we practice in the file and the reverence we have for the voice of the land,” Whyte revealed. “The winemaking we do is more restrained, which is to say we avoid excessively ripe grapes, excessive oak and extreme techniques that overpower the more subtle but profound character of the land and he grapes we grow.”
Ninety percent of Soter Vineyards production is Pinot Noir, so it is no surprise their flagship bottle is Soter Vineyards MSR (Mineral Springs Ranch) – a supple Pinot Noir. Whyte pointed out, “We suggest aging it for a minimum of three years from vintage date. Cellared well it can often improve for more than ten years.”
Appropriately named with a portion of the profits supporting the activities of the Oregon Environmental Council, Planet Oregon is Soter Vineyards entry level Pinot Noir. “Planet has a mission apart from being unpretentiously delicious – it is one of the very few wines in its category committed to using only certified sustainably grown grapes,” Whyte remarked. “Our aim is to grow nutritious food for our guests, our employees and their families and we always try to grow enough to share with community charities and the local food bank.” Soter Vineyards Bio Dynamic farming affords them the opportunity to graciously give back to the community where they live, work and play.
PRODUCING WELL-BALANCED AND FLAVORFUL COLORADO WINES IS A PASSION AT TWO RIVERS WINERY.
Garnering over 150 accolades, Two Rivers Winery is state-of-the-art, concentrating on five key varietals – Baco Noir, Le Crescent, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Owners Bob and Billie Witham founded Two Rivers Winery in 1999 and built it from the ground up. “We strive for elegant, balanced wines that reflect the unique character of grapes grown at a high-altitude,” stated Allyson Witham, Two Rivers Winery Operations Manager.
Witham points to Two Rivers’ Cabernet Sauvignon as their most popular varietal, with numerous national and international awards. “They take on earthy, old-world characteristics, flavors of black cherry and currant, and an elegant supple tannin structure that many enjoy,” Witham said. She attributes Brandon Witham’s winemaking skills and patience to their success – it takes 22 months to fully process Cabernet Sauvignon, from field to tank to barrel to bottle. “Berry sampling prior to harvesting is also key to ensure that grapes are harvested at their peak, striving for the right balance of brix (sugar content) and acidity. We use 50% French and 50% American oak barrels that contribute to the wines complexity and pleasant finish.” Witham noted their Cabernet Sauvignon is excellent when paired with dark chocolate or pan-seared steak topped with gorgonzola butter.
Farming is Two Rivers Winery’s number one challenge. “Each season is different resulting in changes from vintage to vintage; nature doesn’t offer a road map in advance,” Witham noted. “The grapes are never exactly the same, and yet one strives for a consistent vintage year after year, with only one chance a year to make it. A good winemaker pays close attention to the fruit that comes in from the vineyard, learning how to adjust and work in harmony with each season.”
Witham is inspired by other Colorado winemakers and their high-quality wines. “Colorado wines have unique characteristics that aren’t found in other regions. A mélange of rugged and refined.”
IDAHO’S SNAKE RIVER VALLEY IS A ONE-OF-A-KIND REGION, ONE OF THE OLDEST IN AMERICA WEST OF THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER.
Ste Chapelle, founded in 1975, was one of the first wineries in the Snake River region, and is now the largest and most renowned for producing wines showcasing the area. Today Ste Chapelle grows nineteen different varietals – including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
“I really concentrate on building my wines in any vintage in the vineyard first. If you do that and stay meticulous in your practice of winemaking you’ll end up with fantastic wines,” divulged Meredith Smith, Ste Chapelle Winemaker. “I focus a lot of my efforts in understanding how we can continually bring the best fruit into our cellar and transform them into magnificent wines.”
Riesling wines from Ste Chapelle are special largely due to the climate and elevation – hot days and cool nights cultivate excellent sugar to acid ratios. “Our most popular wines are Riesling and our soft series which include Soft Red, Soft White and Soft Huckleberry,” Smith mentioned. “Our Malbec benefits from the same growing conditions and the hot days coupled with the volcanic soils really make this varietal standout from many other regions in America.”
Smith points to picking and blending as challenges in her winemaking. “Knowing your fruit and the point when the flavors ripeness are in sync can sometimes be hard to judge. Blending is very close the final step before bottling and once wine is blended, you can’t turn back.” When asked what her varietal is to work with, Smith disclosed it is difficult to pick a favorite. “I feel very lucky to get to work with 19 different varietals. What I do enjoy is comparing how all these different varietals perform vintage after vintage, which ones are the standouts and how the Idaho terroir is reflected in the final wines.”
Unforgettable wines create unforgettable experiences. “I hope people discover the taste of Idaho through our wines and that they enjoy them. I know for some time tasting the quality of Idaho wines may come as a surprise to people, but I hope it becomes common place to expect beautifully crafted wines from Ste. Chapelle and from Idaho more widely,” Smith closed.