Less than a month ago we saw what a warmer growing season could do for Chardonnay in the Willamette Valley. But how did that same year affect the Pinot Noir on the vine? This vintage deserves further investigation.
The 1994 vintage itself, when compared to the vintages surrounding it (1992, very hot; 1993, very cool and wet; 1995, hot; 1996, hot), seemed to be a miracle vintage, where the season progressed perfectly and sugar levels, acidity, and ripeness levels were all in balance.
What’s the thinking behind creating a “reserve” wine and what does it mean? Just like the term “late harvest,” there’s no legal definition for what constitutes a reserve wine. Every winery’s definition differs, but Montinore’s has historically been defined by its structure and dark fruit characteristics in comparison to the Estate Pinot Noir: the more-structured vineyard blocks are nurtured for a little more time in their French oak cradles after fermentation to highlight the tannins and create a wine that drinks well upon release but has the potential to age magnificently. Ideally, we’re trying to create the most complete wine that we can from a particular vintage.
Twenty years later, the initial impression of this wine is the density of its deep garnet color; I would have expected a bit more color loss, but still very concentrated. The initial whiff gives a dusty aroma of black cherry and blackberry with a pronounced gamy note of smokiness. The fruit has integrated on the palate, revealing secondary earthy and leathery notes while a distinct peatiness lingers on the finish.
Just last month we released our 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir, which already shows great potential. Delicious now, but I believe it can be cellared for a minimum of ten years and most likely longer; patience will be greatly rewarded.
For this last Thursday of the summer season, let’s keep the #summerofriesling going strong with a selection from our first vintage, the 1987 Ultra Late Harvest Riesling.
What makes this wine “Ultra Late Harvest” and what takes it beyond what would be viewed as “Late Harvest,” such as the 1999 Late Harvest Müller-Thurgau that we discussed earlier this summer? There’s no legal distinction between the terms (nor is there a legal definition for what constitutes a late harvest wine either), so these terms don’t necessarily reveal much. However, when we look at the process involved in vinifying this particular wine, it’s quite unique and an amalgam of several styles used throughout the world to craft dessert wine.
About 35% of the Riesling grapes in the blend were strictly what we, and nearly every other vineyard, would define as “late harvest,” in that the grapes were some of the last harvested. Leaving grapes on the vine for a little longer at the end of the season allows them to develop additional sugar and flavors, thereby potentially allowing more residual sugar to remain in a wine.
Just over half of the Riesling developed the botrytis fungus on the vine. This “noble rot” partially dries out the grapes and concentrates the flavors and sweetness in the juice; some of the most renowned dessert wines in the world, such as Sauternes, Tokaji, and Trockenbeerenauslese are made in this method. The grapes aren’t pretty to look at when botrytis develops, but the grapes create luscious wines.
Additionally, after the harvest of these botrytized grapes, they were frozen at 20 degrees Fahrenheit and then pressed, further concentrating the sweetness in these grapes (the sugars and flavor compounds in the grapes don’t freeze at that temperature but the water does). This method of producing a wine in the style of an ice wine, called cryoextraction, is used in climates where true ice wine (when the grapes freeze on the vine) can’t be produced, such as the Willamette Valley.
About 15% of the grapes were a selection of dried Riesling grapes that had not developed botrytis but had shriveled on the vine, which also concentrates the sugar by essentially turning the grapes into raisins. This recalls the method used to produce vin de paille, or “straw wine,” where the grapes are allowed to turn to raisins on the vine or, traditionally, on straw mats in the sun. As with the ice wine method, it has the effect of increasing the sweetness of the grape by removing water, but vin de pailles are traditionally made in very warm regions that receive considerable heat (usually not the Willamette Valley either).
Having hyped up this 27-year-old wine enough, let’s get into the profile. The wine is viscous, pouring a very deep yellow color, bordering on orange. Stewed apples, cinnamon, and pears initially jump out on the nose, followed by orange and Meyer lemon and on the palate. A slight hint of a smoky note lingers on the finish along with an acidic zing to bring it all together.
We know wines with high sugar content and high acidity can keep aging for a very long time, and this wine still has a bright future ahead of it.
It is true that our fore-fathers crudely stomped grapes to make their wine. Obviously technology has progressed and we now use big expensive presses to crush our perfectly ripe fruit. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn't have some fun and a little friendly competition (if you choose to take part in our Stomp Competition) at our fifth annual Crush Party!
When: September 27th
Time: Noon to 4pm
Our fifth annual Crush Party is just four weeks away! We always have a blast at this party and enjoy celebrating all things harvest with you, we decided to throw the party again!
Compete in the grape stomp competition, listen to bluegrass from GTM String Band, go on a vineyard tour via hay ride (weather permitting), drink freshly pressed grape juice and enjoy the fruits of our labor from years past (aka wine!) and BBQ from The Meating Place. Below is the schedule for the day, rain or shine:
12:00 - GTM String Band begins to play and the first vineyard tours departs from the tasting room.
12:30 - Grape stomp heats begin
1:00 - Second hayride vineyard tour departs
2:30 - Grape stomp semi-finals begin
3:00 - Grape stomp championship
4:00 - Festivities wrap up
For more information, reach out to us at email@example.com or give us a call 503.359.5012 x 106.
Hope to see you there!
Seeing how we're on track for 2014 to be the warmest vintage in ten years, let's take a look back at 1992, considered the warmest year on record for the Willamette Valley. Bud break began about a month early for us (in comparison, we were about two weeks early this year) and the season progressed quickly through a warm, dry summer. Many vineyards, Montinore included, started picking at the end of August; that year still remains as the only time that harvest started before September 1.
Pinot Noir relies on acidity to carry it through years of aging, and in warmer vintages where there's more sugar development in the grapes, the acidity drops and the wines are more suited for consumption in the short-term but may not hang on through the long haul. However, the 1992 Estate Pinot Noir does show promise; it clocks in at a respectable 12.9% alcohol with harvest taking place between August 30 and September 4. Perhaps the early harvest was a plan to maintain acidity?
With a dark brick color, the 1992 definitely shows its age. It opens with notes of leather, spice, and stewed plum and its brief finish is marked with cinnamon. It retains a nice balance of tannin and acidity, though. Perhaps a little past its prime, but it's still holding up well and does show that, even in a very warm year, Pinot Noir can be crafted to last.
Once upon a time, the definitive white wine of the Willamette Valley was Chardonnay. Pioneering wineries pinned their hopes on Chardonnay reaching the heights it had in Burgundy and, just recently, California. Chardonnay itself is an incredibly versatile grape with a great deal of its characteristics coming from terroir and winemaking style (or, if you happen to be a “Chardonnay-sayer,” that versatility can be seen as blandness in that the grape has few defining characteristics of its own). If Oregon Pinot Noirs could match up with their Burgundian counterparts, why wouldn’t Chardonnay as well?
The original clone of Chardonnay grown in the Willamette Valley, known as Clone 108, was obtained through the nursery of UC Davis. This particular clone of Chardonnay has a reputation for thriving in warmer climates and ripening later than other clones of Chardonnay… ideal for parts of California but not something the Willamette Valley can provide on a consistent basis. As a result, Oregon Chardonnay developed a reputation as a thin, under-ripe wine in all but the warmest of years, especially when compared to the richer style of California. When the opportunity arose, a majority of vineyards uprooted their Chardonnay and replanted to Pinot Gris, a white wine grape that had proven itself in the climate of the Willamette Valley and a grape that vintners now believed could ultimately find its niche in Oregon.
Chardonnay is undergoing a renaissance in the Willamette Valley thanks to the introduction of Dijon clones in the early 1990s. It’s now the third most planted grape behind (very far behind) Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. New plantings of Chardonnay are of various Dijon clones, sourced from the nursery at the University of Burgundy in Dijon, France; these particular clonal selections thrive in cooler, wetter areas.
The last vintage of Chardonnay that Montinore produced was in 1999, after which the vines were ripped out. As I mentioned in a prior post, 1999 was a cooler vintage, and with Montinore only having Clone 108 planted in its vineyards, a warmer vintage would be more ideal to sample. Let’s head back a few years from that date to our wine today, the 1994 Winemaker’s Reserve Chardonnay.
The wine pours a deep golden color and has an amazing nose, bursting with vanilla, lanolin, mushroom, and hazelnut. On the palate there’s a great balance of acidity and a slight oakiness with flavors of lemon curd, red apple, banana bread, and white truffle. The finish is all toasted marshmallow.
If you’ve had our Chardonnay before or this description made your mouth water, good news! Chardonnay will soon reappear at Montinore, as we sourced some fruit from Johan Vineyard last year and we’re currently in the final stages of barrel ageing and blending the wine. Like the 1994, initial impressions of the 2013 tell us that it definitely has the potential to age for a long time.
As a postscript, if you really want to geek out on Oregon Chardonnay, I recommend that you check out the Oregon Chardonnay Alliance website.
Happy Thursday! We're busy setting up for a weekend filled with rhymes and quips from the Willamette Shakespeare troupe, so we'll be abstaining from a visit to Montinore's past this week.
I invite you all to pay us a visit during the evening hours this weekend to take in a bit of culture and enjoy the performance of Twelfth Night. Remember, if after reading or watching a Shakespearean play you've thought it was "Such stuff as dreams are made on" or even if "It was Greek to me," we owe a literary debt to the Bard for adding some extra flowers and frills to the English language.
"Give me a bowl of wine. In this I bury all unkindness." I certainly hope this quote from Julius Caesar sums up how you all feel when imbibing the goodness of the vine.
“But be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”
Find out if love conquers all in "Twelfth Night" performed by the Willamette Shakespeare Theater Company here, outside on our back lawn August 8, 9 and 10. The Willamette Shakespeare Company is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to providing classic theater free of charge to audiences of all ages in and around Portland and the Willamette Valley wine country and we're happy to welcome them back to Montinore! These plays are free to attend, although donations are greatly appreciated. The performance starts at 7 pm on Friday and Saturday and 6 pm on Sunday.
Of course wine will be available for purchase by the glass and bottle; please, no outside alcohol, wine or beer. You are welcome to bring a picnic or treat yourself to dinner from 1910 Main - An American Bistro which will be available for purchase before and during the show. These special shows are outdoors so pack some mosquito repellent, warm clothes, a blanket to sit on or some low seated lawn chairs and a flashlight to help you find your way back to your car at the end of the night.
It is going to be a very special weekend; we hope to see you all there!
The Swan Song block, originally planted in 1982 to Pommard-clone Pinot Noir, was once known as Pierce’s Elbow, a vineyard that we bottled as a single-block offering between 1998 and 2002. After that time, phylloxera, the root louse that devastated nearly every vineyard in Europe and California in the 19th century, took hold in the Pierce’s Elbow vineyard. The fruit from vintages henceforth found its way into the Estate and Reserve Pinot Noirs but wasn’t characteristic enough to make a single vineyard bottling (amongst other maladies, phylloxera deteriorates the quality of the fruit in the vineyard). For the 2010 vintage, Ben felt that certain barrels of Pierce’s Elbow were showing exceptionally in their twilight years, thus the “Swan Song” was born.
In the latest issue of Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, Josh Raynolds described the 2011 Swan Song Pinot Noir as such:
Vivid ruby-red. Smoky dark berries and dried cherry on the nose, along with suggestions of fresh rose, anise and mocha. Silky and expansive on the palate, offering black raspberry and bitter cherry flavors that are sweetened by hints of cola and floral pastilles. Tightens up on the spice-tinged finish, which shows excellent clarity and persistence and sneaky tannins. 92 points.
Now, as the theme of the day goes, let’s rewind the clock to the 1999 Pierce’s Elbow. Both 1999 and 2011 had very similar growing seasons in that it was cold and wet for the majority of the year but the clouds parted in late September and allowed us to finish ripening and begin the harvest.
The 1999 opens with very earthy notes of saddle leather, clay, and venison jerky; the primary fruit characteristics have nearly faded, leaving us with the underbelly of Pinot Noir. Dark fruit and the signature huckleberry of Pierce’s Elbow/Swan Song emerge on the palate along with a lasting finish of red licorice. There are still substantial tannins in this wine, so a few more years of aging potential aren’t out of the question.
As the grip of phylloxera grew ever tighter and the yields dropped to almost nothing, we had to rip the vines out late last year. The 2011 Swan Song Pinot Noir will be one of the last ever produced from that vineyard and fewer than 25 cases remain. This piece of history is not to be missed.
Perhaps you heard the chatter a couple months ago about the 2012 Estate Pinot Noir, specifically the positive reviews it received from the New York Times and Dallas Morning News. This wine is available everywhere that Montinore distributes its wine and, as a result of producing more of this wine than anything else, it can be seen as our "house style" of Pinot Noir. At an average of $20 per bottle, it won't break the bank either. Producing a consistent product across thousands of cases can be quite an undertaking… how do we accomplish it?
The Estate Pinot Noir, dubbed "Red Cap" by the Montinore team (due to its red foil capsule), blends together around 400 barrels of Pinot Noir from across our estate, plus a couple other vineyards that we farm biodynamically for their respective owners. Each vineyard and barrel contributes differing characteristics to the final blend of the wine: red or black fruit, floral notes, earthiness, herbaceousness... one vineyard can fill in an area where another vineyard may be lacking. Ben, our red winemaker extraordinaire, tries to blend together vineyards and barrels that emphasize red fruits such as cranberry and pomegranate and are more accessible in their youth. In his own words, “The Red Cap is approachable young and is our most diverse red when it comes to food pairing. Since each vineyard block is fermented with its own native yeast, the aromatics of this wine are far ranging and surprisingly adaptable. Serve it with a plate of pasta, and you have one wine. Drink it along with grilled chicken and it becomes another. Even within one glass the flavor evolves from the first sip to the last.”
Not that the Red Cap can’t benefit from some aging. As the theme of the day goes, we must know: how does it hold up after a few years?
Rewind the clock to the 2002 Estate Pinot Noir. This year has a place in the pantheon of remarkable vintages in the brief history of Willamette Valley wine and was widely considered to be the best until 2008 (of which scant few remain).
The wine opens with a definitive earthy funk of matsutake mushroom and an intermingling of forest floor followed by cranberry spice… think smells you’d encounter around the holiday season. Red fruits and plum dominate the flavors along with a hint of licorice and cigar box. The tannins have fully integrated into the wine and it’s drinking beautifully right now.
The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir definitely has the potential to become similar to the 2002 in another decade or so, and we’ll eagerly be watching (and tasting) its transition.
One of the benefits of being behind the scenes at a winery is the work involving blending trials, where certain tanks or barrels are blended together in varying proportions to determine the best possible wine that can be made. This morning at Montinore, with Stephen's blessing, we gave our final impressions of what will eventually be the 2013 Gewürztraminer. This reminded me of last week's post about Müller-Thurgau, primarily due to the difficulty in pronouncing "Gewürztraminer," another German name for a grape (which happens to be Alsatian in origin; if you're a history buff like me, you know Alsace is neither exactly French nor German). It's a natural segue into discussing this misunderstood grape.
Gewürztraminer literally means "Spice Traminer," but unlike Müller, it's not a cross of two different grapes; it came about as a result of the genetic sequence in Traminer. At one point a particular Traminer vine, typically with green grapes, transitioned into a vine with pinkish-red grapes and high aromatic compounds (the "spice"). Unstable genomes in vines lead to mutations, hence how we get Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and the many different clonal selections of Pinot Noir, as Pinot is also a genetically unstable vine.
The last time we sampled this 2004 Gewürztraminer was just last year, when we were searching for something off-the-wall for an event at IPNC (which is coming up again very soon, coincidentally). We determined it was a lovely wine at the last tasting, and after one more year under its belt it's still holding strong.
The wine pours a deep golden color with floral aromatics of lilac and pink rose petal but also a hint of a briny minerality... it surprisingly reminds me of an aged White Burgundy I had a few years back. There's a certain nuttiness as well, almost like roasted hazelnuts. Baked apple defines the palate, along with some allspice and cardamom. The acid remains perfectly balanced in this Gewürz and it still has time left in its lifespan.
There's not enough of this wine to go around, but to get your Gewürz fix, do try our 2012 Estate Gewürztraminer (an explosion of white grapefruit, lychee, and lime leaf with a lingering finish) and the 2012 Reserve Gewürztraminer (opening with Mandarin orange, honey, and amaro liqueur, finishing with grapefruit and lychee). If you're feeling overwhelmed by white wines recently, don't worry, next week I promise we'll be discussing Pinot Noir.