OREGON WINES PAGE 4
- ANDREW RICH
long been impressed by the work of winemaker Andrew Rich. He's a
graduate (or survivor) of the University of Bonny Doon in Santa Cruz
in California and moved to Oregon after earning his parole from Warden Randall
Andrew had been involved in some sort of magazine business when he decided to
move to France and enroll in a winemaking school in Burgundy. Having
developed a taste for Rhone wines, especially Syrahs from the Northern
Rhone, Rich applied for a position with Bonny Doon Vineyard and was hired as
a cellar rat. Next thing he knew, Andrew was in charge of making
eaux-de-vie, as Randall had the brilliant idea of making grappa and the
From there, Andrew worked in Bonny Doon's white wine production facility and
in the 1990s, he flew the coop, making his way north to Oregon's Willamette
Today he makes wine in a small facility off the main drag in Carlton, where a
number of other small wine brands are trying to make a name for
The facility is the work of Eric Hamacher and his wife, Luisa Ponzi. Also
backing this effort are grape growers, Kirsten and Ned Lumpkin. The
quartet built a winery where little wine companies could make their wines, get a
solid footing in the market and blossom on their own. The list of Carlton
Winemakers Studio "alumni" includes Penner Ash, Soter and Scott Paul,
Andrew Rich makes his wonderful range of wines here and the fellow simply
understands grapes, vines and wines. Rich still has a passion for Rhone
varieties, though we view him as a Sancerrois from Oregon.
Who else makes such phenomenal Sauvignon Blanc AND Pinot Noir in the Willamette
Sauvignon Blanc comes from the Croft Vineyard, an organically-farmed site
just south of Dallas. Croft's is one of the few Sauvignon Blanc vineyards
in the state and Andrew's wine is definitely not for everyone. We
love the hugely expressive herbal, grassy notes, though the new vintage has a
hint of ripe peach, too. Some people find it too
pungent and too expressive, so if you're serving some Asian-styled seafood to
some limp-wristed wine drinkers, this may not be a good choice. On the
other hand, if you want to try a full-throttle, pedal-to-the-metal Sauvignon,
this is worth trying. We have the 2012 in stock presently.
Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs are a delight. If you keep tabs on the
"buzz" regarding Oregon Pinots, Andrew Rich is usually not mentioned
much. That's good for us, though, since this guy is a "serious"
winemaker and he makes "serious wines."
We've noted a steady increase in the quality of Pinot Noir at this
We have one bottling presently...
a 2013 Pinot Noir called "Prelude."
The vintage presented some challenges, according to Andrew.
It began looking like a drought year, but then in September they have five
inches of rain over a four day period.
This meant they had to do a particularly vigilant selection when the grapes were
moving along the sorting table.
What started to look like a fairly ripe and robust wine ended up retaining some
notes of sunshine, but the Pinot Noir is a mere 13% alcohol and there's good
acidity and mild tannins.
We're always delighted when a Pinot Noir smells and tastes like a Pinot
Noir...Andrew is quite talented at this, actually.
The 2013 Prelude is not a wine for cellaring...please drink it now or next year.
have another interesting wine from this vintner, though it's actually made of
fruit sourced in Washington's Columbia Valley. Horse Heaven Hills, Klipsun
and Ciel du Cheval provided the grapes for this Rhone-ish blend. It's
mostly Syrah with "F-O-S" (Friends of Syrah) in the blend.
Andrew calls it Tabula Rasa, as he apparently had no preconceived notions about
making this wine...the 2011 is in stock presently.
There's a lovely, berryish character to the wine. We like the red fruits,
some plummy, black fruit notes and the hints of pepper and spice. This
surely is worthy of comparison to good, serious Southern Rhone wines such as
some of our favorites from Cairanne, Rasteau and Sablet. Gigondas and
Vacqueyras, too, come to think of it. It's about 79% Syrah with
Grenache and Mourvedre filling out the rest.
In the realm of interesting sweet wines, Andrew offers a Gewurztraminer which is
made from grapes processed while they are frozen. This means most of the
water is retained in the press and what's extracted and fermented is the
"essence" of the fruit. Andrew picked up this recipe while
working at Bonny Doon in Santa Cruz and he's making his own which exceeds, in
our view, the wines made at Chez Grahm. It's nicely aromatic, sweet and
It's really nice to see this fellow making such good wines!
- Currently in stock: 2016 ANDREW RICH "Croft Vineyard"
SAUVIGNON BLANC $19.99
2013 ANDREW RICH "Willamette Valley" PINOT NOIR "Prelude"
2011 TABULA RASA Columbia Valley RED $16.99
2008 GEWURZTRAMINER Dessert Wine Sold Out
a small stream, we're told, called Phelps Creek and it's located in Hood
River County, Oregon, a short drive east of Portland.
The region is actually better known for its cultivation of pears (Anjou)
than it is for wines. Maybe that will change as there are a number
of small cellars there currently growing grapes and making some wine.
Phelps Creek is the work of a fellow who grew up in the Bay Area.
Robert Morus was a youngster back in the 1960s when the Napa Valley was
just starting to get rolling as a major wine-producing region.
His father was a pilot and Robert followed in his dad's footsteps and was
working for Delta Airlines when he and his wife ventured from their home
base in Chicago to Portland. They began looking for a possible
vineyard site and homestead.
He'd explored the Willamette Valley a bit, but was enchanted by a site in
Hood River County which had a relatively high elevation. Typical
weather records showed this region indicated the area was climatically
similar to Dundee in the Willamette Valley. But that was because the
weather monitoring station was lower down in the middle of the Hood River
Morus' vineyards are at a higher elevation and so making a
light, elegant Pinot Noir is possible with careful attention to detail in
They have vineyards at elevations ranging from 950 feet to 1200
feet. In the Willamette Valley, a 600 foot elevation is considered high.
The Phelps name, by the way, bears no relation to Napa's Joseph
Phelps. This Phelps was some sort of wood-worker and barrel builder back
in the 1800s we're told. Another source indicates Phelps was a
We've got limited experience in Phelps Creek wines, but we've known the wines of
Alexandrine Roy for a number of years. She and her family make wine in
Gevrey-Chambertin. But she comes to Oregon to give advice and counsel in
making wines at Phelps Creek Vineyards.
One of the bottlings of Pinot Noir is called "Cuvee Alexandrine" and
we quite like the 2013 vintage. It's medium garnet in color and the nose
displays some notes of cherry and maybe a touch of pomegranate-like fruit.
It's a wine you'll find to be medium-light in body and, knowing the wines of
Domaine Marc Roy in Gevrey, this wine doffs its chapeau in the direction of
Burgundy. It's elegant and feathery, so pairing it with lighter fare would
certainly be appropriate. It might do well, too, with another couple of
years in the bottle.
Currently in stock: PHELPS CREEK 2013 "Cuvee
Alexandrine" PINOT NOIR $47.99
- DE PONTE CELLARS
- The Baldwin family purchased this vineyard site in 1999 and they've built
a nice little winery at the property in the Dundee Hills area. The
vineyard is situated in a nice neighborhood in terms of vineyards, being in
between Domaine Drouhin and Archery Summit wineries.
The De Ponte name is Portuguese and it's that of Scott Baldwin's
grand-pappy, a fellow who left Europe in 1920 and settled in California's
San Joaquin Valley. Manuel DePonte, they say, produced good,
"homemade" wines many years ago and this, apparently, left a
lasting impression on Scott.
I gather the family had been living in the South Bay Area before venturing
to Oregon and buying an established vineyard on Archery Summit
hired a winemaker who'd been working at the neighboring Domaine Drouhin
estate, a woman named Isabelle Dutartre. Hailing from Burgundy, Ms.
Dutartre worked at Drouhin's Beaune winery before coming to the U.S. and
working in Oregon.
The vineyard purchased by the Baldwin family was planted with Pinot Noir and
a white grape thought to be Pinot Blanc. In fact, the Pinot Blanc was
"Melon de Bourgogne" and it's labeled as such.
((It seems U.C. Davis made a mistake in identifying Pinot Blanc and most of
the cuttings it sold to growers was, in fact, "Melon" or
"Melon de Bourgogne" and not a white variant of Pinot Noir.
There is some Pinot Blanc, said to have come from a nursery in
Alsace, being cultivated in California and, perhaps, other places along the
west coast. It's murky, though, and so, who knows?))
Meanwhile, De Ponte offers a lovely, crisp, quite dry, nicely acidic,
somewhat stony, minerally white wine from it's old Melon patch in the Dundee
Hills. If you're looking for a big, fat, oaky, high alcohol fruit
bomb, this is the wrong bridge for you!
But if you're looking for a lip-smacking, crisp, lean, flavorful white to
pair with shellfish, it may be worth ponying up the toll for this wine.
We have the 2014 in stock presently. No oak. No sugar. No
foolin'. They had a cool growing season which slowed the maturation of the
fruit this vintage and this allowed the grapes to have a bit extra
"hang time." As a result, they were able to produce a really
Currently in stock: DE PONTE 2014 Dundee Hills
- Harry Peterson-Nedry is one of the leading proponents amongst Oregon
winemakers in having a double last name. He heads the list, followed
by Lynn Penner-Ash, Dave Adels-Heim, Dick Pon-Zi, Myron Red-Ford, Susan
Sokol-Blosser and Kenny & Gracie Romanee-Conti.
Harry is one of the early guys in Oregon wine growing, following
not-too-far behind Lett, Adelsheim, Ponzi and Erath in Willamette Valley
wine growing. He grew up in the Southeast and has a background in
agriculture and chemistry (not to mention he's capable in employing a fine
English), which led him to grape-growing and winemaking.
In the late 1970s H-P-N began his search for vineyard land and ended up
teaming up with Cathy and Bill Stoller in planting vines and, eventually,
building a winery. The Stollers have their own vineyard (and make a
tiny bit of wine under their own label) along with being partners in
Chehalem (an Indian word for either "gentle land," "valley
of flowers" or "good Willamette Valley wines") gets fruit
from several vineyards. The first vineyard planted was their
Ridgecrest site in Newberg. It's more than 170 acres, but only 55
are currently planted.
Corral Creek is the vineyard adjacent to the winery and it was not planted
by Harry & Company, but purchased from the Veritas Vineyard
Winery. It's a 40 acre site with 32 acres under vine.
And then there's the Stoller Vineyard, a 370-something acre site with a
bit less than half planted to vineyards.
They make quite an array of wines. Riesling here is especially fine,
but Pinot Noir is not to be overlooked. There's Grüner Veltliner
(!), Gamay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and something called Chardonnay.
The overall quality level is good, as Harry's a bit fussy about grapes and
Wynne Peterson-Nedry-Chehalem...she's been the winemaker
John House-Kostic (he's moved on to another wine repping
gig and I think he and his wife have their own brand of Oregon wine called
currently have a really good 2012 Pinot Noir called "3 Vineyard."
While so many wineries these days are overly enamored (in our opinion) with
single vineyard wines (small production=higher price), this is the flagship
Pinot for Chehalem and it really seems to be a nicely done "jigsaw
puzzle" of a wine.
The three vineyard sites feature different soil types and the wine is a
delight. The wine has easily-identifiable aromas and flavors of Pinot
Noir...there's but a hint of wood here and it's a classic example of Willamette
Valley Pinot. Quite nice now, we suspect this will blossom over the next
couple of years, but no problem to put it on the dinner table tonight.
2013 Riesling is a 3 Vineyard blend and what a terrific bottle it is!
Some of the fruit was harvested at very low levels of sugar and correspondingly
crisp acidity. It was fermented in stainless steel and we love the intense
Riesling fragrances...it's young, but already shows marvelous complexity
reminding us of our faves from Germany (I'm thinking of Zilliken, JJ Prüm,
Schäfer Fröhlich, etc.).
The wine has just a touch of sweetness and with the blazing acidity, it glides
across the palate as a fairly dry wine. Serving it with something spicy
makes it taste rather dry.
We've tasted a number of serious Oregon Rieslings and this is one of the
best. It figures that someone hell-bent on quality like Herr
Peterson-Nedry would be producing wine of this quality.
- Currently in stock: 2013 CHEHALEM "3-Vineyard" PINOT
NOIR $28.99 (750ml)
2013 CHEHALEM "3-Vineyard" PINOT NOIR $16.99 (375ml)
2013 CHEHALEM "3 Vineyard" RIESLING $20.99
studies at the University of California at Robert Mondavi and stints at
Chalone and Etude wineries (amongst others), Eric Hamacher decided it was
too easy making Pinot Noir in California and so he ventured north to
Oregon in search of a real winemaking challenge.
He's one of the founders of the Carlton Winemakers Studio and he produces
his wines at that winery. Hamacher is a big fan of Oregon Chardonnay
and Pinot Noir. It's all about the elegance and finesse, not about
power and fruit bomb wines.
Eric doesn't strike us as being one to toot his own horn...he lets his
wine speak for itself and, if you get it, you're a fan. If you need
a lot of singing and dancing, Hamacher is probably not your wine.
- Production is intentionally small...he makes perhaps two thousand cases
of wine each vintage.
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the center of attention and yet we tasted a
fantastically good dessert wine from Hamacher, a "Port-styled"
wine made from the ripe 2006 vintage. It was fortified with a
locally-made spirit and Eric produced three barrels. He doesn't call
it "Port," but "Ort"! The first barrel was
bottled after just a year. Ruby. Then he bottled the second
after 7 years, a "Colheita." The third barrel, Eric says,
will go into bottle when it's 20 years old and his twin boys are ready for
college. A "Tuition" bottling, then...
We have a 2012 vintage Pinot Noir and it's a marvelously elegant
bottle. It was matured for about a year and a half in small French
oak. He also gives the wine a bit more bottle aging before releasing
it, another feature we, as consumers, appreciate.
The wine displays a bright, cherryish Pinot Noir fruit, a note of a
tea-like character, a faint note of forest floor-like tones and a hint of
wood. It's quite drinkable now and we expect it will last,
well-stored, into the 2020s.
Currently in stock: 2012 HAMACHER Willamette Valley PINOT
- The Casteel brothers embarked on their Bethel Heights enterprise back in
the 1970s, establishing a vineyard in the Eola Hills, northwest of
Salem. With the first vines hitting the ground in 1977, the winery
saw its first vintage in 1984. Terry and Ted Casteel sold fruit for
some years before taking the plunge and making their own.
They've prospered nicely and it's great to see the second generation
become involved in the vineyards and in the cellar.
Ted took care of the vines and Terry handled the cellar work.
Terry's son Ben has returned to the fold after working at Rex Hill winery
for some years. I was impressed in tasting barrel samples with him
in the cellar, hearing his assessments of the wines and a feel for the
direction he wants to take with his winemaking. Terry's other son
Jon is also involved, though his main work is in running a mobile bottling
line, a service utilized by a number Willamette Valley vintners.
Ted's two kids, both daughters, also are involved. Mimi is learning
viticulture from her Pop and she's the General Manager of the winery, in
addition to the cider works she and her husband have near the
winery. Daughter Jessie is based in Chicago and she's their
webmaster and eastern U.S. "Bethel Heights Winery Ambassador."
The main Estate vineyard comprises about 50 acres and it's mostly Pinot
Noir with a bit of Chardonnay and small amounts of Pinot Blanc and Pinot
Gris. In 1999 they added another 20 acres to the estate and this is
called the Justice Vineyard. There's a rather new addition of 80
acres on the eastern slopes of the Eola Hills. They've, so far,
planted 26 acres and this will soon come into production.
The old vineyards were planted "on their own roots" and while
this may have seemed like a good idea several decades ago, it's turning
out to be not-such-a-good-idea when the phylloxera root louse starts
decimating the vines. These days they plant using a (hopefully)
phylloxera-resistant root stock and they plant far more vines per acre
than they did in "the old days."
- Despite having significant vineyard holdings, the Casteels do buy
fruit. About 30% of their production is made from non-estate grown
grapes and most of this is Pinot Gris.
Of course, these days Oregon is famous for Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, but
we find some lovely wines reminiscent of our favorites from France's
Winemaker Ben Casteel
- In fact, Ben Casteel made a visit to Alsace with a neighboring vintner
and they did a nice job in exploring the vineyards and cellars of many top
domaines. No wonder Bethel Heights has a nice Riesling and really
- Pinot Gris at Bethel Heights is vinified in stainless steel and the wine
does not undergo a malolactic fermentation as they want to retain the
fresh and crisp aspects of the fruit.
There's a small bit of Grüner Veltliner, too.
Bethel Heights produces a good example of unoaked Chardonnay. The
wine actually has "Chardonnay" character. Their
barrel-aged wine is also rather good, showing nice fruit and light oak.
Pinot Noirs are routinely well-made and lean towards the elegant/refined
end of the spectrum. I find them, as a group, perfectly vinified and
they're good as far as they go, but I often find the wines come to an
abrupt halt. I wish they'd have a bit more depth and/or
in the shop is the 2007 Bethel Heights Gewurztraminer.
They used to grow their own, but the original plantings but the vines produced a
very small crop and they realized they were going to have to start converting
vineyards onto phylloxera-resistant roots. So...
This vintage comes from the Foris vineyard in Oregon's Rogue
Valley to the south. It's low in alcohol (less than 12%) and has
remarkably vibrant spice notes and fruit tones. It's mildly citrusy and
has a touch of rose petal. Very fine!
I tasted their 2009 while visiting the winery in 2010 and about 30% of the wine
was actually aged briefly in oak. It's also really good, spot-on Gewurz!
Currently in stock: 2007 BETHEL HEIGHTS Rogue
Valley GEWURZTRAMINER Sold Out
Ben Casteel and his Uncle Ted.
ALCHEMIST (UNION WINE COMPANY)
is a partnership between a winemaker and grape grower. They have a
few different labels, Kings Ridge, Underwood and this Alchemist wine.
We were pleasantly surprised by the quality and price/value relationship
of the 2009 Alchemist Pinot Noir.
It was a blend of vineyards, with 72% of the juice coming from the Dundee
Hills and the balance from the Chehalem Mountain area. They made
close to 400 cases of this wine and yet priced it at a sensible level so
people can afford to discover the wine.
((We often hear sales reps say "Well, they only made 800 cases, so
the wine costs more..." Just because a wine is scarce, does not
necessarily mean it's good quality.))
The 2010 is a good follow-up to the lovely 2009. And the 2011 is
another pleasant surprise, so these guys are three-for-three!
We like the fragrances and flavors of good Pinot Noir...can't mistake it
for anything else, frankly. And there's a nice touch of a woodsy
note to the bouquet and flavor...medium-bodied, supple on the palate and
It's probably not a wine to cellar...best consumed in the near term.
And it's well-priced for a showy little Pinot.
Currently in stock: 2011 ALCHEMIST Willamette
Valley PINOT NOIR Sold Out
- Years ago
we could say that many wineries in Oregon had learned how to charge high
prices for wines before learning how to make high-priced wines.
And the industry was focused on making wines with big price
It's still not easy to find good quality, modestly-priced Pinot Noir from
anywhere...but the Underwood label from Oregon does a good job in
highlighting the character of the grape and allowing people to experience
a good bottle for a mere ten bucks.
It's made by the Union Wine Company (we're fans of their Alchemist label,
featured above) and this is a multi-region blend of Pinot Noir from the
fancy Willamette Valley with Pinot from the less-fancy Umpqua Valley in
The wine spent less than a year in wood and they used but 15% new oak to
season the wine...the alcohol level is sensible, too: a mere
13%! It's not an especially complex or profound wine, but at least
it DOES taste like Pinot Noir.
Consider pairing this with simple dishes: Meatloaf,
burgers, chicken, pork chops, etc.
Currently in stock: 2016 UNDERWOOD Oregon PINOT
NOIR (Most Places: $14) OUR SALE $9.99
Brick House photo by Kareasa Wilkins-2011
years ago, in a previous lifetime, I did a stint at a radio station owned
They had a great stable of reporters and in those days, the news business
didn't have a political slant to it. CBS, of course, had a great
tradition in those days. After all, it was the home of the legendary
Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite.
One of the reporters who was prominent in those days was a fellow named
Doug Tunnell, whose reports were typically from Beirut, a real hot-spot in
Tunnell, it turns out, hails from Oregon in the first place. When he
was somewhat out of harm's way in Germany, he apparently developed a taste
for white wine. After a couple of years in Deutschland, he moved to
France and began, more seriously, exploring vineyards and wineries.
At some point he'd read the news of a French Burgundy wine family buying a
serious property in Oregon with the intention of growing grapes and making
wine. Tunnell decided he ought to turn in his microphone for a
refractometer (a device used to measure the sugar content of the juice)
and he and Mrs. Tunnell pulled up stakes and headed for the Willamette
He purchased a 40 acre property near Newberg which had an old brick house
on it, hence the name of the winery. Doug has had Tunnell Vision, it
seems, with respect to his viticultural practices...he farms organically
and was 'certified' as a biodynamic estate in 2005.
- We have his 2009 Cuvee du Tonnelier, a wine made from Tunnell's oldest
vines. The parcel was planted on its own roots back in 1990.
It's a fairly typical Oregon Pinot Noir...that is, it's not blended with
Syrah so you'll find it medium-light in body and offering good red fruit
aromas and flavors. This is quite drinkable now and should remain in
good condition for several more years.
We have a few bottles of 2010 "Evelyn's" Pinot
Noir...this is a wine honoring Doug's mom, a woman who grew up in Carlton,
Oregon. It's his selection of a few of their best barrels and he doesn't
offer this wine every vintage. It's made only in vintages providing a
level of quality which is worthy of the label.
Currently in stock: 2009 BRICK HOUSE "Cuvee du
Tonnelier" PINOT NOIR Sold Out
2010 BRICK HOUSE "Evelyn's" PINOT NOIR $59.99
Sineann wines are the work of a former engineer, Peter Rosback.
Peter had moved to Oregon from Indiana and he started making some wine at
home before helping out at Elk Cove winery. Rosback met a marketing
guy named David O'Reilly at Elk Cove and the two of them started Sineann
which launched David to founding the Owen Roe brand. If the two
brands seem related, well, now you know the connection.
The wines made by Rosback have a lot of character and that can be in the
plus column or it might be in the minus, depending upon your perspective.
The Sineann wines have a lot of character and if you're on the same
wavelength, great. If not, oh well.
I've probably been in the "not" column more than in the
"plus," finding the wines to be fairly exuberant, but sometimes
lacking a measure of grace, finesse or polish.
- But that's Peter...He's not shy and retiring and neither are his wines.
- He's been dabbling in making some wines in New Zealand. Apparently
he's not got enough work in Oregon to keep him busy, so he's got this
other gig, too.
- In 2012 we included Sineann's 2010 "Block One" bottling in a
blind tasting of Washington State Cabernets. And it pleasantly
surprised us by winning the tasting handily! Peter gets a bit of
Cabernet from the Champoux vineyard. It's from a site planted many
years ago and it's one of the older parcels in Washington State.
The wine shows lots of dark fruit and a nicely woodsy note from the
oak. Very fine.
Peter's 2013 "White Table Wine" is actually a Sauvignon Blanc
from New Zealand.
It's a classic example of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc...nicely citrusy,
very aromatic, no oak, dry...
And yet it's attractively priced.
- We hope to find more wine in the Rosback line-up!
Currently in stock: 2010 SINEANN "Block
One" Sold Out
2013 "WHITE TABLE WINE" Sold Out
BACK TO THE PREVIOUS PAGE OF
BACK TO THE BACKGROUNDER
ON OREGON WINE