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PINOT NOIR & TERROIR

June 14, 2001--San Francisco

How much influence do the hands of a winemaker have in producing a particular wine?

A trio of Oregon winemakers has been engaged in a research project.  No, it's not a Mťnage a Trois, but entitled "Terroir and The Winemaker."  The question of the day is "Which has the greater effect on wine character, its somewhereness or its someoneness -- the place where the grapes are grown or the style of the individual winemaker?  

The trio agreed to exchange fruit.  The three winemakers are Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem, Lynn Penner-Ash of Rex Hill and Terry Ca-Steel* of Bethel Heights.
* Terry spells it "Casteel," but I believe there's a law in Oregon requiring winemakers to have hyphenated surnames.

The three vineyards are Bethel Heights' "Southeast Block," Rex Hill's "Jacob Hart Vineyard" and Chehalem's "Ridgecrest Vineyard."  

Each winemaker got about a ton-and-a-half of fruit from the other two vineyards.  Each was free to employ his or her winemaking practices.  The choice of yeast, fermentation methods, oak aging, bottling and any other variables were left to the discretion of the winemaker.

At a quiet, secluded location in San Francisco, a group of tasters was confronted with a set of nine glasses, poured in three rows of three glasses.  Now they were asked to determine whether the wines were poured in columns of "vineyards" or columns of "winemakers."
Or you could look at it this way: Are the wines poured in rows of vineyards or rows (across) of winemakers?

Here are my brief notes of the 9 glasses:

Glass #7 




Clear.  Medium+ garnet color.  Sweet spice and oak notes...some toastiness...nice woodsy notes...mildly tannic.  Good.
Glass# 8 


 Clear, med+ garnet...nice, sweet oak...berries and vanillin....faintly showing a warm earth tone...mocha notes...nice oak.  Woodsy.
Glass #9  Darker color, ruby red.  Sweet, ripe red and black fruits...nice oak, having a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg spice notes.  Woodsy...toasty.  The oak used in wines 7-9 would suggest they're made by the same winemaker.
Wine #4  Medium garnet color...bright berry fruit with light to med. wood notes...a touch of cedar and vanillin, sandalwood, berries...light to med. tannins and a hint of licorice after a while. Wine #5  Clear.  Medium+ garnet color.  Mild oak scents with light spice.  Cherry/kirsch notes and a touch of forest floor/wet earth.  Light to med. tannins.   Wine #6  Dark color, a bit of alcohol being bothersome and suggesting very ripe fruit...a bit of plum and "eau-de-vie"-like notes.  Big, plummy, ripe and somewhat astringent.
Wine #1
Clear.  Garnet in color, with a touch of cherry, berry fruit notes.  Dry.  Mildly tannic with a hint of orange peel to the flavor.
Wine #2
Clear.  Medium+ garnet color.  Sweet cherry fragrances with a light woodsy note.  Some forest floor, earth notes to the fragrance.  Mild tannins, a bit leathery and astringent.  Lacks a bit of stuffing.
Wine #3
 Dark color.  Ripe red and black fruit notes.  Very light wood fragrances.  This wine being deeper, richer and darker in color than glasses 1 & 2 would suggest a vineyard difference in this row.  The dark color of the two wines above suggests they are from the same vineyard.


A poll was taken and by a show of hands, 31 participants felt the wines were poured with each horizontal "row" being made by the same winemaker and each vertical "column" being of a particular vineyard.

Twenty-five tasters felt each horizontal "row" was from a particular vineyard, while each vertical "column" was made by the same winemaker.


It turns out the wines were poured with the same winemaker in each horizontal "row" and each vineyard poured in a vertical column.

Column 1, consisting of wines #7, 4 & 1 were from the Southeast Block of Bethel Heights.  The middle column were from the Jacob Hart Vineyard at Rex Hill.  The third column of darker-colored wines came from Chehalem's "Ridgecrest Vineyard."

Row 1, the top tier of wines 7,8 & 9 were made by Harry Petersen-Nedry of Chehalem.
Row 2, wines 4, 5, & 6 were made by Lynn Penner-Ash.
Row 3, wines 1, 2 & 3 were vinified by Terry Casteel.


Lynn Penner-Ash (left)
Terry Ca-Steel (middle)
Harry Petersen-Nedry (right)

Harry Petersen-Nedry writes in a Chehalem Newsletter of this experiment:

Initial observations show distinct families of wines, although it is hard to know whether the family is vineyard or winery style. As the trials have progressed, we have shared ideas to challenge existing winemaking methods and move towards processes that let the site show through. For example, Cheryl and I obstinately held out in 1999 for later harvest on Southeast Block fruit. And Terry Casteel, although reluctant initially, was pleased with the results; Lynn Penner-Ash began questioning her selection of enzymes when she saw her fruit's extraction compared to the other two wineries'; and, Cheryl and I have reduced extraction based on finesse seen in others' wines.

Winemaking tweaks aside, expressions of fruit from specific vineyards have been very similar. The fact that floral and more delicate elements come from each Southeast Block wine, very plump fruit from the Jacob-Hart, and more dusty, briery elements from the Ridgecrest 7-Acre, speaks to unique vineyard block characteristics, especially as subsequent vintages yield similar results.


So....What did we learn from this event?

1.  "Masters of wine will usually tell you they are masters of wine and, therefore, know just about everything there is to know about wine."  (attributable to a participant in this exercise who shall remain anonymous).

2.  Harry Petersen-Nedry must drink more coffee than his two other colleagues since his wine maps out on a "spider graph" as having more caffeic acid and more caftaric acid than the wines of Penner-Ash or Ca-Steel.  My guess: this is the result of the oak barrels used by Harry and not his frequent stops as the local java house.

3.  The use of spider graphs proves "we're all nerds" according to Harry Philosopher-Nedry.  Though he wears spectacles, these are not held together by rubber bands or paper clips.  However, "Nedry" is "nerdy" spelled sideways.   Also noted, none of the three hyphenated winemakers suffers from arachnophobia.

4.  Talk of enzyme treatments was kept to a minimum for fear of turning the tasting into a snooze-fest.  Words such as "anthocyanin" "epicatechin," "malvidin" and "polymeric phenols" were uttered only in hushed tones so as not to induce a somnambulant state. 

5.  Harry grows intensely colored fruit and makes wines with more oak than the other two winemakers.  Lynn uses a moderate amount of wood while Terry's wines are less extracted than the others.


It was a wonderful opportunity, so should this dog and pony show arrive in your corner of the world, do avail yourself of the chance to participate.

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