The last day of the Virtual Wine Media Conference on August 22nd saw us sitting down with 20 or so other conference attendees to sample two wines in an on-line event organized by the Oregon Wine Board. Although crafted by different producers and hailing from different parts of the state, both wines were linked due to the grape growing and wine making philosophies – totally biodynamic and organic.
Now I (Gordon) am not a particular proponent of biodynamic or organic wines – oh, sure, I have had some that I liked just fine. Like pretty much any other kind or style of wine, I have had some I liked, a few I loved, and many that I never want to try again. Lots of poorly made wine in all categories, unfortunately.
Anyway, what I am a fan of is minimal intervention – ie: native yeast fermentation, natural acidity only, judicious use of oak aging in barrels. This style of winemaking generally requires picking earlier to retain acidity and bright fruit, which keeps alcohol down and results in wines that are less ponderous. Many biodynamic and organic wines are made in this minimal intervention fashion, so I always want to give ’em a try when made available. These following two wines were a perfect opportunity.
2010 Troon Kubli Bench Amber
Not only biodynamic and organic, this wine also hits one of the latest wine trends – orange wine! For those that are unfamiliar, orange wine is essentially white wine fermented on the skins, or to look at it another way, white wine made using the standard red wine process. Although trendy, this is not some sort of new wine making discovery, as white wines have been made this way in various places for centuries – including the Republic of Georgia, where they are called amber wines. But most North American wine drinkers have never been to these places or had these wines, so for this market it really is a fairly new “thing”. This unique nature is, of course, no guarantee that any random orange wine you find at the store will be any good, or for that matter even “interesting”. See comment above regarding the relative quality of wine in various categories.
Troon is located in southern Oregon in the Applegate Valley, and started farming their vineyards biodynamically and organically to restore and maintain the overall ecosystem. As noted by Craig Camp of Troon, this is not the most cost effective way to farm wine grapes, as it is more labor intensive and yields are lower. However, despite being unpopular with the spreadsheet loving ROI crowd, Camp feels that their methods produce better fruit, and are better for the long term health of the vineyard. Seen in this light, biodynamic farming is a long term strategy to produce more valuable fruit and to maintain the productive capacity of a vineyard, which sounds like a recipe for economic health and vitality.
So what about the wine? The Troon Amber is a blend of 74% Riesling, 16% Vermentino, and 10% Viognier. The wine was fermented on the skins for 3 weeks, and aged for five months in neutral French oak barrels, yielding a clear medium amber color. The nose has notes of ripe pear, golden sultana raisins, and some sort of ripe white stone fruit. It is the kind of nose that wine geeks crave, where the reaction is “hmm, that’s unique, can’t wait to taste this”. In the mouth there is medium acidity, which is a surprising level based on the ripeness of the nose. The type of fruit in the initial attack is elusive – maybe apple with a slight oxidized note. Low to low plus tannins. Some bitter minerally notes come out in mid palate, and last to the finish, with some nutty wood tinges. This is definitely a food wine, with the stuffing to stand up to a variety of flavorful foods. Nice texture. 15 pts out of 20. Approximately $30 retail. Worth searching out if you are exploring orange wines.
2017 Winderlea Imprint Pinot Noir
It’s an Oregon tasting, so there has to be Pinot, right?
Winderlea Vineyards is in northern Oregon, in the Dundee Hills AVA which is part of the larger Willamette Valley region. This is prime Pinot Noir terroir for Oregon. Winderlea is going into their 15th harvest, and have farmed biodynamically since 2009, initially in an effort to prevent the spread of phylloxera in some of their vineyards. The biodynamic methods have since been adopted for all of their farming for the same reasons as Troon – better fruit and long term health of the vineyards. Winderlea farms 60 acres at 3 sites, but the Imprint Pinot Noir is the only wine produced onsite at the Winderlea Estate Vineyard.
This 2017 Pinot Noir was 100% whole cluster fermentation using macro bins, puncheons, and a 1/2 ton clay amphora, followed by 18 months of barrel aging in non-new French oak. 229 cases were produced. This wine is a medium deep ruby, with consistent color to the rim. To start the nose is tight, giving off faint aromas that are a bit earthy and dusty. Eventually I start to get hints of mocha powder, and a red cherry fruit that is a bit high toned. My sense is that this wine is holding back, and needs more time to show its true character. In the mouth there is medium minus acid and low plus tannin. There is a mildly round character to the mouthfeel, with a dark cherry fruit attack that carries to the mid palate and on to the long flavorful finish. Nice round texture on the finish, with an overall medium/full body. As indicated by the nose, this wine needs a little more time in the bottle to completely flesh out. 15.5 pts out of 20. Approximately $53 retail. Another good example of quality biodynamic wine production.
Shout out to the Oregon Wine Board for setting up the tasting, it was an honor to be involved!