Bergstrom's Barrel Cellar, January 2004
Part 2- "A Tale of Two Wineries- Creating
Symmetry out of Inbalance"
by Cole Danehower
the barrels of some of the most expensive and sought after Pinot
noir wines in the country is
proof of how skillful Oregon’s winemakers have become. In a
vintage so riddled with opportunities for disaster, surprisingly
wonderful wines are being crafted.
To a good degree this is due to the overall
flavor qualities of the grapes produced in 2003. Despite the issues
of imbalance, the
actual flavor characteristics of the grapes were excellent. Michael
Etzel, partner and winemaker at Beaux Fréres, summed up the
view of many winemakers during the harvest when he commented that
the fruit possessed “intense and sweet flavors, round and sweet
tannins, big aromas, and scary black color in the fermenters.”
But to an equally important degree the
early quality of the 2003 wines can be attributed to the right
In their attempts to compensate for the
nature of “what the
grapes gave us,” it was either tempting or required to add
acid, as well as to work hard to keep the alcohol levels down and
tannins restrained. The wrong decisions could easily have produced
wines with excessive extraction, overpowering alcohol, inordinate
concentration, and unreasonable tannins.
Barrels waiting for Wine,
Patricia Green Cellars, October 2003
Given the advantage of great flavors, the challenge for producers
in 2003 was primarily one of making the right winemaking decisions
to allow the fruit character to be fully realized in a balanced wine.
In 2003, the most successful winemakers found ways to create symmetry
between fruit, tannin, and acid out of the imbalance that nature
The wines in barrel at Patricia Green Cellars and Brick House Vineyards
amply illustrate the quality potential of the 2003 vintage.
Located in the Ribbon Ridge region of Yamhill County in the northern
reaches of the Willamette Valley appellation, these two cellars share
similar, sedimentary estate soils. But while each takes a different
approach to their wines, the two wineries also share a commitment
to small production, hand crafted production, and quality focused
on bringing out both the vintage character and the natural terroir
of the sites.
The wines in barrel at the cellars of
Patty Green and Doug Tunnel displayed none of the issues that might
be expected from the 2003
vintage. There were no wines weak with dilution, sharp with acidulation,
or burning with alcohol—no hard elbows, bulging cheeks, or
Patricia Green Cellars - 2003 Vintage Barrel
If there were
but a single word to describe the 2003 wines in Patty Green’s twin barrel roms it would
be “focused.” In a vintage that will doubtless become
notable for its concentration, Patty’s wines seem to possess
a clarity of focus that embodies the essence of each terroir
from which she makes wines.
Patty, and her business associate Jim Anderson make wine from
a variety of Willamette Valley sources, encompassing the two
primary soil types in the region: sedimentary and volcanic. Tasting
multiple blocks from the Eason, Balcombe, Goldschmidt,
Anden, Whistling Ridge, and Estate Vineyards sowed the range of flavors
from these two broad soil regions. In each case the wines offered
a sense of purity and focus: unsullied flavors, uniformly taught
structure, punchy aromatics, and luxuriant finishes.
The so-called Red Hills of Dundee
vineyards are composed primarily of volcanic soils (typified
by the Jory soil series) and are
famous for producing wines with strong red fruit characters,
hints of flowers and a tart minerality. Vineyards located on
sedimentary soil (typified by the WillaKenzie soil series) tend
to have darker fruit notes, offer more spice, and are generally
more brawny. All of these characteristics were shown to true
type in Patty’s 2003 samples.
Patricia Green in her Estate Vineyard
Eason blocks possesses a wonderful combination of flowers
and earth that showcase the Red Hills character quite clearly.
Ripe stems in 2003 led Patty to add a goodly percentage of whole
clusters to the fermentation in some lots, resulting in a somewhat
rounder and more grounded style, with somewhat more forward aromatics
than the non-whole cluster ferments.
The blocks from the Balcombe Vineyard, located near to Eason
but at a higher altitude, offer a slightly deeper and darker
version of the Red Hills style. Intense cherry flavors are complemented
by notes of blackberry pie and subtle hints of dark chocolate.
The wine seems to have a little broader character and a tad more
body than the Eason, while still possessing the trademark Red
Hills fruitiness and elegance.
The Estate Vineyard of Patricia Green Cellars particularly seems
to typify the character of Pinot noir grown on sedimentary soils.
Located on a spur of pure marine sediment along the Ribbon Ridge
(a small and geographically distinct region that has applied
for AVA status), the Estate samples display plush and brambly
black raspberry and blackberry fruits, complemented by balanced
and subtley chalky tannins.
Though there are a profusion of wonderfully named blocks from
the Estate vineyard, including Hallelujah, RuPaul, Pumphouse,
and West Etzel Blocks, it was the Old Block (planted in 1984)
that seemed most true to type for the terroir. A wonderfully
full and fruity nose of dark cherries and plums mixed with wildflower
potpourri is followed by fruit sweet flavors of black cherries
and blackberries, with ancillary notes of vanilla bean, burnt
brown sugar, and brambly underbrush. The subtle sense of minerals
and spice in the sedimentary-soil wines contrasts beautifully
with the rich and dark fruit core.
Interestingly, none of the wines
tasted felt “hot.” In
fact, the relatively high alcohol levels seemed to translate
into a richer and more velvety texture then into a big and warm
character. All the wines were remarkably well balanced for what
could be expected from the vintage. Uniformly, the flavors were
all quite clear and seemed unusually distinct; it was easy to
delineate each flavor component, almost as if they unfolded one
after another in the mouth.
Brick House's Winery
Just down the road a piece from Patricia
Green Cellars is Doug Tunnell’s organically farmed Brick
House Vineyard. While Patty produces wines from a variety
of locations, Doug focuses on bringing out the native terroir
his Ribbon Ridge plantings.
His 2003 Chardonnay demonstrated that white wines also seem
to have fared will in the hot 2003 vintage. In the past, many
of Doug’s Chardonnays were styled big and rich, but also
a little heavy and slightly woody. In 2001, however, the Brick
House Chardonnay took a different stylistic turn, achieving a
cool fruity crispness that elevated the wine into one of the
best of Oregon’s new generation of Chardonnays. Judging
by the ’03 sample, Brick House’s Chardonnay wine
has achieved a new consistency of style.
The wine had a bright and sweetly fruity aroma, matched by an
immediately fulfilling and lively fruitiness in the mouth. The
citrus flavors were appropriately crisp (though, it must also
be said, a little muted at this stage) and they were married
elegantly to a fresh, grassy element that gave the whole a light
and vibrant feel.
Brick House Winery's Estate Vineyard
Light and fresh also seemed to be
good descriptors for the majority of the Pinot noir lots sampled.
Organized to move along the various
blocks in Doug’s vineyards, the individual barrel samples
(starting with the first block picked, from the most exposed
ridge site with thin top soils, to the lower blocks sitting on
deeper and richer soils) displayed a remarkable combination of
individuality on the one hand, and a uniform balanced “prettiness.”
In this case “pretty” is not used as a diplomatic
adjective, but rather as an accurate depiction of the character
of the wines. Though the samples certainly varied in many ways,
what showed through consistently was a light florality: a feeling
of high-toned and fresh red fruits infused with flower petal
softness—pretty in a way quite distinct from Patty’s
Brick House winemaker Doug Tunnell
Somehow in this vintage of huge concentration
and alcohol, Doug Tunnell’s wines seemed possessed of an unexpected lightness.
Even in the most intensely concentrated blocks, which displayed
tighter tannins and a deep sense of earth, along with licorice
finishes and what might be styled “burly,” what nevertheless
shone through was a consistent sense of freshness and balance.
Despite the undeniable pleasures
of Patty’s Pinots, they
distinctly showed some of the intense characteristics of the ’03
vintage. Doug’s Pinots, by contrast, seemed to bring out
the more elegant flavors of the vintage, as seen in these notes
from various blocks: “candied violets,” “big
and forwardly fruity with deep blackberry and black cherry but
with a fresh earth feel,” “broad cherry flavors capped
with anise and roses,” and “sweet candied grape flavors.”
The other characteristic that was
impressive about the Brick House wines was their sense of balance.
While definitely capturing
firmly fruity flavors, Doug’s wines never seemed to veer
off to one end or another. Though each block had its own character
(the final bottlings will be composed of blends of selected barrels),
tannins were well balanced to the intensity of the fruit, which
was in turn balanced by the degree of acidity—an important
accomplishment given the challenges of the vintage!
Winemaking Wins the Day
Of course, two cellars do not a vintage make. But finding two
cellars consistently filled with exciting wines from a vintage
that posed dramatic challenges indicates that one key to the
success of 2003 in Oregon is the winemaking skills we possess.
Even though more than one winemaker confided that at many times
during the harvest they weren’t quite sure what to do next,
early barrel tastes indicate that the combination of knowledge,
experience, and “gut” may have combined to maximize
the potential of the vintage for consumers.