What do you make of a winery with an Executive Tasting Panel whose titles include "Director of Philosophical Enology", "Director for Contra-indicator of Good Ideas" and "Head Dope"? Or whose business model is "stay reasonable"?
720 Cellars is one of a delightful breed of new Northwest wineries headed by mostly 30 something generation wine lovers whose passion for wine is energizing the Oregon and Washington wine scene. This new generation of winemaker comes in many guises, but common to all is a willingness to grab the gusto and live life on their own terms. Whether they grew up in the NW, or were attracted to the NW by rural life, the ecological focus, or the wines themselves, they are starting small wine businesses, often keeping their day jobs while crafting some dang good plonk.
More About 720 Wine Cellars
Chris Heider, owner, winemaker, chief cook and bottle washer of 720 Cellars Winery, is affable, witty, and smart as a whip. He lives in the woods of the South Willamette, managing a full time job, family (he and his wife have three kids), and a 720 case a year winery out of his 720 square foot facility at 720 Wyatt Lane. He's never worked for other wineries, learning the craft via "hard knocks, mostly by tasting, talking to people, and books", says Chris. He makes clean, bright, balanced wines that are dang good deals in price and quality.
"The trick is to not care about what the market says but care about what the vintage says - after you harvest, all you can do is screw it up" says Chris. He advocates minimal intervention in winemaking, and he's fanatical that the fruit he works with being clean and perfect when it arrives at the winery.
A chemist by training (Oregon State '94) and bio resource researcher (day job), Chris's background in chemistry shows in the winery. He keeps a nice balance of sound technique and respect for the wine's own character in his winemaking.
Clambering over racks of barrels to offer tastes, he describes his blending regime - and you can see where his success stems --- Chris draws a diverse group of winemakers, wine buyers, and wine lovers to his "Executive Tasting Panel" with whom he tastes a range of barrels and blends in the search for the best expression of his winery's vintage. The panel may have funny names and work for free wine and hats ("hats -- not yet", he says mischievously, "but they will come") but when it comes to the wine, all gets serious.
Chris creates blends of barrels of various ages and blends of different blocks and vineyard sources, then tastes with his panel, and returns to the blends 4-6 weeks later for re tasting and more discussion. The process continues all season, and ends with a final, rigorous process of selecting only the appropriate barrels for each wine. All of this is not unusual for a winery, but for a one man band of 720 Cellars' size, it shows a seriousness of purpose that comes through in the wines, and is rare in such a small, new facility. Chris may be operating on a shoestring (and hats) but the wines seem like they were made at a much larger, fancier facility.
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