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Adelsheim Vineyard: Winemaker and Vineyard Profiles

Balance, Not Bigness, is the Byword for Adelsheim Vineyard's Winemaker, by Cole Danehower

In the race to "build the biggest Pinot," at least one Oregon winemaker is content to let others speed to the finish line - and in so doing, he believes he'll make the better wine.

"I was never a fan of the 'riper is better' type of winemaking," says Dave Paige, winemaker for Adelsheim Vineyards in Oregon's Yamhill County region of the Willamette Valley (photo at right).

"There's a trend - partly driven by some press, and partly by winemakers - to try and keep adding more and more flavor. But more flavor is not always a good thing when you leave elegance and prettiness behind."

Back in California, where Paige spent most of his over 15 years of winemaking experience until moving north to Adelsheim in 2001, he says "you can get all the ripeness anyone ever wanted" in pinot noir.

But for Paige, "sometimes, people go for that last little bit of ripeness too hard." The wines that result, he feels, can overwhelm the food they are paired with. And while such wines may have a large initial impact, Paige thinks it is "kind of silly to make too much of any wine that isn't food-friendly."

Elegance not Overwhelm

In California, Paige was "in the minority in making a conscious decision not to go for all the ripeness I could get." And it was partly to get away from the cycle of having to continually produce a bigger Pinot Noir that attracted him to Oregon. "I prefer the type of balance you can get up here!"

Dave Paige graduated from UC Davis in 1989, and promptly set about working in a variety of wine-producing regions in both California and Australia. Settling for the longest period in Monterey, he began focusing much of his work on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. "I didn't really get into the business thinking Pinot Noir was my favorite varietal," he admits, "but the longer I worked with it the more I realized that I was losing interest in any job that didn't include Pinot Noir."

When David Adelsheim, president of Adelsheim Vineyards and an influential leader in the development of the Oregon wine industry, started seeking a new winemaker, it looked like Dave Paige would be a good match.

Since 1993 Paige had been coming to Oregon primarily as part of the annual Steamboat Springs Pinot Noir conference. "I'd been tasting Oregon Pinot and talking with Oregon winemakers for a long time," he says, "so I was fairly familiar with what was going on up here."

He also knew that Adelsheim Vineyards had a reputation for making elegant and balanced wines - the kind he liked to make. When the two men met, it was a meeting of the minds. "What we talked about was that you need to be aware of what you're not trying to do - which for us means were not trying to make bigger wines than everybody else. The most fascinating and complex wines may not be the biggest!"

It was a style Paige was very comfortable with - and once he started actually working with Oregon grapes, it was a style he reveled in.

The Vintages

The 2001 vintage - Paige's first in Oregon - was unusually warm and long for the region, which meant that winemakers had excellent potential ripeness to work with. "I don't know that I've ever seen another vintage that had the same pretty, pure fruit from the day you pick, through primary fermentation, malolactic, and barrel aging," he says. "In '01 you always knew where the wines were going because it was absolutely pretty fruit throughout. In that sense, to me, it was an easy indoctrination!"

Paige believes that the winemaking style at Adelsheim Vineyards serves the consumer well in a variety of vintage types. "Because we're not trying to be the winery that extracts the most out of the grapes, we may never be the winery that has trouble in a real exotic year."

Like 2003, with its extremes of heat? Perhaps.

Some Willamette Valley Pinot Noir winemakers were concerned in '03 about excessive seed tannins because of the extreme ripeness and high potential alcohol level of the grapes. These same winemakers were often accustomed to working the grapes to "give up everything they have" through processes like post-fermentation maceration. The danger in a year of great concentration like 2003, is that such a winemaking approach could extract unwanted flavors.

"It's the people that are trying to get everything they possibly can out of their grapes that need to be concerned about extreme vintages," feels Paige. "Since that's not our style, I think we can adjust easier."

All of this is not to say that Dave Paige won't make a "blockbuster" wine! "To be very clear," he points out, "all this does not mean we don't like big wines per se. But blockbusters have to come from the vineyard, they can't be forced."

As an example, he cites the Calkins Lane Pinot Noir from Adelsheim Vineyards. First released as a single-vineyard designate in 2001, Adelsheim has used the grapes from this estate vineyard in their premium wines for many years. Planted originally in 1989 with Burgundian clones added in 1996, the sedimentary soil site produces intensely black-fruited wines with great structure.

"I did not come up with a production technique to force it to be big," says Paige, "but because it does this naturally, the wines can be bigger and denser and still be balanced, harmonious, and complex. I'm happy to make a blockbuster - but I don't want to give up the balance."

And Dave Paige seems happy to be making Oregonian Pinot Noir.

"What Oregon Pinots do well that California Pinots don't do well," he says, "is retain a nicer structure. California wines may tend to be a little silkier up front, but Oregon wines have a nice firm structure that develops that silkiness with age. California Pinots start out with a more immediate perception of sweetness, but ultimately Oregon Pinots are more complex..."

Perhaps, now that he is working in a cooler climate for Pinot Noir and for a winery that values balance over bigness and complexity over ripeness, Dave Paige may have a better opportunity to help move the market's perception of what makes great Pinot Noir. "I wouldn't mind seeing a couple more vintages like 2001," he says.

"People might be getting a little more used to the idea that Pinot Noir can be pretty and balanced!"

But in the meantime, his Oregon experience is proving well worthwhile. "I've learned a lot in the time I've been here. Oregon is so collegial and friendly. I get to work with six or seven different vineyards every year that represent different soils and climates. I'm really happy to be here."

And, no doubt, happy to be making balanced and complex Pinot Noir!

The Estate Vineyards

Quarter Mile Lane Vineyard

First planted by David Adelsheim and Ginny Adelsheim in 1972, the Quarter Mile Lane Vineyard was one of the first vineyards on the south slope of the Chehelem Mountains, then a relatively unproven (but promising) viticultural area of Oregon's north Willamette Valley.

The vineyard has south-to southeast exposure and basaltic-origin, clay-loam soils with excellent moisture retention.

Despite its 600-700-foot elevation, Quarter Mile Lane Vineyard remains well within the ripeining band, and produces grapes showing intense fruit character and lovely balance. Adelsheim has made their Elizabeth's Reserve Pinot Noir from Quarter Mile Lane Vineyard since 1986.

Bryan Creek Vineyard

Bryan Creek Vineyard lies on the small section of the south slope of Chehalem Mountain that has basaltic-origin soils.

The site is owned by Adelsheim's neighbors Jess and Joy Howell, and is situated just across the road from the original estate vineyard at Quarter Mile Lane. Adelsheim started planting the vineyard in 1998 with the UCD5 ("Pommard") clone, which produces wines showing intense, ripe raspberry flavors. The wines also show some resemblance to their across-the-lane neighbors in their rich body and soft tannins.

Adelsheim has made a single-vineyard Pinot Noir from Bryan Creek Vineyard since 1998, and the site also provides grapes for their Oregon Series Pinot blanc.

Calkins Lane Vineyard

Calkins Lane Vineyard is situated on the lower slopes of the Chehalem Mountains.

With an elevation of 240 feet and south-to-southeast exposure, it is Adelsheim's lowest and earliest-ripening vineyard.

The first blocks of Pinot gris grapevines were planted in 1989, followed by new Burgundian clones of Pinot Noir in 1996. Planted on sedimentary, silt-loam soils with lesser moisture retention, this site produces intensely fruited Pinot gris, and Pinot Noir wines with great structure and black fruit character.

Adelsheim's first single-vineyard wine from Calkins Lane Vineyard was made in 2001.

Ribbon Springs Vineyard

Ribbon Springs Vineyard is the project of Adelsheim Vineyard co-owners Lynn and Jack Loacker, who purchased the 125-acre site in 1995.

Situated at the 500-foot elevation on the Ribbon Ridge spur of the Chehalem Mountains, the vineyard has south-to-southeast exposure and sandstone-based, sedimentary soils.

Ribbon Springs Vineyard is an important source of our Pinot gris grapes, and high-density plantings of the Burgundy clones of Pinot Noir produce rich wines with intense red and black fruit flavors.

Adelsheim made their first single-vineyard wine from Ribbon Springs Vineyard in 2001.

Ellis Vineyard

Situated five miles east of our new winery at Calkins Lane, Ellis Vineyard has been lease-farmed by Adelsheim Vineyard since 1993.

Situated on Jory clay-loam soils at an elevation of 300 feet, the site has ideal southern exposure and is sheltered by the Chehalem Mountains.

First planted in the mid-1980s, this vineyard is an important source of Pinot Noir and Pinot gris grapes for Adelsheim's Oregon Series wines.

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