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Archery Summit

Coming Full Circle - Chris Mazepink New Winemaker at Archery Summit

By Jean Yates

Chris Mazepink is the new General Manager and Winemaker at Archery Summit.Archery Summit winemaker Chris Mazepink

There's a wonderful circle of winemaking here that starts with Archery Summit founder Gary Andrus, who passed away in 2009. Gary brought a big, bold style of Pinot noir to Oregon wines, attracting national attention with his high profile, high scoring wines. He was a character, bigger than life, and so were his wines.

Sam Tannahill, now co-owner of A to Z Winery, was Gary's assistant winemaker, learning his signature style, then moving on to make the wines for Shea Wine Cellars before co-founding A to Z. He trained Chris, who was his assistant winemaker and who continued as winemaker at Shea until his move to Benton Lane Winery in 2008. While at Benton Lane, Chris founded his own wine label, Ebony Wines.

As of March, 2013, Chris is the new head winemaker and General Manager at Archery Summit, bringing founder Gary Andrus's legacy full circle. While Chris and Sam's winemaking styles are their own, they incorporate parts of Gary's winemaking methods, especially his love of fermenting his wines in large wooden tanks, a method now used by some of Oregon's most successful winemakers.

at right, Chris Mazepink and his wooden fermenting tanks

How Does it Work?

When Archery Summit winemaker Chris Mazepink was a boy, his favorite book was called How Does It Work?, an illustrated guide that offered explanations of things like magnetism and the mechanical components of a dump truck. To this day, Mazepink's inquisitiveness has not faded, and he says it is the process of making wine - and the possible variations therein - that will continue to captivate him for years to come.

While the winemaking process captivates Mazepink, consumers are captivated by the wines he's produced. His first winemaking job after training at Oregon State University was at Lemelson. He was hired as an assistant to Sam Tannahill at Shea in 2004 and worked solo on the '05 and '06 vintages. The 2004 vintage of Shea wines received rave reviews, their '04 Estate Pinot noir dubbed #15 on Wine Spectator's "Most Exciting Wines of 2006" list.

In 2008, Chris founded his own label, Ebony Wines. Ebony's big, bold wines are inspired by the dense black wood from India and Sri Lanka called "Ebony". The wood is fine textured, dense, smooth, and powerful, as are his wines. He makes about 400 cases of wine a year, including a Pinot noir called "The Quarry", a vineyard designate from his own vineyard, Olenik, and a Chardonnay called "The Hive.".

Chris's ability to make high-profile, high scoring wines makes him happy, but to him the joy is in the things he's tried and learned along the way. "I like being down here [at the winery] and getting my hands dirty," Mazepink said, " - being the person that is tasting every barrel and doing the punch downs - I like having that level of connection with the wines. I didn't get into it for the bottled product, and I didn't get into it to see the numbers in the lab.

"I got into winemaking to learn how it works and to figure out how to make it better, and with Pinot that's a lifetime pursuit. You're figuring out what that little time capsule in the berry is all about - every year - , and you figure it out on the fly."

Westward Bound

Mazepink went to Hartwick College, a small liberal arts school in upstate New York, and studied Cultural Anthropology and Theology, appeasing curiosities in the realm of the humanities.

Near Hartwick College, in Cooperstown (as many know, the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame), was a small microbrewery. Mazepink made visits to the brewery and became increasingly interested in the process of brewing. He picked up some supplies and made a few homebrews and, he said, "As a struggling college student, I gave my first brews as Christmas presents to family and friends." Before long, the brew supply shop started carrying grape juice, so Mazepink decided to give winemaking a shot. "I made it in my kitchen - made a mess," he said. He loved it.

Soon after making his first cuvee, Mazepink took a job in a wine shop. This job sealed the deal for Mazepink: wine had caught his interest and would not let go, so much so that, he said, "most paychecks - I ended up owing the wine shop money."

Intrigued by his initial winemaking experience and his wine shop boss's comment that "If I had to do it all over again, I'd have been a winemaker," Mazepink flew west to check out graduate programs in winemaking at UC-Davis and Oregon State University. As a lifelong fisherman and downhill skier, Mazepink was charmed by the notion that, if he attended OSU, he'd live in Corvallis, Oregon - just an hour's drive from great fly-fishing spots and gorgeous ski slopes. (And the home of Avalon Wine.) On the last night of his visit to Corvallis, he dined at a restaurant on the Willamette River, and at one point he looked up to see two salmon roll. He chose Oregon.

Another deciding factor was that Oregon winemaking seemed more conducive than Californian winemaking to Mazepink's desire to participate in all aspects of winemaking, from pressing to lab work. "You have people coming out of undergraduate programs with intensive training in chemistry and biology and know that they love chemistry but don't know what they can do professionally to apply it, and then they find winemaking," Mazepink said. "I think that's more of the UC-Davis student in general - and people that you find in California. In Oregon, because we're so small, you kind of have to be a jack-of-all-trades. There are very few people in wineries here where you're the director of winemaking and just doing chemistry. Here, you're fixing the pump when it breaks or changing the light bulbs or doing the dinners and making picking decisions, too..."

Below, Chris with his "Palette" of barrels

Archery Summit winemaker Chris Mazepink

Learning How Winemaking Works

One of Mazepink's first mentors at OSU was Barney Watson, Professor of Enology and winemaker for Tyee Wine Cellars. Watson saw promise in Mazepink's abilities and arranged for him to work Tyee's 2000 harvest and eventually to take on a full-time position at the vineyard and winery. At the time, OSU housed a branch of EST, where students were able to learn and practice doing lab work on wine samples mailed in from various wineries in the region.

After a year of graduate school, Mazepink decided he needed to choose full-time work or full-time school. Watson, having observed Mazepink's hands-on success, encouraged Mazepink to seek a position in a large winery, to ensure that he'd have opportunities to be involved in year-round winemaking. Mazepink followed Watson's advice and ended up at Willamette Valley Vineyards working for Joe Dobbs.

Mazepink is grateful for the breadth of training he was able to receive from his various mentors. Of Watson, he said, "Without him, I wouldn't have been exposed to nearly as much." Working under Dobbs, first as a cellar hand and soon after as Cellar Master, Mazepink said, "[Dobbs] was open to sharing the things he did and wanted to hear your opinions on things," putting good pressure on Mazepink to formulate opinions and do some real critical thinking about wine. "I think it really takes good mentoring to become a great winemaker."

At Willamette Valley Vineyards, Mazepink was exposed to large scale winemaking (at the time, they produced around 125,000 cases per year) and was able to work with a wide array of varietals, from Cabernet Sauvignon to Syrah to Viognier, Merlot, Pinot gris, and, of course, Pinot noir. "During harvest we ran twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week," Mazepink said.

Also educational - scratch that - thrilling for Mazepink was Willamette Valley Vineyard's use of large-scale equipment - the huge filters and pumps, a big in-house bottling line and a huge filtration system - things that couldn't be found in the region's other, smaller wineries. "Being in love with how things work," Mazepink said, "I was a kid in a candy store."

Falling for and Focusing on Pinot noir

After working with almost twenty grape varietals at Willamette Valley Vineyards, it became clear to Mazepink that his strongest interest was in Pinot noir. "At Willamette Valley Vineyards, we made around 80,000 cases [of Pinot] a year, and the diversity we could get from one grape from several different vineyards just blew my mind," Mazepink said. When he heard that Lemelson Winery, a smaller production (7,000 cases per year), Pinot noir-focused operation, was hiring a cellar master, Mazepink applied and got the job. Archery Summit winemaker Chris Mazepink with Dick Shea, Shea Vineyards, 2006

At Lemelson, Mazepink worked for owner Eric Lemelson, both of whom had extensive knowledge of Burgundian wines and winemaking practices. Mazepink noted, "It's not that they were trying to make Burgundies, but their experiences [in Burgundy] impacted their style and their thought processes." Mazepink's exposure to such enthusiasm for the old world treatment of the Pinot noir grape furthered his interest in and fondness for the varietal. Mazepink did lab work for Lemelson and was eventually promoted to Assistant Winemaker.

at right, Chris Mazepink with Dick Shea, Shea Vineyards in 2006

When Mazepink learned that Shea Wine Cellars was looking for an assistant winemaker, he jumped on the opportunity, which seemed, at that point, a perfect fit. He'd be focusing intensely on making Pinot noir with Sam Tannahill, a winemaker for which Mazepink held much admiration, and he'd be working for Dick and Deirdre Shea, whose vineyard's reputation is nearly unmatched in Oregon. Mazepink learned that Dick and Deirdre were interested in expanding their winery, and he liked the idea of growing with a winery.

The Shea Vineyards property was perhaps the strongest lure. Mazepink knew what great experiences winemakers had working with Shea fruit. Also, after much tasting, he'd discovered that the sedimentary soils of that particular region in Yamhill County, Oregon, made for more depth of flavor and texture in Pinot noir than did other, volcanic soil sites he'd made wine from.

Dick and Deirdre were impressed by Mazepink's dedication and qualifications and brought him on board in 2004. He remained there until the harvest of 2008, which he made at Benton Lane, and his final vintage was their 2012. in March, 2013 he joined Archery Summit.

In Mazepink's Cellar

Mazepink is always interested in trying different Oregon wines, especially those he knows have undergone some new technique or have been exposed to new technology - or a technology he's unfamiliar with. "Ninety percent of the wines I drink at home are Oregon Pinots - because I'm enamored with the process of making it," Mazepink said. "I enjoy seeing what people are doing in my backyard with the same fruit that I have - to see what different peoples' impressions of it are. It's amazing what subtle differences can do."

Some of Mazepink's favorite wines are coming out of Archery Summit, Elk Cove Vineyards, Penner-Ash Winery, Francis Tannahill Wine Company, and A to Z Winery - the latter two made by Sam Tannahill, Mazepink's predecessor at Shea.

"Probably my favorite thing being produced in Oregon is Argyle's bubbles - their sparkling wine," Mazepink said, describing his idea of the ideal evening with fresh-caught salmon on the grill, a little Argyle sparkling to sip while the fish is on the barbeque, followed by Pinot with dinner.

Most often, the Pinot with dinner is an Ebony Pinot. Mazepink likes to keep up with how the wines are changing in the bottles, and, not surprisingly, he really enjoys what they're producing.

The Future

When Chris Mazepink isn't happily charting wood fermenter temps or climbing through barrel rows, he's likely working on refining his fly-fishing skills, checking out a new Portland restaurant or gliding down ski slopes.

Fishing and winemaking - and how these things work - are the two mysteries Mazepink is counting on continuing to unravel far into the future. Each year, Mazepink and his father meet in the Florida Keys to spend a week fly-fishing on a boat the two of them built ten years ago. "In about ten inches of water, one person pushes and one person stands on the bow and looks for fish," Mazepink said. "It's all sight fishing and all sport fishing." Again, the process, more than the product, is what Mazepink is in it for.

"I'm not in it for the great wine write-up," Mazepink said, "and I'm not going fishing to catch fish. I enjoy being down in the cellar by myself, just as I enjoy standing in a river with a fly rod in my hand." He paused and smiled. "Although I do like eating fish and drinking wine."

Jean Yates

Ebony Wine

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