Coeur de Terre Vineyard
Heart of the Earth, by Michael Sherwood and Jean Yates, June 2006
The name Coeur de Terre, or "Heart of the Earth," is an appropriate name for the vineyard Lisa and Scott Neal have created. Scott and Linda have a passion for winemaking, and their beautiful estate grown Pinot noirs are clearly the manifestation of their hearts' desire. The name "Coeur de Terre" was inspired by a very large basalt boulder they unearthed while digging an irrigation pond. What at first was a minor headache became a namesake - the boulder is shaped like an abstract heart, and is now propped up beside their pond, nature's expression of their whole hearted love of vineyards and wine.
How They got from There to Here
Scott Neal has a passion for farming that has driven him to grow Pinot Noir. He grew up on a 160 acre farm in Minnesota and the memory of freshly turned earth has called to him ever since. Working in Denver in the '90's, designing and selling medical equipment, Scott and his wife Lisa, a successful real estate executive, were attracted to Oregon's wines and began considering the possibility of purchasing land in the North Willamette Valley. Scott but was smitten by the subtleties of Pinot Noir and wanted to combine his love for Pinot Noir with his farming roots.
"If you love Pinot Noir, Oregon is the place to be" says Neal.
Searching for their dream vineyard, The Neals first looked in the Newberg area for land to farm. A vintner on Chehalem Mountain opind that while there are excellent sites along the Chehalem Ridge, good values and undiscovered gems were still to be found to the west. So west they headed, ending up lost in the Big Muddy Valley on Eagle Point Road, seven miles west of McMinnville. There they found a 50 acre, south facing farm with a 300 ft. rise in elevation. Perfect. Scott and Lisa spent less than an hour looking at the one story ranch house but spent two days walking the 50 acre property before they bought it.
Scott and Lisa visited with many Oregon winemakers and grape growers, asking questions about grape growing and winemaking from local experts. Reading regional publications, Scott discovered articles on vineyard management and winemaking, written by Raptor Ridge's Scott Shull. Scott and Lisa corresponded with him, asking questions about soils, vineyard construction, and winemaking. After purchasing their vineyard, they walked into the Raptor Ridge Tasting Room with a soil map of what would become Coeur de Terre, plopped it down and asked owners Scott and Annie Shull for advice. The two Scotts' enthusiasm for wine and land was mutual and a fast friendship was born between the two couples.
The Neals purchased their farm up the Big Muddy, moved to Oregon, and worked the harvests at Raptor Ridge and Belle Pente for several years. "Scott Neal has a thirst for knowledge about wine and is quick to apply the information he gathers" said Annie Shull of Raptor Ridge Winery.
Close collaboration between the Shulls and the Neals led to working together on the Coeur de Terre Vineyard. The Shulls helped plant the original Renelle's Block at Coeur de Terre, and for the past three years have used Coeur de Terre fruit to make a single vineyard designate wine, the Raptor Ridge Pinot noir CdT (the 2003 received 93 points from Wine Spectator).
Coeur de Terre completed a 5600 square foot winery in time for the 2005 vintage. The wood clad, gravity feed winery has enough fermentation space, tank storage area, racking and bottling space not only for Coeur de Terre wines but for several other small wineries as well. The 2005 harvest saw nearby Stony Mountain Vineyards and Raptor Ridge Winery making their wines at the Coeur de Terre facility.
Commenting on the close relationship that has developed between Coeur de Terre and Raptor Ridge, Annie Shull enthusiastically comments: "This is the epitome of the collaborative nature of the Oregon wine business. Everyone is willing to share information. None of us would be where we are today without the helping hands of those who came before us."
Planting the Vineyard - Blocks Designed for Quality
All the fruit at Coeur de Terre is farmed organically with the help of a small crew, directed by Neal. He and Lisa both manage the vineyard and make the Coeur de Terre wine.
The vineyard site at Coeur de Terre goes from 280 ft. elevation at Eagle Point Road to 580 ft. at the top of the property, a three hundred foot rise. Fifteen out of the 50 acres are planted to Pinot Noir with a mix of roughly 40% Pommard, 45% Dijon clones and 15% Wadenswil.
Coeur de Terre is mostly planted to Pinot noir, with a small amount of Syrah and Viognier planted in 2005. The Syrah vines are located the hottest most rocky site in hopes the fruit will fully ripen. Riesling will be planted in 2006 at the top of the hill in an area Scott and Lisa think will be ideal for this robust white grape.
An experimental block of Gruner Veltliner is to be planted in 2007. Coeur de Terre will join Chehalem, Evesham Wood, Elk Cove and Raptor Ridge in a quest to see if Gruner Veltliner will thrive in Oregon. "I'm very excited about the potential of Gruner Veltliner in Oregon" said Neal. "When you get that spice of white pepper and viscosity in a Gruner it's a beautiful thing."
Coeur de Terre's first Pinot Noir vines went into the ground in 1999 in the 2 3/4 acre Renelle's Block (named after Scott's mother) with a mixture of half Pommard vines, a few Wadenswil clones and the balance with a mix of early ripening Dijon clone vines. This mix of old world Pommard vines along with the dusty Wadenswill and fruity Dijon insures a range of both flavors and ripening times in the estate grown grapes.
The 4 1/2 acre Sara Jane's Block, named after Lisa's great great grandmother, who was a Chickasaw Indian healer, was planted 2001 with a mix of a quarter Pommard and the rest Dijon clone Pinot Noir. The Abby's Block, named after their daughter, was planted in 2002 with the Renelle's Block mix of half Pommard vines, a few Wadenswil and the balance in Dijon clone Pinot Noir. The Abby's Block vines went into some of the most ancient yellow soil unique to this property.
A yet un-named Block 3 was planted in 2002 with all 115 Dijon clone Pinot Noir while Block 6 was the most recently planted, with Dijon clones 667 and 777 in 2005. All in all, fifteen of the twenty five plantable acres have been trellised and trained.
Unique Soils of Coeur de Terre Vineyard
The Coeur de Terre winery is tucked up against Oregon's coastal foothills at the west end of the new McMinnville AVA. An unusually varied mix of soils on the property is a result of intense geological activity in the area millions of years ago. Ancient events caused heaving folds of earth to bring old soils to the surface. The Missoula Floods, a catastrophic geologic event that occurred during the last Ice Age, brought layers of sediment to the vineyard. All these soil complexities are part of the equation that end up creating a unique 'terroir' that the Neals hope will assist in the creation of Pinot noir with attractive scent and flavor characteristics, unique to the vineyard.
The search for terroir inspires v intners around the world. Winemakers wanting to make something extraordinary and unique to their wines are trying to achieve an expression of a specific grape on a specific piece of ground that exists within a particular mico-climate. With a unique mix of soils on his property and the cooling winds off the Van Duzer Corridor, Scott Neal has a good chance of bringing out that most important sense a place in his wines.
Viniculture auteur and owner of famed Resonance Vineyard, Kevin Chambers, did the original analysis of their first vineyard block at Coeur de Terre. According to Neal, "Kevin thought this vineyard site would be in the top 10% of all vineyards in Oregon. At the time, I thought he was just trying to make me feel good. But now I know that Kevin doesn't do that. He was serious. I guess we'll see."
A geologist working under a Oregon State University grant who surveyed the land expressed the opinion that not only did the vineyard contains some of the oldest soils in Oregon (39-55 million years old) but also ancient soils not seen elsewhere in the valley. Scott and Lisa have divided the vineyard up into five different blocks pretty much defined by the soil types that exist there.
"Erratic Rocks" in the Coeur de Terre Vineyard, huge basalt boulders like the one that provided inspiration for the winery's name, surfed in with icebergs brought by the floods 20,000 years ago that also laid down layers and layers of silt and stone into the Willamette Valley.
Renelle's Block at the bottom of the property is mostly sedimentary and dark Willakenzie-ish soils where as the top of the property transitions to reddish volcanic Yamhill/Jory. "I'm excited about the soils here," said Neal. "You move 5 ft and you have a totally different piece of geology. We think this will give our grapes some added complexity."
Coeur de Terre released their second commercial vintage in May 2006. Now that Scott has experience with the grapes of the area, after several years making wine at his own winery and with Raptor Ridge and Belle Pente, I asked him if he has determined a defining flavor for this end of the foothills and the McMinnville AVA. He chuckled, "Big structured Pinot Noir with lots of tannin and quite muscular. Some very pretty bright cherry flavors mixed with blackberry and currant notes."
It gets quite warm at Coeur de Terre's west end of the Yamhill Valley and a "rain shadow" from the coastal mountains creates dry conditions. Smaller amounts of rain in this western end of the McMinnville AVA foster the deep fruit flavors and high tannins Scott describes. Winemaking here involves managing the tannins so they don't overwhelm the flavor of the wine, yet are present to balance the fruit and acids of the wine.
"Gentle punch down of the fruit at harvest, cold maceration and a little water judiciously used are keys to managing tannins" according to Neal. The irrigation philosophy at Coeur de Terre is that a little water goes a long way. In sedimentary soil, you want to force the roots to go deep looking for moisture. "Overall, we follow a deficit irrigation strategy," said Neal. "We irrigate sparingly to establish a plant. At veraison we very closely monitor vine water status. Plant nutrient uptake is quite high as the grapes turn color and with the appropriate amount of water, we feel that the tannins in our fruit are more softened if the vines are not under too much stress."
Taming the tannins to make a smooth, textured Pinot Noir with core of dark fruit is the name of the game here in the Big Muddy Valley. Coeur de Terre's 2004 Renelle's Block Pinot Noir $30.56/$33.95 shows masterful execution of the region's grapes. The wine has an intense perfume and a silky texture, with notes of currant, blackberry and spice sporting a nice long finish.
The Future - Coeur De Terre's Next Step
For Scott and Lisa Neal, the work is just beginning at their Coeur de Terre Winery. With 15 acres of their 25 acre site planted, there are still decisions to be made about the final design of the vineyard, and young vines require lots of work as they mature. As the initial planting of the vineyard is concluded, Scott and Lisa will turn their attention to perfecting their estate's Pinot noirs, with several Block designates planned.
Why Pinot Noir? "Why not," Scott said with a huge smile. "It makes the most nuanced wine. It reflects a sense of place more than most any other grape."
As a farmer Scott Neal lives out the truism that the wine is made in the vineyard and the grapes should record a sense of the place where they were grown. At this end of the McMinnville foothills, that place is called Coeur de Terre, the Heart of the Land.
Lisa Neal - Willamette Valley Vineyard Specialist
In the nine years that Lisa Neal has been in Oregon she's turned into one of Oregon's most sought after vineyard property agents. It almost didn't turn out that way.
Lisa, who had a real estate license in Colorado, was not going to pursue that path when she and husband Scott moved to Oregon to pursue their winemaking dreams. In talking to fellow vintners who grew their own grapes, they encouraged Lisa to get back into the business, as she knew more than most real estate agents about the geology of the Willamette Valley and what it really took to grow grapes here. That was several years ago.
Today Lisa's clientele are the select that have a passion for growing ultra premium grapes, making wine and are in it for the long haul.
"It's a perfect job for me" bubbled Lisa. "I get to tromp around the hillsides in muddy boots talking about the land and the wine that can come from a particular site."
What makes the McMinnville AVA Unique?
-- Geographic and soil distinctions
-- Ocean sedimentary soils on eastern and southern Coast Range foothill exposures
-- In the rain shadow of the Coast Range
-- Less than 33 inches of rain annually
-- Black fruited and earthy wines with strong tannin and acid backbone
-- Highly pigmented and tannic from drier conditions
As the McMinnville region's vintners celebrate the designation of their new McMinnville AVA, Maysara, Coleman, Hyland, Yamhill Valley, Stony Mountain, Meredith Mitchell, Yamhill Valley, Youngberg Hill and others who made wine with McMinnville AVA grapes are determining just what sets their wines apart.
"Can we talk about all the wines having a similar character? I don't think we know that yet" said Scott Neal of Coeur de Terre Winery. "I'm very excited about this tasting. Winemakers talking about what they did and trying to get a baseline to what worked and what didn't and what we can all take forward to be better winemakers. The AVA's that are most successful are ones that can be truly defined, that have a definite characteristic with a definitive profile."