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Coeur de Terre - Wine from the Heart

by Karl Kloster - reprinted with permission of Oregon Wine Press

How They Met

Within a few short years, Scott and Lisa Neal have built their Coeur de Terre Vineyard into a real contender on the Yamhill Valley wine scene.

Were it not for a pair of tickets to a Denver Broncos game, however, Coeur de Terre might not exist. In fact, its owners might never have gotten married at all.

Scott and Lisa were working in the Mile High City when they met in the mid-1990s. They each felt an immediate attraction, but each concluded the other wasn't interested.

"A friend gave me a couple of Broncos tickets," Lisa said, "but I didn't have anyone to go with. So I decided to give them away.

"Scott heard about it and offered to buy them from me. Then he asked me if I would go with him."

Lisa hesitated at first, but being a football fan anyway, she agreed. It was the beginning of the couple's courtship and life together - a life that eventually led them to Oregon in pursuit of a common dream.

Besides football, they soon discovered they both enjoyed good wine. Their hands-down favorite, as it turned out, was Pinot Noir - more specifically, Pinot Noir with classic Burgundian characteristics. Scott, a farm boy from Minnesota, had an irrepressible yearning to grow things.

What better than Pinot Noir, something they both liked so much? It didn't take a lot of research for them to determine that, outside of France, the best place to do that was northwestern Oregon.

They arrived in 1998, having scraped together every dime they could manage, with the idea of plunging right in. They would buy some land and plant a vineyard.

But they learned the so-called "prime" sites they were drawn to in the Chehalem Range had soared in cost.

Oregon wine industry types, being the helpful and welcoming people that they are, advised the Neals to go west but not too far west - just a bit southwest, where a handful of McMinnville-area vineyards had begun to show promise and prices hadn't yet escalated out of sight.

Mentors and Vineyards

Some of these same Oregon wine folks became mentors to the Neals. They proved of invaluable assistance in the couple's effort to establish a vineyard on a 50-acre site they acquired in Muddy Valley near two rapidly evolving estate wineries - Maysara and Youngberg Hill.

"Scott and Annie Schull of Raptor Ridge helped us put in the vineyard," Lisa said. "We owe most of what we know about vineyard management to them, and they have become good friends."

"I'm also very thankful to Brian O'Donnell of Belle Pente," Scott said. "He's an awesome winemaker and a great guy. He had the patience to take me under his wing when I knew nothing except what I'd read in a few books."

The Neals worked harvests at both Raptor Ridge and Belle Pente before bringing in the first grapes from their own Renelle's Block, named for Scott's mother. The 2.5-acre plot was the first of a total of 15 acres planted thus far in what is projected to be a 25-acre, all-organic estate. The Coeur de Terre Winery Building

Subsequent vineyard expansion over the next few years heightened their awareness of the diversity of soil types on their property."We have a unique combination of geological conditions, all converging in one small area," Scott said. "These differences should bring complexities to the wines that may not be found anywhere else."

Looking to the future and their pocketbooks, the Neals are propagating vines in their own nursery. They currently have 9,000 Pinot Noir cuttings grafted onto resistant rootstock, which will take care of their planting needs this season.

It's apparent the Neals are fast learners. In a matter of just a few short years, they have developed a comprehensive, hands-on knowledge of viticulture and enology. They do almost everything themselves, though they do bring in a small crew to help with harvest.

The potential for this unique terroir to yield outstanding Pinot Noir is already evident. Although young wines from young vines, their 2004 and 2005 Pinots are impressive in varietal character and big in mouth feel. Production, while still small, has increased at a steady pace as their vineyards have begun to mature - 52 cases in 2002, 90 in 2003, 153 in 2004, 232 in 2005 and 850 in 2006. They are anticipating about 1,200 cases this year.

The Coeur de Terre Wines

Taking the evolution of Coeur de Terre step by step, the Neals completed construction of their winery in 2005. The 5,600-square-foot facility has a production capacity of 6,000 gallons.

Raptor Ridge wines have been made at Coeur de Terre from the time the winery began operation. The newest of the Neals' coast hills neighbors, Stony Mountain Vineyards, also is using the facility.

A new hospitality room, which occupies an entire second-story wing at the winery, opened for the first time over Memorial Day weekend.

The spacious, vaulted-ceiling room includes a large fireplace and state-of-the-art kitchen. Windows on three walls afford views of the surrounding vineyards.

How did they arrive at the name Coeur de Terre?

"We unearthed a huge, heart-shaped boulder when we were digging our irrigation pond," Scott said. "It seemed to be an omen. Earth's heart. Heart of the earth."

"Yes," Lisa said. "But it sounds even better in French, and that's what we want to emulate - great French Burgundy."

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