Chris Mazepink is both General Manager and Winemaker at Archery Summit, one of Oregon's most prestigious wineries. Ebony is his personal wine label, where he shows his own style in a very limited 400 case production of Oregon Pinot noir and Chardonnay.
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.
When describing his winemaking style, he says: "Style is how you do things, not what you do. It's how you wear the clothes you wear, not what you wear, and it's how you make the wines you make in your own personal way, not things you can put down on paper. It's a lot of timing..."
"I'm trying to capture what each and every vintage is. We like vintage variation; we don't like variation in quality. Our goal is to get the best of what the vintage has the potential to become," Mazepink said. Quality, in his mind, has a lot to do with texture and depth of flavor - something he calls, "plush, succulent and round."
More About Ebony Wines
Chris Mazepink moved to Oregon in 2000 to study for his Masters at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Work in the lab at OSU's Food Sciences Department led to his first job in the wine industry at Lemelson Vineyards as assistant winemaker. He moved on to Shea Wine Cellars, working under winemaker Sam Tannahill and then as head winemaker. In late 2007, Chris accepted the position of head winemaker at Benton Lane Winery in the South Willamette Valley, where today he made 30,000 cases of Pinot noir, Pinot gris, Pinot Blanc, and Chardonnay annually. In 2013 he assumed
As part of his agreement with Benton Lane, Chris makes a very small amount of wine under his own label, Ebony. He makes three wines: two Pinot noirs, the Olenik and The Quarry, and a Chardonnay "The Hive". The Olenik Pinot noir is made from his family vineyard, purchased in 2005. The vineyard has a very rocky soil, thus the reference in the name The Quarry to the nature of the wine. The Olenik is made exclusively from the vineyard while the Quarry includes purchased fruit.
Chris makes an heirloom Chardonnay, and strives to create a "richly textured and voluptuous wine, intensely flavorful. The aroma is a perfume of apple blossom opening to flavors of lemon lime citrus and honey cream with slate, minerals and balanced acidity keep it fresh and uplifting. He says: "This is the wine I'm most proud of and follows the direction that Oregon Chardonnay is going."
Called "The Hive", the name is meant to evoke the vineyard where the grapes were grown - an idyllic place where honeybees buzz in the vineyard and apple orchard and fields bloom with spring flowers and herbs. A shower of apple blossom petals float in the breeze - the essence of spring.
Winemaking and Wooden Fermenters
Of the many varied techniques Mazepink uses to produce his wines, one of the most unique is his use of neutral wooden fermenters, as opposed to stainless steel or plastic fermenters.
The benefit of the wooden fermenter is that, as Mazepink explained, "It polymerizes the tannins and gives you a longer finish. Juice that's been in the wooden fermenter tastes like wine that's been in a neutral barrel for a while. It doesn't have some of the angular, sharper, more tannic profiles that you find on a very young, freshly pressed wine. You'll taste a roundness, texture and softness of a wine that's been aged for a while. It can take the extra spice and tannins and just integrate them so quickly, so the wine seems more like a finished wine earlier on in its life than something that's made in stainless steel.
"People think you'll have the toast and the smoke and the vanilla - some aspects you might get in a barrel - but the wood fermenter doesn't have any toast left to it at all," Mazepink said. "Also, the wine's in the barrel for ten months - and sometimes wineries let it age in barrel for two years - and in the fermenter for only a couple of weeks."
It's exciting to Mazepink that such an old winemaking practice can still be so effective. "Whenever something comes out it's always praised as the newest, greatest thing, and people jump on board - whether it's the Dijon clone, a new barrel maker or the invention of stainless steel tanks," Mazepink said. "But wine has been made for a long time, and there's a lot to say for old techniques."
Wooden fermenters do come with their unique set of challenges. They are tricky to maintain because, as Mazepink explained, they are empty nearly eleven months out of the year so they dry out. "It takes me about three to four weeks at the start of each harvest just to get it to hold water," he said. Also, unlike stainless steel fermenters, which have external jackets one can fill with hot or cold water or glycol to adjust the temperature (and most systems are automatic), there is no way to adjust the temperature in a wooden fermenter. "If the fruit in the wooden fermenter gets hot on you, you don't have a way to cool it down," Mazepink said.
While temperature control is an issue, Mazepink has found a way to work with this difficult aspect of the wooden fermenters. By charting the temperature changes and pH levels in the wooden fermenters over the years, Mazepink has discovered that, like clockwork, the fruit will heat up to forty degrees from where it begins. Mazepink ensures that the fruit is at a low enough temperature when it enters the wooden fermenter that it can stand to heat up forty more degrees.
"You look at the charted temperatures on the wooden fermenter at the end of harvest, and it's just a beautiful bell curve," Mazepink said. "It brings itself up to temperature, plateaus for about three days and then the heat burns itself out and goes back down. It's great to have all this modern technology to modify temperatures when you need to - and I definitely sleep better at night knowing I have that layer of protection - that you don't get a runaway freight train like you could with wooden fermenters - , but there's something to be said for this old world technology - a. for what it does in the finished product and b. on the processing side. You can see why it's been used for thousands of years. It's takes care of itself."