Update- November 2011
Written in 2001, this article gives some background on the history of Evesham Wine and its founding.
Author: Jean Yates
Russ and Mary Raney named their vineyard and winery after their honeymoon destination: England’s Vale of Evesham, an idyllic fruit-growing region by the Cotswold Hills. Their house and subterranean winery overlook Evesham Wood’s 12-acre vineyard, which is situated on an eastern slope of the Eola Hills, four miles northwest of Salem and within view of the Willamette River.
Russ Raney was first introduced to winemaking while studying at Freiburg University (Germany), where he visited nearby vineyards in Baden and Alsace. A few years later in 1977, he earned a degree from the State Technical School of Viticulture and Enology in Bad Kreunach, Germany.
Upon returning to the U.S., Russ worked as wine retailer and wholesaler in St. Louis for five years before he and Mary moved to Oregon in 1983 in search of a site capable of yielding great Pinot noir. Mary studied at St. Louis University and Southern Illinois University, graduating with a degree in horticulture. She manages the winery office and provides a much appreciated different perspective in blending and bottling decisions.
Evesham Wood Wines
Haden Fig Wines
Of his winemaking philosophy, Russ says:
“ We don’t manipulate our winemaking methods to produce a ‘sameness’ in quality from year to year, or attempt to compete with the large producers by making our wines appeal to a larger audience. Like any quality-conscious winery, we will try by natural means to maximise quality and flavour intensity of our wines in the ‘lesser’ vintages, but only if it doesn’t mean having to alter our basic wine style, and always giving preference to decisions made in the vineyard rather than the cellar.”
The results have been some of Oregon’s very best Pinot noirs, say wine critics. It is difficult to not feel the same excitement Russ feels about his Eola Hills vineyard when sipping his product. He is convinced the site is destined to be among the world’s best for Pinot noir cultivation.
One of Oregon's Early Wineries
After a comprehensive search throughout the Willamette Valley, the Raneys chose a site for their estate vineyard, “Le Puits Sec” (French for "the dry well" which they have in the vineyard) in 1986. There they planted eight acres, three of Pinot Noir (Pommard clone), two each of Chardonnay (108 clone) and Pinot Gris (Colmar clones) and one of Gewurztraminer. Since then, four and one half acres have gradually been added (1.5 ac. of 3 Dijon clones of Pinot Noir, 1 ac. of 3 Dijon clones of Chardonnay, and one ac. Pinot Gris, as well as small plantings of the German variety, Rieslaner and the Austrian variety, Gruener Veltliner). In addition, the original two acres of Chardonnay were grafted over to Pinot Noir in 1999.
The gently sloping, east-facing vineyard is tightly-spaced and nestled on a low terrace (300-420 ft. elevation) on the eastern side of the Eola Hills ridge. This area, known locally as “Spring Valley”, has already proven to have one of Oregon¹s best micro-climates for the production of fine wines from Burgundian and Alsatian varieties. It is here that the rather shallow volcanic basalt soils allow Russ to achieve the low yields he seeks for wines of great intensity and complexity. As well, it is the uniqueness of this “terroir” that gives Le Puits Sec wines their signature.
It was also in 1986 that the Raneys first produced Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, using grapes purchased primarily from Temperance Hill & Anden (formerly "Seven Springs"), two fine Eola Hills sites very near (and with similar soil composition) to our own. They continue to purchase fruit from these, as well as from two more recent additions: Mahonia, located in the South Salem Hills, and Cubanissimo, a higher elevation Eola Hills vineyard.
Evesham Wood currently purchase Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for about half of their 3,600 case annual production, with the remainder of wine production from these varieties coming from their estate vineyard. Additionally, their Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer are produced exclusively from estate-grown fruit. The Raneys have resided at our vineyard site since its planting. It wasn’t, however, until 1991 that the present subterranean winery was located there, situated below their home on a knoll overlooking Le Puits Sec vineyard and an idyllic Willamette River landscape.
The Evesham Wood Philosophy
Russ Raney says: "At Evesham Wood, small is beautiful".
Because it is essential for Russ's philospohy of winemaking to maintain a high level of personal involvement and quality control both in vineyard and cellar, he never intends to go much beyond his current 3600 case annual production. Russ says, "Besides, it's good for our sanity too, as we're at a point in our lives where we'd like to simplify not complicate things (our raison d'etre in life goes beyond viticulture & enology)".
To maintain a high level of quality, the Raneys rely on two basic principles: obtaining optimally ripe low-yield fruit from the best possible sites in their area, and using minimal intervention in the winemaking process. They feel that this is the surest way to create wines which express their unique heritage. For example, their Pinot Noirs and vineyard-designated Chardonnays are not filtered prior to bottling, so as to preserve texture and flavor complexity.
Evesham Wood's main sources of inspiration and advice have come from two of Burgundy's top small producers: the legendary Henri Jayer (Vosne-Romanée), and Michel Niellon (Chassagne-Montrachet). Russ says, "Even if, as "new world" vintners, we aren't ashamed to admit that we strive for certain subtle aspects of great Côte d'Or Pinot and Chardonnay, we appreciate the fact that there will always be identifiable Eola Hills’ characteristics in our wines, distinguishing them from every other region of the world".
To further the quest to emphasize the uniqueness of the Evesham Wood terroir (and thus their wines), Evesham obtained in 2000, organic certification of Le Puits Sec vineyard. With the enactment of federal laws governing organic certification in 2002 (the USDA's National Organic Program), Evesham Wood winery processing has been certified as well. Additionally, they are charter members of DRC (Deep Roots Coalition), a group of local growers/producers which advocates the use of natural methods in the vineyard and cellar, especially the harvesting of grapes exclusively from non-irrigated vineyards (thus forcing the vine's roots to grow deeper into the soil).
At Evesham Wood it is not the objective to produce wines with mass appeal. Russ says this is due in part to the fact that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay want, more than any other noble grape varieties, to reflect their origins in terroir and winemaking approach. He says, "Both of these attributes would be diminished by an excessively manipulative approach".
Russ Raney, owner and winemaker at Evesham Wood, is an Oregon treasure. He's an unassuming, kind fellow, and a lot of wine lovers in Oregon think he's something of a genius when it comes to wine.
He has always priced his wines fairly, avoided publicity, and sacrificed bucks for quality in marginal grape growing years. Almost twenty years since he and his family moved outside Salem, Oregon to make wine, he quietly continues to make great wines, reflecting his interest in terroir and his inspiration, the wines of France.
THE PINOT NOIRS OF EVESHAM WOOD
Along with his very limited Gewuztraminer, these are the wines our store customers most covet.
The Pinot Noirs from Evesham Wood epitomize the elegance and the refined silky texture of Oregon’s best pinots. Evesham Wood wines are usually snapped up upon release by restaurants and Russ's mail list. At the store, we have a regular group of Evesham Wood fans who have purchased our allocation each year. We are fortunate that Russ has increased his production and we are able to introduce the wider world to his wines.
CUVEE J: HARD TO GET AND VERY LIMITED
This wine's grapes are from the famous Shea vineyard site. Cuvee "J" has always been the top quality, very limited Pinot noir that customers fight over. As usual, it is very limited in quantity. This is not a big "blockbuster" wine but rather a rich and graceful wine, a finesse wine, with a fine balance of viscosity, fruit, and acid. The wine expresses a distinct "gout de terroir" along with intense red and black fruit flavors. With many wines made from the grapes of Shea Vineyard selling for $45 plus, this is a very good deal.
"Le Puits Sec"
" Le Puits Sec" means "the dry well". This is the new name for Evesham's Estate Pinot noir. The wine is a blend of vineyard sites including Russ's estate vineyard.
Evesham's Pinot noirs differ only in the origin of their component fruit. As opposed to the "Willamette Valley" blended bottlings, the single vineyard and named wines are aged about 18 months in 65-100% new Francois Freres oak, and represent selected barrels from each of the vineyard sites. These wines are not filtered prior to bottling.
Russ shows off his rocky,