Oregon's Outstanding Pinot Makers
Author: Jean Yates
Eric Hamacher is uncompromising in his winemaking practices. He's on top of every aspect of the process, doing whatever it takes to make sure that his own, and the wines of the startups he assists, are the best they can possibly be. Whether it is for his own "Hamacher WInes" label or for the many wineries he has hosted over the years at his winery, his continuing success reflects his dedication to quality and his meticulous attention to detail.
You may know of Eric through his Carlton Winemakers Studio, his successful "incubator" facility that hosts up to eight very small wineries at a time. "The Studio", as it is known around the valley, currently hosts highly respected Andrew Rich, Ayoub, and Brittan wineries, among others. It hosted famed Penner Ash Winery when Lynn Penner Ash and her husband Ron first began production.
For his own Hamacher Wines label, Eric takes his time. He ages his wines several years longer than most. His Pinot noirs are made traditionally, using wild yeast and bacteria. They are aged for almost two years in barrel before racking and blending, and bottled by gravity (the gentlest way to get the wine from the tank into the bottle). Then the wines are carefully aged for two or more years until Eric feels that they are ready for release. He says "Often the classic vintages need some time to flesh-out and wrap their complex flavor profile in the velvet which is great Pinot Noir".
Eric is ruthless in declassifying as much as 60% of a vintage if the wine is not good enough. He says:"Why go to the trouble? Taste what's in the bottle... you'll understand. Elegant, rich and balanced Pinot Noir is why we set the bar so high. Pinot is at its best when its naturally tendency towards complexity is not muted by the hand of the winemaker, when its structure is aided by sound decisions not overwhelmed by them and when its suppleness and succulence are revered not ignored. All our winemaking practices flow from these thoughts."
Below, Eric Hamacher and assistant, 2009 harvest at Carlton Winemakers Studio
The Hamacher Pinot noir is a blend of wine made from as many as eight different vineyards. Eric says: "Each (vineyard) is farmed to the particular needs of that site. Subsequently, there is a tremendous difference among the wines from each vineyard and even amongst the blocks of a given site. It is with this diversity that we set about pulling together "the best" of each vintage. Within these barrels is a snapshot of what the growing season in Oregon was like. Within each blended bottle is that picture as interpreted by the Hamacher style of elegance over power, of complexity and suppleness."
"While most Oregon Pinot vineyards are less than 10 years old, the contributors to the Hamacher Pinots have an average vine age of over 20 years. The barrel staves are aged over twice the norm of most French cooperages prior to constructing the barrel. This means the harsh, woody astringency that most coopers try to cover by burning the inside of the barrels have already been leached out of the wood by three season's rains. This allows for gentle carmelization of the woods non-fermentable sugars rather than charring. Believe it or not "smoke" is not a natural fruit aroma!", says Eric.
Avalon's Wine Club manager Marcus Looze tasted the latest Pinot noirs and comments: "I want to reward a winemaker who allows his wines to mature before release. This wine is just wonderful. Let's send it to the Pinot Club!"
Eric's wines are often singled out for praise for their exceptionally rich mid-palate and amazing length. "How do you get so much richness in your wines every vintage", Eric was asked by one critic recently. "It's the fruit, the barrels and the patience" he replied.
Below, Eric in the tank room, harvest 2009
It's remarkable that Eric allows the one Chardonnay he makes each year to age for over two years in bottle before release, but there it is -- and the results are fantastic.
The Hamacher Chardonnay is named for the wine barrel in which it is aged. "Forets Diverses" is the name given to the most prized wine barrel made by Eric's French cooper. These barrels have two characteristics that set them apart from other barrels. First, the wood for the barrels is carefully selected from several different French forests (in effect, a "blend" of oak flavors are created by the barrel itself). Second, the selected wood is aged for three years before the barrel is constructed, giving harsh tannins time to disappear.
Most coopers try to cover the harsh astringency of young wood by burning the inside of the barrels, creating the "toast" flavor found in some wines. Since three years of rain have leached out the tannins from the aged wood used in making Eric's barrels, he can avoid overly "toasty" barrels. The "Forets Diverses" barrels add a silky texture and increased richness on the palate in the Hamacher Chardonnay and allow the varietal's flavors to dominate.
The Chardonnay "Cuvee Forest Diverses" was made from three different clones of Chardonnay from three separate vineyards. These new "Dijon" clones have revolutionized Chardonnay in Oregon.
Thirty years or so ago, when the "modern age" of viticulture set off in Oregon, the selection or clone of Chardonnay that was planted most was one grown in California's hot Central Valley. It was unfortunate to say the least. About a dozen years ago this mistake was repaired with the planting of new selections from the University of Dijon in Burgundy. These new clones of Oregon Chardonnay are now almost ten years old in some Oregon vineyards, and the vines are beginning to produce some remarkable fruit. These "Dijon clones" are producing wines of intensity, balance and truly amazing palate richness. Drinkable young, beautiful with food or without and showing the promise of aging with grace, these wines are exciting.
Eric describes the wine this way: " The elegance of the Cuvee Forets Diverses comes through in the complexity of this wine. With naturally bright acidity balanced by the satiny richness of the barrel regime, admirers of full bodied, fruit driven wines appreciate the extra time that goes into the production of our wines. Pear, citrus and anise spice dominate the aromatics while mineral laden cream brullee and apples move the palate along. It's supple, broad, long and satisfying."
Below, left to right, Robert Brittan, Mo Ayoub, Eric Hamacher, harvest 2009
The Hamacher "H" Pinot noir is Eric's value label. This is where the up to 60% of Eric's production goes, the wine that does not quite fit into the flavor profile for his Hamacher Pinot noir. It is always excellent quality. Flavors are typically of rich, cherry. Bright fruit and spicy notes finish with a mouth-filling finish. A nice wine for a special dinner or at this price every dinner!
The Hamacher "H" Chardonnay is also highly recommended. This is an amazing value. Get it while you can! It's a blend of wine from the 06 and 07 vintages.
Last but certainly not least is the wine that Eric and Luisa drink most often at their home in the summer. The Hamacher Rosé of Pinot noir is always a refreshing, dry wine with delectable hints of fresh strawberries, tart cherry, and pie spices. It's about as good as it gets on a hot summer day.
Note- many of the best winemakers in Oregon make dry Rosé for personal consumption in the summer. Many don't sell it, but just enjoy "their little secret wine". This is one of the best.
Previous Vintage Notes
Robert Parker's Wine Advocate reviewed the 2001 Hamacher Pinot noir (90 Points), with the following comments: "One of the exceptionally rare outstanding Oregon reds from its vintage, the 2001 Pinot Noir displays cedar-tinged black cherry aromas. This medium-bodied, ample wine sports a lovely satiny texture, loads of spice-laden blackberries, dark cherries, and hints of blueberries. It is harmonious, lush, and has a long, fruit-packed finish. While it may age well, my inclination is to suggest drinking it over the next 3 years (through 2007) as experience has taught me to fear notes of cedar in young Pinots." - Pierre Rovani
Eric has this to say about his 01 Pinot noir: "The '01 Hamacher Pinot will no doubt appeal to Pinot purists. Earthier and darker than the 2000, blend of dark fruit, gamey and spice aromas scream Pinot! Texturally the satin-like feel of it coats your mouth, lingering while you contemplate the complexity of its flavors. The palate if more fruit and spice driven than the nose might lead you to expect. This is an example of texture growing in the bottle. The classic vintages need some time to flesh-out and wrap the complex flavor profile in the velvet which is great Pinot Noir... on a scale of one to ten this is... yummy!"