Old Vine Red Wines from the Oregon Side
Mystic makes Great Red Wines from Oregon's Side of the Columbia Gorge
by Jean Yates, January 2005
When many winelovers think of the Columbia Gorge, they think of the Washington State side - (the north side of the River) - and of the spectacular vineyards high up on the steep cliffs above the Columbia River. Less well known, on the Oregon side, are the old vine vineyards that dot the area around The Dalles and Hood River. Those wineries are located ineither the COlumbia Valley AVA, or withing the smaller, brand new Columbia Gorge Appelation.
Mystic Wines' owner Rick Mafit moved to Oregon from California's Sonoma County and his career as a winemaker there to make red wines in the Northwest. In 1992, he was one of the first Oregon winemakers to discover, and encourage the revitalization of, the old vineyards of The Dalles and Hood River. Today, the vineyards from which he receives the fruit for his Cab, Merlot, Syrah, and Barbera are known for the highly rated and coveted wines made from the site.
Doctor Uncle Encourages Winemaking
Rick Mafit grew up in Roseberg, Oregon, with family expectations that he would take over his Uncle's medical practice. Ironically, his Uncle, who was also a winemaker, talked him out of medicine and pointed him towards wine.
When Rick was a teenager, he worked for his "Dr-by-day, winemaker-by-weekend" Uncle, learning to make wines and rethinking his life choices. At the end of harvest (this was 1977), Rick went to see David Lett (Eyrie), Dick Ponzi, and other then pioneering winemakers, exploring the realities of a career in winemaking. He liked what he learned, and ended up at UC Davis, in the same classes with Rolin Soles (Argyle) and Rich Cushman (Viento).
Rick worked in California for Fetzer and then for Black Mountain, making Cabernet, Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, and Port. In 1990 he made the big move to Oregon, settling in the mid-Willamette Valley and starting Mystic Wines.
Founding Mystic Wines
Mystic Wines' first vintage was in 1992. The winery released a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon, both from grapes sourced in The Dalles, on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge.
Rick was one of the first winemakers to go to the old vineyards in The Dalles and nearby, working with the vineyard owners and Lonnie Wright, manager of most of the vineyards, to produce great grapes from their sites. Rick likes older vines, and by encouraging the revitalization of existing older vineyards, he has gained access to some of the best Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Barbera fruit in Oregon or Washington.
For Rick, it's all about the vineyard, and the older vineyards he works with rank high with the winemakers who are most aggressive in searching out the best grapes. David O'Reilly and Peter Rosback, whose Owen Roe and Sineann wines have achieved cult status in only a few years, use grapes from some of the same vineyards as Mystic.
Rick's wines are well crafted, ageable, and intriguingly complex. He has achieved his style through several means.
The grapes are paramount to Rick, and he has worked for many years with mature vineyards whose older plants he prefers. His long relationship with Lonnie Wright, who manages most of the vineyards Rick works with, has allowed him to hone in on the management practices that result in the best possible grapes.
Another factor that has made Ricks wines stand out from the Rick uses a high percentage of best quality new French oak barrels for aging his wines, and carefully attends to the time he allows the wine to spend in barrels, so the oak flavors are delightfully balanced and nuanced.
Pinot noir- Recent and Successful Addition
Mystic did not release a Pinot noir until 2002, as Rick did not find the right vineyard to buy from.
"Dai Crisp, vineyard manager, winemaker, and old friend, resurrected the old Temperance Hill Vineyard and I asked for fruit- a year later, he had an opening and I got some great grapes."
The Pinot noir grapes Mystic uses for its wine come from a section of Temperance Hill Vineyard near blocks purchased by Elk Cove and Ponzi. The grapes are 777 clone. The vineyard is one of the older in the area.
According to Rick, Pinot noir is a day by day deal, and he tries to visit the vineyard every day, particularly as the grapes ripen.
"There'll be green flavors, green seeds, and bitter acidity one day, and then, suddenly, the next day the grapes are ripe".
"In Oregon's always questionable fall climate, that means- harvest them quick!"
Lonnie Wright, Oregon's Columbia Gorge Vineyard Guru
Any conversation about the grapes from the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge usually starts and ends with reference to Lonni Wright. He manages fifteen vineyards around The Dalles, including his own "The Pines" Vineyard, first homesteaded by his family in 1852.
One hundred twenty year old Zinfandel vines still produce grapes on the property, turned into Mystic wines, Sineann's Old Vine Zinfandel and Lonnie's own "The Pines" Old Vine Zinfandel.
Rick also gets grapes from "Hillside Vineyard", another source for grapes that go into Mystic's Zinfandel, as well as into Owen Roe's Zinfandel. Other vineyards in the area from which Rick sources fruit are the Lewis Vineyard, McDuffee, Mill Creek, and Smith Cerny Vineyard.
The Syrah from Smith Cerny Vineyard is sold entirely to Rick, and it becomes his wonderfully complex and rich Mystic Syrah.