Oregon Pinot noirs
for Rising Star Winemaker
Roots is the winery of Chris and Hilary Berg. Chris Berg makes about 100 cases each each year, and they are on the wine lists of some of Portland's hottest restaurants. Price and value make his Oregon Pinot noirs a mainstay of our wine shop and wine writers' "recommended" lists. He's not just a rising star, he's a dang exploding nebula (at right).
An early exposure to Oregon's wineries shaped the future of Chris Berg and his family. Born in Racine, Wisconsin, and raised in Idaho, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, Chris spent most of his chlldhood in the industrial midwest. His father owned a company that manufactures industrial springs, and Chris grew up learning the business. When they lived in Idaho, his family took annual family vacations to Oregon, complete with visits to wineries. Chris’s parents filed the notion of someday moving to Oregon to participate in the wine business. As Berg got older, he grew increasingly interested in wine and made an effort, after his family moved back East, to keep apprised of the wines coming out of Oregon. He was eventually drawn back to the idea of settling in Oregon—in, what he calls, “a small town called Yamhill.”
After college in Kansas—“Go Jayhawks,” Berg says, he, wife Hilary, and his parents made their move to Oregon to run a machinery company and plant a vineyard, literally putting down roots. Two years later, in 2000, they closed the machinery company, and Berg decided “to dedicate my time to the wine industry.”
Chris and wife Hilary, with his parents, bought vineyard property in the late 90's. The property lies across from Willakenzie Winery and just down the hill from Shea Vineyard. Chris planted the vineyard to Pinot noir in 1999 and 2000. The first commerial vintage of his Roots wines was in 2002.
Chris and Hilary team up to produce the Roots wines. Chris said, “I make the wine, but Hilary tells me what she likes. Hilary designs the labels and keeps my head from coming off . . . during the crunch times.” As editor of Oregon Wine Press, a well respected monthly based in McMinnville, Hilary sits at the center of the wine industry.
Philosophy of Winemaking
Chris Berg's background, though primarily in wine, was first rooted in culinary arts. During his studies at university in Kansas he became fascinated with what he calls "perishable arts." His ideas Initially formed around creatively plated meals or beautiful pastries, daily works of art that are consumed and irreplaceable. This idea of "perishable arts" wove its way from food into wine and he was hooked, creating wines and watching them evolve. Roots Wines are his liquid artform.
Chris says that ROOTS is origin, ancestry and birthplace. Racine, the French word for root, is Chris Berg's own birthplace. ROOTS also symbolizes family ties and community support as well as growth and the future's awesome potential.
Chris's training includes classes at the newly established viticulture and winemaking program at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Oregon He worked his first crush with Eric Hamacher after which, Berg said, “I was hooked.”
Like other young winemakers, he spent years in the industry proving his skills and paying his dues. Berg apprenticed with Lynn Penner Ash during her last year at Rex Hill, with Eric Hamacher of Hamacher Wines, and at Archery Summit. He is currently producing about 2700 cases of Oregon wine (predominately Pinot noir) under three labels: Racine, Roots, and Klee. He will recently launched an additional label "Black Light" which focuses on Washington Big Reds. The Black Light wines include fruit from famed Washington vineyards Pepperbridge and La Colline.
It would be easy to say that Chris Berg is addicted to making wine. He easily jokes that he needs to find a "balancing point" between production, consumption, and consumer awareness. But, he has a hard time saying no when top vineyard managers call him during the season and offer him grapes. He starts to imagine what the final wine would taste like, how it will age, and there he is again saying "YES, BRING ME YOUR FRUIT!". Which is why he has no less than four single vineyard Pinot designates and an estate blend.
Using about three quarters worth of fruit from his estate vineyard and the rest from the Chehalem AVA - Berg makes an handfull of single vineyard and Estate Pinots Willamette Valley.
Crosshairs gets its name from its unique combination of fruit from twenty-five-year-old and five-year-old vines. The Racine Pinot, what Berg calls, “the upper terrace wine that is a selection of the best of the vintage,” is named for Berg’s birthplace—the bottles are even stamped with his birth date (June 29, 1970)—and racine is also, incidentally, French for root. Having complete control over the vineyard, which Berg states is "all Chris, all the time" allows him to tailor a portion of his wines in the softer, Burgundian style he emulates from the likes of Russ Raney at Evesham Wood.
Berg said the Klee is the “everyman/everywoman wine,” named for Paul Klee, whose artistic philosophy was one of functionalism and elegant simplicity. The wine mirrors Klee’s philosophy, and the label image is inspired by Klee’s 1924 “Aus der Mappe für Walter Gropius.”
Berg is true to the “roots” of his wines, believing that, “winemaking should represent the place” and that a winemaker’s role is to “just help the fruit to the bottle.”
Berg has started to work with other varietals like Cabernet, Merlot, Viognier from Walla Walla, Syrah from outside the Tri-Cities and some Muller Thurgau from Wren Vineyard, in the Mid-Willamette Valley.
Berg recently introduced a "fun" line of red wines made from Washington State grapes called "Black Light". With a label that is an homage to the Grateful Dead, Chris and Hilary's playful side comes out. The labels glow in the dark.
About Black Light Red Blend, Chris says, "trippy..... It is a great blend of 45% Cabernet Sav. from Les Collines(Walla Walla), 40% Merlot from Pepper Bridge Vineyard(Walla Walla), and 15% Syrah from the Kenniwick area. This wine has come around beautifully in the bottle. It is filled with spice and cassis on the nose then is very playful on the nose."
A Black Light Syrah is also available. Also made from Kennewick area grapes, the Syrah has a lot of Viognier in the blend, making it a soft, juicy wine with lots of perfume and black cherry essence.
The Roots wines—and the whole concept surrounding them—have certainly made their mark in Oregon (and, indeed, Wisconsin!). Berg said he hopes Roots will “grow to a level and a place where people will follow the journey Roots is going on.”