A "Homer" from
Tasting Tour with vineyard owner
Shea, winemaker Tannahill shows fabulous wines
By Christina Kelly
If you haven't tasted any wines from
Shea Wine Cellars, now is the time. As Austin Powers would say, "Yeah
The popularity of this winery is
only going to increase and, Au contraire, you won't be able to
After a tasting tour this
week with owner Dick Shea and winemaker Sam Tannahill, I say put
on your sunglasses mamma cause the future is bright and the wine,
both in the bottle and in the barrel is smashing.
For the previous six years, Tannahill
crafted premium Pinot Noir at Archery Summit, drawing
high praise and very high wine scores. But Tannahill wanted to make
his own style of wine, using less oak and allowing the taste of the
vineyard to shine through.
Dick Shea grew grapes for more than
ten years on a 200-acre estate in Yamhill County, supplying some
of the best winemakers with fruit, including Ken Wright Cellars, Beaux Freres, Patricia Green Cellars, Westrey
Wine Company, Panther
Creek Cellars, Raptor
Ridge and St.
Innocent. About 140 acres produce grapes, although 50 acres are
Map of Shea Vineyard with the Winery's
Own Sections in Red
In 1996, Shea decided to start his
own winery, and asked some of the state's top winemakers to help
in the process. ("They were all friends, producing wines from my
fruit, so why not?" Shea says) He started out with Michael Stevenson,
winemaker from Panther Creek, who produced
Block 21 in 1998. In 1999, Stevenson produce a Chardonnay for Shea
Wright crafted the Pinot Noir.
By 2001, David Autrey, from Westrey, produced the Chardonnay.
Stevenson produced one block of Pinot Noir and Patty Green produced
another vineyard block.
"We signed Patty to a two year contract
and were very pleased with her style of wines," said Shea. "Then
we learned that Sam Tannahill was available and decided to go with
a full-time winemaker-our own employee."
The team of Shea and Tannahill clicked.
For Tannahill, the opportunity to put his own signature on wine he
produced was important to both of them.
"There is consistency now," said Tannahill,
referring to all the previous Shea wines with different winemakers. "If
there is one thing I bring, it is consistency. The style will be
Although Tannahill and Patty Green "are
more alike than different" in their winemaking style, Tannahill says
he will add a little more structure and tannins to his wines. He
describes the Patty Green wines as a little softer, but lovely.
About 30 percent of the 2002 wine,
still in barrels, is the work of Patty Green. Tannahill produced
Shea says he has great respect for
Green and Tannahill and believes them to be similar in style.
"If I had to compare Sam's style of
winemaking, I'd say it's similar to Patty's, but they both have their
differences," Shea said. "The wine shows through the vineyard, and
that's what we were looking for. We didn't want a lot of new oak."
The hit of Shea's offerings is the 2001 Pinot
Noir "Homer." This the finest Pinot produced by Shea for the
2001 vintage, blending the vineyard's six best barrels. Shea, a
big baseball fan, said the winery "hit a home run" with the '01
Homer, and thus, the name. He also conceded that his wife says
he sometimes acts like Homer Simpson.
There are a tremedous number of different
blocks of Shea vineyard from which Dick has wines made. In fact,
when Patty Green produced the Homer blend, she had a huge room of
Shea barrels in a specially built annex of her winery and called
the area "Shea Stadium."
If you really want a big Pinot Noir
that coats your tongue and fills your mouth with big fruit, Homer
is it. During this week's tasting, I sadly had to spit out the Homer,
thinking it was a sin to allow such a wine to leave my mouth without
reaching my tummy.
Besides the Homer, I tasted the Shea
Vineyards 2000 Pinot Noir, the '01 Block 32 and the '01 Block 23.
All of those vintages were bottled. The great news is the barrel
tasting of the 2002 versions showed that next year's releases are
as good or better.
Block 32 has succulent
fruit and hints of mocha. My notes show that the finish lasted a
very long time. Although drinkable now, I'd cellar that puppy for
a couple years and stun your mouth with the elegance and finesse
this wine will exhibit.
Patty Green made Block 23 and it is
quite the showcase. All I could think of was classy, with a multitude
of layers rising on the palette for new discoveries after each sip.
This is a winery coming into its own,
after a plethora of hands at the helm. Now that Shea has his own
winemaker, and that winemaker has the green light, the future is
by Cole Danehower,
Oregon Wine Report
One of the most characteristic
traits of the great Pinot noir grape is its ability to show terroir-the
taste of the place from which it came. And one of the most characteristic
traits of Oregon's wine industry is the proliferation of single
vineyard bottlings-winemakers celebrate and consumers cherish
the individualistic wines made from specific local vineyards.
Perhaps the most recognized of Oregon's single vineyard terroirs
is Shea Vineyard in Yamhill County. With 11 different wineries
producing single-vineyard designated wines from Shea Vineyard,
consumers have a unique opportunity to see how the taste of terroir
may or may not differ from winemaker to winemaker.
"I sort of feel we have our own
mini-viticultural area here," says Dick Shea as he walks among
the summer vine growth in one of his blocks. And it is true that
with elevations ranging from 400-ft. to a bit over 600-ft, and
topography that offers numerous rolling southerly and easterly
exposures, the vineyard does have its own microclimate-which
seems to translate into a developing Shea terroir.
The first plantings at what was
to become Shea Vineyard took place in 1989 with Pommard Pinot
noir vines placed in the ground on their own roots. Since then
Dick has planted additional acreage of different Pinot noir clones,
along with some Chardonnay and Pinot gris. In 1995, however,
the first traces of phyloxera were detected in the vineyard,
and a long -term program of replanting began, to be finished
in the nest few years.
What attracts so many winemakers
to Shea Vineyard is the quality of the fruit they receive. According
to Ken Wright, of Ken Wright Cellars, he likes Shea Vineyard
grapes because "it has a great combination of red, blue, and
black fruits." For Ken, the fruit also has "good sharpness and
clarity of character." Mike Etzel, of Beaux Freres, also likes
what he gets from Shea Vineyard. "The fruit is very focused in
the red tones," he says, "and has great concentration and flavor."
Manfred Krankl, owner and winemaker
at California's boutique winery Sine Qua Non, is the only out-of-state
purchaser of Shea Vineyard fruit. "It's a very good site," he
says of the site, "and has great terroir." For Manfred, the way
the vineyard is managed is key to achieving the quality of fruit
he receives. "I think the most important aspect of a great wine
is how the vineyard is treated, who is handling the vines, and
how dedicated they are and what they put into the vineyard." And
for Sine Qua Non, Shea Vineyard's Pinot noir is the only source
for the best of the varietal.
"I know people with better palates
than mine who can identify Shea Vineyard wines in blind tastings," says
Dick. "Some winemakers are even beginning to see characteristics
of 'vine age' from blocks that were planted in the early 1990s."
With 11 different wineries making
wine from Dick Shea's grapes, there is bound to be a certain
unique thread of "Shea-ness" in the wines. And yet, with some
of Oregon's finest winemakers putting their own stamp on the
fruit from Shea Vineyard, there are abound also to be differences.
Among the similarities, many tasters
have detected a consistent floral character in Shea Vineyard-designated
wines. Also, a certain dark red fruit character that seems unusually
clear, often with a hint of spice, is detectable. And yet, when
tasted together, the wines from each winemaker often show very
different characters: some are heavier in style, others more
delicate; some display a compelling velvety texture, others a
kind of assertive and almost rough fruitiness.
And since 1996, Dick Shea himself
has gone into the winemaking business, perhaps seeing if his
winemakers can put an even more distinctive stamp on the Shea
fruit. Produced by well-respected winemakers Michael Stevenson
(Panther Creek Cellars), Ken Wright (Ken Wright Cellars), and
soon Patty Green (Patricia Green Cellars), the Shea Wine Cellars
label is today rather small. Even so, early bottlings have already
become a kind of cult-classic collectible, eagerly sought by
Taste for Yourself
The best way to begin understanding
Oregon's evolving terroir is to choose a site-we definitely recommend
Shea Vineyard-and taste as many wines from that site as possible.
If possible, include different vintages and different winemakers
in order to begin tracing how the various characters in the wine
change depending upon year and maker.
If you find any 1998 bottles of
Shea Vineyard from any of the producers below, you can expect
lush and ripe fruit flavors wrapped in a soft texture. If you
can find 1999 releases, they will likely be slightly more structured,
very aromatic, and with a tart fruitiness that will no doubt
last for many years of cellaring. 2000 and now, 2001 vintages
have shown rich and complex flavors and an increasing sense of
For your tasting pleasure and
interest, seek out Shea Vineyard designated wines from any of
the following producers: