St Innocent Winery
St Innocent Winery is a low key find. Selling most of its wines in state and through longstanding relationships with restaurants across the country, the winery quietly produces some of the best, and the most reasonably priced, red and white wines made in Oregon.
Mark Vlossak's Pinot noirs are carefully crafted, true to the grape, ageable and food friendly, a delight from first sniff to the last hint of their long, complex finish. All of the St Innocent Pinot noirs are produced in a style designed to reveal the nuances of the terroir of their vineyard source. Working in the vineyard with individual growers, winery owner and winemaker Mark Vlossak fine tunes the vintage and the vineyard to find the optimal balance between the amount and type of canopy (the leaves) and the amount of fruit allowed to ripen, in sun and shade. Many of the vineyards from which St Innocent sources grapes are grown in a systainable way and qualify for LIVE certification. Temperance Hill Vineyard is farmed organically. Each year, Mark limits grape yields from the vineyards to between 2 and 2.5 tons/acre. Picking time is determined when Mark tastes the grapes and decides they are physiologically mature and ready for picking.
Mark makes incredible white wines in the style of the Alsace region of France. I have a passion for the wines of Alsace, and have been known to spend large amounts of money for white wines that don't seem very interesting to my friends' tastebuds. They laugh at my love of the pricey wines of Domaine Weinbach, Ostertag, Trimbach, and Hugel as they quaff their Chards and Cabs. A few wineries in Oregon have produced wines in the style of Alsace and St Innocent's wines are some of the very best of the genre.
St Innocent makes several white wines. The winery began producing Pinot gris in 1992. The style was initially modelled after the Pinot gris from Italy's Friuili region. After visiting Alsace in the spring of 1998, Mark became fascinated by the riper, more textural wines produced in Alsace. St Innocent's "best" Pinot gris, made from the ripest and lowest cropped Pinot gris fruit they source, comes from Shea Vineyard. This steeply terraced south slope of Willakenzie soil produces intensely flavored and very textural Pinot gris. To make the wine in the complex, crisp, Alsacian style he's known for, Mark lets the must ferment 80% in tank and 20% in new wood. United after five months of lees aging, the young wine is again racked to barrel and tank where it continues aging until being bottled at 14 months of age.
The 2004 Pinot gris, Vitae Springs Vineyard and 2004 Pinot blanc, Freedom Hill Vineyard were released September 15, 2005. A 1999 vendages tardive (VT) Pinot gris is still available, made from Shea Vineyard fruit. Picked at 26.1 degrees brix and fermented almost dry, it is a lovely match for blue-veined cheeses, fois gras, and patés.
The Winery and Winemaker
Mark Vlossak's training as a winemaker began when he was a young man and tasted wines daily with his father, a wine importer. As an amateur, he produced sparkling wine in 1985-87 and apprenticed with Fred Arterberry, Jr. at Arterberry, Ltd. in 1987 and 1988. At The Wine Lab in Napa, CA, he trained in enology under the tutelage of Lisa Van de Water. He was the consulting winemaker for Panther Creek Cellars for many years.
St. Innocent Winery was founded in May 1988 by Mark Vlossak, the current winemaker and president, and eight investors. Ten tons of grapes were crushed the first fall, producing 396 cases of still and 176 cases of sparkling wine. Production increased to 6400 cases in 1999 and reached the full capacity of 6800 cases in 2005. The winery is located in Salem, Oregon, at the southeast corner of the Eola Hills, in the mid-Willamette valley.
St. Innocent produces small lot, handmade wines: seven single vineyard Pinot noirs, two Chardonnays from Dijon clone plantings, two Pinot gris, and a Pinot blanc. The winery owns no vineyards, choosing to work closely with local growers instead. Unique sites produce grapes that have a concentration of flavor reflective of the site-based terroir. Maintaining a close working relationship with its growers allows a collaborative fine-tuning of viticultural techniques in order to focus these flavors and aromas in the wines.
The philosophy behind the winemaking at St Innocent is that the function of wine is to complement and extend the pleasure of a meal. The characteristics of a wine should enhance different food and flavor combinations - this interaction amplifies the pleasure of a meal. To this end, St Innocent wines tend toward higher acid levels, and more diverse and balanced flavors.
St Innocent does not own a vineyard, but has longterm contracts with several of Oregon's best vineyards.
Freedom Hill Vineyard
(Pinot noir, lyre block)
Freedom Hill Vineyard is located in the foothills of the coast range 10 miles southwest of Salem, Oregon. The site is protected from strong coastal winds by hills to the east. It has a southeast exposure at an elevation of 390' and benefits from heat rising off the valley floor. The Wadenswil block was planted in 1982 and the Pommard Lyre block in 1988 on a well drained silty clay loam. These are fermented together to produce the Pinot noir. The Chardonnay was planted in 1982 and was grafted to Dijon clone Chardonnay in 1998. The Pinot blanc was planted in 1993, the first Pinot blanc was produced in 1997.
(lower section of what was know as Seven Springs Vineyard)
Anden Vineyard, overlooking the fertile Willamette Valley from its position in the hills 12 miles northwest of Salem, produceds Pinot noir and Chardonnay grapes. The Pinot noir grapes are grown on a steep southeast slope, protected from the maritime winds by a fold in the hills. The vineyard bocks were planted in 1982. The Chardonnay block was replanted to Dijon clone vines in 1994.
Shea Vineyard, Pinot noir - west block
Shea Vineyard is located in the Yamhill foothills, 35 miles southwest of Portland, Oregon. The Pinot noir was planted in 1990 on a hillside of shallow Willakenzie soil. It is located in the southwest corner of the west hill and has a southeast exposure at an elevation of 350'to 500'.
Shea Vineyard, Pinot gris block
The Pinot gris block at Shea Vineyard was planted in 1990 and is located on a steeply terraced SW slope at the west side of the east hill. This site produces our best Pinot gris.