For a distinguished seventeen years of fine wines, and a career of contribution to the success of Oregon's wine industry, we celebrate Amy Wesselman's and David Autrey's Westrey Wines.
Avalon Wine has chosen Westrey Wines as our "Winery of the Year." Founded in 1993, Amy and David make beautiful Pinot noir, Pinot gris, and Chardonnay at very reasonable prices. In addition to the extraordinary effort required to create seventeen vintages of fine wine, they are at the center of Oregon wineries' national marketing efforts.
Westrey Wines has contributed in numerous ways to the success of the Oregon wine industry. Throughout her entire career, Amy Wesselman has, along with her winemaking responsibilites, worked for non-profit organizations dedicated to promoting Oregon wine. Amy worked at Eyrie Vineyards from 1992 through 1997, and while there she joined the Board of Directors of the International Pinot noir Celebration (IPNC). She became the Executive Director of the IPNC in 1997, and for the next ten years, took the event to new levels of fame and success.
Also in 1997, Amy joined the Salud! The Oregon Pinot noir Auction Steering Committee, and is a member of the board today. She was the Chairperson of the Salud Steering Committee from 2007 through 2009. Today she continues her participation with Salud! and is on the Board of Directors of the Willamette Valley Wineries Association.
In It for the Long Haul
Amy Wesselman and David Autrey (WESselman and AuTREY = Westrey) are the owners, vineyard managers, and winemakers of Westrey Wines. After 17 years, Westrey Wines is clearly in for the long haul - it's their life, not a business plan. Some people want to get a highly rated wine to market as soon as possible. If those are the "type A"s of the wine world, David and Amy are more of the zen "chop wood carry water" type in style. It's their love of learning and refining all aspects of wine that makes them so special.
at right, Amy in their Oracle Vineyard
For Amy and David, the dichotomies inherent in the winemaking endeavor are endlessly fascinating. Winemaking feeds both their creative drive and their intellectual curiosity. For them, wine is truly at the intersection of art and science.
But beyond this, and clearly a key part of their success, is the just plain joy and excitement they find in winemaking.
"Why not do what you love to do best?" asks Amy. "We're not in this business to make piles of money or piles of fame either, we're in this business to have fun. If we have to compromise that, it wouldn't be fun anymore and we'd go be doctors and lawyers."
The Westrey Style
Since 1993, when Amy and David started Westrey, they have learned a great deal about the kind of winemaking they want to pursue. "I think one of the reasons we've been successful as a team," explains David, "is that we agree on a broad set of parameters that create the context for where we are going."
So, when it comes to making the day-to-day vineyard management and winemaking decisions, David and Amy are guided by their general principles.
"For instance," David continues, "we strongly believe in the notion of terroir-we really believe that each site will give you something unique." Amy agrees: "I think one of the most important things in our winemaking approach is to look at each vintage and each vineyard and work to bring out their positive aspects, let them express themselves to their best potential."
Another component of Westrey's style is the importance of balance in their wines-even to the point of going slightly out of the mainstream.
"We generally look for wines with higher acidity levels," says David, "certainly more than the general American wine press is willing to accept! We shy away from the American 'fruit bomb' style of Pinot noir. Wines with focus and acidity-reflected for instance, in our Abbey Ridge Pinot noir-are important to what we are trying to do."
Westrey also stands out in a third area of stylistic focus. "It is important for us to accentuate texture on the palate. We diverge here from the more general American style where aromatics are more important than texture," explains David. "Unfortunately, the American palate doesn't tend to care about mid-palate and length, but these are the things we want our wines to display."
Amy and David's winery is now a family production. Their six year old twins are "just the right height to pull leaves" chuckles Amy. They "help" around the vineyard and winery, with punchdown a favorite activity (see photo above). Eating grapes directly off the vines (no picking required) is another special skill of the boys.
Westrey's winery is located in a plain cement building down a gravel road in McMinnville. The scenery is cell phone and powerline towers, with a bit of railroad added for even more industrial flavor. Total production is about 5500 cases. About 75% of their production is Pinot noir.
Westrey's Oracle Vineyard
While Westrey makes a few wines from some of the Willamette Valley's best vineyards - Justice and Abbey Ridge Vineyard in particular, Amy and David have their own Oracle Vineyard. Oracle is just under 50 acres, located next to Abbey Ridge Vineyard - a location they've worked with for years. (Abbey Ridge is known for the highly rated Pinots made by Ken Wright from its fruit).
"Every winemaker dreams of having complete control of their own vineyard," says Amy. "It allows you that connection with a certain piece of property over a lifetime of winemaking, learning its idiosyncrasies, how it responds to different vintages and varietals, different locations within the vineyard, different harvesting situations-it just can't be matched."
Finding acreage that contained an abandoned vineyard that had been planted in the 1970s, David and Amy knew the land could grow good grapes. Before it was abandoned, the original owner sold grapes to Adelsheim and Cameron for their reserve wines. The vines were obtained from Dick Erath and David Lett in the early days of the Oregon wine industry. Dick Shea took cuttings from the vineyard when he planted his famed Shea Vineyard.
Original vineyard owner Frank Gorretta sold the property to a farmer who took out the trellis, cut the vines to the ground, and grazed horses on the land. When David and Amy bought the land in 2000, they assumed they'd be starting from scratch.
To their surprise and delight, rows of plants appeared in the field as spring arrived. The original vines were still alive. Amy and David let the vines grow back, and today Oracle Vineyard is "own rooted". The massive vinesare fed by a 30 year old root system.
David and Amy also planted new vines in their vineyard. “In 2007 we planted 1.3-acres of Pommard and 3.5-acres of clone 667, Pommard, and clone 777,” explains David. The vineyard is now 22 acres, with 10 more a possibility. 2.5 acres of Pinot gris were planted in 2008.
The Oracle Vineyard is manages in compliance with the LIVE program. Amy and David regard the entire farm as one interrelated ecosystem. "The LIVE program is a holistic approach to farming" says Amy. "Hawks, animal pathways, soil compaction - everything is considered." The follow an organic spray program.
Westrey's Oracle Vineyard
Westrey's 2007 and 2008 Vintage Wines
The 2007 vintage produced some super Pinots, and some that missed the mark. Westrey's 2007 Pinots stand at the top of the list. A long series of warm vintages (2000 through 2006) made it easy to grow ripe fruit. In 2007, the cold wet fall challenged winemakers with tough choices.
“There are a lot of winemakers who have been working with Oregon fruit since 2000—they have plenty of experience—yet they’ve never seen a rainy harvest,” points out David. “But having been through previous years like that, we have the confidence that we can last through some rainy periods. We know what our vineyards can take and what they can give, so we can afford to be measured in how we pace our picking. Some others who haven’t been through a wet harvest might pick too soon—or too late.”
Westrey's 2007 Pinots are a textbook example of how experience with many vintages allowed Amy and David to produce juicy, delicious, balanced wines in a difficult vintage. Longtime winemakers compare 2007 to the 1997 vintage - a year with similar cold, rainy conditions. A tasting of Westrey's and other winerie's1997 wines this year, of Pinot noirs made by experienced winemakers who knew how to handle the climate, showed wines that are still drinking beautifully today. The Westrey 2007 Pinots are worth cellaring - they show the same balance and style that make their 1997 Pinots so beautiful today.
Pairing Westrey Wines with Food
Amy managed the IPNC (International Pinot noir Celebration) from 1997 through 2007, and has a sophisticated world view of Pinot noir and fine cuisine. When asked about their own choices for pairing Pinot noir and food, Amy immediately responds: "Mushrooms plus Duck Plus Pinot noir!" Duck is their favorite meat to pair with Pinot, with pork loin and salmon other memorable choices.
With the Westrey Oracle Pinot noir, Amy suggests salmon with a hedgehog mushroom, butter and chardonnay reduction. For the Westrey Willamette Valley Pinot noir, she suggests throwing something on the grill. And you'll not be let down if you pair it with pork loin or lamb. Their favorite meal with the Westrey Chardonnay Reserve is Halibut Cheeks in a Cream Sauce, made by chef Pascal at the Carafe Restaurant in Portland. They also like shrimp or other shellfish with thire wines.
The Westrey Chardonnay Style
David and Amy have their own ways of making Chardonnay, developed over many vintages. They make both a Willamette Valley and a Reserve Chardonnay, but unlike many producers, the Reserve wine is not made differently than the lower priced WIllamette Valley wine.
The Westrey Chardonnays are made by considering the scents, flavors, and textures of each barrel of Chardonnay in their vintage. The two wines are then blended from those barrels, with each wine's style based on the characteristics that Amy and David want for the wine.
"We go through each individual barrel and try to think about the site and the terroir, and then choose for the Reserve those that show the best characteristics of terroir, structure, and balance, plus a little greater richness in the mid-palate and length," explains David.
To achieve these characteristics, David and Amy pay attention to crop yields and vineyard management first, and then modify their cellar decisions based on the individual circumstances they face.
For instance, they employ a variety of different yeasts for their Chardonnay fermentations, each designed to bring out what they see as the most desirable characteristic of the lot. Then they ferment in barrel for as long as possible, in order to achieve optimum texture.
"In order to preserve the wonderful spice that one vineyard tends to give up," explains Amy, "we'll use a yeast that complements that characteristic. Another site may tend to be fatter and bigger, and we'll use a different yeast that will perhaps accentuate the acidity."
Such willingness to experiment and vary their procedures depending upon individual circumstances, they feel, results in more delicious wines-and a more interesting winemaking experience for them.
Philosophy Brought Westrey Wine Company to Life
For Amy and David, philosophy is an integral ingredient of their wine.
They both have philosophy degrees from Reed College in Portland. Both were intrigued with the wine industry while studying at school and both wound up working at several wineries to earn extra cash for college.
Winemaking became a way of life for the couple after graduation. And following the winemakers to the winery were all the philosophers from their studies, consuming many nights for Austey and Wesselman, debating their various viewpoints.
Philosophy came in right at the start of the winery,says Amy. It folds into how we view wine and winemaking. It is a partnership all the way all decisions that happen to the grapes are made by the both of us.
David agrees that the couple shares a love of philosophy and analytical thinking.
Winemaking is like the balance of life you blend different ways of thinking with creative ways, said Autrey. Its also an ability to hold contradictory viewpoints. Wine creates a union between an individual set of tastes while creating something that appeals to a wider range.