I don't usually put more than one "highly recommended" sign on a winery's pages, but these wines are just so good. This winery continures to make some of the best and most reasonably priced wines in OR. The wines are pretty uniformly stunning. And the prices are amazingly low for the quality.
Ken 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. I love the 99 Shea Vineyard Vendange Tardive Pinot Gris, (took most of it home but still have a little in stock). The 2000 Pinot Blanc is not to be missed. But that could really be said of all of St Innocent's wines. --JY
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 has been the consulting winemaker for Panther Creek Cellars since 1994.
St. Innocent Winery was founded in May 1988 by Mark, 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 is expected to reach full capacity of 6800 cases by the year 2004. 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: five single vineyard Pinot noir, two Chardonnay from Dijon clone plantings, three Pinot gris, and a Pinot blanc, in addition to methode champenoise sparkling wine. 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.
2001 Harvest report from Mark Vlosak
I worry. Especially after a really good vintage. Even more after two in a row. When is the axe going to fall? When will our luck run out? Out of a decade, Oregon has one or two great, three good, four average, and one crapola vintage. We have had the good fortune of more great and very good vintages than would be expected. Perhaps you think me a bit paranoid? Remember, the difference between a good and great vintage is often an extra ten degrees in temperature for a week in late September. It could the weather front that stays 50 miles farther north in early October. These may seem like small things, but they have a tremendous impact on grape quality.
I worried more after the 1999 vintage. With the spectacular 98 wines followed by the almost better 99s, I sensed that it would soon be time to pay the piper. We lucked out. In 2000, we made good wine. Although they didnt have the big fruit of 1998, or the rich structure of our 1999s; they are very true to their terroirs. Shea tastes like Shea, etc., without excess flash or tannin. They will be lovely to drink and, perhaps best of all, there will not be any big price increases. We definitely dodged the bullet. Or, was it still coming?
The 2001 growing season began slightly earlier than usual, with mid-bloom averaging June 17. Usually, we pick Pinot noir beginning at 103 to 107 days after mid-bloom. That means we would pick the first Pinot at the end of September. We can count on good weather into the second week of October, so an early bloom is good news. The summer progressed nicely with a bit of much-needed rain falling every 3-4 weeks.
In early August, we began doing cluster samples to determine how much fruit was hanging. Then we can calculate how much to cut off to reach our desired crop level. Many of our vineyards had very large clusters and lots of them. In some cases more than half the fruit was removed. Art, science, and a bit of luck are needed in making crop estimates. It is always a little nerve-racking to cut so much fruit off the vines.
We also had a new problem that we had never experienced. Some of the berries receiving direct sun in the hottest part of the mid-afternoon were affected by some sort of stem damage. This resulted in a significant delay in ripening of those berries, which presented as a delay in color change. In the worse cases, we had crews go into the vineyard and scrape off the green berries with the side of their clippers. The unaffected fruit tasted lovely, especially on the sunny side of the cluster.
Harvest began October 1st with the Pinot noir used for our Brut. Picked with the intent to produce an austere, fairly acidic white wine, it is significantly less ripe than the grapes we pick to make Pinot noir (the red stuff). On October 5th we picked our first red wine grapes. Anden Vineyard, the original planting at Seven Springs Vineyard and now separated from the upper part still known as Seven Springs Vineyard, picked half of our acreage with beautiful flavors and a crop level of just under 2 tons per acre. With a hang time of 110 days, this later harvest of Pinot noir meant more flavor development, a very good thing.
By the end of October 9th, all nine additional lots of Pinot noir had been picked. The weather had been dry and mild for almost three weeks, perfect Pinot noir weather. During the same time we picked both Chardonnay vineyards, the Pinot blanc, and the Chardonnay for the Brut. It rained a bit on the 10th, and on the 11th we picked the two best lots of Pinot gris. Harvest finished on October 18th with the OConnor Vineyard Pinot gris. Amazingly, 90% of the fruit was picked in one week. The total for 2001 was 101.5 tons, approximately 6300 cases.
Overall, the quality of the vintage was excellent. Almost all of our Pinot noir lots came in between 1.9 and 2.5 tons per acre. It was gratifying to see that our thinning had reduced the crop as desired. We have two new Pinot noir Vineyards Anden and White Rose. This is the last harvest for OConnor Vineyard Pinot gris, the Tocai used in our Maliziosa, and sparkling wine grapes. We have five years of Brut on hand to disgorge, so dont worry yet. An experimental lot of Riesling from leaf-pulled and heavily thinned vines at Vitae Springs Vineyard was made with the help of my two younger daughters. If we like the results, St. Innocent will begin producing about 120 cases per year of very rich, dry Riesling. We have much to be thankful for, and it is great to have another very good vintage in the cellar.
The 1988 wines are going past their peak, enjoy them soon. Drink the '89's now and the 1990's over the next two years. The 1991's and 1992's are beginning to show well, but are young and increasing in richness. Think about beginning to explore the 1993's. If you like BIG wines, try the Freedom Hill '94 and '95. The O'Connors will drink earlier than the Seven Springs. Remember, patience is a virtue....sometimes.
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