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Don’t laugh, but I’ve gained some insight (or maybe reassurance) about wine from watching some of Samuel’s movies. Ratatouille is one of them that I will blog about someday, but the other more recent one is Shirley Temple’s Heidi. I said, don’t laugh. I leave it to the interested reader to learn what the movie is about, but regarding wine it’s the movie’s setting that interests me.
Even though it’s a Hollywood set it shows a turn of the 20th Century alpine Germany, and what struck me about the houses, clothing, storefronts, food, customs and so on is how unfamiliar and non-global those places (and all places) used to be. It doesn’t feel like that anymore; you have to travel far from the well-worn path to find it. Wine used to be the same way. Every village, every vigneron, might grow their own grape variety and certainly would make wine in their own individual style. People were isolated and the wines showed it. Not anymore.

I’m not reminiscing about bygone times, but I do believe the truly special wines are those that attempt to do no more than be from one vineyard and one person without a care for the global cacophony around them. That probably sounds old fashioned and provincial, and maybe it is, but that’s the only way to find the unfamiliar and the exciting.

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For the most part, really all parts, I know industry rules want me to bow before the machine that it is, but I don’t really care about what a critic or journalist has to say about our wines. But as one very prominent journalist told me “you gotta get in the game.” Ok fine, so we hemmed and hawed for months on which wine publication(s) best suited us and which ones we had the best odds of getting real consideration; the top publications like Wine Spectator, Robert Parker, Wine Enthusiast, don’t guarantee they’ll even taste your wine, and small producers not nationally distributed are even more unlikely to be considered. However, Wine & Spirits looked fair and reasonable to us—they guarantee that all submitted wines are tasted, and not just by one palate, but first by a pre-screening panel of industry professionals (journalists, sommeliers, winemakers, etc.), and then generally a majority fraction of those wines are sent on to the critic for rating (100 pt scale). All rated wines make it into the print and online edition for the reader.

We submitted our wines to be considered for the December issue of Wine & Spirits because they called for “All New Release” wines. But as it turns out for Oregon, they only rated and published pinot noir and pinot gris wines. Why is that? From reliable, second-hand information, I’ve found out that because so many Oregon pinot noir/gris wines were submitted they decided only to consider those varieties. Now, we all know that Oregon is famous for pinot noir and I guess pinot gris is the next big thing, but there are plenty of other grape/wine varieties made south and east of pinot noir country that deserve fair consideration.

So in the end I agree, it IS a game, and it’s fixed.

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I was just talking with my buddy Josh, who I’ve mentioned in a previous blog or two, and he asked how wine sales were going. I told him not great, but we’re working on a number of things to get the word out. He said his wife is quite enamored with Gampo and Home Place, and they’ve added us to their fine wine regulars list – Ridge, Tulocay, and The Grande Dalles. Not bad company to be in.

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I find it pretty odd that the Oregonian, Portland’s and Oregon state’s primary newspaper, categorically only covers (reviews or writes about) wines that are $25 or less per bottle and distributed in local wine stores. This in a state nationally known for producing pinot noir most costing more than $25 and many well over $25. Is that “all the news that’s fit to print”? Hardly.

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Tasted our wines at World Class Wines store the other day down the road in Lake Oswego, Oregon. It’s a nice little wine shop with a rather eclectic and interesting offering. The owners, who are actually there running the place, are friendly, personable and real. I decanted our two reds in the morning and poured them back into their bottles before I went to work. My take on what they thought of the wines is this: they didn’t exactly know what to make of Leroy’s Finest but liked it, they flat out didn’t know what to make of Gampo (admittedly it was still pretty closed), and they quite liked Home Place. That said, they do want to buy some wine for the store, and they’d like me to come in for a winemaker’s tasting, as well.

It’s interesting learning what people do and don’t like about our wines. Most people view Leroy’s finest with intrigue, but some have disliked it outright because it doesn’t taste like riesling, or at least riesling from the US. The World Class Wines folks liked Home Place, but I think they were skeptical of Gampo. Conversely, an acquaintance and winemaker advisor of mine, who is a long time wine figure in Napa Valley (started/owned a winery, sold it to Mondavi, worked along side the late Robert Mondavi, refers to him as Bob, and is a wine industry educator) was very excited by Gampo, and said it tasted like it came straight from Italy. Go figure.

My gut feeling about the wines we would, and now do, grow and produce is they would not appeal to everyone because they are wines of composition and not performance as Matt Kramer has so eloquently described in a recent post.

This is my current take on our wines over a 24 hour period of tasting:

’09 Leroy’s Finest – lime, bay leaf, pine, capers and acidity that will remind you you’re alive

’08 Gampo – raspberry compote, cherry cordial, cooked beets, clove, grilled bread, fine tannins

’08 Home Place – crème de cassis, English fruit cake, wet earth, tobacco, cocoa powder, toasted coconut, chewy tannins

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I was very nervous what Josh, a friend of mine of over 20 years, would think of Gampo and Home Place, our wines he bought. Sure, one might expect a long-time friend like him to shower praise on any wine I would make, but not old Josh. Think Anton Ego, that hardened, pointy critic from Ratatouille, and that’s Josh. Well, he loved them. And that guy has drunk loads of fine wine.

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Steve Heimoff’s recent blog hits close to home, and the point is not about Cosentino Winery apparently closing. The point is about what probably led to its closing. The quote from the owner, Mitch Cosentino, was he would “do it all myself again, like I did in the beginning,” this in reference to his new wine venture where he personally will focus on making small production wines. From the sounds of the article, Cosentino had spread himself too thinly—across too many SKUs, across too many purchased grapes—to where there was nothing recognizably Mitch Cosentino in the wines; his wines became just like everybody else’s.

As I’ve mentioned before the only hope I have for our wines is when you taste them you know they could only have come from us – from our vineyard, our hands, and our hearts.

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Steve Heimoff blogged today on the cool 2010 California vintage and how critics will rate it since it likely will produce few super ripe wines. I often like what Heimoff has to say, but I think he has it wrong here. I’ve seen over and over from Laube and Steiman at Wine Spectator that they, too, have it wrong. These guys seem to always equate super-ripe wine to big-flavored wine; and more restrained or balanced wines as lean, or light, or maybe even elegant, but all-in-all lacking in something comparatively. To me it’s ridiculous.

What you can get with well-made, non-super-ripe wines is complexity because one characteristic (e.g., sweet fruit) doesn’t overshadow the other many possible characteristics. A wine with complexity can deliver an intense experience for the nose, mouth and mind. There is power in complexity, but most of the wine journalist gurus find power, and therefore goodness, in ripeness.

A couple of recent notable articles would tend to agree with my point of view. One by Dan Berger, about overripe wines becoming a bad trend, and one in Saveur.

Our wines? The year gives us what the year gives us, and we do what we can in the vineyard and the winery to highlight complexity because that’s what interests us.

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This question has gone through my mind many, many times over the past 5 years, but never more often than the last few weeks. Financially, we have a lot riding on this. Of course the second vintage is in barrel now, and 2010’s will be shortly, but as the old saying goes, “The first impression is everything.” Right before the 2008 harvest I was at the vineyard with the winemaker who would help me make the wine, and he said that he couldn’t guarantee any specific qualities in the wine seeing it was the first harvest from a new site and so on. My response to him was, “All I care about is when people taste our wine they know that it could only have come from The Grande Dalles and our vineyard.”

I think we’ve captured that in our first vintage, but the problem is it’s not easy to sell something unique, and you can multiply that problem by 10 when it’s coming from someplace new and from “unknown” people. I wonder, should we have made wine more in the vein of what people expect, you know, “yummy,” “jammy,” “inky-purple,” “fruity,”  “unctuous,” etcetera? Would that make it easier to sell? Then I ran across this quote on Vinography from Matt Kramer’s new book Matt Kramer on Wine:

Isn’t taste what fine wine is all about? Nope. You’d think it would be, but it’s not so. Let me push this further: the purpose of fine wine is not to give pleasure, but to give insight. . . . The greatest wines literally mark the land for us. They tell us something about the earth that we could not otherwise know. This is their pleasure, an insight so intrinsic that it endures and repeats itself over generations. Everything else is just, well, taste.

What Matt says is exactly what I’ve thought about wine and our wine for years and years. There are a whole bunch of good tasting wines out there, but in my opinion the ones that show what Matt Kramer calls “somewhereness” are far and few between, particularly those from the US. I know new and unique things are almost always initially viewed with skepticism, I just hope that at some point people “get it” about our wines.

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Still contemplating how the “pedigreed sommelier” so matter of factly believes that riesling must be made with some residual sugar (RS). Like it came down to Moses along with the Ten Commandments or something. Leaving RS has been historically practiced and appreciated since riesling is naturally high in acidity and has its agricultural beginnings in the cooler spots of central/eastern Europe (like Germany). These cooler areas generally could not ripen riesling enough to get the acid levels down to a palatable level so they did the smart thing and left RS to achieve a pleasing, sweet-acid balance.

We grow riesling for Leroy’s Finest just east of The Dalles, Oregon, and albeit we have a whopping two vintages under our belt (2009/10), we have ripened riesling to the point where the acidity is in the range of what you’d want for a dry white wine, with sugar concentrations such to yield reasonable alcohol levels. Plus, contrary to what “pedigreed sommelier” said about a dry riesling being less flexible with food pairing, I want to make a riesling to drink with seafood, not Thai or Chinese.

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