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When it gets to a certain point, you know one day when the phone rings it will be to tell you. But just because you expect it, doesn’t make it any easier when the call arrives. We got that call yesterday: Leroy had passed away.

Leroy Rasmussen, 82 years old. The first person who ever really believed in our endeavor with a clear conscience. A man whose entire life had been in the vineyard, until his health took him from it. Leroy Rasmussen, whose own Red Hill Douglas County AVA riesling cuttings are the reason for our Leroy’s Finest wine. Leroy Rasmussen, our straight-shooting, salt-of-the-earth cowboy vineyard consultant is no more.

Some time ago we had lost track of Leroy–his health deteriorating so that he was moved very quickly from the area, back to more his home place of Nebraska. After some e-sleuthing, I did locate him and we corresponded with his wife last holiday season. I had high hopes that Leroy might recover, but he did not.

Until I can get more of my thoughts in line, where my emotions are not getting the best of me as I write, I’ll leave you with this story of Leroy, one I wrote last year.


Leroy Rasmussen, The Grande Dalles Cowboy Vineyard Manager


 We often think Leroy’s life is the stuff made for Hollywood: upon his return from the Korean War, a young man from the dusty ranges of Nebraska sets out on his own, taking his family to California. The initial plan falls through, and he gets into the grape business. It’s the 1950s. And in his lifetime, he not only teaches a young Marvin Shanken—pre-Wine Spectator—the word malolactic fermentation, he plants 1000s of acres in Sonoma, and then, years later, establishes a single-vineyard AVA—Red Hill, Douglas County—in Oregon. Leroy was a true salt-of-the-earth man, and out-of-the-box thinker. And he was our “cowboy” vineyard consultant.

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We’ve been trying to round up a photo for use for our March James Beard debut, so they can market the event (I’ll fill you in on the JBF event in a future post). Here’s the dilemma: we don’t have any “glamour” shots where we’re toting a glass, or sniffing one (perhaps empty, like Gianfranco, or full like everyone else); or throwing our heads back in mirth having a Hollywood moment; or  standing in a silk wrap, I think it was, in front of a vineyard like we saw Helen Turley doing on one Wine Spectator cover; or like countless others holding a glass in front of a barrel, these images so expected like photos with Santa at Christmas where the set all looks the same. No superbly dirty hand shot; no child feigning sleep on our shoulders; no borrowed hilltop that we try to pass off as our own; no picture of Tuscany that we want you to think is just like our place. None of that. Odd, don’t you think? I mean, we ARE in the wine business.  But we’re also in the business of keeping it real. And just like we don’t doctor the grapes from our vineyard, we don’t like to doctor our lives, even for marketing. Yes, we need some “pretty” shots of the “real” that make up what we do, and I’ve been meaning to have Kim Miller come out to the vineyard and snap our goings on out there (the wine bottles below are Kim’s work). But until then, what we have is what we have: mainly photos I’ve taken, so really there are none of me; and they’re not glamourous. They’re real.

Wine bottles by K Miller Photographs

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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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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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So get this. Driving around in the Midwest last week, in a bedroom-like community of Kansas City (a be-YU-tiful city – need to spend more time there), saw a housing development going up named “Napa Valley.” I was SHOCKED. And then amused. And then SHOCKED again. Why? No, it’s not because it was a small tract of land that was flatter than flat with just a hint of the many more identical McMansions that would be slapped up there blaring out at us from the distance. And for sure it’s not because of its Midwest locale. Nor because it was lacking any atmosphere of ANY kind. (Disclaimer required: I’ve never been to Napa Valley, I’ve just seen pictures, but this development wuhddn’t [sic] no Napa Valley!) Here’s why I was miffed: Read the rest of this entry »

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HIGHLIGHTS: More encouragement from our fan. Wasco County Regulations. Arse-dragging.


With Week Two of The Little House On the Hilltop (TLHOTH) project now behind us, let me share what’s happened.

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