Monday, November 7, 2011

Flying High at Raptor Ridge's New Winery

Visiting Raptor Ridge’s stunning new location perched along the Northeast side of the Chehalem Mountains on Hillsboro Highway (which is technically located in Newberg, but actually closer to Scholls) had been on my radar for some time, yet somehow I’d not yet made it out for a visit. So, when the opportunity knocked to attend a social media event introducing their new digs, I didn't make them knock twice.

Graduating from a small horse-and-sheep-farm-cum-winery to a brand new state-of-the-art winery/27-acre vineyard estate with four-peak views gives a winery good reason to send out the engraved announcements showing off to the world exactly how far they’ve come. If I were Raptor Ridge, I’d be shouting from the slanted rooftops!

Raptor Ridge is as smart about social media and public relations as they are about making wine. Taking the media bull by the horns, they invited a room full of press, including writers from Portland Monthly, Yelp and as well as several prominent freelance print writers and bloggers, for an afternoon #ReTweet (Twitter Retreat) of Raptor Ridge’s wines paired alongside great food and a tour of their functional yet elegant new facility.

We met at The Bent Brick in Northwest Portland where we were given a quick tour of the restaurant and kitchen (which would be serving our lunch), before being whisked away in a grape colored and covered chariot (special shout out to Wayne Winewizard) for a culinary education and excursion in wine country.

Raptor Ridge has been making top-notch Pinot noir and Pinot gris since 1995, giving them a strong foothold in the Oregon wine scene. But with their new winery and vineyard estate, the owners, Scott and Annie Shull, have found a place to both put down their roots and a beautiful facility to showcase what it is they do best, presenting the whole package… wine, hospitality, education (check out their wall of aromas and quiz yourself), and ambiance. And to top it all off, it's one of Portland's closest wineries!

The estate was originally a cherry orchard that produced for 65 years before most of the trees were removed to build the winery and create the 18-acre Tuscowallame Vineyard, which is now planted to several clones of Pinot noir and small amount of Gruner Veltliner. Tuscaowallame is the indigenous word for “place were the owls dwell”. Paying tribute to the property’s history, the Shulls preserved two of each type of cherry tree from the original plantings. 

As we sat in the tasting room, a sleek yet functional concrete, stainless steel and glass structure, and enjoyed their wines paired with savory bites from Chef Scott Dolich of The Bent Brick who says he sees wine pairings as discussion between good wine and good food, a storm quickly brewed up and passed over the vineyard leaving a magnificent and glowing rainbow in its wake.

Winemaker Scott Shull describes Raptor Ridge as “Two wineries in one. One side produces cuveés of 2500 cases for distribution to 26 states and the Virgin Islands, while the other side focuses on vineyard designate wines for their club and tasting room". Scott has a few tricks up his winemaking sleeve, which he shared with the group. One thing Scott does differently is that after the berries have been sorted and destemmed, he sorts them again for a third time to ensure the quality is up to his standards. Scott also uses a mechanical punch down machine, which I had never seen before (and I probably shouldn’t mention what it reminded me of), and though he’s a self-professed control freak and uses commercial yeast, he also experiments with wild fermentation.

Not exactly a cave, but we made our way into the barrel room, large enough to house 500 barrels and located 25 feet underground, where Scott confessed how he likes to listen to the quiet and breathe in the aromas of the barrel room. I understand the draw to go there to reflect on one's thoughts or find creative inspiration; the barrel room has a meditative and almost vault-like quality to it. The sounds are softened and muted, the oaky smells are magnified by the amount of wood and wine fermenting in such small space, the light is dim to protect the wine as it undergoes its transformation and the cool air feels a bit thicker, heavy with a certain mustiness or maybe it’s just heavy with energy. Whatever it is, it’s working for Scott… he’s making some great wines. If Raptor Ridge hasn't flown onto your radar yet, hopefully it has now. While making plans for your next Oregon wine country outing, be sure Raptor Ridge is on your hot list and in the meantime, join them on Facebook and Twitter.

2010 Pinot Gris (sold out)
Spectacular showing of lemon, grapefruit and pear, with subtle hints of tropical pineapple and a pleasant tease of almond. The wine displayed balanced acidity with an attractive minerality not found in many Oregon Pinot Gris.

2007 Pinot Noir Reserve ($35)
Simply gorgeous, makes you forget anything bad you may have ever heard about the 2007 vintage. Silky and spicy with a glass full of plums and crushed cherries.

2008 Pinot Noir Reserve ($35)
Noticing this wine was stylistically different than the others (I thought it was flawed and not my favorite), Scott described is as a noble reduction. When wine is not exposed to any air as it ages, it becomes reduced (the opposite of oxidized). Scott sees it as a feature, not a flaw in this case, adding interest and complexity. The wine was smoky and a bit funky, but soft with vanilla, coffee and a strong showing of ripe, black fruit.

2009 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($23)
Great value for a quality wine that’s rich and silky with cherries, pomegranate, vanilla, cassis, licorice and smells almost like walking through a pile of fall leaves.

2010 Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard (Not yet released)
Celebrating nine years of Shea fruit, Raptor Ridge does this vineyard proud. Though this wine had just been bottled six weeks prior, it was truly emblematic of what an Oregon vintage should be… pure, ripe and lush red cherry and blueberry pie flavors with a velvety mouth feel and a lingering finish loaded with peppery goodness.

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