Sunday, March 14, 2010

Superheroes, World Domination and Oregon Wine

When the Gaston Six gather together in one spot to pimp their goods, it’s surely an event you don’t want to miss. Like local Superheroes, picture an opportunity to taste wines made by true independent winemakers—ADEA, Biggio Hamina, Bishop Creek, Cancilla Cellars, Matello and Twelve—and you begin to wrap your head around the rare and unique artisan wines I sampled that day.

Showing respect for the house, I started first with the host, ADEA Wine Company. Founders, Dean and Ann Fisher produced their first three vintages (starting in 1995) under a different name, and in 1998 they changed their name to ADEA incorporating the first letter of each family member’s name (Ann, Dean, Erica and Adam). Their earliest vintages were crafted at Medici and later at Lemelson, but ADEA now proudly has their own winery (which additionally houses a collection of boutique indie winemakers) and a tasting room open on weekends.

I was poured a delightful 2005 Rose, crisp and tart with rhubarb and strawberries, and the perfect beginning to the wine journey dubbed Pinot Passion. I also truly enjoyed ADEA’s 2006 Momtazi Pinot Noir—deep, dark and brooding, with black cherries and pie spice finish… reminiscent of a late night diner after a rock concert.

Taking two steps to the left, I easily located Biggio Hamina, where I chatted with owner Todd Hamina who just turned out his 14th vintage. He told me how the name is a combination of his last name and his wife’s maiden name (are we seeing a trend developing?). While I was savoring the incredible aromatics on his wine, he humbly stated how “making a good Pinot Noir is akin to bragging about being the tallest midget.” Well, Todd, I don’t know about that midget thing, but you certainly have something to boast about. The 2007 Deux Vert Pinot Noir had a beautifully light and almost translucent color, a floral nose with lush red cherries and a hint of underlying earthiness; it was every bit balanced with fruit, lively acids and velvety tannins… flawless.

At Bishop Creek Cellars, the wines and vines are managed by one person, Jeremy Saville. The 60-acre site (originally planted in 1988) is located in a cooler micro-climate than many Willamette Valley vineyards, which Jeremy thinks results in later ripening fruit that gives the wine its distinctive and intense flavors while retaining the natural acidity. I admired Jeremy’s approach and his wines seemed to truly reflect his philosophy. Bishop Creek produces only estate-grown wines from their 13-acres of Pinot noir, Pinot gris and Pinot blanc. With Syrah, Arneis and Gruner Veltliner planted to vine in 2008, I’d keep my eye on what they’re turning out in the next few years.

Jeremy was pouring the best white in the house that day (IMVHO)—a 2007 Pinot Gris, 100% stainless-steel fermented and 100% true-to-varietal flavor. It had depth and character with an intense nose of Anjou pear and green apple, a delightful nuttiness (probably resulting from ripe grape seeds) and energetic acids that filled my mouth. The 2007 Barrel Selection Pinot Noir also spoke volumes to me. It was a delicate, light ruby color, yet incredibly complex and well integrated with layers of cranberry, pomegranate and rose (and at $22, it’s a very reasonable indulgence and one I would like to have speak to me again).

Next in the procession was Matello winemaker (or Masseur du Raisins as he whimsically calls himself) Marcus Goodfellow pouring his wine of choice… a 2007 Pinot Noir Souris. This cuvee (barrel blend), though not my favorite, was an excellent and very thought-provoking wine; it was acid-driven with red cherries, strawberries, rose petals, cured beef and spice. As I chatted with Marcus, the wine continued to open up showing how marvelously multifaceted it really was. By contrast, the 2008 Pinot Noir Hommage a’A&D was tight and grippy, but I think it was just in a shut-down phase (this sometimes occurs after bottling). With more time in bottle, this wine could turn out to be a gem and would be an interesting wine to revisit in the future. My favorite of Marcus’s wines was the 2008 Winter’s Hill… it was fruit-forward with silky tannins and hints of smoke and tobacco. When I asked Marcus about his label, he first explained the name Matello comes from the Italian for little fool. He chose the Court Jester graphic because in the old days, the jesters were the only person who could really speak their mind. I think he just might be something of a jokester himself, identifying with their playful nature. Matello is producing less than 1,600 cases per year, and as a testament to their “indie” ways, does not even have a website. (Need some help with that? I know some great peeps!)

Moving on down the line: Ken Cancilla escaped from the East Coast and the Telecommunication world to grow grapes in Oregon. Nine vintages later and he’s still living the dream; Ken has 23 acres planted in Gaston (22 to Pinot Noir and 1 to Chardonnay) and crafts his wines using only his estate fruit. Cancilla Cellar’s 2007 Chardonnay displayed bright citrus, soap and a minerality much like steeliness (despite being aged in neutral oak). It was racy, zippy and surely got my attention. The 2006 Pinot Noir showed a lot of red fruit like raspberries, strawberries, red cherries, as well as earth and some sweet, hot (almost port-like) cassis.

My last stop on my tour of the Gaston Six brought me to Twelve. Twelve is a family-owned 13-acre vineyard located four-miles west of Carlton. When I asked owner John Lenyo about the choice of name, he said it came from the movie Spinal Tap (I believe it’s a quote from Nigel Tufnel where he asks, “Will this one go to eleven?”). Twelve’s labels are always changing, but one thing remains consistent about them; they’re all beautiful examples of modern art. John was smart about engaging his consumer and making them think before he even gets a drop of wine into their glass. I might brand the term “intelligent seduction”; clever marketing that draws you in with its mystery. What does Twelve mean? What is this label? Why 144? The 2007 Reserve 144 refers not to a specific clone, but is in fact, their name (12) to the power of 12. And their second label (lower price point wine) is called Second Floor. Got something against thirteen? Whoa, too many numbers for me—I’m outta here!

I casually, and more in jest, refer to these artisan producers as Superheroes. Okay, calling them Superheroes might be a bit of stretch, they’re not fighting evil villains plotting world domination. But they are putting themselves out there every day battling the forces of nature, the environment, the economy, government and big business… all for the sake of wine. That’s dedication. So next time you’re pouring yourself a glass at the end of a long day, take a moment to think about what kind of passionate individual (hero) it took to get that wine there and make a quiet toast to them. Until we sip again…



Portland Charcuterie Project said...

Well written as always... very bummed you couldn't sneak away to join Amy, my sister and I... no new wineries for you to try, but some of our favs.. plus a great lunch at Press.. and who new? Shea wines on sale? what's going on with that?

Todd Hamina said...

It was a pleasure to meet you finally! But in the spirit of clarification I stated that making a "big" Pinot Noir is akin to bragging about being the tallest midget. Cheers.

Sip with Me! said...

Merkel, yes I was very bummed to have missed that, next time for sure!

Hamina, it was a delight meeting you and my sincere apologies for the mis-quote.