It’s time. My backyard row of vines survived a week of smoke from Oregon’s fires and now face a deluge of rain. Rains last year waterlogged vines, berries split, fruit flies moved in, leading me to triage the harvest. Luckily, through obsessive sorting, SO2, and a year of lees aging, my few bottles of 2019 turned out pretty crisp, clean, if a bit low in alcohol (10% abv).
This year, with iPhone forecast in hand, I pick for healthy fruit.
Watch the me and the Pinot Blanc in action:
Once in the carboy, another light dust of SO2 and Lavlin EC-1118 yeast drawn from Champagne for neutral, variety correct wines that clarify well (I don’t trust my native yeasts, which probably include toddler).
The next day, I picked and squeezed some vibrant Riesling and overripe Chardonnay into separate baby carboys (carbabies?) and inoculated them with the same EC-1118. Lastly, begrudgingly, came the reds. Birds had eaten most of my 777 and Dijon Pinot Noir (I netted the vines far too late), but my Meunier had dodged the winged ones.
I hand-crushed every decent looking cluster into open top fermentor, then pulled out th stems, peppered the few inches of skins and juice with Lalvin Bourgovin RC212 a Burgundy isolated strain used by everyone. Next year I will net all the vines before veraison starts to avoid the avian pests. Without expensive tests, fermentation will have to reveal the grapes suffered from smoke taint or not. Everyone is bubbling away now. Fingers crossed.
JancisRobinson.com recently finished their summer 2020 Wine Writing Competition (WWC20) and published 75 entries on Sustainability Heroes in the wine industry. I was honored to have all three of my submissions published. Although, I did not win the final, one made it onto the shortlist. For your re-reading pleasure, I will re-publish each over the following days.
Hiyu Wine Farm: Oregon’s Sustainable Utopia in the Columbia Gorge
If sustainability needs mascots, Nate Ready and China Tresemer would fit perfectly. In floppy hats, with Nate’s druidical beard and China’s proud grin, they grow the most complete whole farm vineyard on Oregon’s northern fringe: the Columbia Gorge. Their minimal approach at Hiyu Wine Farm makes Biodynamics look conventional. Here, native plants grow higher than vines, animals seem to do more work than people, and you almost forget this is viticulture. Nate admits that they are “trying to nudge the system as close as possible to a wild system, and it isn’t a wild system, but we try to make agriculture look a little more like nature”. Any visit confirms this.
In 2010, China, a top Chef, and Nate, a Master Sommelier, left behind two decades in the pressure cooker of cuisine, including stints at The French Laundry and New York’s La Cuisine Sans Peur. They found The Columbia Valley Gorge: a freshly minted appellation that runs 40 narrow miles along the riverbank and holds nearly every microclimate imaginable. They bought a thirty acre, cool, alpine-like site riven with silt loam on basalt, twenty two miles below the shadow of Mt. Hood’s summit and just overlooking the town of Hood River.
Nate took the ten-year-old organic vineyard of standard Pinot Noir, Gris, and Syrah varietiesand started sourcing, grafting or own-rooting clones from UC Davis. Today, resisting any whiff of monoculture, Nate notes, “there are over 80 different varieties of grapes and many more clonal selections planted on the farm”.In an effort of historical preservation, each half-acre block has plots planted to different moments in vinous history: “one plot is composed entirely of grapes planted in the 16th-century kingdom of Savoie. Another replicates a Southern Italian vineyard from 200 AD. There’s even a block devoted to the origins of cabernet franc at the Abbey of Roncesvalles in Basque country”.However, to avoid imposing order on nature, Nate admits, “there’s no map” and the vines are “not even labeled”.
Hiyu’s viticulture is the least invasive imaginable. Instead of mowing or tilling, Nate only rarely clears weeds with a scythe, and allows the pigs, cows, chicken, ducks, and geese to do most of the work throughout the year. They never green harvest, irrigate, or leaf pull, and only make one vine cut at pruning in order to not interrupt the vine’s growth cycle.They gently guide cover crop diversity by seeding directly into the dense growth or behind the pigs as they root around. Hiyu sprays eighty five percent less material than Biodynamic or Organic farms, uses no sulfur and instead controls mildew with cinnamon oil and mixed herbal teas. They use a light all-terrain vehicle (a mere 2,000 pounds instead of a 10,000 pound tractor) to avoid compacting the soil.
In addition to Hiyu’s 14 acres of vines, four acres provide pasture, another four acres of forest are in transition to a food forest, with a pond. However, the heart of Hiyu beats in its half-acre market garden that China maintains. She applies what she learned from her parent’s biodynamic farm in Vermont. All the heritage vegetables, fruits, and herbs she grows get crafted by China and chef Jason Barwikowski into striking dishes paired to tasting flights, The Winefarmer’s Lunch, and weekly reserved dinners. This involves the livestock labor as well. Their five to ten Guinea Hogs not only maintain the cover crop but provide pork, their goats make milk, while their Jersey cows make 5 gallons of milk a day for cream, butter, a farmer’s cheese, and ice cream, and occasionally meat.Hiyu takes farm to table seriously, by creating a self-sustaining farm and restaurant, where wine is but one small part. As Nate states, “The grand vision, it’s just biodiversity […] It’s meant to be this vibrant landscape with all these different life-forms. It’s more than the grapes. It’s about expanding palates and the ecological implications of that”.
At harvest, they hand-pick each historic block into small baskets with multiple passes. Nate avoids sorting them as to not damage the clusters. Eachblock with multiple varieties ends up together in the fermenter, free to become whatever they please. The native yeast biome ferments everything, so Nate only cleans with water, “to encourage a diverse microbial environment in the winery just like we’re encouraging it out in the field”.The reds native ferment at ambient temperatures with minimal foot treads in open-top wooden vats, while the whites ferment in barrels of different sizes. If issues arise, Nate just moves the vat or barrel to a warmer or cooler part of the winery or varies his pigeageregimen. Once ferments finish, a small manual wooden ratchet press squeezes juice and gravity urges it to the lower, cooler cellar (Nate sold their hydraulic presses from Mondavi in California and Southern Oregon, because they were too extractive). They do not filter or fine any of the wines. The only additive, aside from Nate’s feet, is less than 10ppm SO2before the bottle.There are no pumps, no bottling lines, no mobile bottling trucks. All bottles are hand-filled with gravity and a six-spout filler, then hand-labeled with China’s watercolor landscapes.
Hiyu crafts around 30 cuvées, with 12 complex field blends. The styles range from light whites, to skin-contact orange wines, light carbonic reds, to “May 1” a tannic 100-day macerated, four vintage solera red, and blends reaching beyond ten varieties like 2019’s “Avellana” of Blaufrankisch, Kadarka, Pignolo, Schiopettino, Corvina, Gamay, Vugava and many clones of heirloom Zinfandel. Vintage variation can even lead Nate to flip a wine’s style from white, to orange, and even red like 2018’s one-acre Aura Pinot Noir and Gris. Meanwhile, Hiyu’s second label, Smockshop Band, sources and supports other growers in the Gorge.In all, the wines require nearly no resources but labor and serve mainly to enhance Hiyu’s expertly crafted dishes.
Hiyu means “big party” in native Chinook. Nate and China strive daily to create a dynamic, sustainable environment not only in the vineyard and farm but in the community with events and magnificent feasts. They say it best, “we live on a farm with plants, animals and all the beneficial creatures that inhabit the soil. From this culture, supported by a network of local growers, we cook food and make wine. We’ve built a place where you can gather at the table and experience life on our farm”.That is something worth sustaining.
Alberty, Michael “At Oregon’s Hiyu Wine Farm, A New Kind Of Tasting Room”, Sprudge,
Now trapped at home, my cellar (aka crawl space) lights up the end of this dark tunnel. Each bottle holds a glimpse into the world before this plodding, boring present. I would rather open wines too early than too late for the sake of some palate time travel. So, yes, let us crack open another Burgundy.
Since the 1880s the Tollot family have made serious wine from their plantings in Burgundy in a 250 year old cellar. They jumped early to label when the Chorey-lès-Beaune appellation was created in 1921 and exported quickly to the states.
Chorey-lès-Beaune’s 336 acres are mostly Pinot Noir on plains beneath the shadow of the massive Grand Cru hill of Corton (red) and above the city of Beaune.
Almost half of Chorey’s producers are satisfied selling their Chorey off under the broader Côte de Beaune-Villages appellation. But not the Tollots. Generations of strategic small acquisitions in Savigny, Aloxe, and Beaune bumped their total to 60 acres, with two monopolies (vineyards they own outright), sustainably farmed (“lutte raisonée”) ofmostly old vines of the fancy Pinot Fin strain. Today, cousins Nathalie, Jean-Paul, and Olivier Tollot steer the ship.
On trend, they de-stem most of the Pinot Noir and now limit new oak to 20% for village and 60% for Grand Crus.
I won a bottle of 2011 five years ago as an incentive when it was leaving Diageo. 2011 was stormy and tricky leaving aromatic and fresh reds that lack weight and power. Review agglomerators like CellarTracker.com say its window was 2014-2017, with 2020 reviews saying drink now. I am too bored to be patient.
Domaine Tollot-Beaut Chorey-Les-Beaune Rouge 2011
The bottle feels substantial, like a show off Champagne bottle.
The appearance looks a clear, medium intense garnet-rimed, ruby-cored color.
Intense aromas jab and creak with cola nut, balsamic, licorice, kirsch and plum, vanilla powder, and orange marmalade.
The palate feels chalk dry, with wood-splitting high acidity, medium woody tannins, medium alcohol, a medium body.
Medium plus intense flavors start delicate then arch more toward wood, earth, and spice braced by high acidity, rather than the fruity, complex, brooding nose. On point with other 2011s, there just is not much core fruit here. Flavors carry a medium plus length.
Tollot-Beaut’s ’11 shows charm, drive, and complexity, but now, in 2020, is passing its peak. The core fruit is fading to its structures of acid and tannin, and fruit switching to earth and spice. It is very good but likely never outstanding. If you have one, drink it now, with a duck or mushroom pate or aged cheese.
Trapped at home, with a tornado toddler, my office and garage bulges with nearly 180 bottles of samples that I can’t taste with my accounts. Some bottles may not make it to the other side. So, time to turn on a light in this viral tunnel.
If you are looking for something, well, at least interesting. When in doubt, go with the label with the most words:
Domaine Faiveley, Mercurey 1er Cru, Clos des Myglands, Monopole, France 2017
Is that the back label? What it all means:
This is an estate (Domaine) of the Faiveley family, in Mercurey (warm-ish southern Burgundy), from a 1er Cru (1st ranked and regarded) Clos (single vineyard) des Myglands (it’s name), Monopole (owned outright by the Faiveley family), from the 2017 vintage (generous and ripe, well, for Burgundy).
The appearance looks clear medium intense brilliant ruby core, with a wide clear wash rim.
Aromas smell clean, pronounced with oodles of baking spices and earth, balsamic, clove, blood orange, carob, tart red cherry, fennel.
The palate is dry, with high acidity, willowy medium intense tannins, medium alcohol, a medium body, and fine grained powdery earthen texture.
Lifted, complex, medium plus intensity flavors zing with blood orange, tart cherry, fine clove powder, granite powder, dried tobacco leaf, leather that carry a long length.
Faiveley’s Clos des Myglands 2017 is outstanding quality, bright but spiced, earthy and complex. I forget this is grapes. I did not even mention the grape is Pinot Noir until now.
It has personality, youth, and is all edge and energy with the world before it. This may be the blind hope of middle school. It may not age like its prestigious northern Burgundy neighbors. Give it a decade. But we could all use a bit of blind hope about now.
Stuck at home? Grab a glass of something nice. Since we can’t travel, stray with me to the edge of wine-making.
With so many “important” wine regions out there, I had set aside Canada’s Okanagan Valley. It was too far, too obscure, and too young to merit a trip. A drive would be nine hours. NINE HOURS. Trapped in a car with a two and half year old. Nine hours.
(Fearing just nine hours isolated with a kid seems quaint during the Covid-19 pandemic).
But slowly, the itch to take the WSET Diploma Level 4 has taken over. Seven years have passed since the WEST 3. Now that I am decently settled (rutted) into work and my daughter lets us sleep most nights, maybe, just maybe, I could finally memorize, say, the deductive effects of Carboxymethycellulose on calcium and potassium bitartrate levels. Or not.
However, we live in the embryonic Northwest: neither Oregon nor Washington offer the course, but Napa and Vancouver, BC do. Not to be blasé, but I visit Napa every couple years. Napa is out. But my awkward love for all things Canadian (it’s like a cold, quirky, polite Europe), and fact that Fine Vintage Ltd would tour the Okanagan for the WSET 4, decided it. Pack the kido and car!
At the Northern limit of grape-growing, the Okanagan Lake and Valley stretches from the US border at the 45th Parallel 83 miles (three times Napa) right through British Columbia, up to and through the 50th Parallel. Vitis vinifera grapes should not grow here. But they do.
Now, we have visited vineyards almost this far North: Vancouver Island (read here), Luxembourg (read here), Champagne (read here), Dresden (read here), Prince Edward Island (read here), we even lived near the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York. All their wines share enamel-blasting acidity, light body, low alcohol, few recognizable vinifera grapes (Riesling, Chardonnay, even Pinot Noir), and a whole lot of unrecognizable grapes (Scheurebe, Vidal Blanc, Marechal Foch, Sauvignette, Frontenac…anybody?). So is the Okanagan any different? Yes and no.
The Okanagan climate is land locked and continental (hot, dry, short summers, cold winters): akin to NY Finger Lakes, Columbia Valley WA, Alsace, and German wine regions. Like those land lubbers, their lakes or rivers play a key roll in moderating temperatures, stretching the season to ripen grapes. However, Lake Okanagan is just bigger, way bigger. It goes 761 feet deep and 83 miles long (over 100 feet deeper than Seneca Lake and almost three times as long). Add long sunny summer days (setting at 9pm) to his huge heat sink and the protection from Pacific rains by the Cascade Mountain rain shield, the Okanagan can ripen not only Pinots, Riesling, and Chardonnay, but Merlot, Syrah, even Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon. Yet the daily diurnal (hot to cold) range slows ripening and freezing early winters allow for Icewine.
Bags packed we head North. We stay the night in Seattle with friends for sanity, then head for the border.
Once we turn East, the flat farmland, grey marshes, and silver river vistas fade into riots of shattered mountains.
We climb. It cools. Forests and farms turn into into scrub and rock. At the summit we stop, like landing on a moonscape of thin air and rock. I get vertigo just looking at it.
Now this is a rain shadow. Of course nary a Pacific cloud makes it East of these massive mountains. It reminds me of the Cascades or Vosges but far more extreme.
After a rapid descent, our world flattens into arid high desert. The temperature rises as we cruise for hours East.
Finally, civilization emerges as we near our hotel on Okanagan Lake. Billboards for real estate, tasting rooms, and boat rentals pop up like weeds above the road. We tuck into a great Japanese meal, stock up on essentials, and crash at our hotel.
My class and winery tours start tomorrow. Check back for my whirlwind tour of Canada’s most extreme wine region.