Sara’s VINTAGES Preview – April 29th, 2017

Humanism in Oregon & Washington, plus Top New World Reds
By Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

In many respects, the US continues to be a divisive nation with respect to political inclinations, progressive attitudes, a deep-rooted sense of independence and competition. This is seemingly counter-intuitive given its cultural imperative to assimilate and integrate. However, as we have seen, this form of integration has not been entirely successful. On a less sobering note, with respect to wine, I was thus encouraged by a national initiative taken on by the USDA to bring international media for a first time on a “national wine tour” of the US. While not all 50 wine producing states were included, the trip took us on a coastal tour of the four largest producers: California, Washington, Oregon and New York. This unified wine front seemed hopeful in the lead up to the most recent US presidential election. Despite the outcome of that election, I continue to be heartened and stimulated by the personality-driven wines of these various states whose geographic proximity belies their unique sensibilities and climates. The notion of terroir in the US is as much driven by the human component as it is geographical distinctiveness.

This leads me to highlight the theme for next week’s VINTAGES release that puts a spotlight on Oregon and Washington. Oregon has been further promoted this past week as the Taste Oregon trade and consumer tasting which took place at the Fermenting Cellar showcasing the wine of over 40 producers. I think it best to first visit the deferential and pastoral wine region of Oregon before embarking on the elaborately organized yet divisive region of Washington.

Understated Oregon

If you are a lover of pinot noir, then your Mecca is no doubt Burgundy, but with the proliferation of Oregon pinot noir, it is no longer the only benchmark. Oregon’s quality wine producing history began much more recently than the historic centuries of Burgundian production. In fact, it wasn’t until the repeal of US prohibition in the early 1930’s that the modern industry took root. The momentum that followed was led by pioneering individuals with a grass roots, non-profiteering sensibility — a spirit that very much prevails among Oregonian wine producers to this day.

A distinguishing feature of Oregon is that the pioneering individuals who defined this region and its terroir also become an integral part of its cultural landscape — individuals such as:

– Richard Sommer who is widely credited as having jump-started quality wine production in Oregon with the risky move of planting seven different vinifera varieties in the Umpqua Valley in the early 1960s. His Hillcrest Vineyard site is Oregon’s oldest estate winery;

– Two trailblazing couples: Dick & Nancy Pozi and Jim & Loie Maresh who, in the 60s, sought out and invested all they could muster in what they had hoped would be top viticultural sites;

– Dick Erath, who, freshly graduated from University of California, Davis, confidently had business cards printed for his winery a year ahead of planting his first wine grapes in 1969;

– Individuals like Susan and Bill Sokol Blosser who abandoned fruit farming in favour of clearing land for grape vines weeks before their first child was to be born in 1970; and

– David and Ginny Adelsheim whose commitment to Burgundian grape varieties in the early 70s helped established Oregon as a premier producer of cerebral wines.

The list goes on and on. The people of Oregon have imprinted themselves on the very soil on which they grow. They have truly become integral components of that terroir.

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 29th:

Editor’s note: Our intrepid master sommelier explorer, John Szabo, was unable to attend the VINTAGES tasting for this release. It’s important that our critics travel the world to keep their palates sharp and knowledgeable. As a result, our First-In-Line feature will be truncated. Fortunately, we employ multiple critics to ensure as many of the wines as possible get reviewed. David, Michael and Sara were able to taste many of the wines and their reviews are available or will be shortly.  

Oregon & Washington

Although the burgeoning wine-growing climate in Oregon was largely a locally-appreciated treasure for much of the last century, fine wine aficionados were quick to sniff out greatness. In 1973, the London International Wine Fair awarded Tualatin Vineyards pinot noir and chardonnay best in show. From there, international recognition spiraled with Burgundy finally taking notice of this overseas oasis for their homegrown grapes. Instead of challenging the merits of this region, Burgundians set down roots of their own in Oregon. One of the first to take the plunge was Véronique Drouhin in the late 1980s who established the Domaine Drouhin Oregon winery in the Willamette Valley. …

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Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014