I’m traveling north with my wine reviews this week, leaving my home state of California to explore the terrain of Oregon. The history of Oregon wine isn’t unlike our own. The first plantings can be traced back to the pioneer days of the 1840s during the settlement of the “Oregon Territory.” The first official Oregon winery was Valley View, built and run by by Peter Britt in the late 1850s in Jacksonville — a Gold Rush town highly populated with settlers from both American and abroad.
Going a little off the reservation with the Illahe Vineyards Viognier. This is the one grape the Ford family actually sources from an external vineyard. If you’ve been following my Oregon Wine series these past two weeks, then you know that the Illahe Vineyards has its own unique micro-climate and terroir situation in the middle of the Willamette Valley. Viognier is a funny grape in that it can technically grow “well” in both warmer and cooler climates. But, because of its tendency toward mildew, and the extremes in acid-sugar balance between picking “too early” and “too late,” the white grape benefits from areas that can support longer growing seasons.
Goschie Farms is just such an area. The east Willamette farm, known primarily for their hop farming, is situated along the valley floor, where day time heat and evening coastal cooling are at two polar opposite extremes. This means that those fussy Viognier have access to an overall well-rounded temperature and — you guessed it — long growing season. The Fords first purchased these Viognier grapes when Goschie Farms had an extremely successful harvest and excess fruit they couldn’t sell. Illahe bought an experimental bunch and found the white wine sold quite well. Now, it’s a regular part of their collection.
I’m not going to lie, besides the chance to taste my first single varietal Tannat, one of the things that drew me to Troon Vineyard was the opportunity to taste my first “orange wine.” This, of course, refers to the wine’s color, achieved by keeping the grape-skins on during fermentation — much like the process used for making red wine. This can be done with any white grape, most commonly Pinot Gris, but Troon Vineyard takes an interesting approach with their whole grape fermented Riesling.
Troon Vineyard may have a 40 year old winemaking history, but they seem to be on the cusp of what’s new and innovative in winemaking. Not out to make the fast, easy sell, they embrace what their little piece of Oregon terroir has to offer — climate and terrain similar to the Old World France and Spain, and yet still unique Oregonian. That means their focus is on under-appreciated grapes: Vermentino, Tannat, Malbec, simply because this is what grows best. (Learn more about Troon Vineyard’s Applegate Valley)
As Craig Camp says, “If you want to bring real pleasure to peoples lives, your wines have to have personalities as interesting as the people that drink them.” (You can read more of Craig’s thoughts on Troon Vineyard’s Wine Camp Blog.)
Rosé of Tempranillo isn’t something I see a lot. And it’s nothing that Illahe Vineyards’s Ford family ever originally planned on making. The initial one-acre planting was a bit of an experiment. “Let’s see what else we can grow,” seems to be one of Lawrence Ford’s pioneering attributes. But as Bethany pointed out during our conversation, Tempranillo can be a hard grape to grow and maybe the unique Illahe location isn’t the most suitable for the funky fruit. Brad’s remedy? Pick the fruit early and make a rosé. Sounds like a plan…
Tannat — an often forgotten grape varietal, one that is rarely seen in a single-varietal bottling. It’s thick-skinned, tannic, acidic, and a gothic shade of purple. To look at it, you may think angry thoughts — and to prevent those angry thoughts when drinking, winemakers often blend Tannat with the more voluptuous Cabernet Franc or Merlot (or, in Uruguay, even Pinot Noir).
But there seems to be a recent turn of events. Maybe it’s because the warm-weathered Uruguay has adopted the lonely variety as their heritage grape. Maybe it’s because “weird” wine is now some kind of fad. Or maybe, maybe, winemakers and drinkers alike have discovered that there’s no need to be afraid of the dark. Remember,
“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”