Susan Sokol Blosser and Bill Blosser were dreamers and schemers. In the early 1970s when America was experiencing its modern grape growing and winemaking boom the couple decided—with no prior ag or cellar training—to become both growers and winemakers. While many in this position would have set their sites toward California, the couple gave the US’s largest wine producing state a wink and a wave as they passed on by to settle in Dundee, Oregon, following in the footsteps of such wine pioneers as David Lett (Eyrie Vineyard).
One of Willamette Valley’s seven sub-AVAs, Dundee Hills is arguably the most important. Indeed, it is where the first Pinot Noir vines were planted in the state. A series of volcanic hills run north to south with ridging running east to west, and thus vines tend to be planted at higher altitudes than anywhere else in Willamette. Though the temperature is warmer than elsewhere in the larger AVA (due to the Coast Range blocking maritime influence and the Chehalem Mountains blocking northern winds), this elevated planting means that grapes experience a wide diurnal range, thus protecting innate acidity. A quality that is truly characteristic of the Sokol Blosser wines.
Today, second generation, brother-sister team, Alison Sokol Blosser and Alex Sokol Blosser, take the reigns as co-CEOs. According to the winery, the Sokol Blosser legacy expands beyond their high quality Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, and into their love and respect for the environment that allows them to produce those grapes. In 2002, Sokol Blossor became the first US winery to become LEED Certified and in 2015 they gained B Corp status.
Below are my notes on the wines we tasted during a recent media tasting. Tasting profile and conclusions were all written prior to the virtual event.
Notes from the winery were added following our meeting.
All photos courtesy Sokol Blosser.
2018 Bluebird Cuvée Sparkling
Appearance: pale lemon
Aroma: medium (+) intensity—chamomile, lemon, lime, green and yellow apple (fresh/just ripe), yeast, grass, lemongrass, minerality, just ripe white peach and nectarine, honeysuckle
Palate: dry, high acid, medium body, medium alcohol, medium (+) intensity—as above, adding some grapefruit or pomelo citrus and just ripe apricot skin
Finish is medium (+)
Conclusion: What a fun sparkling wine. I almost wanted to kick the intensity of aromas up to a pronounced level because the more I swirled and sniffed the more aromatics I kept picking up. And though the palate did confirm the aromatics, it added a few extra elements to it as well. Though high in acidity (as—I think—any good sparkling wine should be), it’s not piercing in anyway or distracting from the ripe fresh fruit and floral aromas and flavors. More simplistic in its winemaking approach, there is the incorporation of yeast, which is just enough to add body, structure, without tasting like fresh baked bread (which, in other expressions are completely desirable), instead just providing that kinda toasty aura.
While technically dry, there’s no denying there’s a kiss of RS. (I’m overly sensitive and got that little bit of sticky at the corner of the mouth.) A cheat sneak peek at the tech sheet says 8g/L of dosage. But again, this is completely in balance with the level of ‘just ripe’ bordering on under ripe fruit flavors, the racy acidity, and that backbone of fine-tuned lees.
A fun surprise is the longer (medium (+)) finish, which I rarely get with New World sparkling wines. The lingering flavor, which is just shy of long, combines fresh fruit and florals with just a slight background of toasty lees.
From the winery: After 50 years in the Oregon wine industry, Sokol Blosser Winery has established a vibrant sparkling wine program. This program follows the Méthode Traditionelle process to make a truly special representation of the many varietals we have been working with for multiple decades. The great sparkling wines of the world are blends – or as the French would say, “Assemblage” – of multiple grape varietals, and differing styles of fermentation and levels of malolactic fermentation. Grapes were harvested earlier than we would harvest for a still wine in order to capture naturally high acidity and reduced phenolics. The juice for this wine was fermented 100% in stainless steel to retain freshness and bright fruit characteristics.
2018 Dundee Hills Estate Pinot Noir
Appearance: pale ruby
Aroma: medium (+)—red and black cherry, vanilla, chocolate, raspberry, pomegranate, fresh black and red plum, herbal (eucalyptus?), nutmeg, charred wood
Palate: dry, medium tannin (ripe, chalky), medium (+) acid, high alcohol, medium body, medium (+) intensity—as above, adding a hint of cola, smoke, and a bit of toasted bread and dried violets
The finish is medium (+)
Conclusion: This wine masks as an easy drinker, but has some serious depth of flavor and texture. Primary fruits span between red and black fruits and introduce a bit of herbal/herbaceousness as well. Well-integrated oak use intertwines hints of spice and more decadent aromas/flavors giving the wine more layers to appreciate. Could there be just the beginning signs of age here? (I’m thinking about those dried violets and those more smokier/toastier notes found on the palate.) If I had to nit-pick I’d say the alcohol is just a tad too high (feeling a little extra tingle on the tongue not associated with acidity and a subtle warmth of the heart on the finish).
From the winery: The grapes were carefully hand harvested between September 15th and 28th. Some vineyard sections were harvested based on acid levels to retain delicacy and some were focused on higher intensity of fruit flavors with ripeness reaching 25° Brix. All our fruit was sorted by hand to remove any flawed bunches and de-stemmed directly into 3-ton fermenters. Fermentation was conducted with a combination of our native house yeast, commercial yeast, and ambient/uninoculated ferments; all aspects coming together to make a unique representative cuvée of 2018. Cap management was done by both punch downs and pump overs. Post fermentation the wine was kept on its skins for 17-29 days for extended maceration depending on the lot before being pressed off and barreled. This wine was aged in 100% French oak barrels for 17 months with minimal SO2 levels. 25% of the blend was aged in new oak barrels with the remaining portion aged in once used or neutral oak.
2018 Old Vineyard Block Estate Pinot Noir
Appearance: pale ruby
Aroma: medium (+) intensity—cedar wood, pomegranate, raspberry, red and black plum, nutmeg, vanilla, cranberry, violets
Palate: dry, medium (+) acid, medium (+) tannins (firm, grippy), high alcohol, medium (+) intensity—confirming the nose, also adding that here the black plum is more pronounced than the red plum, and there are some chocolate, clove, and savoury notes coming through not sensed on the nose.
Finish is medium (+)
Conclusion: This is a serious Pinot Noir that is masquerading as nothing else. Those firm grippy tannins coat the palate and the fruits seem to teeter toward the black fruits more than the reds. Secondary characteristics, namely that cedar wood and, on the palate, the clove and savoury, seem to dominate even more than the fresh primary characteristics. But I will note here that those primary fruits are concentrated with an adequate enough intensity to stand up to tannins and barrel and I feel that with time, as those secondary characteristics become more interwoven and the tannins mellow, we’ll actually be able to experience the voluptuousness of those fruits as they age and gain their own complexities as well. Like the previous wine, if I had to be picky, I’ll say the alcohol sticks out just a pin-prick. But, as this wine is clearly intended for aging, that is a structural component that will lend to that longevity and wonder if this too will become more integrated with time.
From the winery: The grapes were hand harvested on September 21st in this founding section of the Sokol Blosser estate. They were then sorted by hand to remove any flawed bunches and 100% de-stemmed directly into 3-ton stainless steel fermenters. The fermenters were left uninoculated for the initial nine days for a slow, ambient ferment, after which the ferment was inoculated with our native house yeast. Cap management was done via gentile punch downs up to 2 times per day. The wine was kept on the skins for an extended maceration of ~20 days, then pressed off the skins and barreled. This wine was aged in 100% French oak barrels, with 25% new oak for 16 months with minimal SO2 levels.
2011 Goosepen Block Estate Pinot Noir
Appearance: pale garnet
Aroma: pronounced—prune, dried fig, raisin, charred wood, leather, meat/game, fresh (slightly over-ripe) wild strawberry, black plum jam, black licorice, strawberry compote, dried violet and dried rose petal, hint caramel, hint molasses, vanilla
Palate: dry, medium (+) acid, medium (+) fine-grained tannins, high alcohol, medium (+) body, pronounced flavor intensity—confirming the nose
Finish is long
Conclusion: I love how primary, secondary, and tertiary characteristics are so well integrated both on the aroma and on the palate—on the palate from the very beginning through to that lingering finish. Indeed, if there was a question mark about the previous wine’s age-ability, this answers that question. Yes, the alcohol, again, is high, but because of the development of those fruits into their cooked/jammy/dried forms, the alcohol seems to be more in tune with the rest of the wine both structurally and aesthetically—adding to the medium (+) (nearly full) body and the wine’s indulgent decadence. Could this wine age further? I dare say it can withstand a few more years (5-10) and would be curious what that development would do for the drinking experience.
From the winery:
VINTAGE: 2011 APPELLATION: 100% Dundee Hills AVA CERTIFICATIONS: Made with 100% organic grapes | Oregon Department of Agriculture Organic Certified Wine GRAPE VARIETIES USED: 100% Pinot Noir | 100% Estate Grown DATE GRAPES PICKED: 10/21/11 AGE OF VINES: 13 years old LENGTH OF FERMENTATION: ~7-8 days TYPE OF FERMENTATION: Three-ton open top fermenters | Punched down up to 3 times per day LENGTH OF SKIN CONTACT: Post-fermentation maceration ~21 days | Total time in fermenter~ 30 days FERMENTATION TEMPERATURE: Peak temperature ~75° F ALCOHOL: 13.0% LENGTH AND TYPE OF AGING: 100% barrel-aged in French oak | 15 months in barrels | 44% new barrels DATE BOTTLED: March 2013 BOTTLE AGING PRIOR TO RELEASE: ~13 months
For more information about Sokol Blosser, the family history, and to purchase wines directly, please visit the Sokol Blosser website.
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