Vintages and Vintners You Need To Know
“We can make wine here on par with anywhere in the world, this is an upcoming growing region to be proud of” says Michael Donovan, managing director of Irvine Vineyards and President of the Southern Oregon Winery Association. “There are a lot of really great small and family owned vineyards here in the region” he says.
And, many small vineyards in the area are just that, vineyards. They grow the fruit and send it off to winemakers and custom crush operations to be made into the vintages that we love. Others are full wineries that work with their fruit from the vine to bottling. All take careful care and attention to make great product. The following are Southern Oregon winemakers and vintages that you need to know:
Linda Donovan, Pallet Wine Company
When mentioning integral winemakers it’s impossible to pass up owner and head winemaker of Pallet Wine Company, Linda Donovan. Since 2009, her custom wine press has made quality Southern Oregon grapes into the vintages of more than 25 wine brands that we love. “The most important thing is cooking at the right time. Besides that, we practice a low intervention process that allows the grapes and vineyard sites to express themselves in the finished product” she says. “I work with each one of my clients from crush through to bottling to establish a price point, style and presentation best for the grapes that they bring us.”
She goes on to say that “Southern Oregon is such a great wine region because of the diversity of grapes and friendliness of the weather.” However, fermentation is a living process and no matter the quality of the grapes there is still a chance that things can go wrong. “In the 23 years I’ve been making wine I’ve seen just about everything.” Donovan assures, “The most important thing is to not panic.”
Herb Quady, Barrel 42
“After ten years as the head winemaker at Troon I had started my own wine brand. It was getting big enough that I couldn’t juggle it on the side but it wasn’t big enough to have my own winery,” says Herb Quady, owner of Barrel 42 and popular vineyard Quady North.
“I grew up in the wine industry. When I got my first job in the area, at Cowhorn, I got really excited about the possibilities here, really great fruit in a young growing industry full of potential” Quady explains. It is important to him to “not have a turn and burn facility.” In Southern Oregon “there are all the building blocks to make really good fruit and with high quality winemaking practices the vintages we can make are amazing” Quady insists.
“The 2014 is the best vintage yet. It took us a while to realize what we wanted, to get the right combination of grapes, we needed a particular Grenache grown in the right way to achieve the dry style that we wanted” says Quady. Made in the southern French style, it has a poised sweet aroma with a complex profile that maintains its lightness; a great balance of slight sweetness and acidity with floral notes on top of flavor of cantaloupe and ripe strawberry. This is a drink now vintage best served chilled, alongside some delicious cured meat or soft cheese, and most importantly with friends.”
Dan Marca, Dancin Vineyards
“Our recent expansion allows us to use our estate’s natural topography for a gravity flow system that cuts out the need for pumps. We can get the wine from barrel to bottling with minimal agitation which is integral for great Pinot Noir because its delicate flavor is easily damaged” says owner of Dancin Vineyards, Dan Marca. “We want to make the best possible wine we can. That’s why natural and hands on processes are so important to us, for example we only fermented with yeasts from the fields,” he goes onto say.
The entire Dancin crew’s meticulous involvement is apparent in the wine. “We’ve made four 94 point Pinot’s and this last year our 2012 Trada was chosen after a blind tasting to be featured alongside seventy of the world’s best Pinot Noirs to be poured at the International Pinot Noir Celebration” Marca says, with obvious pride. “We are the first to focus on cultivating Southern Oregon Pinot for estate bottling. We are also the first to bring in grapes from the Willamette Valley to be crushed here.” He goes on to say, “We blend them with our estate fruit to showcase what is great about both the north and the south in a vintage called Pas de’Deux or dance for two.”
The wine that got Dancin selected to pour at the International Pinot Noir Celebration, the 2012 Trada is “dark, smoky and toasty, this gripping wine is tight-knit and packed with raspberry and black cherry fruit, set against sweet baking spices. The balance is perfect,” according to Paul Gregutt, of the Wine Enthusiast. Marca describes it as “bright fruits and dark fruits that dance across the palate with a complicated finish.”
Photo Credit: Jeff Danzik
Barbara Steele, Cowhorn Vinyards Spiral 62
Cowhorn Vineyards is another great winery going back to basics. “Organic is a set of rules that focuses on eliminating adulterations, chemicals and additives while Biodynamic is the gold standard that does all of that plus focuses on cultivating life and health for the future,” says Barbara Steele, co-owner of Cowhorn Vineyards with her husband Bob. They ferment with only native yeasts from the field that they nurture and support with careful temperature control and sanitation. “This means each and every one of the vintages is affected by a unique combination of upwards of hundreds of distinct yeasts,” says Steele.
These methods have resulted in some great wine, the most essential being their Spiral 36, a Rhône style blend of equal parts Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne. The 2013, still available for purchase, exhibits the similar zingy tropical citrus flavor and sustained honey finish that landed it and the 2012 vintage 91 points on the Wine Enthusiast. With a little bit of time the 2013 might show as much complexity as the 2011 vintage of Spiral 36 that ended up on Wine Spectator columnist Matt Kramer’s top three wines of the year. Not to bad for little old Applegate valley.
Slagle Creek’s 2013 Chardonnay
Chardonnay, as one of the most neutral varietals, is heavily impressed by the conditions of the vineyard and the winemaker’s touch. Though, at its worst, classified as wine for the non-wine drinker, or too sweet and buttery, Chardonnay in its diversity is constantly exciting. While the year and the vineyard often give hints to what you will find in a vintage, each and every bottle ultimately is a surprise.
Slagle Creek’s 2013 Chardonnay is a late summer’s dream. It’s unoaked, which leaves it crisp light and refreshing much like a fresh Southern Oregon apple. It features just a hint of sweetness, enough to wet your palate without overwhelming. With slight sea sand minerality and notes of white nectarine, pear and apple the finish is crisp with a touch of citrus. Reminiscent of being a student when summer vacation felt like it would never end, the warm days and cool nights are readily apparent in this vintage due to careful winemaking.
Light enough for the hot afternoon yet robust enough for the chilly evening this is a bottle for a Sunday summer dinner paired with grilled pork and apple sauce.
Photo Credit: Ryly Hamilton