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Carrie Wynkoop loves discovering and sharing great Oregon wine. But when she began her explorations over 20 years ago, she joined one wine club after another but was unable to find any exclusively focusing on Oregon, even though the state is a top U.S. producer. Wynkoop decided to take matters into her own able hands, establishing her very own Cellar 503.
Each hand selected monthly shipment of two or four bottles showcases top crafted wine in hard-to-find spots in each of Oregon's 18 wine-growing regions. Wines are curated by themes ranging from organic, women winemakers, environmentally sustainable, to a "back to school" selection of unusual varietals each September.
"There are so many hidden gems coming from little vineyards tucked around the corner on every country road and more than a few amazing wines being made in compact urban wineries often in collaborative spaces", says Wynkoop. She includes the stories behind each wine and corresponding winemaker printed on attractive easy to read note cards with each shipment.
My tasting experience:
I sampled Cellar 503's Focus on Winemaking Techniques shipment, which imparts the concept of there being no one “right” way to make wine. There are hundreds of decisions that a winemaker makes each day to create vintages expressing the true character of a grape's personal style. As featured winemaker Matt Berson from Love & Squalor says, “It’s equal parts barrel heaving, lab tinkering, hand wringing, and business minutiae. But once it gets under your skin it’s hard to do anything else." This level of passion clearly shapes the following tasting experiences:
Simple Machine 2012 Grenache
Winemakers Brian Denner and his partner Clea Arthur teamed up to open their very own winery in Talent, Oregon. Since Arthur sold her restaurant and Brian quit working as a winemaker-for-hire, simplicity now permeates their daily routine including overall wine making technique. Brian lets the grapes fully express themselves via 100-percent whole-cluster (stems & all) fermentation, resulting in a lot more spice, tannins, structure, and depth. They foot stomp every bin to get the juices flowing then ferment with native yeasts and bottle the results completely unfiltered.
Highly unusual to find on its own, Grenache is usually blended with Syrah and Mourvedre but Simple Machine's process lets the unique qualities of their Rogue Valley grapes shine through. You get a dense rich red candy apple with notes of dark berry, leather, and spice on the nose with a rich defined mouth feel thanks to the native yeasts. Be forewarned, only 125 cases of this 18-month oak and bottle-aged varietal were released in 2017.
Silas Wines 2014 Gamay Malbec
Todd Sigaty showed up in 2005 at Calliope Vineyards in Beavercreek, Oregon pitching in with the neighbors who'd been working the vineyard for years. Later on, friends of his got involved including former chemist-turned-comedian Alex Clark, who eventually fell in love with a winery nearby which they purchased together.
Silas's unique twist involves using brettanomyces bacteria that in large quantities can destroy a whole batch but just a hint gives young red wine characteristics of being aged beyond its years. This Gamay Noir Malbec blend exhibits the typical Malbec notes of dark blue berries and dried flowers alongside the lighter earthy Gamay Noir. A great balance of tannin & fruit, the Gamay tempers the richer more bolder Malbec yielding an easier drinking, wider tasting profile than straight Malbec.
Carlton Cellars 2016 Auxerrois
Friends since 1968, Nick Peirano and Dave Grooters planted grapes in 2003 on Oregon's famed Savannah Ridge east of Carlton, and then built a winery in 2007. They soon focused exclusively on Auxerrois (“ox-uh-wah”) grape native to France's Alsace region. Just five vineyards in Oregon grow it, and they alone account for most of what's available outside of Europe.
It just so happens that the Willamette Valley's terroir is perfect for bringing Auxerrois' low levels of acidity to the forefront with a lemon peel tartness alongside the rich texture of dried fruit and white pepper finishing with hints of almond and oak. Clear on the nose, a multi-layered melange of deeply penetrating fruit caresses the palate.
Love & Squalor 2014 Riesling
Matt Berson's winery name was inspired by the title of a J.D. Salinger short story. Matt found it on a shelf in a thrift store and in it, the line "passion and poverty are two of the building blocks for any worthy endeavor”. Love & Squalor was launched in 2007, producing just 65 cases, and now makes close to 2500 cases each year.
Many of Oregon’s original winemakers planted Riesling alongside their Pinot Noir, providing a cash crop to support their wineries' bottom line. Since Riesling vines develop distinctly unique characteristics as they age, most winemakers highlight a single vineyard in each vintage. Berson bucks this approach with fearless blending. “Blending for me is like putting together a dinner for friends...pairing ingredients, choosing spices and herbs, squeezing a lemon on top. I like to compose a plate and let the flavors mingle.”
High flying and unrefined, this dry Riesling is 51 percent from a vineyard in Eugene’s coastal foothills, 35 percent from a vineyard in Marion County, and 14 percent from the Yamhill-Carlton region. Not at all cloying, the drinking experience is bright and crisp, abounding with apricots and peaches alongside green apple and citrus belying a few tropical fruit notes.
Coverage made possible by participating in a sponsored tasting. Photos: Cellar 503 & Steve Mirsky.