“We covered a lot of ground in just a few days with some VOS team members and a terrific group of buyers (Oceana, Agern, Vintry Fine Wines and Corkbuzz). As much as we think we know about these terrific winemakers, we learn so much more from visiting their vineyards and having the opportunity to peek into the future with them.
These are all personal wines that are a direct emanation of the character of the vintner. I would daresay that in attitude and practice, our portfolio of American winemakers takes a very European approach, which I find very exciting and promising.
After an early morning flight to Portland, we drove 2 hours to the very southern edge of the Willamette Valley to Junction City, not far from Eugene. Antiquum Farms is one of the highest elevation vineyards in the appellation and appears to sit alone as you don’t see any other vineyards near them (though there are a few).
Antiquum Farm is well-named as it feels like a self-contained farm operation with chickens running through the vineyards, separate pens for the male and female sheep, some gorgeous dogs of different types, another area where the geese live and procreate and of course draft horses for plowing the vineyards. The Dungeness crab we ate as appetizers before dinner were caught by his father and his son; the lamb we had for dinner was from the property and all the buildings were designed and mostly built by owner Stephen Hagen. His son Juel, only in the 6th grade, is very much a part of things: he came with us to visit the vineyards and is working on a project to raise squab and quail for local restaurants.
This is much more than just a winery, it is an entire ecosystem!
They have 21 acres planted and will plant another 8 in 2 years as well as building a winery. Stephen employs a unique vinicultural approach he calls intensive rotational grazing in which animals are allowed to live in the vineyard. This starts with a flock of sheep, Katahdin/Dorper crosses, followed by chickens and geese, all contributing to the ecosystem of the vineyard. Over the years this vineyard, at the very limit of viticulture in the Willamette Valley, is completely self-sustaining, requiring no outside inputs.
Because of the combination of high elevation, warm days, cold nights and an entirely self-sustaining ecosystem, this farm has developed its own, unique terroir (there is a reason that top wineries like Antica Terra source fruit from Stephen). He considers himself a farmer first.
Stephen is all about focus and what he focuses on is growing great Pinot Noir. He make three: Juel, named for his son, is his first wine (the wines begin at such a high quality that you can’t call this wine entry-level); Passiflora, which is akin to his 1er Cru and Luxuria, his top wine. All of these wines are grown on a single sloping hillside and each parcel seems to have its own characteristics. These wines are inky dark, with deep fruit characteristics and yet the acidity is bracing and fresh, almost citrus in style. So much about this farm and its wine is iconoclastic and seems to behave within its own world. So for instance the Luxuria parcel is actually lower down on the slope yet it produces the best grapes and is the last to be picked.
He also make two white wines from Pinot Gris that is grown around the tasting room. The Daisy Pinot Gris 2017, named for his daughter, is a delicious and fresh rendition, as its name would imply. The use of 50% neutral barrels adds a surprising texture to this wine that elevates it and adds a complexity not normally found in this style of Pinot Gris from Oregon. The Aurosa Pinot Gris is in a world of its own. This was the first wine of Stephen’s I tasted when first introduced to Antiquum last year and it blew me away. The grapes are raised as if for red wine, with the clusters getting more sun exposure with thicker skins giving more phenolic interest to the wines. An extended maceration pulls even more complexity from the grapes. The 2016 was light copper colored but the 2017 was even lighter, more onion-skin, due to a shorter skin contact; just as rich and complex but with less color, more in line with the style Stephen is seeking.
We were joined at dinner by Leah Jorgensen and her fiancé Asa. We got to try all of her wines as well. The rose is quite light in color but delicious as well, though we are only getting a tiny quantity for our market. Her reds are always impressive and we tasted a pure Gamay, a new wine for us.
The next morning we made the long 2-hr drive back up north to Roots, a much nicer winery then I would have been led to expect. The tasting room was totally Chris, complete with a Crosley turntable and psychedelic vinyl from the 60s – 80s.
I think he picked out the right tunes because all the wines showed exceptionally well. We tasted 4 terrific sparklings under the Art Brut label: Melon de Bourgogne, Brut (PN/Chard), Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noir. All really good, with the Melon showing the most personality, it was Chris Berg in a bottle. (There is lots of talk about sparkling wines in Oregon these days). Then a crew of lovely, balanced Rieslings including a total fun cuvée from the Columbia Gorge region (kept hearing about this wine region on the trip, expect to see more good wines from there), then onto the really interesting stuff, his Pinot Noirs.
He feels his Apolloni is his most easygoing and right for by-the-glass. Leroy always has great fruit intensity. The Roots Estate was the most complex by far of these three, coming from red, iron-rich soils. Then came Saffron Fields, Pinot love in a bottle. I have seen other bottlings from this vineyard, but Chris’s is the best I have tasted. It was singing. Sheboygandy is fat and fun, sexy and delicious. We were happy to try his 2016 Crosshairs as it is such a great value. Wow, what a delicious wine. At just $208 on deal, this wine offers a lot to the market.
We tasted a few more very interesting wines: Yamhill Springs 2016, self-rooted vines from the top of the ridge — high-toned, crunchy and tense. Saffron Fields 2016, dense but closed. A new wine is the Cluster F$#% 2016 sourced from 4 vineyards. It was deeply flavorful, perfumed and complex. It will be one of his most expensive offerings but well worth it.
Chris said he had been pulling back on his extractions since 2012 and I think it shows in the freshness and expression of these wines.
It was a hop, skip and a jump to see David Autrey in his vineyards at Westrey, but we may have driven a thousand miles for the difference in temperament. Where Chris is chill and gives the sense that details don’t really matter, that winemaking is just a matter of going with the flow, David seems to know what every single vine is doing and why. He isn’t a control freak as much as a vinous savant. He is incredibly knowledgeable about Burgundy and the Willamette, having made wines in both places. He uses his knowledge to produce terroir-driven wines from each of his vineyard sources.
We tasted with David both in his vineyard and at dinner. We started with his Pinot Gris, steely and clean after an odd note blew off. At dinner we drank a 2001 Pinot Gris which was delicious. He wanted to make the point that Oregon Pinot Gris can age despite what many “experts” say.
His Chards were superb, coming from 40-year-old vines, first a normale then a Reserve. The Reserve is 40 months on its lees, no bâtonnage (he has learned his lesson from the Burgundians), long fermentation for 6-9 months! Then the Oracle Chardonnay (I never tasted this wine) was off the charts superb; no new oak, just dense, savory fruit with great acidity, as close to White Burgundy as Oregon can achieve. These three wines make a very strong case for the uniqueness and high quality that Oregon Chardonnay can offer the market.
His Pinot Noirs only see 15% new wood in their elevage. His 2014 basic PN had straightforward strawberry fruit, bright and fresh if a bit linear. Lovely. The Oracle 2012 was smack dab delicious, dense and fresh, loads of fruit with terrific balance. No surprise, this is his home vineyard and is always a standout. The 2014 Cuvée 22 is certainly dense but tight. From ungrafted vines, something we saw a lot of on this trip both in Oregon and California. These cuvées are from the oldest vines on his property. We also tasted the Cuvée 23 from 2015, surprisingly not as tight as the 2014, but still showing toasty oak.
I was having too much of a good time at dinner at Nick’s in McMinnville to take notes, but he brought out some older wines and they were beauties. David’s wines are built to last and evolve beautifully. Both Roots and Westrey craft beautiful wines, I’d say Chris’s are more visceral and immediate, while David’s are more cerebral and classic, like the people who make them.”