Ghost Hill Cellars Pinot Noir, 2011 Bayliss-Bower Vineyard

What a treasure.

Ghost Hill tasting room, made from reclaimed wood.

Ghost Hill tasting room, made from reclaimed wood.

That’s probably the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Ghost Hill Cellars. I visited a few weeks back, and (per usual) it took me a bit longer than I thought it would to get this post together. Until about 20 minutes ago, this was going to be a joint “ode to 2011” post, including this and one other 2011 vintage wine. Unfortunately, the wine gods had other plans, and the other bottle that I purchased is bad. A major bummer, but we’re on the rebound. It happens. I’ll still yammer on for a minute or two about the vintage, because I can’t resist, but we’ll mostly chat about Ghost Hill and this wine.

IMG_0673It was actually back in February that a friend recommended Ghost Hill to me. I believe we tried to go in once, but they were closed (because winter). Embarrassingly, it took me until October to reattempt. That’s the reality of living in wine country; we are overloaded with choices!

In any case, this place is a gem. Its probably one of the most authentically Oregon wineries I’ve visited since I’ve lived here. And it doesn’t hurt that the wines are great.

What do I mean by authentically Oregon? Ghost Hill is a 5th generation family farm. Mike and Drenda Bayliss currently farm the property with their children, Michael and Bernadette and son in law Cameron Bower. About 16 acres of Pinot Noir were planted in 1999 on the 90-acre property. Oats, wheat and other crops take up a lot of Mike’s time as well.

#oldfashionedfilter #UseThatArtDegree

#oldfashionedfilter
#UseThatArtDegree

The property sits on Willakenzie soil that is prime for grape-growin’ and is neighbored by famed vineyards Abbott Claim and Bonnie Jean. Rumor has it Ken Wright wanted to swipe this property up before the vineyard was planted. The Bayliss family keeps it pretty low-key, making about 1200 cases a year. Recently they’ve had a whirlwind of activity: Eric Hamacher was hired on as their new winemaker (beginning with the 2015 vintage) and their 2012 Bayliss-Bower received a 94 point score from Wine Spectator’s Insider in the 11/4 edition. Huzzah!

IMG_0675Scores are certainly something to be proud of. Now that I’ve been on the winery side for just about a year, I’ve witnessed what scores can do and its definitely an exciting energy to be a part of. Personally, I’ve been a little weary of 2012 lately, and I will continue to sing the praises of the 2011 vintage until I turn blue in the face. Although, as my favorite coworker likes to remind me “I am not the market,” my palate definitely is geared towards a wine like this, and cooler vintages in general. I think a cooler vintage captures the allure of older vines in a more expressive fashion as well. But these are all decidedly in my opinion statements.

I remember when the 2011 vintage fist happened; I was in South Carolina, and somehow the word leaked out into the Southeast that 2011 was bad, bad, bad. Cold and wet. Stay away from them. I had a customer tell me once that “his friend told him NOT to buy ANY Pinot Noir from Oregon from the 2011 vintage.” I don’t quite recall how I responded to that one.

Sometimes I wonder where these things start.

What I can say is that 2011’s really stand out to me. There’s something extremely vervey and alive about these wines. A tingly kind of energy that guides you to the delicate power that is Pinot Noir. That is what continues to excite me about the vintage. And with that, I’ll get off the soapbox and detail this particular one!

IMG_0907A brickish red color, the wine is in a nice evolutionary phase. Immediately upon opening, the nose has a brief flamboyant moment: bright raspberry and red cherry. It settles down a bit, relaxing into its herbal undertones. Asian five spice, sage, fennel, lavender and a resounding note of deeper black cherry abound. The finish is a lively smack of tart pomegranate. That’s the other thing I love about a leaner vintage; the acid lift makes me want to smack my tongue against the roof of my mouth. Satisfying.

I bought this bottle at the winery. Confession: I don’t recall what I paid for it. I do think the bottle price is $42, but I know they had a discount on the 11. If you’re in the area for Thanksgiving, go check them out before they close for the winter. Your pants will be charmed off, and you’ll leave feeling like you have experienced a special part of the area’s history.

Whut.

Whut.

 

 

 

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Oregon Wine Month: Durant Vineyards

What are Wednesday nights for? Listening to Coolio on Pandora and tasting a lovely lineup from Durant Vineyards:

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Something I’ve only just learned about Durant is that they make a specific effort to match different blocks of fruit with different winemakers. Interesting! The first wine in my glass is the 2014 IMG_9385Southview Pinot Gris, made by Jesse Lange. A super easy-drinker, this is a wine thats hard to argue with. Great for afternoon sippage and won’t fight with a wide variety of cuisine. If I had to guess, I’d say this wine has a touch of residual sugar. The nose is not terribly in-your-face, leaning towards the subtle end of the fruit spectrum. Golden apple, nectarine, peach, apricot and other lovely stone fruits are found amidst a nice slice of acid. Pinot Gris might not win hip points among wine nerds, but there’s a reason it sells like hot cakes pretty much… everywhere. Its versatile and likeable. Booyah!

Next is the 2013 Lark Block Chardonnay, made by Dean Fisher of Adea (side note- Dean is a total trip!) This wine strikes my fancy. The nose is toasty and the palate has a pleasant “quench” to it. IMG_9386Nectarine, green apple, nutmeg, clove and tangy lemon notes abound. The mid-palate has a fleeting lift to it, wrapping up with a silky and lingering finish. I tried this wine over the course of three days, and on day three it has really softened into a completely different wine. The structure remains, but it now drinks more like an old soul; elegant and soft. Paul Durant co-founded the Oregon Chardonnay Symposium in 2011, and is very committed to seeing the grape get the notoriety it deserves here. Props! At $25 retail, I think this guy is a steal.

We’ll end on a red note: the 2013 Bishop Block Pinot Noir. This wine is made by Isabelle Dutartre of DePonte Cellars & 1789 Wines, her own small label started in 2007. The Bishop Block was planted by the Durant family in 1973, all Pommard clone on native rootstock. That makes them some of the older vines found in the valley. For anyone who’s *not* a rootstock nerd, native rootstock implies that the vines have not been grafted onto younger, phylloxera-resistant roots. Hence why they’re on the older side. The Durants sold this fruit for many years, and now bottle a small quantity under their own label- this vintage was 300 cases. I see that Patricia Green Cellars also has a 13 Bishop Block, at 145 cases bottled. Now that would be a great side-by-side tasting! I’ll have to get on that.

IMG_9387Anyway… this wine is excellent. I’ve also tasted this over three days. Tightly wound and a bit grippy on day one, but all the evidence pointed towards it relaxing and settling into itself. The nose is black cherry, licorice, anise, blackcurrant & plums with additional high tones of pomegranate and vague red floral notions. The palate offers that bricky, teeth-tingly, mouth drying bite that I always associate with Dundee. This did calm down a little with some time, and I think this is actually a wine I will revisit yet again tomorrow just to see where it’s taken itself. The wine closes with a bit of lofty vanilla and cedar. A very polished and precisely crafted bottle.

I am reminded of the person I met years ago who argued with me about how he never drank wine after it had been open more than a day, and was just accosted that I would suggest such a travesty. There were many choice words I would have loved to share with him, but I think the most succinct would have been, “Dude. Your loss.” Watching a wine evolve over an hour, a day, even a week can be fascinating. I invite you to channel your inner patience and give it a try sometime, if you haven’t already.

Okay, I’ll get off that soapbox for now and bid the evening farewell! Check out Durant Vineyards on your next trip. I doubt you’ll be disappointed. Its a very rich, multi-faceted experience that they offer. Cheers!

 

 

 

Oregon Wine Month: EIEIO & Co!

Yikes! Its almost halfway through May, and I have a lot more wine to write about this month. Today I bring you a few that are near and dear to my heart. I first wrote about EIEIO a few months ago, and I heard from a few people that were equally as in love with the little “piglets” as I was. So here now I present two more delightful selections from one of the coolest dudes in the Valley, Mr. Jay McDonald. Pictured here:

This guy.

This guy.

A few weeks ago, I poured with Jay at the Yamhill-Carlton AVA tasting where his 2014 White Pinot made its debut. The response to the wine was- if I do say so- pretty off the charts.

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Gleaming with a bright golden color, the White Pinot (or WP, as the cool kids call it) is sure to stump even the cleverest wine nerd in a blind tasting. Mark my words. Unconventionally fruit-forward and luscious, it has distinct “candied” aromas to me; white gummy bears, white lollipops and pineapple, accompanied by punches of lime zest, honeydew melon, peaches, and fresh flowers. A twinge of something nutty is hiding in there somewhere, and the texture is as silky as silky gets. A pure pleasure-seeking wine; meant to drink and enjoy.

Not really the most glamorous backdrop, but hey- that's life.

Not really the most glamorous backdrop, but hey- that’s life.

Made with no added yeasts or enzymes, the “yearly” White Pinot production is a bit of a gamble; Jay labels the barrels “WPA”, which stands for “White Pinot Attempt.” If I was a religious person, I’d say he “lets go and lets God” with this wine. Unfortunately the stars did not align in 2013, but both 2011 and 2012 did get some exciting scores from the Wine Advocate. When I was at Jay’s this past Friday, he was down to less than 10 cases. Speak now, or forever hold your peace.

Next! This is a favorite of mine, the 2013 Yates Conwill Vineyard Pinot Noir: 

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The nose on this wine is truly ridiculous. Freaking intoxicating. This is the kind of wine that reinforces my earlier claim that 2013 is an exciting vintage, at least for my tastebuds. Elegant, ethereal, gorgeous. Sour cherry, red raspberry, plum, clove, anise, subtle vanilla, and a youthful energy. The palate is a little grippy- this wine is, after all, an infant- with a firm bite that I find pleasant now, but I think will soften and reward with a lil time. The tannin leaves a twinge or two on your teeth on the way out, kind of like black tea does.

I am reminded of Hesh from The Sopranos: “a hit is a hit.” This is a hit, friends. If you’re one of those 2012-obsessed Oregon Pinot fans, it might not be your cup of joe. But really. You should probably evolve anyway.

I’m starting to get a little wordy, so I must wrap up with a quick note about Jay’s new release DINNERS that are rapidly approaching! Cuisine from The Painted Lady, new releases of EIEIO Pinot and Chardonnay, and shoes are optional? Count me in. Seems like you should put July 2nd &/or 3rd on your calendar if you’re local.

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Cheers!

Boedecker Cellars Pinot Noir, 2013 Willamette Valley

Its high time we dove head first into the deep end of the pool, ladies n’ gents. And in this circumstance, I mean: 2013 Oregon Pinot Noirs! This is the first of a series I’d like to do that focuses on the 2013 vintage for Oregon Pinot. How many will be in the series? Meh. I don’t know yet. Probably quite a few. There are a lot of things that interest me about 2013, mainly how it will be perceived by “the masses” following a very popular and publicized vintage like 2012. I’m on a mission to ensure 2013 doesn’t get turned into a “throw away” year. Well maybe not ensure, as my platform isn’t the loudest, but at the very least- I’m starting to observe what others are saying and throw my two cents in whenever I can. So here we go!

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Not the first 2013 I’ve tasted, but the first I’ve chosen is the 2013 Boedecker Cellars Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley. What’s today? Wednesday. What is this? A great Wednesday wine. A somewhat unfair term which I have mixed feelings about, but it does get to the point. The pricetag on this little guy is but $20. Which as I sit here with the wine, does seem like a meager sum for this bottle. I bought it at the winery a few weeks ago, during an epically long day in Portland that involved a lot of wine tasting and Ikea (what better time to go to Ikea than after you’ve had some wine?)

They were having a club pickup day- SCORE- snacks galore.

They were having a club pickup day- SCORE. 

I really enjoyed my visit to Boedecker. Very down to earth, low-key, non-pretentious people who racked up quite a few impressive scores in 2012. This wine has actually bloomed beautifully in the 30 minutes that I’ve had it open. Youthful (duh) and lively, it has a buoyant nose of black cherry, raspberry, rhubarb jam and a teeny undertone of cherry cola. The palate is fresh and lean- rose petal, potpourri and a tang of orange zest. A nice easy sipper, but with enough variation that it doesn’t just sing one note.

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Nicely balanced acid, pretty fruit, brightly colored- all in all a very inviting glass of vino. This is my idea of a no-brainer restaurant glass pour, or like I said earlier- a Wednesday wine. And when you find a perfect Wednesday wine- it kind of rules.

This is what people did over 2012 Oregon Pinot Noir:

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Will they do that over 2013? Only time will tell. Those of us who drink a lot of Oregon Pinot might. Those that prefer California Pinot might not. 2013 is not going to smack you upside the head with burly fruit. But what they will do, in my opinion, is charm you and wile their way around your heart. Thus far, that is what they’ve done for me. I’d like that to be the case for everyone. So stay tuned, and we’ll do this more often! What say you?

Thirty Oregon Wines in Thirty Days, Day 14! Let’s Evolve.

Sokol Blosser’s Evolution White has been a longtime favorite of mine. I do believe it was one of the first white wines I found myself liking. I shudder to think that there WAS a time in my life that I didn’t like white wine, but we all must come to terms with our younger, dumber selves. I like the Evo White because it stayed consistent year to year; I could always be guaranteed of its engaging, lively, fruit-forward palate and a thirst-quenching acidic finish. It also goes with pretty darn close to everything. But contrary to how I’m beginning this post, this review is actually of the Red version of the Evolution series, Evolution Red, NV Oregon. 

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I believe this is now the third incarnation of the Evolution Red (?) I might be incorrect there, but it seems like about three years ago that this wine was first poured for me at the restaurant as a brand-new introduction. Maybe four, actually. Oye. I feel old all of a sudden. So that was how they always labeled the White: it wasn’t a vintage or a non-vintage, it was an incarnation. I think they’re up to about 20 incarnations of the White. As I stated in a post last week, I think a Non-Vintage wine can be a real asset. It keeps a consistent style every year and the cost in a friendly zone.

With the white, it was always a blend of (up to) 9 varietals. In the Red, they’re playing their hand pretty close and not really disclosing much of the blend at all. They’ll go as far as to say “Syrah-based”, but the rest is up to our imaginations. So let us deduce: the color on this wine is medium-light, and we are in Oregon, so we can presume that a bit of Pinot Noir is at play here. The nose is abundantly fruity and big- maybe a splash of Zin? If there’s Syrah, then chances are there’s Zin, in my opinion. Sangiovese would be a likely player, too- similar bodied to the Pinot Noir, but adding some interest. The texture is soft and not overly acidic. For my taste, maybe a bit too soft- but you know the expression “you can’t please all the people all the time”? Well, this wine comes pretty close to such, and I think that was the intention. If you are having a party and need to please all or at least most of the people? Go for it. Its smooth, light, fruity and easy to get along with. Red currant, candied strawberry, blood orange, a streak of citrus peel, warm cinnamon and milk chocolate are all workin’ their way around in this wine.

I’ve just discovered that the website says there’s a touch of Evolution White in here, too. Coulda fooled me, for sure, although I’m sure it lifts the overall weight of the wine in a general “up” direction.

It's about time. True dat.

It’s about time. True dat.

This definitely isn’t a wine that demands a complex explanation; it’s meant to be a perfect Wednesday night wine. Which is what it is right now, and I really can’t complain. Stella approves as well:

Wine Wednesday on couch with dog. Not bad.

Wine Wednesday on couch with dog. Not bad.

I bought this wine for something like $17 at Safeway. Don’t judge. Cheers! We’re halfway through the week!

Thirty Oregon Wines in Thirty Days: Day 7!

So, I took a risk on this one. I picked up the Gresser Vineyard “Recumbent Red”, NV Oregon at Roth’s while I was scouring for another under-the-radar red and it caught my eye. I liked the price, I liked the package, I googled it quickly to see what the blend was and a bit about the winery (I take longer to pick out wine than anyone you know). I was convinced that at $13.99, I would be in for a solid little everyday red wine, if nothing else. Interestingly, the less than $14 price range seems to be my own personal cutoff of wine I’m willing to risk buying “just to see.”

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I’m a little new to the world of actually purchasing wine as a consumer. Since I spent so long as a GM/wine buyer, I just never had need to buy wine. It just came to me. There were always open bottles that I could sip on while I finished paperwork, or a sample bottle here and there. And when I did buy wine, it was at a steep “Ricky discount”. Those were wildly varied, but always extremely acceptable. So I am sort of enjoying attacking the retail shelves, armed only with my existing knowledge, a desired budget, and whatever kind of mood I’m in.

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Initially, I thought this wine fell a little short; I think was because for some reason I had it in my head that since it was a Pinot/Syrah blend (remember, the rule is Pinot Noir can be included in my project if its blended), it would be a touch denser. On the contrary, it drinks like a Pinot Noir (go figure). But the Syrah notes I get are actually a nice little addition to the wines overall palate. The nose is overtaken by sour cherry, rhubarb, pomegranate, potpourri and dried herbs. The finish is where you pick up on some violet and white pepper additions, and a bit of a fleshed out texture- hey, Syrah! Maybe a slight hint of cured meat. It sits at 77% Pinot Noir from their estate vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains, and 23% Syrah from the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon. Just 465 cases were made.

Going back to my prior incarnation as a buyer, if this wine were poured for me from a distributor and the wholesale price is what I can guess it to be (I’ll keep that a secret), I would definitely consider it as a glass pour. Especially if it were late summer/early fall; it would really fit the bill of unusual lighter reds, which we used to do very well with that time of year in SC. Plus it has good retail shelf presence, in my opinion. Good enough to get ME to buy it, at least! And I’m kind of a tough critic.

One more note about NV wines- I’m sort of a fan. Don’t be dissuaded. This included, there are some really great NV wines (still, rather than sparkling) out there that suffer a bit of an image problem. The Sokol Blosser Evolution wines are always non-vintage, and I think it helps them stay consistent from year to year. I won’t get all wordy on this subject, but just wanted to throw it out there that Non Vintage doesn’t equal total junk, as can be the perception.

Can you blame me for double fisting? I had some Patton Valley Pinot Blanc left from Day 6’s post…

I threw a wad of cream cheese in my tomato sauce tonight. It was kinda boss.

I threw a wad of cream cheese in my tomato sauce tonight. It was kinda boss.

This winery is super small and family owned; the prices on all their wines are pretty competitive and I’d be curious to try more of their juice. Especially the Riesling. Overall this was a fun learning experience and I actually do really enjoy the wine selection at Roth’s.

Cheers to Day 7! This wine was $13.99, in case you missed that earlier. 

Here’s a preview: I’m going to combine days 8, 9 & 10 into one post and it will be called Chardonnay Party. I know I said I couldn’t repeat varietals more than once, but I have one I’ve been saving that I really want to open and I can’t resist. There may also be crab involved. It’ll be good, I promise. It’ll most likely go up on Saturday. Can you handle the suspense?!

 

Chapter 24 “The Last Chapter” Pinot Noir, 12 Oregon, Willamette

Am I the only person on Earth to be drinking “The Last Chapter” by Chapter 24 while reclined on air mattress listening to Britney Spears?

Perhaps. Very possibly.

And for the record, I am listening to “90’s” on Spotify and this song just HAPPENED to come on. I mean, I’m 32. I don’t sit around listening to Britney’s first album in it’s *entirety*. But it’s pretty hard to resist when it does come on. Admit it.

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So the reason I led with that little intro was because this isn’t exactly the kind of wine you’d typically drink on a boring night while you’re wearing sweatpants and doing nothing in particular. This is one of the more expensive wines I’ve ever written about; and truthfully, it isn’t *that* much when you compare it to some of the big heavy hitters in boutique Napa wineries, famous century-old French estates, and the like. It sells for $90 at the tasting room. This wine also scored 96 points from Wine & Spirits, 93 from Wine Spectator, and 94 from Stephen Tanzer. When you hear scores like that, and you see the price tag, you might be inclined to dismiss it, thinking that it couldn’t possibly live up to its praise and for that kinda money, you’d just as soon get a half case of some good everyday drinkers. There’s something to be said for that. But, after visiting this wine over the course of a weekend, I have to tell you- it does live up to the hype. It’s worth it. Sorry haters, but it just kinda is.

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Now I love Oregon wine- this much we know. And part of me thinks- well, you’re GD right you can make good wine when you start out bankrolled and with a powerhouse founding/winemaking team (Mark Tarlov and Louis-Michel Liger-Belair). Frenchie, in case you don’t know, is a very well-known and well-respected oeneologist/owner of Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair in Vosne-Romanee (Burgundy). The cool kids call it Voz-Rom, by the way. In comparison, I respect small operations wholeheartedly and always will. They are what make industries happen.

But to dismiss this wine for that reason alone would be remiss. True, scores do set expectations and force people to draw comparisons and come to conclusions they might not have come to on their own. However, the fact remains that this is beautifully made juice. And we live in a world where scores happen. So let’s leave that behind for now.

I don’t want to blather on too much longer before I get to the actual tasting notes, but it is worth noting that Chapter 24 Vineyards is a somewhat unique project in that it’s two “staple” bottlings are bottled by soil type, not by individual AVA. “The Fire” is sourced from AVAs with volcanic soil and “The Flood” from AVAs with sedimentary soil (these sell for $60 each). “The Last Chapter” comes from the top four vineyards that are used in Fire and Flood. So when you taste these wines, you’re also almost getting a little lesson in how different soil types taste. Which is pretty cool!

Technically, you could do that with almost any single vineyard bottling that you choose to purchase. Because vineyard sites are typically small enough that they’re only made up of one soil type. Technically. But it’s still really fun to be able to taste Fire and Flood side by side, and know that they’re from two different soil types in the same year. Okay, enough of that…. WHAT the F*%@ does it taste like?!

The nose is somewhat subtle, with fragrant red raspberry, plum & wild strawberry on the forefront, but very delicately woven nutmeg, clove and star anise following close behind. The palate is silky for days and met with darker notes of blackberry, briar patch, berry liqueur and very soft vanilla. It has tannin, but its completely seamless. The texture is really what this wine is all about. Without going into too many geeky details, there are some really interesting winemaking techniques at use here that make the texture happen. Its an experiential wine; it glides, it floats. Ephemeral, yet all the big fruit characteristics of the vintage are there. You’ll see what I mean.

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Chapter 24 tasting room! Brand-spankin’ new, located on the corner of 99 and 5th St in Newberg. 

Just under 900 cases of The Last Chapter were made. I’ll go out on a (not so big) limb and say it is worth seeking one out. Or, if you’re a local Oregonian, it’s *definitely* worth stopping in to the tasting room. It’s convenient (basically right in front of Dobbes, and right before Argyle, if you’re heading West on 99).

In the interest of full disclosure, I did help out at the Chapter 24 tasting room for Thanksgiving weekend, but I wasn’t paid to say nice things about the wine. I promise. The Oregon adventure continues to be a wild ride, but I am enjoying it; working here and getting to know these wines was a total treat.

Cheers, y’all!