Tag: meritage

Pinot Noir? Pinot Nowhere.

Troon Winery in southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley

As we rolled up to our final winery of our Oregon visit, we might be forgiven for expecting to enjoy one more glass of Pinot Noir before returning to California.  Certainly, the Willamette Valley, where we spent the beginning of our Oregon wine sojourn, is best known for Pinot Noir:  over 70% of vines are planted to Pinot Noir.  Our final winery, however, is a trend setter of sorts and is carving out an approach and style all its own.  Troon Vineyards is located in the Rogue Valley AVA about a 15 minute drive from the I-5 freeway that connects Canada to Mexico.

When we left the Willamette Valley that same morning, the temperature was in the 60’s and it was raining.  By the time we arrived at Troon, the sky was a perfect blue and the dashboard temperature monitor showed an outside temperature approaching 100°.  Nestled between the Cascade and Siskiyou mountain ranges, the Rogue Valley benefits from what is referred to as a “rain shadow effect”:  the mountains create a barrier against moisture that results in a very dry climate.   Situated near Medford and Grant’s Pass, Troon has a climate that more closely resembles California’s Central Valley that it does Willamette Valley or Coastal Oregon.

We arrived at Troon around 1:30 in the afternoon and were met by Craig Camp, one of our virtual friends from Twitter whom we have been following for the past several months.  Craig recently moved to Troon from Napa Valley where he was General Manager at Cornerstone Cellars. Our first pour of wine established the uniqueness of the varietals planted at Troon:  it was the only Vermentino that we consumed in Oregon.  In fact, it was our first Vermentino we have ever consumed anywhere. It turned out to be the perfect companion for walking around the large estate on a scorching day in early Fall.  Craig showed us the breadth of the vineyard plantings and the impressive number of varietals currently being farmed – upwards of twenty if we recall correctly.  Not a single planted vine was Pinot Noir.  Paraphrasing Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz”:  “Toto, we are not in Willamette Valley anymore.”

Vermentino vines at Troon Vineyards
Old-vine Zinfandel at Troon Vineyards

Many of Troon’s vines were planted nearly 45 years ago, qualifying them as true “old growth” vines. The winery’s founder, Dick Troon, has a pioneering spirit and a keen sense of curiosity.  He wanted to figure out what would thrive in the hotter southern part of Oregon and experimented with a number of different varietals, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon among them.  In addition, Troon planted Malbec, Tannat, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Syrah, Carignane, Vermentino, Chardonnay, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc.  We may even be forgetting some varietals!

If you read any of Craig Camp’s articles, blog posts or Tweets, you’ll understand the philosophy that he and the entire team at Troon are attempting to fulfill:   follow sustainable farming practices, create a healthy environment for the vines to thrive, and do as little as possible to the grapes before they go into the bottle.  Consistent with this approach, Troon hand-picks its grapes, rather than harvest them by machine as some other wineries do.  More impressively, they crush their grapes the old-fashioned way, by stepping on the grapes and allowing the juice to come out without the aggressive pressure from machine crush.  During fermentation, Troon allows the wine to ferment in the grape’s native yeast rather than adding commercial yeasts into the mix; fermentation is done in mostly neutral oak to minimize the addition of aromas and flavors that result from the use of new oak.  Craig also mentioned that rather than blend some of their wines (where two different varietals are fermented separately and then blended together), Troon is doing co-fermentation: the grapes are harvested and then fermented together. Blending is the more common technique as grape varietals often require different practices during fermentation, which makes co-fermentation a bit trickier.  But co-fermentation also yields a different result than blending, since the individual varietals have been together since before crush.  The difference has been described as similar to making a stew:  if you cook all of the ingredients together from the beginning, the flavors come together to form something different than if the potatoes and meat were cooked separately and mixed together at the end.

During our visit to Troon, we tasted every single wine currently in release – all of the reds and the whites.  We really enjoyed the Vermentino on the white side, as well as the Rosé; of the reds, our favorites were the Zinfandel (both the blue label and the red label) and the Sangiovese.  We purchased several bottles and Craig sent us home with some complimentary bottles as well (which we appreciate but have not influenced this review).  Living in Napa Valley, we have grudgingly accepted the rising cost of wine in our area.  It is not uncommon for Cabernet Sauvignon to exceed $100 or even $150.  Chardonnay routinely costs $50-75.  Zinfandel and Merlot from Napa and Pinot Noir from Sonoma County regularly cost $60 or more.  Thus, when we saw the Troon prices we were very pleasantly surprised:  all of the white wines were under $30, with most closer to $20.  Their most expensive red wine is $50, but almost all of the rest of the reds are $35 or less.  The Troon “red label” Zinfandel, which we think is a very drinkable wine, sells for $20.  These price points are extremely competitive and we encourage fans of sustainable, quality wines to give Troon a try.

John & Irene Ingersoll

October 17, 2016


Identity Crisis? An Aussie Making French Wines in California.

Enjoying a paired tasting at Williamson Wines in Healdsburg, California

Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County boasts some of the finest vineyards in the region, if not the entire state.  Home to over 9,000 acres of planted vines, Dry Creek Valley is 16 miles long and 2 miles wide, with both valley floor and hillside locations.  In this sub-appellation of Sonoma County, there have been grape vines planted going back over 140 years.  Zinfandel is a varietal that has been grown in Dry Creek for more than a century, and more recently winemakers have been growing Bordeaux varietals and making classic Left Bank and Right Bank red blends.

Last week we had the opportunity to visit with one of Dry Creek’s great winemakers, Bill Williamson, founder of Williamson Wines.  Over 200 years ago, Bill’s ancestors emigrated from Ireland to Australia; we assume they went not as part of any penal colony, but rather for the promise of a better life.  After growing up in Australia and having a successful career there, Bill and his wife moved to Silicon Valley to take part in the technology revolution. After a stint there, the Williamson’s decided to buy a piece of land in Sonoma County and grow some grapes.

“Some grapes” has turned into a thriving winery operation, with 15,000 cases produced each year. Remarkably, none of this wine is distributed to retail locations or restaurants; 100% of Williamson wines are sold direct to consumer.  Certainly, this is good for Williamson, as they do not give away their margin unnecessarily to brokers or retail stores.  What is really impressive to us, though, is that Williamson Wines has been able to build up such a strong customer base that they are able to distribute 15,000 cases – 180,000 bottles of wine – one customer at a time.

Based on our tasting with Bill Williamson last week, we have a pretty good idea how he has been able to pull this off:  a combination of great wines, a great tasting experience, and Bill’s personal story and engaging nature.

Bill Williamson sharing his wine philosophy with us

All of these were on display in our sit-down paired tasting in their Healdsburg tasting room.  One of Williamson’s tenets is that wine should be enjoyed with food.  Many wineries share this belief and paired tastings have become fairly commonplace in both Napa and Sonoma. However, Bill Williamson and his team actually explained each pairing and identified the predominant flavors in the foods.  They had us take a bite of the food without wine first.  Next, they had us take a bite of the food and then take a taste of the wine.  If the paired item was salty, the wine brought out that flavor; if it was spicy, the wine reinforced that flavor.

Pears with blue cheese, honey and Marcona almonds
Savory taste – olive, prosciutto, pepper
Sweet pairing – dark chocolate and berries

Although we have been to many tastings, no one had actually taken us through the before-and-after this way.  Now at home we are doing this whenever we open a bottle of wine for dinner.

There are many tastings to choose from at the Williamson tasting room; we chose the Noble and Bordeaux Style Wine Tasting at $75.00 per person. This price tag is certainly higher than the typical tasting, but then again this is no typical tasting.  We enjoyed a number of the Williamson Bordeaux blends –  a Meritage, a Cuvee, and something Bill calls, simply, Vin Rouge (Federal law requires the words “red wine” on the label).  In addition, we tried a number of single Bordeaux-style varietals, including Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

After nearly an hour and a half of small bites, wine and conversation, we were captivated with the Williamson portfolio of wines.  Beyond what was on the tasting menu, Bill also made us aware that he produces traditional Burgundy varietals (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – naturals for a Sonoma winemaker) as well as a number of Rhone wines:  Roussane, Semillon, Grenache, and a true Chateauneuf de Pape-style blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre.  There are very few winemakers in this part of California making such a broad range of high quality French-style wines inspired by such distinct regions as Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone.

As captivated as we were by the wine, the overall experience was enhanced by Bill Williamson himself.  Like most Aussie’s, he has a gregarious and open personality and a curious balance of bombast and modesty.  He came across as a genuinely nice person, which seems mandatory for a wine business built on 1:1 customer sales.  We are rooting for his continued success and looking forward to our next visit to Williamson.

John & Irene Ingersoll

September 15, 2016

A very tasty Merlot
Williamson Wines’ extensive offering of wines