Tag: willamette

Pinot Noir? Pinot Nowhere.

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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.”

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Vermentino vines at Troon Vineyards
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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

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A Fun Little Lie in Eugene, Oregon

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Raining cats and dogs (and ducks) at Autzen Stadium

Don Essig has been the public address announcer at Autzen Stadium, the football home of the University of Oregon Ducks, for the past 46 years.  In 1990, umbrellas were banned at Oregon football games after fans complained about blocked views.  Fortunately for the fans who attended that first umbrella-less game, it did not rain that day.  In his pre-game weather report, Essig tossed out a somewhat tongue-in-cheek line:  “It never rains in Autzen Stadium.”  Somewhat miraculously, it did not rain again at Autzen for 34 games, which made Essig’s line seem quite prophetic.

Of course, eventually it did rain, and has rained many times at Autzen Stadium, as we can attest from last year’s Cal-Oregon game where we had to drag out the coats we never wear in California. And the hats. The gloves. The scarf. The beanie.  The rain boots.  It rained very hard that day, which was just insult to injury as Cal lost by a wide margin and I went back to my hotel soaked to the bone.

For our second trip to Autzen, though, there was not even a hint of rain.  We had the most beautiful blue sky with just a couple of puffy white clouds floating along.

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A sunnier day at Autzen Stadium

The game we attended was the Ducks’ Pac-12 home opener against the Colorado Buffaloes, a game that coincided with move-in weekend for students.  With all of the students back for Fall quarter and thousands of parents in town as well, the stadium was rocking to say the least.  For the second year in a row, Oregon lost its first conference home game.  Last year the Ducks lost Utah by a shocking score of 62-20 – a six touchdown deficit at game’s end.  This year, the Ducks kept it closer, failing to score at the end of the game and losing a close one 41-38.

In both games, something struck us about the fans that attend Oregon games:  they are some of the most intense, loyal and committed fans in football.  No matter what the score, Duck fans stay engaged, they keep cheering their team on, they find something positive to focus on. Even down by five touchdowns last season, they applauded first downs and big gains knowing that the team could not possibly come back and win.  At many stadiums, when a team gets down by 10 points, or 14 points, or worse, the stands start to empty out.  Things are different at Autzen Stadium.  Last year, at the end of the third quarter, down 54-13, sitting in a torrential downpour, virtually no fans had left the game.  Admittedly, after one more score the fans started filing out, but long after they would have most other places.

This fan loyalty must be partially cultural, but also reflects just how difficult it is to get a ticket to a Ducks football game.  There are only 54,000 seats at Autzen Stadium – far less than the 100,000+ capacity at other football powerhouses such as Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State or Alabama. Moreover, for students, getting a ticket to a home football game is nearly as monumental as getting a golden ticket in the Willy Wonka movie.  About a month before the Fall term begins, a small number of student season tickets is made available via online lottery.  Students, including our son, have multiple browser screens open at the Athletic Department website waiting for the stroke of 6 p.m. Pacific Time when the allotment of tickets are put on sale.  Most students are unable to get tickets through this lottery process; their recourse is to put their name in for a supplemental lottery each Thursday where single-game tickets are available.  With such a mismatch between supply and demand, we suppose that students understand how lucky they are to get a ticket.

One consequence of the high demand-to-supply ratio is that the visitor’s section is one of the most meager and inhospitable of any we have seen in college football.  Many stadiums allot the visiting team an entire end zone, or several sections in one of the corners of the stadium. At the Colorado game, we thought for a moment that there were no visiting fans; but when Colorado scored we heard a tiny commotion coming from a group of stalwart fans cheering from the tiniest wedge of a section you could imagine.  This was the same for the Cal game and the Utah game in 2015, which tells us that the Ducks simply don’t allocate tickets for the visiting team.

The combination of a hard-to-get ticket, and nearly 100% home fans, make for a raucous and energized crowd. During the entire game, the student section never sits down; the fans are jumping up and down and leading non-stop cheers. Our favorite tradition occurs at the start of the 4th quarter of every Oregon home football game:  an entire stadium of fans singing the song “Shout” from Animal House.  What’s the connection, you ask?  Perhaps the most iconic college comedy of all time was filmed at the University of Oregon, with most of the fraternity scenes shot in an actual University of Oregon fraternity.  Ever since the release of the movie, students at U of O have had a strong identity with the movie.  Perhaps the strongest “Animal House” identification is with the song “Shout,” performed during the movie by Otis Day & the Knights.  We shot a quick video of the assembled 54,000 fans singing the song, clapping and dancing along to the words (“a little bit louder now,” “a little bit softer now”).

Last season, during Oregon Basketball’s run to a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, I witnessed the same thing at Matthew Knight Arena, home of the men’s basketball team.  Although the basketball arena is a smaller venue, it is indoors so the energy of the crowd was even more frenetic than at the football game.  We will try and get to at least one basketball game this Spring, and maybe one more football game this Fall.

John & Irene Ingersoll

October 12, 2016

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Shocking – raining at Autzen Stadium!
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The Ducks wearing their throw-back uniforms

 

Wine With A ‘Tude.

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Patio tasting area at Etude Winery, Napa Valley (Carneros)

American playwright Edward Albee (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”) once wrote:  “Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance.”  That is, more or less, how we found our way to Etude Wines, a winery located in the Carneros region of the Napa Valley.  On a recent trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine region we visited Soter Vineyards.  When we told the Soter team that we were from Napa, they told us their founder (Tony Soter) was the founding winemaker at Etude in Napa Valley.  That’s how we learned about Etude – which is about 3 miles from our house – as a result of a 500 mile trip to Oregon.

As soon as we drove down the long driveway onto the Etude property, we knew we had waited too long to visit. The grounds are simply gorgeous, surrounded by vineyards of course but also landscaped beautifully with trees, flowers and other plants.  We entered the tasting room and right away were poured a glass of Etude’s Pinot Gris, their “welcome” wine.  It was chilled, crisp, refreshing, and a definite guilty pleasure at 11:00 in the morning.  We took a look around the tasting room and immediately fell in love with the decor.

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Our kind of decor

Momentarily, we considered having  our tasting inside at the bar.  In the end, though, we opted to sit outside as the weather was in the high 70’s with a nice breeze coming off of San Pablo Bay.  In addition to the lure of the weather, the view was pretty hard to beat as well.

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View of property though our (wine colored) glasses

We had the good fortune to be served by Jim, a veteran of the wine industry who gave us the scoop on the winery, its philosophy, location of the various vineyards, etc.  To maximize our exposure to Etude, we each did a separate tasing – one of us the Premium and the other the Reserve ($20 and $30, respectively).  As a result, we were able to try quite a few Pinot Noir offerings (Etude makes 9-10 different Pinots) and an extra Cabernet Sauvignon.

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Etude Reserve Tasting Menu
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Etude Premium Tasting Menu

Both tasting menus started with Chardonnay, but they were not the same. One of the Chards was aged in neutral oak and not subject to secondary, or malolactic, fermentation. Meanwhile,the second Chard was partially aged in new French oak and underwent the malolactic fermentation.  Both were strong wines – nice fruit flavor balanced with minerality. Even the oak-aged wine that underwent malolactic fermentation was balanced and, a far cry from the “buttery” Chards that common in Napa and the rest of California.

After the Chardonnay and a delightful Rose (of Pinot Noir, naturally), we moved on to the red wines.  Between the two tastings menus, we were able to try four unique Etude Pinot Noir offerings. In addition to the four on the menu, Jim was nice enough to give us a splash of a couple more Etude Pinot Noir wines, including their Ellenbach Vineyard Pinot from northern Sonoma Coast.  It was so good we had to buy some and take it home with us (we bought bottles of several different Pinot Noir’s).  Our tasting finished with several Cabernet Sauvignon offerings, including at least one not on the menu.  Thanks Jim!

Jon Priest, the winemaker at Etude, has said “winemaking begins in the vineyard long before the harvest … superior grape growing diminishes the need for intervention by the winemaker, resulting in authentic varietal expression.”  At many wineries, this supposed philosophy dies some time after grape harvesting and before bottling as wine makers engage in excessive wine making.  At Etude, however, you can taste a unifying….attitude.  It may seem strange to say that you can taste restraint, but we think you can.  While all of Etude’s wines have lovely aromas and flavor, with plenty of fruit on both the nose and palate, there is also a strong connection to the earth in all of their wines.  Both the Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon offerings that we tasted had earthy, mineral notes that were not overwhelmed in the wine making process.  For that reason, we have been telling people that we love the ‘tude of Etude.  Clearly, the approach that Tony Soter started when he founded the winery continues today.

John & Irene Ingersoll

August 16, 2016