Saturday, January 12, 2008

Five Nights of Oregon Pinot - Part V

We return to Shea Vineyard on this, the fifth and final night of our Oregon Pinot festival. A festival that took place right here in the confines of our own apartment. But a festival nonetheless. Anyway, no Brooklynguy-sponsored Oregon Pinot Noir festival is complete without an entry from St Innocent. My Oregon wine epiphany occurred with a bottle of 2001 St Innocent Pinot Noir Brickhouse Vineyard, a vineyard whose wines are no longer in St Innocent's stable. Let me tell you something right now, before we go any further - if you know of anyone who has a bottle of that wine, beg them to share it with you.

Wine maker Mark Vlossak has been in the business since he was 7 years old, with a brief break for distractions like college and graduate school. He started St Innocent in 1988 and has been making some of the more highly sought-after wines from the Willamette Valley ever since. It is interesting to note that St Innocent has no estate vineyard. All of the wines are made from purchased grapes. Mark buys from the best growers out there - this is not a statement about grape quality. I would think that someone with Mark's passion for the art of wine would ruin his pants in the mud of his own vineyard. But that is about to change. He recently bought a piece of what used to be called O'Connor Vineyard and will grow his own grapes. I am one Brooklynguy who is excited about this development.

So, what wines does St Innocent make? Among the whites there are a Pinot Gris, a Pinot Blanc, and a Chardonnay every year. There used to be a sparkling wine that was considered one of the better ones coming out of Oregon, but Mark has focused on other things in recent years. I tasted the 2000 Brut 3 years ago and I really liked it, by the way.

Then there are the amazing Pinots. Small production, amazing aromatics, mouth coating lushness yet balanced and light-footed, sensible use of oak, no filtering, sometimes no fining, delicious in youth but with the ability to improve with age for more than a decade. These are incredibly serious and incredibly delicious wines, and I think there's something for everyone here. And Mark Vlossak continues to charge incredibly reasonable prices. There is only one wine that costs over $40 (White Rose), and most are in the mid to low 30s.

There is an entry level Pinot called Villages Cuveé, which always comes in under $25. There are several single vineyard wines, and they have changed over the years as vineyards change hands. The current lineup includes Shea, Justice (young vines and released by St Innocent for the first time with the 2005 vintage), Temperance Hill, White Rose (a gorgeously fruity younger drinking wine that I always think of as the Hugh Hefner of Pinot), and the dense and structured Anden and Seven Springs. In a sad turn of events, The formerly married couple who own Seven Springs and Anden (they are contiguous vines on a big hill) decided to sell the vineyard, and the new owner will not renew Mark's lease. So no more Pinot from those vineyards after the 2006 vintage. But there is a new wine in 2006 called Momtazi. Something lost, something gained...

Alright, so how about the 2004 St Innocent Pinot Noir Shea, ($32 from the winery)? Amazing. Just delicious and interesting and satisfying wine. A great value too. It starts out with dense and dark aromas of violets and lots of blue and black fruit. And it tastes that way too at first, quite big and powerful, although there is obvious acidity and a mineral streak too. With a couple of hours of airtime the wine became almost perfectly balanced, with beautiful ripe blue fruit and floral smells and flavors, a pleasant fine grained tannic structure, and nice acidic and mineral frame. The 13.8% alcohol was not intrusive. And it was just delicious too. At four hours open it was like drinking liquid violets and blueberries. And although the wine felt nice and light on the palate, it was absolutely mouth coating and sappy, and I had dried roses in my mouth after I swallowed. I don't even remember what we ate for dinner with this wine, and it honestly didn't even matter. The wine was dinner.

So I guess BrooklynLady and I batted an impressive .400 during our Five Nights of Oregon Pinot. If I were a ballplayer, that would be hall of fame type numbers. Probably not so great when spending over $30 per bottle though. But consider that two of the five wines were outstanding, one (the Adelsheim) wine was quite good too, and now we're at a respectable .500. Still not great in wine buying, I know, but remember that this was an exercise in checking in with wine that we have moved away from in recent years.

I learned that I actually want to drink more Oregon wine. It's just a select few producers whose wine I want to drink. There are a few other Oregon Pinot producers I love, like Brick House, and one other one that is such small production that I just can't name them here because I don't want to have to have a physical fight with you over the few bottles that make it to shelves in Portland. Maybe if you're nice to me I'll tell you.

Thanks for participating in Five Nights of Oregon Pinot.


Anonymous said...

OK, you can use my baseball analogy. ;-)

This bottle sure sounds wonderful. I'm glad you ended on a high note. Do you know whether the grapes were organic, the yeast was indigenous, etc.?

This was a neat series of posts.

Brooklynguy said...

hey steve - it works, what can i say. this is a wonderful wine. i like this wine every year, even in the hot and difficult 03, for example. i am almost sure that this is not organic grapes (i don't think that's happening at Shea), and not sure about the yeasts. I will find out and write the answers here when i do.

Anonymous said...

Shea claims to be pretty sustainable, salmon safe, etc ubt to my knowledge has not sought anything formal in the way of certification.

Also, if you're not familiar with her wines, Patty Green's are always interesting and full of character. Certainly worthy of a try.

Brian in WA

Brooklynguy said...

hi Brian - thanks for your comments, and welcome. i have no doubt whatsoever that Shea Vineyards are farmed with lots of care for the environment. it's the wine bottled under the Shea Wine Cellars label that I wonder about - what sort of chemicals are used to make that wine? Something happened to the juice that just did not taste natural to me. I could be completely wrong, and I know that. But I'm starting to trust my taste more and more on things like this.

Tasted Patty Green's wines back in the 02 vintage and found them to be very ripe and huge. But i'm always interested in tasting things again. Thanks again for the comments.

Brooklynguy said...

Steve - to answer your earlier question: not organic grapes, yes indigenous yeasts, also some commercial added. I am going to do a profile on the wine maker that will discuss his thoughts on this.

Anonymous said...

Thanks--I'll look forward to that profile.