The upside of the down economy is that a lot of wineries that normally wouldn’t have to pay a lot of attention to places like Kentucky are out actively selling their wines. That means that local distributors are getting allocations of wine that, a couple of years ago, might well have sold only in tasting rooms and mailing lists. It means as well that first-rate winemakers are coming to town to lead tastings and dinners.
It’s hard to imagine a better wine event than the upcoming Pinot Noir dinner at Lilly’s. Seriously: five wineries building reputations on hand-crafted, highly personal wines, showing off their juice backed by food out of Kathy Cary’s kitchen. Tasting first, then during the five-course dinner, the five winemakers will rotate from table to table, pouring and discussing their wines.
The winemakers are:
Andrew Rich, Andrew Rich Wines — Rich came up through Rhone varietals, and those are still his first love. He studied oenology in France and got his Rhone Ranger ticket punched at Bonny Doon. Fifteen years ago he moved to Oregon, where he makes blends of tradition Rhone grapes (Syrah, Counoise, Grenache, Mourvedre and Roussane) and a couple of outliers, including a Gewurztraminer ice wine. He also makes about a thousand cases of well-reviewed Willamette Valley Pinot Noir every year.
John Grochau, Grochau Cellars — Grochau and his wife Kerri have a simply winemaking philosophy: resist the urge to do too much. As a result his wines are reflections of the terroir of the Willamette Valley and the grapes are grown there. He uses Pinot Noir, Syrah and Tempranillo in both pure varietals and blends, making about 3,000 cases a year of wine that is making quite a name for itself.
Pam Walden, Daedalus Cellars – Pam Walden and her husband, Aron Hess, dabble in other grapes, but their heart belongs to Pinot. They made 97 cases of Pinot Noir in their first vintage, 2000, and have since then made a variety of Pinots from established vineyards in Oregon. The wines are generally described as plump and luscious. Daedalus has spent the last couple of years planting its own vines and will soon begin to make its own estate wines, which gives us all something to look forward to.
Trish Rogers, R Stuart & Company — You want winemaking philosophy? R Stuart has its philosophy stated in bullet points. To paraphrase: respect the fruit, a little wood goes a long way, and scores/schmores. There are other points, too, but these are the big three. This is philosophical framework that leads to highly personal wines expressive of who and where made them.
Bruce Biehl, Eugene Wine Cellars — You want credibility? Here’s crediblity: Bruce Biehl is a farmer, the planter and/or manager of more than 140 vineyards in Oregon. Think of him as a kind of Johnny Viniferaseed for Oregon’s wine business, setting up the vineyards that have transformed Oregon in to one of the world’s great wine regions. His brother, Brad, studied oenology at UC Davis, managed a french chateau, and helped build King Estates, one of Oregon’s flagship wineries. Bruce and his wife, Bettina, started EWC in 2000, and Brad joined them full time in 2004. Though Brad died in 2007 he is very much a presence at EWC. The grapes come from vineyards around Eugene. most of which Bruce had a hand in planting.
I have no idea what Lilly’s is going to plate to keep up with this tasting. I don’t care. Hamburger nachos with Velveeta cheese? No problem, and can I get some more ketchup with that, please? Oh, and another bag of Cheetos.
Maybe not. Somehow, I suspect the food will be better than that.
The Oregon winemaker dinner will be held at Lilly’s Friday, November 6, beginning at 6:30. Call for reservations: 502/451-0447. The cost is $85 plus an exceedingly generous tip.