Wine for Easter

Wine is one third grape juice, one third marketing, and one third je ne sais quoi. Here’s some of the latter…

Native American Ancestral Ring

Hillcrest Winery, Umqua Valley, Oregon

High quality cool climate wines were pioneered here in North America in 1961, including the first North American cool climate pinot noir. The red wines are remarkably integrated and balanced, and worth all the rain. The whites are to be avoided at all costs. They are  neither hot nor cold but taste tired and cooked. Their Riesling, made from grapes imported from the Holy Grail of Rieslings, Germany’s Mosel Valley, is heavy on the petroleum overtones. You might expect that in an 8 year old Riesling, but in a brand new girl in her fancy glass dress? Hardly. Overall, the place has the hand-made, laid-back feel of a hippy commune from the day, which is a great way to start a wine industry, really, by going back to the land. If you visit this winery, you are on a historical stage. They’ve had time to think about stuff here. Here’s a closer look at what they’re thinking about…

The Eagle has Landed

Note the 61-year-old vines in the background.

Compare that to Washington’s 2009 Winery of the Year, five hours north, along the Columbia River…

Mary Hill Winery Musical Stage

Mary Hill Winery was the 2009 Washington Winery of the Year. 

If you visit Mary Hill, you will be entertained. 75000 visitors taste wine hear a year. The stuff is bright, flashes you its skirts of upfront fruit, closes with a flick of tannins, and makes you want to park your RV for the night (they have a big RV park), and maybe with all the music and the view and everything, you won’t notice that these big bold, hot wines are empty in the middle. With little acid, they are structured around water. Talk about chutzpah. Let’s go further north to British Columbia, where hot and cold climates come together about Skaha Lake in the South Okanagan…

Blasted Church Winery’s Winemaker at Work. Source.

This is wine making cooked up by an advertising agency. And it works. Sales have increased tenfold, based upon such successes as a rich chardonay-style pinot gris, and, of course, their labels. If you go to their website, they’ll tell you all about the local story that the advertising agency picked on for their vineyard name.

For Easter this year, Blasted Church released some of their 2011 whites, including a disappointingly thin version of their signature Pinot Gris. They were also pouring Riesling to their Easter visitors. Now, Riesling is the quintessential cool climate wine, usually succeeding in marrying sweetness and acidity into crisp, round wines of great character and strength. This should be an Easter wine par excellence, worthy of resurrection and devotion. Here’s a Blasted Church Riesling label from years gone by…

Blasted Church Riesling

Aiming for neither sweetness, acidity, nor rounded mouth feel, but structure and spark and balance, if the label is to be believed.

Who knows what one is to believe. Remember that thing about advertising? 1/3, folks. Not 95%. The latest pour of a Riesling was picked late, beat up in the winemaker’s shop, and left in ruins in the bottle, held together by words and stabilized, rockily, by chemical intervention. Forget all the talk of tasting green apples and limes and what not. When you taste a Riesling, you taste the process by which it was made. It helps to be just a little bit humble. Which takes me back to Oregon, for a moment…

Hill Crest Pinot Noir Vine, Planted in 1961

Each vine is a miniature world. This is their advertising. Nothing more needed.

What a difference in wine cultures! What is a poor guy to do, to get a bottle of white wine that will say something about life on this earth rather than the depth of a winemaker’s advertising pocket book? Go here:

 This is the One.

An Oregon Riesling that can stand up to any of the Germans and sets the bar, very, very high. These grapes come from a marginal climate, on glacially-deposited river soils high in the mountains, and cooled by cold air off of the Pacific, as it breaks over the mountains. And it costs less than the Blasted variety.

In B.C., Cedar Creek creates a Riesling that is very close. Like Brandborg, there’s no fanfare. Just grapes picked in marginal conditions and helped along into the glass with clarity and wisdom. Here’s the thing: with our cool climate, we should be looking to Oregon for our wine standards, not to the hot climate, overly-advertised wines of Southern Washington, which are all tease and flash but lack structure. As they put it in Oregon, those are hydroponic wines… grown on pure sand, maintained by irrigation, and fed with chemical fertilizers. It’s like making wine out of photosynthesis. Cedar Creek, and a few others, have shown that we can meet the Oregon challenge and go back to the land to make wine out of grapes again.

Lets. Otherwise our words will start to mean very little indeed.

Tomorrow: what salmon can teach us about wine.

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