Good morning from a sunny and cool winter morning in the Umpqua Valley. Looking out the window this morning I was struck by the similarity of our location to the Russian River region of Sonoma County. The conifer covered hillsides to the west with easterly facing fingers of red sandy loam running into the valley floor below. So much for daydreaming!
Well back by popular demand is a revisit of a very unique and historic grape from Tuscany and Umbria, Italy. One of the over 2800 varieties grown in the vine library of Italy, I was first introduced to this variety on a visit to the region of Maremma in South Western Tuscany in 2011. Many of the great wine regions of the world are known today for different grapes than those that made them famous and such is the case with Tuscany where many of the wines grown in Roman times were based on a variety called Ciliegiolo. This name comes from the word for cherry in Italian – ciliegia. The berries are large, round, perfumed and lighter skinned compared to other modern Tuscan reds like Sangiovese. Just 50 years ago this variety was almost extinct, but today there is a renaissance in the use of Ciliegiolo. The variety is known for its richness and lower acidity which can sometimes contain the edginess of the class Sangiovese.
More and more it is also made into a standalone wine that speaks back to ancient times and tastes. I first had the opportunity to visit the winery Sassotondo in 2011 while traveling with a friend through Europe. We spent 2 days with Carla and Edoardo at their humble yet inspired winery in the Maremma region of greater Tuscany. It is a simple winery with ancient caves that go back to at least the Romans and probably the Etruscans. Carla has been the real force behind bringing this variety back from the precipice and today they are famous for it.
They first isolated Ciliegiolo from ancient planting on the winery property when they obtained it. The landscape in this part of Maremma reminds me a lot of the Sierra Foothills south of Sacramento. Winemaking is very traditional with small lot fermentation in stainless and aging in larger oak cask or what are called “botti”. Also of note is that Sassotondo is experimenting with the most traditional of fermentation techniques where both whites and reds are left on the skin after fermentation in clay amphorae. When there last time we tasted both colors that had been aging about 6 months and the wines were unlike anything I had experienced before.
Please enjoy and here is to the Genie in the bottle!
Greetings to all, It’s the beginning of 2018 and as I write this we are winding down things in the winery and getting ready to start pruning for the 2018 vintage. Hard to believe we have been here almost 15 years as it seems like just yesterday the kids were riding bikes up and down the driveway and I was trying to get ready for our first vintage. We are excited to release another first for HillCrest the 2015 Malbec/Tempranillo from our estate. I first had the opportunity to taste a blend of these 2 while working for Mondavi in Argentina. The wine was so beautifully fruit driven yet with a dark almost leathery fruit. This blend has lurked in the back of my mind, along with another that you will taste one day, since that visit to a small producer in the Tupangato area of Mendoza.
Malbec has roots all over France and at one time was grown in 30 districts of France. It is said that there are over 1,000, yes thousand, synonyms for it in France. Best known in the SW wine region of Cahors, this broodingly dark variety was famous for its dark color and deep, almost mulberry type fruit. Over the last 50 years it has fallen out of favor in many areas of France because of its sensitivity to many diseases. As a little sideline, it is Malbec that made Bordeaux’s wines famous and it was the dominant variety on both sides of the Gironde until the end of the 19 Century.
Tempranillo is another sort of grape that is really best known for its texture. These 2 grapes are almost a peanut butter and chocolate kind of strange combination that works incredibly well. Where Malbec in Southern Oregon tends to carry its dark color and bright and fresh black fruit, the Tempranillo lends a richness of mouthfeel and length. The 2 are really magic together.
Our 2015 Malbec/Temp blend was co-fermented in our patented concrete fermentors and then aged in European oak for almost 2 years. This wine tastes great today, but should be a great ager. 200 Cases produced and I would suggest you use a Cabernet or Bordeaux styled glass.
Cheers and Happy New Year!
On our recent February winemaking trip into Western Europe, we arrived on the heels of a cold spell that had dropped moderate amounts of snow on the hillside vineyards of Germany's Mosel Valley and Italy’s Piedmont. Many of these sites have been famous for a millennia for their ability to ripen fruit under such challenging continental conditions. In these cooler conditions, with their late-ripening varieties, the difference between a slope that is Southeastern to Southwestern and the alternatives is often the difference between a legendary wine and something that you need to add sugar to for a wine of mere moderate quality.
While we often speak of this effect, there are times that it is more than evident to the naked eye. In each one of these areas our first few days were cold and sunny, but it was more than evident which the optimal sites were. As we drove through the twisted roads, the best exposures were bare of any snow while the lesser sites were still blanketed in white.
It was from these sites that we source the best fruit and wines for HillCrest's International selections.
As a side note, it is interesting that these same attributes hold for other food products as well. It is said that the greatest fruits in the world come from the coolest environment in which small crops can barely ripen. Examples include apples from Normandy and Southern England, Maraska Cherries from Bosnia or white apricots form Kazakhstan. These environments, on the edge, allow for the brutally slow accumulation of sugar while the flavors are able to develop to maximum levels. The best salmon comes from the coldest water in which it will swim. Alaska's Copper River salmon are some of the most sought-after, regarded as some of the world's most exceptional wild salmon whereas pen-raised salmon often closer to the equator (where it grows faster) lacks the elegance and texture of its northern cousins.
So not unlike life it is the challenging conditions, or in the case of great wine the vineyards on the edge, that produce the wines with the most depth and strength of character.
To the Genie in the bottle!
Greetings from a very cold and sunny day in the Umpqua Valley.
We are on the backend of a long cold streak. Today’s high was 38 and we woke up to 17 this morning.
This wine release is really years in the making. The roots are my friendship with Umpqua’s one and only Hungarian winemaker Gabor Palotai. I am sure many of you remember his famous bulls blood that was a proprietary wine comprised of Baco Noir, Zweigelt, Kadarka, Cabernet amongst other things. Prior to meeting Gabor, I had tasted Hungarian versions of this wine as well as the Spanish version of Sangria de Toro. Gabor's wine was not the traditional blend made in Szeged or Eger Hungary, but kind of a reserve house blend that spoke to his unique life experience and palate. In 2007 we produced our first bulls blood that was a blend of Cabernet, Tempranillo and a few other things. This wine was a raging success but was not replicated until the 2009 vintage following my first trip to Hungary with Gabor. Upon my return from that trip, I decided to do something very special for our second vintage that really spoke to our house style and with that let me introduce this very special wine.
Our family’s 2009 Bulls Blood is the product of years of aging. One of the many magic differences between wine and so many other food products is how it develops in the bottle over time. Early in my career, I was exposed to many great French and German wines from the late 1800’s on. Thanks to one of my mentors, Gary Andrus of Pine Ridge Winery, I saw what magic time imbued on this fruit. Time not only integrates flavors and textures but provides wines with their bouquet, the flavors developed in the bottle. Our new release of Bulls Blood spent 3 years in barrel, 2 in large tank and finished with 2 in bottle! Yes, that is 7 years!
A blend of Pinot, Cabernet, and Petite Sirah this wine shows the depth and richness of Pinot with the gentle power and complexity of the later 2. It drinks great and is something that can be enjoyed for 5 years or more still.
We pride ourselves in doing things in a way that speaks to the great wines and techniques of days gone by in the old world. Once again, we hope you enjoy this seductive and rich red as we work our way through winter and its hearty fare.
Merry Christmas to all!
Susan and I are just back from a post-harvest trip overseas to India, Thailand and Hong Kong. Part of the reason we travel is to eat, drink and relax, but more than anything is the inspiration and renewal that helps us be better winemakers/chefs and hopefully humans. After this last trip, here are just a few thoughts or observations I would love to share.
While we are all aware of the poverty that India is famous for, the young generation of professionals there are welcoming in an exciting new age. As more and more citizens work for western companies and travel abroad, they are bringing back with them not only the desire to eat a range of new foods from other places but also to drink wine and other alcoholic beverages. Susan and I often speak of how lucky we are to be born in these times where daily our tables are set with flavors from all corners of the world. Susan’s father who was born in the Ozarks in Missouri was 21 before he had anything along the lines of Chinese food or pizza.
We were fortunate enough to be invited to a wedding where there was no alcohol, but those young professionals we spoke with all mentioned their love of wine and drinking with friends. For both Susan and I, it was an interesting two weeks in the north and south as we rarely had the opportunity to drink wine or beer. The experience reminded me of the French saying that "a meal without wine is just food." The culinary future of this country is great, and in time, many of the obstacles of the past will melt away. Susan and I took wine as a wedding gift but brought a few bottles of Riesling that we enjoyed with the great flavors of Northern and Southern India. This is the variety of choice for me with the complex flavors and textures of the classic Indian masalas.
Thailand in ways was the same, but further along the curve. It has been a long 15 years since my last work trip to Thailand while I was working at Robert Mondavi. At that time, there were a few high rises dotting the skyline. Today the city is so modern, with clusters of these professional and residential towers dotting the skyline for as far as one can see. Bangkok is one of the most international cities in the world today. The cuisine that we experienced there were the best of those from around the world. An example of this was a French restaurant called JP’s in the Sukamvit neighborhood of Bangkok. JP, short for Jean Pierre, came to Thailand 13 years ago and never looked back. His classic cuisine matches what we eat on a regular basis on our trips to that great culinary country. You name a world class cuisine and you can find it there. Unlike India, there is wine and beer everywhere, but in the famous street food market, it comes at a price. The current tax on all alcoholic beverages is 300%, making all but the cheapest versions of wine inaccessible. It was not unusual to see wines like Yellow Tail sell in restaurants for $50.00 a bottle. We were told why the government does this, but it does throttle back the wine and food scene - only slowing their culinary evolution. I am sure in time this will fall by the wayside as well. The flavors of Thai cuisine and the fusion of all other recently introduced flavors once again match perfectly with the aromatic whites and lighter, fresher reds like old school Oregon Pinot Noir. The Thai climate begs for this as well and I can tell you we enjoyed more than a few crisp whites with our Pad Thai and sautéed calamari.
Once again wine makes the world small. Our experiences on this trip were all made more personal speaking about Oregon wine and our culinary traditions, and it just reinforced my favorite wine saying that, “Water separates the peoples of the world and wine brings us together.” It is going to be an interesting and beautiful future as we share this magical ingredient in the good life.
To the Genie in the bottle!
"A vintage to prove you don't know until you know"
It's a beautiful Sunday afternoon following harvest here in the Umpqua Valley. The vines have changed colors and are just beginning to drop their leaves as they prepare for the slumbering winter ahead. Earlier today Tucker and I put the last of the crush equipment away and the wines are all in barrel, acclimating to their new surrounding. Over the years, 37 harvests to be exact, I have seen many pronouncements of a new vintage that didn't end up turning out the way we had hoped. Having said this, 2016 looks to be one of the best vintages I have ever experienced in terms of its balance, color and fruit. More on this as the vintage matures.
Our international selection for this release is a wine with a lot of lessons for me. The 2013 Perfecti, our wine from old vines grown in the Roussillon region of SW France, speaks to the new world making wine in the old. To show you this, our new shipment will be the same vineyards but made by our dear friends Marcel and Carrie Buehler who live on the property. It is my hope that you will have the opportunity to taste our wine and Marcels and see the difference in a cultural palate. I always speak in the tasting room about how we are part of what the French call "Terrior" of flavor of place. Great wine not only reflects the soil and climate the fruit is grown in, but also the people that work the vineyards, their different philosophies, and taste. On to the Perfecti.
The best and brightest thought the 2013 vintage in Southern France to be a total wipe out. The year was besieged by flooding, rot, and hail. After a late flowering, the season weather was erratic and finally finished about three weeks later than normal. At the very end, all was saved by an Indian Summer. Some varieties like Grenache were severely affected by this with yields sometimes off by as much as 50-60%, but the Carignan and Syrah seemed to not only survive, but the older vineyards even excelled this year. As the wines went to bottle this perfume and brightness is something that speaks to nature's gentle hand this special year.
The 2013 Perfecti aromatics are much brighter and focused than is typical in this region. Aromatics of bright red fruit along with an almost Asian five spice lift off the glass. On the palate, the wine is focused and has a gentle power that finishes off with a nice structure of acid and tannin. Still what we call very primary, or youthful, this wine should have a very long future as long as you keep it in the bottle! Richer dishes such as game and risotto should be great accompaniments to this wine. Tonight we will be enjoying the open bottle in front of me with a little wild mushroom and venison risotto. A blend of Carignan, Syrah and a little Grenache - we produced 100 cases of this classic wine.