Talking Dirty: Oregon’s Dry Farmed Chardonnay

Happy Chardonnay Day! Happy Oregon Wine Month! Here’s some dry farmed wine from Oregon for you!

Calling all Cougars! Ready to talk dirty with me?

If to you “Talk Dirty” is simply the 2013 hit by Jason Derulo with the catchy middle eastern accents (see below), then you’ve come to the wrong place.

If, however, you’re into DIRT as in EARTH as in SOIL and even DRY FARMING, hang on to your hat because we’re going for a ride starting NOW with Dry Farmed Chardonnay from Oregon on Chardonnay Day today!

To get us going, here’s a few words about SOIL from Jason Lett, Winemaker and Co-Owner of The Eyrie Vineyards:

“Grapevines are very dependent on their relationships with soil organisms for nutrients. When I came back to Eyrie in the 1990s, the vineyards had never been fertilized. They had never been plowed or irrigated. Instead, Dad had let our vines become surrounded by a living carpet of native plants, kept lightly mowed. Surely they were competing with the vines, robbing them of nutrients? I got ready to fertilize, but David suggested I check the tissues for deficiencies first.

“I tromped out to the vineyard, grumbling. “Of course they’re short on nutrients. They’ve never been fed!” I took a LOT of samples, sent them off to the lab, and prepared my case for fertilizing the vineyards. I was expecting to see big deficiencies. When I got the lab results back, I was shocked: there was no problem. I took the analysis to the local soil fertility expert and he confirmed my analysis. He told me the soils were fine, and no additions were needed.

“In all those decades, rather than fighting with the surrounding plants for water and nutrients, the vines had been forming alliances with them. Together the community of vines, plants, and soil organisms had built a stable ecosystem that has sustained the fertility of the soil. It was the first of many lessons I have learned about trusting the vine first. What I have learned is that we tread best when we tread lightest.”

Jason Lett’s results are confirmed by research by 2008 MacArthur Fellow and University of Washington geomorphology professor David R Montgomery, author of 2007’s Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations and 2017’s Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life.

Montgomery spoke at the International Biodynamic Conference in San Francisco that I attended earlier this month, and I have a lot to say about this subject but because I have a lot to say about Oregon Dry Farmed Chardonnay too, I will move on.

And what do you do to soil to grow grapes? WATER!

Sure, you may say, it rains so much in Oregon it’s EASY to dry farm!

But did you know that irrigating wine grapes in the arid Western United States is unnecessary? Check this out:

  • The island of Santorini in the Aegean Sea receives no more than 10 inches of rain per year yet wine has been made there for over 2000 years without irrigation.
  • Only 10-15 inches fall in most of the acclaimed Douro wine region of Portugal, reports Oscar Quevedo yet wine has been produced wine there for hundreds of years without irrigation.
  • Areas in France, Italy, Germany, and Spain have also grown wine grapes without irrigation for centuries.
  • Irrigation is not required to establish vineyards and is not sustainable in the long run.
  • Irrigation contributes to the destruction of terroir and higher alcohol wines.

Oregon’s Deep Roots Coalition argues that to respect the concept of terroir is to make wines that are totally terroir-driven — and that includes using ONLY the local precipitation. Here’s how they explain it:

The idea of terroir is that wine should reflect the “place” from which it emanates.  To that end, the concept of “place” includes soil composition and depth, degree and direction of slope, latitude, temperature regime and precipitation.  The criteria of precipitation include how much, when and the manner in which it occurs.  Obviously if one introduces irrigation to the equation, the all-important parameter of precipitation is eliminated and terroir no longer applies to the resulting wine.  This is why in France (as well as most of the other viticultural areas of Europe), when a winegrower introduces irrigation, the resulting wine is no longer allowed to claim an appellation.  We in the Deep Roots Coalition of course agree with this assessment.

The Mission of the Deep Roots Coalition includes the following goals:

  • The conservation and wise use of precious water resources in the growing of wine grapes.
  • Creating more authentic and high-quality wines resulting from natural vine growth, i.e. without the unnecessary use of irrigation.
  • Following the requirements of the quality wine appellations in Europe- among which, irrigation of producing vineyards is not permitted.
  • Educating the wine-consuming public about the benefits of non-irrigated vineyards, in terms of both water conservation and wine authenticity.
  • Educating fellow vintners about the need to search out appropriate vineyard sites which allow them to avoid the need for irrigation.
  • Reaching out to other wine growers who share our mission and/or want to learn more about how to attain our goals.
  • Continuing research on dry farming which serves to validate our mission.

The group also encourages the “use of organic and non-interventionist methods in the vineyard and in the cellar. e.g. greatly reducing or eliminating the use of toxic pesticides and fungicides in the vineyard.”

The photo below depicts most of the wines I received for our deep dive into Oregon Dry Farmed Chardonnay — wineries that responded to a request I made to the Oregon Wine Board. They posted my interest as well as my address and the wines literally poured in to my husband’s office.

 

ask and ye shall receive: Oregon Dry Farmed Chardonnay (or so they say!)

But as Jason Lett pointed out to me on twitter this morning, some of these wines have roots that are deeper than others… and as I can see from this list, certainly not all of them are members of the Dry Farm Coalition.

My interest in Oregon Dry Farmed Chardonnay sparked originally by a WineStudio educational program back in November 2014 where we tasted eight fascinating wines and conversed over the month about them:

Wine Lineup from #WineStudio Oregon Chardonnay Program November 2014

Then a month ago today, at an Oregon Wine Board event in Los Angeles, I met this character, a member of not only the Dry Farm Coalition but a group of wine folks he described as dry farm fanatics! When we tasted his wine, we noticed very specific herbal notes, very unique qualities that we suspected was related to his dry farming practices. We then went in search of other dry farmed Chardonnay to taste…

J. K. Carriere: Jim Prosser is really geeky about dry farmed wines! (I told him that was good!)

We decided we wanted more people to know that there is more to Oregon wine than the Willamette’s famed and lovely Pinot Noir (certainly not my local grocery store which is sadly bereft of choices). 

Not everyone appreciates the minerally, acidic, textural, herbal, and florally complex Chardonnay common to this region that I visited in 2011 and 2012. In 2011, when I stopped to buy eggs and pick stone fruit at a farm in the southern Willamette, I was asked whether I even liked Oregon Chardonnay! When I raved, she admitted that she much preferred the buttery oak style often associated with California Chardonnay.  While  I prefer sucking on a stone than on a stick, sometimes a little oak can go a long way to allow these Chards to shine.

Because these two styles can be so distinct, we organized our tasting of dry farmed Chardonnay that way — starting with the stainless steel, unoaked and neutral oak wines then moving on to the more heavily oaked wines. Originally I wanted to organize the tasting by looking at the different AVAs but that proved to be too complicated and challenging; I’ll save that deep dive for another time!

We also discussed comparing vintages but again we felt we were tackling enough already! But as they are dry farmed a wet vintage and a drought one could make a HUGE difference. It might make it easier to just go up there sometime when they are doing a comparison tasting of dry farmed wines from different AVAs and vintages. I’m still pretty new to Oregon wine! There’s a lot to learn but I’m starting to know what I want to spend my time on!

All that being said, the oak treatment tended toward the subtle so that the wines were more about fruit than oak. Also worthy of noting: many of these wineries are very small, with low overall case production, organic and biodynamic practices, very hands-on and small production of Chardonnay.

Wines:
These (and more!) were all sent to me as samples of dry farmed Chardonnay from Oregon.
However, very few of these wines are part of the Deep Root Coalition.
Some of them neglect to mention anything about dry farming on their websites or labels.
I will continue to research this topic and may be removing some of the wines for a separate post. 
Note — click on tweet above and names to go to twitter page and link to winery or continue on for links and details including SRP.

2016 – Monte Ferro – Unoaked Chardonnay – Chehalem Mountains – Dion Vineyard – 14.1%  SRP $20
2015 – Keeler – Chardonnay – Eola – Amity Hills, Oregon – 13% SRP
2016 – Holloran Vineyards – Chardonnay – Le Pavillon 13% SRP
2014 – Kramer Vineyards – 13.2%  – SRP $28
2014 – Blakeslee – Estate Reserve – Chehalem Mountain – 14.3% alcohol
2016 – Left Coast – Truffle Hill 13.7% alcohol – $24
2015 – Boedecker – Finnigan Hill Vineyard Chardonnay – chehalem Mountains – 13.8% alcohol
2016 – J Wrigley – Acceptance Block – Willamette AVA McMinnville AVA – 12.9% alcohol
2016 – Sokol Blosser – Dundee Hills Chardonnay  – 13% alcohol – $38
2016 – Willamette Valley Vineyards – 13.9% alcohol – $30

 

I won this beautiful cheese platter at the Art of Rhone last week for my social media engagement during the event!

Menu

  • Bread from Ventura’s Café Ficelle
  • Oysters (raw)
  • Bacon-crab dip
  • Caviar with Potato Chips (!! as well as other root vegetable chips)
  • Various Olives
  • Salmon: smoked and lox
  • Nasturtium pesto
  • Cheeses: La Tur, mimolette, brilliant sauverin, camembert
  • Salad: broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, chicory, cranberries, roasted pepitas; poppy seed dressing
  • Seafood risotto with asparagus, lemon, and spinach in an instant pot
  • Dessert: ice cream with cookies and berries

 

The Cougars: Pineapple Helen, Edie, Sue, Diane plus me and Ziah and Nicole. I was too busy taking photos of the wine and food to get many of our crew! I was running late and my computer disappeared for awhile…

Cougar Pineapple Helen usually goes for oaked Chardonnay but she enjoyed these from Oregon including this one from Monte Ferro

2016 – Monte Ferro – Unoaked Chardonnay – Chehalem Mountains – Dion Vineyard – 14.1% alcohol SRP $20
Not on the drc list; the site is LIVE (Low Imapct Viticulture and Enology) and Salmon Safe certified, but they do NOT mention whether the site is dry farmed on their website, however when I emailed I learned that it is indeed dry farmed and that 60 acre Dion Vineyards is at an elevation of 500 feet southeast facing on Laurelwood soils. The grapes are a 76 Dijon clone on 30 year rootstock.  100% Stainless Steel.

Color: Very pale yellow. Not much color in the glass.

Nose: Grass, minerals, grapefruit

Palate: Racy acidity, bright, lack of oak lets the fruit shine through.

Edie:  I would buy that wine!

Pairing: This wine went very well with a bit of nasturtium pesto on a baguette as depicted by Helen. The peppery spice of the plant and the garlic brings out a fun fruitiness in the wine. Helen felt that this wine would go well with spicy Indian food; it went really well with our castrivano olives.

2015 – Keeler Estate- Chardonnay – Eola – Amity Hills, Oregon – 13% alcohol
115 Cases Produced; Biodynamic, Dry Farmed
Full malolactic fermentation.
Aged 10 months on lees in 60% once – filled French oak barrels and 40% new French oak barrels.

We didn’t know this was so oaked when we did a quick taste through trying to figure out what to taste when– the oak is so soft, and subtle, and the wine lightly elegant.

Color: soft golden yellow

Nose: minerals, ocean  breeze, grass, toasted coconut

Palate: Tropical fruit including unripened mango, papaya, Gala apple; not too sweet and fruity. Lots of acidity. Helen, who loves oaked Chardonnay, found it to be really well rounded; she liked the way it tastes and feels.. Nicole thought it to be soft with mellow flavors.

Pairing: We learned about potato chips and caviar an Artesa winemaker press lunch the other day and decided to try it. What a fun and easy combination! The finish with this wine and the caviar was lingering and wonderful. Really good with the La Tur and raspberry cracker, it brings out a fun fruitiness in the wine. If you don’t want to try caviar, it’s still yummy with potato chips! The saltiness really brings out the fruit on the palate.

I learned about Keeler at the biodynamic conference and look forward to sharing more!

2016 – Holloran Vineyards – Chardonnay – Le Pavillon $36
99 cases of this Biodynamic completely dry farmed wine
UPDATE: not certified organic or biodynamic
Aged 18 months in Franch oak barrels, none of which were new.
Malolactic fermentation occurred naturally in barrel.

Color: Pale gold

Nose: Lovely stone fruit including white peach and some meyer lemon, grass

Palate: Herbs and grass at the back of the palate, barely ripe banana, bright tropical fruit.

“Wow,” said Diane, “so much is happening in my mouth!”

Lots of acidity but it is not biting: ” a little butter action going on in this one,” said Helen.

Pairing: The La Tur with raspberry brings out such complexity in the wine. It was so delicious I could have just stopped tasting wine with these two biodynamic ones and these foods, and hung out with the wonder of it all.  Super satisfying.

2014 – Kramer Vineyards – 13.2%  – $28
Yam hill – Carlton Appellation – 100 cases produced
“Our vineyard is dry farmed,” they say on their website along with other sustainability practices that sound quite a bit like they are practicing many principles of biodynamics.

Color: Pale golden straw

Nose: Diane smelled moisture, moss or fresh mown hay, ocean breeze while I found tropical notes, and creme brûlée

Palate: Minerals, clean, lovely freshness, grass, Diane felt this wine in the front of and top of her mouth. There is also menthol and other earthy herbal qualities with anise on the finish. Clean on the palate and finish. The acidity and mineralality can also be bracing.

Pairing:This wine loves rich creamy textures. The La Tur was lovely with The Kramer Chardonnay; on a following night, I enjoyed it with chicken with nasturtium pesto, asparagus and shiitake mushrooms.

2014 – Blakeslee – Estate Reserve – Chehalem Mountain – 14.3% alcohol
Not a doc member, but their website says they dry farm and are LIVE certified..
200 cases produced

Color: Pale straw

Nose: Butterscotch, butter popcorn, caramel apple

Palate: This has great mouth feel, there is a nice roundness. bright citrus on the front palate mellowing mid palate, and finishing with a caramel decadence.

Pairing:  Lovely with the La Tur, and the lox. The smoked salmon was also a hit pairing off so nicely with this wine.

I also brought a bacon crab dip that was a fun and delicious pairing. There were very big bold flavors in this dip and this wine was able to round them all up and bring them together.  Diane liked the pesto with the wine. It made her mouth do many different dances.

2016 – Left Coast – Truffle Hill 13.7% alcohol – $24
I didn’t see on their website that they dry farmed this wine; they do have many sustainable practices which you can read about here.

Color: pale straw

Nose: ocean, saline, seashore, pear and white nectarine, beautiful fresh summer fruit,

Palate: ripe papaya, not super ripe but fruitier, I  found guava on the finish. banana. maybe even banana pith on the finish.

Sue: “I like this winery. I loved the Pinot Gris last week, and I really like this Chardonnay this week”

We all loved this wine, but we did not figure out why we liked this wine until later

This was Nicole’s favorite wine of the evening. Sue also really loved this wine, but

Left Coast was one of the favorite of the evening. Several of the attendees picked this out as the favorite, it was easy to drink and also quite versatile, it could handle complex rich flavors  It handled the rich creamy goodness of the cheese and risotto as well as the bright flavors of the  kale salad, as well as going brilliantly with the olives

We wrote about  two of Left Coast Cellars whites here.

2015 – Boedecker – Finnigan Hill Vineyard Chardonnay – Chehalem Mountains – 13.8% alcohol
I did not confirm that this vineyard is dry farmed — yet! But the website says that it is “Hand harvested, hand sorted and whole cluster pressed; slow cool ferment in seasoned oak barrels with a mix of native yeasts. Eleven month elevage sur lie.”

Color: pale

Nose: cream on the nose, caramel, coconut

Palate: Some oak  and cream on the palate, caramel with lots of acidity. Oh! The acidity!

Pairing: This wine can handle big bold flavors, creamy foods, great with the creamy risotto with asparagus spinach and shrimp. Sue loved the Brilliant Savarin cheese with this wine while I felt the same ecstatic experience with the Camembert cheese.

Because of the caramel creaminess  in the wine, it went nicely with our ice-cream dessert

2016 – J Wrigley – Acceptance Block – Willamette AVA McMinnville AVA – 12.9% alcohol
Their vineyards are  non-irrigated and sustainably farmed. 

Color: Pale gold

Nose: Caramel, butterscotch, pineapple, pineapple upside down cake, roses. Helen and I both thought it was really interesting.

Palate: What we said, “Really bright acidity, super bomb acidity, minerals, saline, super tart, super bright, a shit ton of minerality, mouthwatering acidity.” It was a bit shocking after the nose to have it be so acidic on the palate! We really didn’t get much fruit on the palate.

Edie “this is a nice wine, I really like it.”

Pairing: Sue found this wine lovely with our kale salad cranberry, nut plus this wine equals pleasure. Diane did not like this wine with the creamy risotto as much as with the kale salad; the wine really likes the bitter, peppery greens. Makes me wonder how it might be with brussels sprouts and other roasted vegetables.

2016 – Sokol Blosser – Dundee Hills Chardonnay  – 13% alcohol – $38
I did not see where they say dry farmed this wine on their site. However:

  • They say “We farm our estate vineyards organically and received full USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) organic certification in 2005 and are certified through Oregon Department of Agriculture.”
  • 100% barrel – aged in French oak – 10 months in barrels on the lees – 1 month harmonizing in stainless steel tank –
  • 13% new barrels: “a quarter of the gallonage was fermented in 500L puncheons, while the remainder was fermented in traditional barrels.”
  • 860 cases produced

Color: Pale, a little more gold

Nose: Grassy green like green, sour grass (oxalis). Chinese almond cookies,

Sue: “Torrone! I get the almond nougat with the citrus.”

Richness in the front of the palate, with acidity on the finish; very complex. The winery made this wine to lay down.

Me: “If I was going to have an oaked wine, I would have an oaked wine from Oregon like this one and the others we’ve tasted.”

Pairing: I liked the camembert as a pair for this wine and Diane agreed: the Camembert has a very mild rind which went really well. It married and each became more together than apart. The richness of this wine worked so well with the shrimp risotto.
Helen found that it went really well with the raspberries.

2016 – Willamette Valley Vineyards – 13.9% alcohol – $30
French oak and stainless steel barrels, 986 cases produced.
Not on the drc list; didn’t see a mention of dry farming on the website or in the press pack they sent but you can read about their stewardship here.

Color: Pale gold

Nose: At first Edie and Diane weren’t crazy about the nose but found it interesting with the faintest hint of honey or bee pollen while Sue  and I got asian pear — that fresh bright clean notes of that typed of pear.

Palate: Very well balanced: acidity without being too intense;  oak, but not overly. Edie found it to start out with acidity, but then mellow out. I found ruby grapefruit, with roundness of the oak.  Diane described the texture as similar to a damp velvet wash cloth and I came up with Chenille. Helen felt that this was the sweetest wine that we had tonight and the closest to a California Chardonnay.

Pairing: This wine invited me to revisit the caviar and chips while Helen wanted to go with the richer foods. It paired well with the shrimp risotto and would be good with scampi and and other rich buttery seafoods.

Sue: “I just had a tip of asparagus with this wine and it was one of the perfect pairings of the evening. Asparagus is not always the easiest to pair with wine, however, a bite of asparagus tip with this wine brings forth the most wonderful herbatiousness that is unbelievably wonderful with the wine.”

In general, these wines have such a grassy mineral wonderful flavor that is distinct from California wines. Because these wines are made in such small lots by small wineries in Oregon, you’ll need to visit their website to order them.

Over the course of the evening, a number of times we marveled at the internet — how it brought these wines to us, and how by writing about them and sharing them via a blog on the internet, more people can find out about them. And then, again because of the internet, people can order them online, maybe even join a wine club, and have these wines delivered to California and other places in the United States.

As of Chardonnay Day 2018, the Deep Roots Coalition website lists the following members which includes winemakers and vineyard growers from the Willamette Valley. A few of my favorites include Crowley, J.K. Carrierer,  and Eyrie. Check them out!

Not every winery that dry farms is on this list. And there are a number of wineries making the transition to dry farming as well as organic or biodynamic practices. The whole industry feels to me like it is in flux as wineries face climate change and soil depletion.More on this to come including more DRY FARMED CHARDONNAY from these Oregon Wineries:

  • 3 from Coelho
  • 2 from Chehelem
  • 2 from Stoller
  • 2 from Strangeland
    plus
  • 1 from Day (which is from the Belle Pente Vineyard listed above and also biodynamic)
  • 1 from Welsh

 

Finally, as promised…

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