The STARS Shone Brightly for Oregon & Washington Wine

on 14/02/11 at 10:47 am

BoozeBlog, Wine

By D.R. Stewart

In Rex Pickett’s seminal Sideways, his character Miles chases the particular grape Pinot Noir through the Santa Ynez Valley. When Alexander Payne brought it to the big screen, with help from Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church, the movie brought sales of merlot to its knees. It made instant celebs outta Sanford Winery (which morphed into Alma Rosa). Pickett’s got a new novel out — Vertical – which relocates the Church of Pinot to another state of grace called Oregon. I spoke with Pickett and asked about the chances of a film version of Jack and Miles romping through Oregon’s Willamette Valley? Pickett told me: “Fox Searchlight owns the “film” rights to Miles and Jack. I own the “literary” rights. That means that Fox Searchlight can, and probably will, sit on those film rights until Alexander Payne either decides to make a sequel or to relinquish that to another entity — director, writer, studio, etc. The key in “Vertical” becoming a film is whether (a) Alexander Payne wants to do it; and (b) whether Paul Giamatti wants to do it. Hollywood’s a mercurial place and one never knows what’s going to happen.”

Ian Blackburn introduces STARS of Oregon winemakers

Ian Blackburn, of Learn About Wine, sponsored a premier showcase event, at McCormick and Schmick’s in Beverly Hills, for the wines of the Pacific Northwest: STARS of Oregon and Washington. Booze News was privileged to attend a winemakers’ luncheon prior to the tasting featuring some members of the Oregon wine community who better prepare themselves for immortality if Payne decides to come back and helm a sequel.

Oregon’s wine reps were quick to highlight what’s happening in their state –  95% grape requirement for certification. A California pinot may contain up to ¼ of another grape besides Pinot Noir. They touted their small production values, with Duck Pond being one of the third largest producers in Oregon at 120,000 cases, yet only a mid-tier in California. And before we bathed ourselves in Pinot Noir, Scott Jenkins of Duck Pond was quick to point out that the other Pinot, Pinot Gris is considered to be the official white wine of Willamette Valley (Will-amette pronounced like Dammit).

Repping for Oregon were Duck Pond, WildAire Cellars, Artisanal Wine Cellars, Foris Vineyards, Domaine Serene, Alexandria Nicole, and Cougar Crest. Big News at the Wine Cooler was that Domaine Serene was the highest scoring Oregon wine in Wine Spectator history with its 2008 Grace Vineyard Pinot Noir, and 94 points from Robert Parker. The 2008 vintage is rated 97 overall. No Oregon vintage has been rated this high in the last 10 years. I’ve been underwhelmed by Parker achievers in the past, but this wine didn’t miss for me. Berries, bottom, middle, open. It had it all. Even had the whoosh of the classic French wines. Sadly – only 200 cases made. That brought a collective groan from the table, and I know a few sips were stolen when the Domaine Serene bottle was passed around for photographs.

Foris Vineyards poured their Maple Ranch Pinot Noir 2008 from the Rogue Valley. This valley’s name is so punk rock, but alas the corporate culture has crept in – if you want to use the word Rogue in the Rogue Valley, you gotta use them both together. The Rogue Valley is known for its massive temperature swings, which rep Julianne Allen feels the winemakers have used to their effect. Allen went on to offer their beautiful grounds to any member of the press who wishes to come. The whir of blackberries checking out flights could be heard under the table.

WildAire Cellars’ Matt and Jean Driscoll stated they were originally from Virginia, but started their pursuit of Oregon Pinot Noir after having it at a wedding in ’95. Matt crystallized their approach with “it boils down to love.” They poured their 2008 “Reserve” a higher-end version of the Pinot Noir Timothy they produce. Timothy is named after Matt’s dad, who passed in 2008, but loved the Pinot Noir Pommard clones that are featured so well in this wine. This blend of clones shows 25% Pommard, which helps it compare favorably to the Domaine Serene.

As usual – I’m a sucker for blends, and this tasting had two fun ones – Anniversary Cuvee from Cougar Crest and “Quarry Butte” from Alexandria Nicole. The two Booze News correspondents looked knowingly at each other during these pourings, feeling in perfect simpatico (for once.) Comparing notes, we had fallen for different blends – I went with the boy-friendly, cab-leading Quarry Butte, and beer-lover Judi went chasing the slightly bitter-in-a-good-way taste of the Anniversary Cuvee.  [Website Owner note:  Judi says it’s not bitter at all!]

Blackburn had put together a perfect ode to Oregon’s wine culture, focusing on Pinot Noir, but keeping his eye on the other treasures offered. It felt like being at the Reading Festival in 1990, and knowing the little band you liked called Nirvana was about to be everybody’s band. God help us if Payne decides to summon Giamatti and Haden-Church for another go-around …

P.S. Another Blackburn wine tasting, STARS of Napa, is coming up March 23 in L.A. and March 24 in OC

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