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Eugene Weekly : Wine : 10.1.2009

 

Frenzy Time

Could be a great grape harvest this fall

By Lance Sparks

Wine people are all abuzz. It’s harvest, and grapes are hanging on vines, soaking up warm autumnal sun under smoky haze, sugars rising. More important, flavors are developing. This is the time when wine-makers patrol vineyards, tasting grapes, selecting from each part of the clusters. They’re working what they call “flavor memory”; oh, they’ll likely test the grapes’ sugars with lab gear, but it’s these embedded memories that really reveal when grapes are ready to become their best wines. 

And 2009 looks right now like a very good year. On those slopes hugging the Coast foothills, activity is very soon going to reach fever pitch.

We just witnessed the frenzy in vineyards much farther south. Mendocino, gateway to California’s beautiful Anderson Valley, Roederer Estate, probably the best of the French-family-owned makers of sparkling wines: The day dawned warm and clear, with a wispy early fog that lifted quickly. Kat and I, with friends Mike and Mary Backus, were touring tasting rooms, in part because the Anderson Valley reminds folks so much of Napa before the deluge of tourists, in part because it reminds us of the south Willamette Valley, even now — bucolic, friendly, unspoiled, new grape plantings climbing hillsides, displacing oaks, madrones and mesquite.

Suddenly, for early September, the pinot noirs were ready. Makers of sparkling wines want their grapes ripe but not over-ripe. As we drove up to the winery, we saw crews of men and women run to trucks and tractors, then race into the vines. Later in the week, we visited Esterlina Vineyard, high up the hillsides, and were invited — by Pinot Patty (Liddy) — to stroll the vineyard and taste grapes; they were delish, not quite ready-for-primetime-pinot-noir but in fine fettle and ready to party.

Now the frenzy begins here at home — if: If this fabulous weather will hold for just two more weeks, if the rains wait, if the flavors peak, if the pickers arrive on time, if ... Think farming’s fun?

We tasted an awful lot of fine wines in the Anderson Valley, including some very nice pinot noir (e.g., Breggo 2007 Donnelly Creek) but they were pricey (e.g., $55) and, quite honestly, they just didn’t have quite the flavor profile of Oregon’s best pinots (also pricey, some). Right now, though, some of our homies’ pinot noirs are terrific and priced reasonably. Take, for example, this little surprise: Silver Falls 2006 Pinot Noir ($15), from one of the very few wineries east of I-5, small producer, superb wine — medium-bodied but rich, with complex flavors of red and blue berries, finely balanced, well-suited for fresh salmon or red meats.

For years, folks argued that Oregon couldn’t produce great chardonnay. Lately, though, Oregon vintners seem to have found their rhythm with this grape. Actually, they found the right clones for this land and climate. The results are in the bottle, and some are tops. Case in point, Chehalem 2007 INOX Chardonnay ($15): Back label notes, “INOX (E-nox) is another word for stainless steel,” meaning the juice wasn’t soaked in new oak so we taste the essence of the grape, rich tropical fruit flavors, good acidity, nice mouth-feel. Trust this: If it wears a Chehalem label, it’s fine wine.

Tonight! At 6 pm Thursday, Oct. 1, support the Boys and Girls Clubs of Eugene by buying some super wines at the auction hosted by The Broadway downtown. We attended last year, picked up some wine-jewels donated by supporters. It’s a fine cause. Your generosity will turn this harvest to gold.