Eugene Weekly : Wine : 11.01.07

Sweet and Batty
More thankful reasons to love Oregon

Full agenda for us in the Wine Lab, so much to do, so little time, but our theme is Giving Thanks.

Sure, times are nasty — thousands of folks out of their homes in Southern California, their lives scorched, in ashes; thousands more across nation and world suffering in varying degrees, from various causes, lotta pain widely distributed — and promising to get even nastier — how long before the Bushites order an attack on Iran, setting another fire in a widening war that could make the raging brushfires of So Cal seem like a back yard barbecue? Yet we can cling to the remains of a season in Oregon that has been blessed by rain (less a blessing to grape-growers than to others), by the natural beauty of our lands and forests, by the prospect of a holiday season that celebrates shared passions for home, hearth, friends, family, food, wine.

Start with lavish thanks to all who labored hard and long to bring in a difficult vintage in rough weather. Thanks, of course, to the growers who, like all farmers, risk their livelihoods and their labors, every season. But thanks also to the laborers who pick the grapes and rush them to wineries, where many more work into the night to move the clusters through stemmers and crushers into fermenting tanks. Thanks to the host of talented winemakers in our state who will apply all their considerable skills and most advanced tools to bring us another year in the continuing adventure of flavor that is wine.

The long Thanksgiving weekend can be a fine occasion to road-trip to local wineries to express our thanks in person, and at the same time savor fermented fruits of the vines in tasting rooms, while feasting our eyes on glowing slopes and valleys of the Coast Range foothills in full autumnal finery. Many wineries open up only on this weekend — the excellent Broadley in Monroe, for one notable example — giving wine-lovers the chance to drop in and sometimes sample wines still in barrels, getting a taste of the future.

And while we’re on the future and dispensing tokens of gratitude, let’s talk about a guy who has contributed to the development of Oregon pinot noir from behind the scenes for 29 years. I met Scott Robbins at a dinner party — tall guy, friendly eyes, easy smile, rock-hard farmer hands — and he offered to open a bottle of his “homemade” Chateau Beauzeaux 2004 Pinot Noir “C” Block: Beauzeaux, bo-zo, like the clown, right? Nothing funny about Scott’s wine; in fact, I waxed agog. This was nearly perfect pinot noir: delicate without being thin or limp, fresh, deeply complex, delivering flavors all over the mouth, all on a finely balanced frame. I probably babbled some before Scott revealed that he and associates have been working experimental vineyards, hooked into OSU’s viticulture program, for nearly three decades, testing vine clones, making wine, keeping meticulous records, contributing to the growing knowledge of the variety. Scott admitted the ’04 C Block was an achievement, not perfect perhaps only because nothing is or can be “perfect.” Close enough, though. But before you empty the kids’ college fund, no, we can’t buy Beauzeaux. But we can applaud Scott and others like him — and hope you meet him at a party when he’s toting.

While we’re at it, scoop up some thanks to Oregon winemakers and wineries who give generously — more than $3 million last year — to worthy causes and charities, locally and statewide. Case in point, Joe Dobbes, maker of Wine by Joe 2006 “Really Good” Pinot Noir; not only is Joe one of the state’s most talented winemakers, and not only is the ’06 pinot noir “really good” pinot for an affordable price ($18), with good flavors (dark berry fruit, whiff of spice) and in nice balance, Joe donates a portion of every case sale to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Joe’s premier label, Dobbes Family Estates, does very well; thanks, Joe, for also doing some good.

Lotsa folks are thanking Ray Walsh for a successful experiment; Ray is another mega-talent here in Vineland, who reached into his home country — New Zealand — to contract with a respected grower/pal to bring Kiwi sauvignon blanc to Oregon for bottling, coming to market wearing Ray’s own label, Capitello 2006 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($14). Wine pros love the wine; it arrives a slightly firmer version of the NZ style of tropical fruit and zippy acidity, would complement anybody’s roast turkey or seafood.

Thanks also go out to whichever wily Australian decided to explore how the Down Under climate and soils would fare with Riesling, made in the dry style of Alsace and Austria. Whoever that was, send her/him a happy thought, then dash out and shop some. Trust your local clerks to steer you toward these beauties: They abound. For now, find the upside-down label for Kono Baru 2005 South Eastern Australia Riesling ($11!). This is no sweet, syrupy Riesling; the fruit is bright, with crisp acidity and some of those mineral notes that make German Rieslings so mysteriously yummy. Great with traditional Thanksgiving grub.

Get a few thanks your own self, by showing at the feast packing tasty bubbles. Trevisiol Rose Brut ($16) is a bubblie Italian bargain, full-flavored, lively, satisfying.

Last word: Our thanks to all of you for making Oregon such a sweet, beautiful (still), batty place to live, work, and slurp good grape.