Robust Italian Varietals in the Heart of Oregon Pinot Noir Country
Snooth Mentor Julia Crowley meets the winemaker behind Remy Wines
After a quick tour of the winery, we settled in at the bar and sampled a couple of Remy’s fantastic single vineyard Italian varietal wines: The 2009 Illahe Vineyard Oregon Lagrein and the 2009 Rosebud Vineyard Washington Barbera.
The Lagrein was a super dark and inky red color in the glass with a glowing halo of bright ruby red. Vibrant aromas of plums and raspberries were highlighted by leather and vanilla. In the mouth, round supple tannins and bright acidity with a gorgeous velvet-like texture all played a role in creating this sultry, soulful, dark fruit wine. I absolutely loved it.
I loved the Barbera equally, which was quite the old-world style beauty. The nose was all about the blackberries, plums and spice. On the palate, super soft tannins were rounded out by a nice, solid acidic backbone. Medium to full bodied, this wine was filled with jammy, fruity, dark berry flavors that were enhanced by black licorice and pie spice. This is seriously an awesome wine with layers of flavors and great depth of character.
I was dying to know how Remy ended up producing intense robust Italian reds in the middle of the Willamette Valley, and I was about to find out.
When asked, at just 8-years-old, what she wanted to be when she grew up, Remy said, “a winemaker.” Growing up in the heart of the Willamette Valley, Remy was surrounded by the pioneers of the Oregon wine industry. She described her life growing up in McMinnville, which ultimately lead her down a path to become the winemaker she is today:
“Back then, it was a really, really small [wine] industry. It was the Lett’s, Adelsheim’s, Erath’s, Ponzi’s, and just a few other families, but it was really small, and everybody hung out together–really everybody hung out together, like all birthdays and New Years and…. Well, my mom worked at Nick’s [Italian Cafe], so I had grown up in the restaurant, and that’s where everybody hung out. It was the hub of the Oregon wine industry. The reason for that is because when all these winemakers took their wines around to restaurants, people laughed at them, but not Nick. He supported all these first wineries, so that came back to them supporting him [Nick]. That’s the community I grew up in, and I knew I wanted to be a winemaker since I was a little girl.” Remy continued, “My mom would take me out to help pick at different people’s vineyards during harvest, so as soon as I was old enough to work, at 13, Ponzi gave me my first harvest job, and the rest is history.”
As Remy was giving us a bit of history, she was chopping, cutting, mixing, and preparing a delicious arugula, pine nut, and lemon zest salad along with a fresh baguette, gourmet artisan cheese, and the best fresh salami I’ve ever had, produced by local salumeria Fino in Fondo (owned and run by the daughter and son-in-law of Nick Peirano, owner of Nick’s Italian Cafe). As we sat down and literally broke bread, we toasted with a glass of the 2009 Lagrein.
While enjoying every single sip of Lagrein and bite of the lunch Remy had prepared, I was in awe as she continued to tell us about her path that brought her to producing high quality single vineyard Italian varietal wines in an area known for Pinot Noir. From age 13 through high school, Remy worked at Ponzi Vineyards and Erath Winery after school, on weekends and full-time in the summers. After high school, she spent some time in Israel and France, where she attempted to get her degree in winemaking. Juggling French classes, college-level Chemistry courses, and working in the vineyards proved to be overwhelming, and Remy’s stay in France ended after about 4 months. She returned to Oregon, working briefly at Erath Winery again before moving to Pittsburgh. She spent a few years there, managing an Italian restaurant and bakery. As luck would have it, this Italian restaurant and bakery made their own wine in the basement of the restaurant–wine they enjoyed just for themselves.
“When I came back to Oregon [from Pennsylvania], I loved that tradition [the winemaking at the Italian restaurant]. I would go to work [at Erath] and I’d be processing a thousand tons of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay, and then I went home and I was making Sangiovese in my laundry room in the middle of the night. So when I started Remy Wines, I had learned about these Italian varietals, not in Italy, but in Pittsburgh, because that’s what they were importing: Sangiovese, Barbera, Alicante, Nebbiolo–anything they could get their hands on. It all just went into the same stuff. We had a hand-crank destemmer, and aged [the wine] in whiskey barrels and things like that. It was awesome. And that’s why I ended up not making Pinot; there was no reason to all of a sudden go, ‘Okay, well, I’ve been making these Italian varietals now for three years, and they’re really well received, people really like them and they like the way I make wine….time to make Pinot,’” she explained. “That’s my life in a nutshell.”
Pretty impressive, I’d say. Not only does Remy draw outside the lines with her chosen varietals, but she also goes by strict guidelines when making her wines. Produced in small lots, she sources fruit from single vineyards and wines are 100 percent varietal. Remy ages them for a minimum of 2 years and uses glass Vinolok enclosures instead of cork–keeping the environment in mind while steering away from any cork taint. She’s forward-thinking and innovative–an incredibly talented winemaker.