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Snooth User: Ttoes

Oregon's Smallest

Posted by Ttoes, Nov 13, 2013.

Hi, I'm Tom Vail.  With my wife Marion, we grow pinot noir and pinot gris in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA.  Our label is Calamity Hill Vineyard and Farm.  We produce fewer than 100 cases of pinot noir and 50 cases of pinot gris each vintage.  Our tasting room is only open Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends and this year on the weekend prior to Thanksgiving.  We also open by appointment.  Learn more about us at http://www.calamityhill.com

We are considering grafting some of our pinot over to albarino or auxerrois.  Tell me if either of those is a wine you enjoy.  We are trying to gauge interest in both wines.

Replies

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Reply by JonDerry, Nov 13, 2013.

Well, thanks for the introduction. I don't like the idea of switching up some of your Pinot to Albariño or whatever else. How about a Rose of Pinot to give you something else to show?

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Reply by Ttoes, Nov 13, 2013.

Thanks, Jonderry.  Appreciate the input.  Our winemaker for the pinot gris, Geoffrey Crowther of Toluca Lane and Three Trees Lane thinks we have the best site for white he has ever seen.  He thinks our pinot gris is so good that we should do nothing but whites.  So, we are giving it some thought.  Last year, for the first time we made a Rosé of Pinot Noir.  We had held off because my wife was never a fan of Rosé.  Well, after her first glass, she announced that two cases were now reserved for our use only and were not for sale.  It is her favorite summer wine.  Unfortunately, our production is so small that both our pinot gris and pinot noir rosé sell out almost immediatety after release (Memorial Day Weekend).  in 2012, we had 37 cases of Gris and 19 cases of Rosé.  The 2013 harvest brought on our new planting of gris for the first time so we hope to get 40-45 cases.  We held out enough of our pinot in 2013 so that we will do 25 to 30 case of Rosé for 2013 vintage.

 

Tom

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Reply by JonDerry, Nov 13, 2013.

Glad to hear the decision is site driven.

I'd go Chardonnay and/or Riesling for additional whites.

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Reply by EMark, Nov 13, 2013.

Tom, I agree with Jon that you have made a very compelling introduction.  I visited your web site and found it to be very well done and interesting.  I encourage others to take a look.  You seem to have a lot of ambitious initiatives.  Good luck.  

I'm not sure I can help one your question of regrafting some of your Pinot Noir.  Most people here are aware of my nonchalance towards Pinot Noir.  So, you might want to discard my musings completely, but I will try to answer your specific questions.

I do like Albariño.  However, I must add that the only examples I have ever tried have been from Rias Baixas.  I know that there are some domestic wineries that have been producing it, but I have never had the opportunity to try one.  Since grapes often do not perform in an expected manner when they are raised in new geographies, and, who's kidding who, we all know that Pinot Noir is the poster child for that dilemma, it is not clear that a U.S. grown version would meet the expectations that I would have for a Spanish grown version.  That being said, if I were to visit your tasting room, I would be very excited to try your Albariño, and, more than likely, I would purchase some.

Before this morning, I had never heard of Auxerrois, but the internet and, specifically, Wikipedia, are wonderful things.  So, now I know.  I would love to try it.  I, like a lot of people here, enjoy any kind of new wine adventure.  So, now my latest quest is to find an example of this wine.  On the other hand, since I read that Auxerrois is a "sister" of Chardonnay, I have to ask the obvious question, "Why don't you just plant Chardonnay?"  It is a proven winner in Oregon.  You won't have to train visitors in your tasting room.  It's an easy sell.  My guess is that you are a contrarian, and want to travel your own path.   

Again, Tom, thank you very much for joining us, here on the Forum.  I hope you continue to participate and keep us up to date on you activities and achievements.

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Reply by Ttoes, Nov 13, 2013.

Thanks, Emark,  

I really appreciate the input.  We are just at the very front end of considering grafting to a new variety to replace some of our pinot noir.  

If you can find a bottle of Abacela Albarino, I think you will appreciate the potential we have here for the variety.  We have not tried Auxerrois yet, either, but plan to this weekend.

And, you are right, I am a bit of a contrarian.  We also grow olives and make olive oil (one of about a half dozen in Oregon).  We are on the very edge of the climate needed for olives, but, we have some that are fairly cold tolerant and our first oils are really nice so we are pretty excited about the olive oil and the wine.

Again, thanks for the input,

Tom

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Reply by gregt, Nov 13, 2013.

If you were a big commercial operation, I would advise against taking out the Pinot Noir, because at least you can sell that.  Unless of course, you were going to plant Chardonnay, Merlot, or Cabernet Sauvignon which sell even better. That's all most people in the US know and that's what sells, so why martyr yourself trying to get people to try something else.

OK, maybe a little Sauvignon Blanc, but that's far outsold by Chardonnay.

But if you're a smaller operation that isn't trying to make millions or even support yourself entirely on what you make, you have a lot more leeway. In a cooler place, you might Syrah, for a reasonably popular red grape, or even something like Blaufrankisch, which is doing pretty well in Michigan of all places, but most people don't know. 

And for whites, Albarino is far better known in the US than Auxerrois, which in the US, one really only finds in wines from Alsace, although it's grown elsewhere. It's confusing because the term Pinot Blanc actually includes Auxerrois, even though the two grapes aren't related, so Deiss, for example, sells a Pinot Blanc that's actually entirely Auxerrois. So of the people who actually know Alsatian wine, some will know Auxerros, but it's not the go-to for most people.

Of course, saying Albarino may be better-known as a grape isn't really saying all that much. It started becoming a little trendy among wine geeks a few years ago, but my guess is that Joe Average still has no clue what it is. So you're choosing between hardly-known and pretty much unknown, even on wine forums.

That said, I know Albarino pretty well and like it. Auxerrois not so much. I've done a few tastings of those and whenever I did them, or whenever I had a bottle with dinner or something, I've been entirely unimpressed. But that may well be because most has been from Alsace and I don't find those wines all that inspiring in general. In a colder place, which you may be, perhaps it will be more interesting.

I'd try yours for sure just because it would be a curiosity.

But you need to get people to buy it a second time, so I wouldn't go crazy with grafting until you find out how it works for you. I know there's a nascent movement to plant more of it, and I applaud that, but it's going to be trial and error for years.

But there are other grapes. Albarino comes from the north of Spain and often has an Atlantic influence. If your climate and soil are similar, you can try any number of white Spanish grapes - Godello (and you'll be one up on Abacela), Hondarribi Zuri, which is used to make Txakoli, Macabeo, Verdejo, or maybe some others, like Xarel-lo.

I'd try any one of them. But again, it's easy for me to say - it's not my money. 

BTW - what about things like Chenin Blanc? That used to be planted a but more widely and some wasn't too bad.

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Reply by Ttoes, Nov 13, 2013.

Thanks Greg,

Lots to take in there.  We still plan to keep the majority of our pinot as we like it and worst case, we could sell our grapes many times over each year.  We just think there is a chance to make a stunning wine (like our gris - just bragging) from another white.  And, you may be right that Chardonnay is the one to try.  We just like being a bit different.  In the Eola-Amity Hills, the most grown fruit is Pinot followed by Gris and Chard.  If we grew those three we would be far too conventional.

I'm impressed with all the feedback coming on this forum - glad I joined.

Tom

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Nov 14, 2013.

Someone had to mention Abacela if he's thinking about Spanish grapes in Oregon!

There are a lot of choices here.  I'd look at what your soil is like, your micro and meso climates, and what kinds of wines you have liked from those types of soils and climates.  Chenin is an interesting choice for OR, one I think more people should try--it wants to be in an area where it struggles a little with ripening, IMO--if you want that zingy acid to come through. 

Since you are so small and you don't expect to sell a million bottles, I think you can go for a somewhat niche market where you won't have much competition.  You can hit the restaurants from Portland to Seattle and convince them to make your Chenin or Albarino the domestic entry in that part of the list.  But I wouldn't go with Auxerrois--just too unknown and not something people are dying to find out about even in the geekworld.  Now, furmint or rkatsiteli, or assyrtiko, you'd get my attention... even leanyka or kiralyleanyka--I've had some good wines with those.  But Auxerrois? 

BTW, selling out of your rose wine the first time you open the door sounds like a good problem to have.

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Reply by JonDerry, Nov 14, 2013.

Tom,

Who would've thought you'd get such useful consulting advice from this board?

Seems like you have a good thing going, but an itch to experiment with something a little lesser known and exciting. Albarino strikes me as a bit of a fad (in the states at least). The Chenin Blanc suggestion is interesting, though you face tough and economical competition in France. Semillon seems to be gaining a little traction here, so that may be one to look in to if it matches your site. What I like about both of these grapes is it gives you the option to experiment with sweet wines, at least in good boytritis years.

Anyway, think you have enough of a sample to throw out the Auxerrois route. I'm sure we'd be interested in updates as they come so keep us posted if you can. Many of us dream or at least think about having our own piece of wine producing dirt so this is interesting stuff.

 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Nov 14, 2013.

Lots of semillon was being grown in WA.  Haven't really looked too much at it for a while.

I don't know how useful we are as consultants, but we have a lot of opinions, take them for that.  And you could probably sell quite a bit of whatever you grow to the regulars and readers here--Snooth readers seem to like wine with a good story behind it. 

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Reply by Ttoes, Nov 14, 2013.


Thanks, Richard, for all the input.  Furmint?  Rkatsiteli?  I have a new list to look up when I get time.

As for selling out the Rosé so easily, you have to remember how small we are:  19 cases of Rosé produced in 2012; 37 cases of Pinot Gris produced in 2012.  Both sell out very quickly and we always have a list in the fall of people who want more.  This year we will produce about 25 case of Rosé and 45 cases of Gris.  The success of our gris and its unique properties is what is driving us to consider producing more whites and less pinot.

Am having fun collecting all the suggestions.  That will help us as we get closer to doing something or standing pat.

Tom

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Reply by JenniferT, Nov 19, 2013.

Hi there! An interesting thread - please keep us posted!

Just a thought - maybe you should look at other wineries in the NW doing a wine with Auxerrois (or any of the other grapes you're considering). You could probably learn from their experiences and get a feel for how receptive the market is for their unique offering. I know there are wineries in BC doing a varietal Auxerrois - Gehringer and Grey Monk are two that come to mind. I think Alderlea vineyards has had some success with a blended auxerrois/chardonnay (I know I've seen this offered in at least one local restaurant).

Auxerrois was on my radar prior to seeing it on this thread because I have seen it in the local market. However I definitely don't think most people would have heard of it.

I was thinking maybe you could look to these wineries to guage their success at selling wine made from a variety that most people have never heard of. HOWEVER I would also warn you however that my impression is that BC has a more loyalist-driven market - BC wines take up a disproportionally large segment of the wines available for sale in that province. There are also many people and restaurants committed to drinking or serving mostly (if not all) BC wines. So it's entirely possible this market might be more receptive to such an endeavour.

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Reply by Ttoes, Nov 19, 2013.

Hi Jennifer,

Thanks for the input.  At this point, we are still looking more to by unique and give people a reason to seek us out.  My guess is we would not graft more than enough for a ton of fruit/maybe 50 cases of wine.  I guess what I am confessing is that we are thinking more about being different and hopefully finding a variety that will thrive on our site.  It's the same reason we grow olives for olive oil.  Our site is only suited to certain varieties and we have been experimenting since 2007 to find those that thrive and make the best oil.   This will be a similar experiment.

Right now I'm focussed on this weekend.  Since our tasting room is only open three weekends a year, we work hard at making it a special experience for those who come.  Lots of great food, a pinot sale, and nice weather predicted for both days means we should have a good time and sell a lot of wine.

Will let you know what we decide to do re grafting-over some of our pinot vines.

Thanks again,

Tom

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Reply by JenniferT, Nov 19, 2013.

Good luck! I'll keep an eye on you guys; maybe I can also make it down there to see you guys sometime.

 


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