The people who are making tiny lot, often esoteric wines are some of the most uniquely interesting winemakers I have interviewed. Making it in the wine world is hard enough as it is. You know the saying about the best way to make $1 million in wine is to make $5 million in another industry and then open a winery. For these wine rebels it is like they said, “Oh yeah, I’ll do that and with one eye closed.” They chose the path less taken and then went off road. These are not the people we consider “normal” or “mainstream” and because of this they are damn fun to talk to and they make some interesting wines you might want to secure for your cellar. If you are in Oregon I list places where they pour. All the wines are also available online. Check out web links for more info.
Leah Jorgenson Cellars
Leah Jorgenson’s genuine grin and enthusiasm are contagious and her Loire inspired wines are addictive. Perhaps the only producer in the world of a white Cabernet Franc, Jorgenson also crafts Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, a Gamay dominant red blend, and a traditional Cabernet Franc. Jorgenson was inspired to pursue her Loire style Oregon wines by Earl Jones of Abacela Winery and his use of geological evidence to support the planting of Spanish varietals in the Umpqua Valley. “I don’t know that I would have done this were it not for Earl,” Jorgenson shared. Focusing mostly on vineyards in the Rogue and Applegate Valleys, Jorgenson works with limestone soils encrusted with 250 million year old marine fossils, similar to the tuffeau soils of the Loire Valley. She currently makes 1000 cases. “I want to maintain the fun, curiosity, and enjoyment of the experience,” claimed Jorgenson. Visit http://leahjorgensencellars.com to purchase wine and make tasting appointments.
A Cheerful Note
Impassioned by winemaking Ariel Cristina Eberle worked her way up the ranks to become the Assistant Winemaker at Yamhill Valley Vineyards. But she had to have her own label. Taste the wine, hear the story of her label design, and you will know why. A Cheerful Note is such a reflection of her. The image on the label represents the Greek Phrase “Kalos Kagathos” which means, the singular balance between good and beautiful. Eberle says this phrase captures her goal for herself and her wine. The font is a reproduction of her late Mother’s handwriting, both a tribute and reminder.
The complete 2013 production of A Cheerful Note is 47 cases of one Pinot Noir. Reflecting the depth of Eberle’s connection, the grapes were the product of vines she helped plant, on her hands and knees, in 2009. Seeing her dream come true she felt she had to give something back. “I make booze for a living. I need to contribute something back to society,” explains Eberle. She donates 10% of profits to Ecotrust and Boys and Girls Aid. Contact Eberle to purchase wine or learn where she will pour next. http://acheerfulnote.com
Viola Wine Cellars
Darryl Joannides says that winemaking is his ninth or tenth career. “I’ve always wanted to do different things and am the type of person who just does them,” says Joannides. With a focus on Italian inspired wines made with Northwest grapes, Joannides produced 1000 cases in 2015. “I will have to scale that back a little. It pushed the limits of what I can do in my 500 square foot garage.” Expect reds inspired by the Northwest Italy and whites patterned after Northeast Italy. His Barbera and Dolcetto are made in stainless steel. His whites, like his Sauvignon Blanc dominant blend Bianco d’Allegre, are typically fermented on skin and bring a high level of acid with texture and tannin. Casa Viola Rosso, hIs house red blend of Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo, and Primitivo tastes just like the house wine served by the carafe in a ristorante in Italy. When the waiter asks if you want a carafe, you answer “si” and you don’t worry what is in it because it taste so authentic and delicious. Tastings are in the Portland tasting room Fridays or by appointment. http://violawines.com
Jasper Sisco Wines
The idea behind Jasper Sisco Wines is “natural, affordable, and accessible.” Justin Paul Russell grew up in what he calls a “Southern nuclear family.” Forget 2.5 kids, his house was full of extended family who lived off the big backyard garden. Sustainable land use was just a way of life and today he seeks vineyard partners that are an extension of his mission to produce natural wines. Sourcing from six Willamette Valley vineyards and three Columbia Valley sites Russell crafts Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Cinsault Rose. He also makes Gratus Bynum, an Alsatian style white blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Muscat. Russell plans to grow his business to 3500-4000 cases and is building a tasting room in Portland to open by the end of the year. In the meantime his wines are available at the SE Wine Collective. http://www.jaspersiscowines.com
The Pressing Plant
What does one do for an encore after killing it as a band manager in New York’s rock scene? Move across the country. Catch the wine bug. Literally Google “wine school” and go get a degree from UC Davis. But you can’t stop the music so Sheri Hood of The Pressing Plant makes “mixed tapes” to capture the vibe of the winemaking process and uses music to describe her wine. Bryter Layter is named after a Nick Drake album and sets the expectation for bright sunny Chardonnay. “Music is as much a feeling as a sound just like wine is a feeling not just a taste,” explains Hood.
The Pressing Plant strikes a chord with quality and price point. It is next to impossible to find a $20 Pinot Noir or Chardonnay that you could peg as authentically Oregon with your eyes closed. Hood currently makes 800 cases. Find her wines at most New Seasons, Oregon Wines on Broadway, and special events. http://www.pressingplantwine.com
William (Bill) Hooper is one of two Americans to graduate the German Wine and Agricultural school in Neustadt an der Weinstraße in the past 115 years. If chemistry and biology sound difficult, try studying them in German. Not to mention all the German swear words he had to learn. A taste of 1998 J.J. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese inspired him to study.. “It was like tasting a guitar-solo of apples and steel. ALIVE! I had to get to the bottom of it,” recalls Hooper. Upon returning to the states he found in Willamette Valley the soil and climate he desired for Riesling. He farms four acres scattered across Eola-Amity HIlls, Yamhill and the Coast Range. “I like to play with soils and clones to make the wine as divergent as possible,” explains Hooper. He touches every vine, grape, and bottle in the European tradition of the vineyard manager and winemaker being one in the same. “It is like writing and directing your own play instead of being handed a script,” he explains. Remember the control freak component of this? Hooper currently produces 900 cases, FIVE different Rieslings (and a Pinot Blanc), most of which lean to a drier Alsatian style. Contact Hooper for tasting appointments. http://paetrawine.com/index.html
A version of this story originally appeared in Oregon Wine Press.