Posts Filed Under overachiever wines
Today, I could be writing any number of travel-related wine pieces from the large number of jaunts I took in the first three quarters of 2012 (how large is that number? let’s just say I’ve had to visit the doctor to treat complications from my ass having spent so much time sitting in airplane seats).
But I’m not going to do that. Not today. Those stories can wait.
Instead, I’m going to put my money where my mouth is, and give some long-overdue attention back to a long-time friend of 1WD. Of course, if his wine sucked he wouldn’t be getting the attention here; but it doesn’t, so he will.
Gabe Jagle is a long-time commenter on these virtual pages, often adding insightful points and taking the conversation in the comments field into fascinating wine geek territory, areas that we might not otherwise have explored even on posts that see dozens of interesting comments. Gabe doesn’t just do that here – he also does it on several other wine blogs, and he generally seems to enjoy the geeky discourse. In fact, he’s prolific enough and so imbued with the power wine-geeky that it was several months in to our blogger/commenter relationship before I even knew that he was an assistant winemaker to Brad Ford at a small Oregon producer, Illahe Vineyards in the Willamette Valley.
That genuine love for the grape and for its discourse is what lead me to finally meet Gabe in “real” life earlier this year, after the 2012 Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland. Gabe is a likeable guy, mild-mannered and with a lanky appearance that to city-slickers like me just screams “Pacific NW Farmer” – kind of Shaggy meets lumberjack (he’s probably going to hate that, but it’s the best I could come up with between writing interruptions from my toddler daughter).
I was interested enough in Illahe’s wines after tasting one of the Pinots during my Portland visit that Gabe and I loosely agreed to try to get me samples, which arrived recently. And while they’re not going to set any concentration-loving palates on their ears, those Illahe wines are in possession of a quality that seems to come along rarely in wines these days: authenticity…
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“We don’t make wine. We grow wine. We’re more like ‘sashimi style’ winemaking.”
On a cool morning that will later turn into a blustering day in the midst of a small August heat wave, Chad Melville seemed to be feeding me what ought to be a standard marketing line about winemaking. The kind that end in phrases like “optimal ripeness.”
Suuuure, you don’t make wine; it’s all about the special land upon which your grapes grow… the one that is kissed by col fog in the morning, and bathed in sunlight and warmth during the day. And he is the sales director for his family’s Lompoc, CA wine business, after all (businessman father Ron Melville founded Melville after getting bit by the wine bug in undergrad, and then setting up a grape growing operation in Knight’s Valley; brother Brent is the vineyard manager).
But there was a problem with Chad’s sales pitch about their by-hand fifteen thousand case production: it didn’t come off as a pitch. No references to optimal ripeness, no rococo-esque flourishes of over-endorsement or self-aggrandizement. Chad’s non-pitch was interjected with the firsthand knowledge of a guy who helped to establish and develop the vineyards and business that his family owns, and who previously assisted in winemaking at the estate (winemaker duties are now headed up by Greg Brewer).
In other words, I bought it, because my bullsh*t meter was barely registering a tick. And after I tasted through Chad’s family’s wines – which are high quality while also being almost fiercely unadorned – I’d say the BS meter had some hard evidence to back up its initial assessment…
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A year later, and Mosel Riesling is still kicking ass. Only it took a blind tasting held in the Finger Lakes to remind me of that.
Back in August, I was asked to participate in a sensory analysis panel in Watkins Glen (Finger Lakes wine country, that is) related to a mobile wine app that has yet to hit the market. I am under a NDA, and so there’s actually not much I can tell you specifically about the event apart from the fact that I was paid for my work, and the relatively large panel also included oenologists, other bloggers like Vinesleuth, a few Finger Lakes winemakers, and some heavy-hitters in the wine judging circuit who I’ve admired for some time (it was a real trip meeting those folks). Also, the weather was f*cking incredible, which helped since my toddler daughter insisted on climbing all over the rocks of the jetty behind the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, which I think might have given me a few (mild) heart attacks.
The blind analysis did not include FLX wines, though I did manage to sneak in a (non-blind) tasting of a some recent Fox Run Vineyards releases with winemakers Peter Bell and Tricia Renshaw. That was a trip highlight for me; their wines continue to improve at a dramatic rate, and they have some very interesting things going on in their 2010 and 2011 Rieslings.
It’s a shame that there weren’t any FLX wines in the lineup, because the wines that I tasted blind over the few days of that sensory eval were, on the whole, not-so-hot. I’d have welcomed a few FLX stalwarts in those glasses, believe me. And once I figured out that we were tasting the wine flights in duplicate, I started to cringe… “Oh sh*t… this means I’m gonna have to taste through that funky-ass, over-oaked, buttery Syrah flight again!” Let’s just say it was good I was getting paid, otherwise I’d have been tempted to skip out to the jetty with my daughter.
A few notable exceptions did crop up through those flights, and I noted one particular white wine that tasted familiar to me, and was clearly a full head-and-shoulders quality level above the rest of the pack of dozens and dozens of budget-priced wines that we tasted (and I’m talking Kevin-Garnett-standing-next-to-me sized head-and-shoulders height difference, here)…
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