History with my Wednesday night dinner

So… I’m moving house and clearing out the wine cellar,. And as part of the clearing out I am working my way through the “mystery bottles”. I assume every winemaker has them - the bottles with no label. There were probably first or last off of the bottling run, maybe samples that were pulled before the wine was labeled after bottling. You have a vague idea of what they might be, but you’re not certain. You can’t sell them because you’re not sure what they are. You could give them away to your neighbors, but they might be really good…. 

So, last night, with my Wednesday night dinner, I opened one and I’m pretty sure it was a 2011 Willful Pinot Noir and I, of course, got nostalgic. 

Pinot NoIr, more than any other varietal, expresses not only the vineyard that it comes from, but also the vintage.  This wine was a moment in history, a subtle encapsulation of a specific moment in life. 

2011 was my first vintage as a winemaker and the first time we got grapes from the vines that Aron and I planted on the property in Dundee. That summer, the lovely Lucie, out first intern from France, stayed with us. She helped me position every shoot perfectly to take advantage of whatever sun was available. It was a cool summer, the last cool summer that we’ve had in Oregon.

We noodled the vineyard to perfection, and harvested 7 tons at 23.5 brix on 26thOctober, ludicrously late by today’s standards. I remember walking down the hill, drenched, as it started to rain as we were finishing up picking, and coming in to my tiny house in Dundee with a room full of friends that were there to help me celebrate the first pick, and a huge pot of beef stew on the stove. It was a special day.

I made the wine because I loved the vines, and I couldn’t bear the idea of handing them over to a consultant or someone to make it for me, but I didn’t decide to follow through and bottle under my own label until the following year when I had to bottle it. I wasn’t even sure whether it would be any good.

Eight years later, the wine is gorgeous – a perfect balance between fruit and acidity, with more complexity than it should have, given the youth of the vines. I love wines from the cooler vintages in Oregon. They tend to be a little more reticent early on, but they tend to age beautifully, and I really enjoy the lighter weight and the brightness of them.

This harvest will be my 20th vintage in Oregon. Life goes by quickly, and seems to speed up as I get older. I can hardly fathom, that it’s been 20 years already. But the baby that I used to carry around in a sling as I visited accounts in Portland, is now a 6ft tall sixteen year old, and living proof that time moves on.

On Saturday June 22nd, I’ll be doing my first winemaker dinner in Dundee, at the Balanza Vineyard in the Dundee Hills.  They have a beautiful, covered outdoor space next to the vines and we’re bringing in a chef to create a menu to pair with my wines. I’ll bring a bottle of the 2000 Daedalus Cellars pinot noir as a treat too. The Balanzas have a three-bedroom B&B to anyone that would like to stay the night in Dundee. We haven’t confirmed the chef yet, but I encourage you to save the date and come and join us for a magical night in the hills of Dundee.

Mom, Winemaker, Bon Viveur

This picture is the story of my life this month. My kitchen has been taking over by various blending and fining trials. In the background you see the chores chart, which is actually rarely referred to and is really just a testament to my fervent attempts to get my pre teen and teenage boys to contribute to our little household. Most days seem to be a blur of juggling the various parts of my world: winemaking, running a small business, and mothering two very bright and active young men.

This month I blended and bottled the 2017 Jezebel Blanc. That wine will be released in April. The flavor profile is consistent with previous vintages but it has a wee bit less sweetness than usual. It's still aromatic and fruity but I think it'll work with a wider variety of foods. I also blended a sparkling version of the Jezebel Blanc. It's mostly dry, and has more Pinot Gris in it than the regular Blanc. Expect to see that out in May.

I had my first sales trip of the year this month too: to Georgia, one of my favorite states to visit. I attended a benefit dinner at Elizabeth's on 37th in Savannah and was able to see a stunning sand mandala that some Buddhist monks had created for the event. Six monks worked non stop for three days to create a work of art on a table with colored sand, just to wipe it away the day after the dinner. I love the idea that we should enjoy the present and embrace change as it happens. It's something that has helped me ride the wild waves of the last few years. 

Harvest 2017

It was awesome! I had wonderful support at both Way Down Wines and Eugene Wine Cellars and some really great grapes to work with.

I got pinot noir from Northridge Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills again, as well as some 777 and Pommard clone pinot from old vines in the Dundee Hills, and from Ribbon Ridge. Since we're looking to open a tasting room (finally!) next spring, I added some other varietals as well. I have just over 3 barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon from Seven Hills Vineyard in Walla Walla, fermented as 100% whole cluster (it's my favorite thing from this vintage so far). I got Tempranillo from Delfino Vineyard in the Umpqua Valley again, fermented as 100% whole cluster (I got stung on the foot doing pipeage). I also got a tiny amount of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from Delfino, and Merlot from Serra Vineyard in the Applegate Valley. They were all fermented separately but I think they'll end up as a southern Oregon Bordeaux-style blend, with the emphasis on the Merlot.

Now we just have to wait for several months before we can drink them!  Sign up for the mailing list and you'll be the first to hear when they're released.

Oregon Wine Month

So.. it’s Oregon Wine Month and I thought this was perhaps a good moment to reflect on what the Oregon wine industry means to me personally. I’ve had this business for seventeen years now. It’s gone through many changes, as have I (gravity sure as hell hasn't been a friend). One thing that has always remained though is the support and friendship of the people that I’ve met within the industry. I’ve had the fortune to work in many different facets: marketing, national sales through distributors, tasting room sales, local wholesale sales, winemaking, viticulture and I'm constantly warmed by the collaborative spirit of the people that I encounter.

When I took over the winemaking in 2011 it was a huge challenge but there was no shortage of winemakers willing to offer me their time and advice. Aron was always very supportive, and Chris Berg at Laurel Ridge was great when I was there, but I've had advice from tons of winemaker friends over the years. I find most Oregon winemakers are equally happy to share their challenges and successes in the spirit of educating each other.

Even the sales teams seem to be complimentary of each other, rather than trying to out-do each other. There's the general idea that if one of us succeeds, we all do.

Probably my favorite thing about making wine at S.E. Wine Collective is the people I work with. Tom and Kate have created an environment that nurtures each of the small winery businesses that works in their space and they in turn support each other.

There are some bigger companies coming to Oregon and the business is changing and evolving of course. In some ways it feels like it's growing up. It's good to grow up, and it's important to be constantly evolving. I'm excited to see what our future as an industry will bring, and look forward to maintaining the sprit of camaraderie  and cooperation that I think makes us special.

The Willful Spirit of the Small Business Owner

Apparently... The week of April 30th is Small Business Week (according to the SBA anyway)...so in this blog entry, I'm celebrating the "willful" spirit of all small business owners. It's 6am in the morning (my best time to catch up on office work), or I'd be raising a glass to you all. I'll have to do that later...

I have recently become more appreciative of the talents of small business owners. It takes a certain kind of person to be able to do, or to want to do it. Sure, the flexible schedule is great. It's how I manage being a single parent, but on the flip side you're always at work.  Last night, I was cooking pasta while invoicing and running a bath for the 11-year-old.

In any given week I can be topping barrels before I visit wholesale accounts in Portland; doing blending trials on my kitchen counter while I cook the family dinner, or updating Quickbooks or my CRM software while I supervise homework, plan strategy with out of state distributors or manage social media. 

At times, often times, it's exhausting, but it's also kind of exhilarating. I love to create things, make new connections with people, build new sales avenues, come up with the best wine blend I can with what I've got.

It's definitely not for everyone, but it's definitely for me. So... here's a glass to all the crazy people who decided to follow their hearts and dreams and go for broke. I admire your passion, dedication and commitment, because you wouldn't be in business if you didn't have all of those. Congratulations to you all!


Willful Wine in the news and being auctioned off

So... I'm finally writing a blog entry. It is likely to be sporadic but I'll do my best, so here goes with the first entry (I feel like I want to start with "Dear Diary") ....

It has been a busy week at Willful Wine Co.  Last weekend I had a wonderful time connecting with old friends in the valley during the Willamette Valley Wineries Association's second Barrel Auction.  I poured for some charming guests in between sneaking off from my barrel to taste through everyone else's wines.  And there were some wines worth tasting. Every one was just fantastic.  My personal favorites were Anne Amie, Antica Terra, Bethel Heights (I always love Ben's wines), Walter Scott (perhaps my favorite this year?), Nicolas Jay (my favorite last year and just exquisite again this year, and Lange. But, really, they were all superb. Almost as good as the table tennis and bean bag toss at the After Party.

Midweek I've been visiting accounts around Portland, checking in, saying hi, pouring samples and enjoying visiting, especially with my friend Kurt at Davenport, which is easily one of my favorite restaurants in Portland.

Today my barrel topping at S.E. Wine Collective was enhanced by the delicious smells wafting from Althea's kitchen. It was all I could do to stay focused on the wine, which, by the way is coming along nicely.  I really, really like the 2016 vintage. My 2016 Willful wines will be 100% Pommard from just two vineyards in Dundee and Eola-Amity. But they won't be in the bottle for a while yet...

And we were mentioned on TV again. KGW-TV was at Quaintrelle and they mentioned our upcoming Winemaker Dinner next month.  Click here for more information on the dinner and to buy tickets.

As ever.. thanks for your support and encouragement. It means a lot to me.