The Tasting Panel magazine

October 2015

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Page 30 of 140

30  /  the tasting panel  /  october 2015 S outhern Oregon's wine regions—to quote Doug Frost, MW, MS, following our participation as judges in the 2015 Oregon Wine Competition this past August—is a "crazy quilt . . . with its own set of unique climatic challenges . . . and local flora with its own unique profile and dusty, herbal notes pervasive in many wines." Like Frost, I have dedicated considerable time over the past 20 years to investigating this fascinating AVA, now sub-divided into four sub-appellations (Applegate Valley, Rogue Valley and Umpqua Valley plus its own sub-AVA, Red Hill Douglas County) spread out over 100 miles apart, in corners of coastal hillsides, benches and valley floors. At first, I was intrigued by the potential of Spanish varieties like Tempranillo and Albariño, given the region's latitudinal equivalency to the Iberian Peninsula. Later it was Southern Oregon's hugely aromatic, rambunctious Rhône-inspired wines. At one time or another, seemingly every Willamette Valley winemaker of note—Lynn Penner- Ash, Lauren Montalieu, Ken Wright, et al.— was producing Southern Oregon-grown Syrah on the side. Wright once told me, "Southern Oregon Syrah is more Old World than New. . . we get delineated qualities— graphite, cedar, blueberries, raspberries, very balanced, never over the top." But this last visit, Frost confides, "felt ever so slightly like a letdown . . . I had hoped for more growth and improvement, more devel- opment of new grapes and vineyards, more fascinating and headstrong winemakers. Instead, improvements had been incremen- tal, as though a certain caution prevailed within the industry." Personally, I felt the same as Frost the moment we were asked by Oregon Wine Competition organizers to look for wines that "could compare with wines from other regions." Fair enough—every emerging wine region wants to become known for wines comparable to the best from anywhere. However, what excites us most are wines that are not comparable to other regions. Wines so unique, so expres- sive of singular terroirs, you cannot find similarity elsewhere. While Southern Oregon's progress may seem temporarily jammed by its own producers' lack of self-confidence, there is still plenty to write home about. Brandborg Wines, for instance, continues to craft extreme coastal Umpqua Valley Pinot Noirs that bristle with acidity, feathery finesse and woodsy distinctions. Tempranillos by the groundbreaking Abacela estate remain dark, pungent, obstinate, like beasts in the night. But for me, the poster child for Southern Oregon's promise as a land of indefatigable terroirism is Quady North in Applegate Valley. Since 2005, owner/grower/wine- maker Herb Quady has stuck to the script: producing wines that do not kowtow to varietal, or any wine judge's, expectations. I tasted a 2011 Quady North Mae's Vineyard Applegate Valley Syrah, for instance, that had the violet varietal perfume, only subju- gated to wild, elemental, organic sensations suggesting lavender, loam, sagebrush – tasting more like a place than a grape. A 2013 Leah Jorgensen Cellars "Loiregon" Cabernet Franc—another wine sourced from Quady's Mae's Vineyard—was lean, sharp and electrifying (like sticking your tongue in a socket) with dried berries and scrubby, mildly compost-like qualities. Absolutely nothing to do with anything from, say, Chinon, California or Finger Lakes, yet totally delicious. Still another doozy grown in Mae's Vineyard was the 2013 Day Wines "Hock and Deuce" Syrah, co-fermented with 20% Viognier. In this wine, original thought process collides with domineering terroir to forge an extremely linear (in contrast to Quady North's muscular style of Syrah), flowery, peppery, scrubby style of the grape unlike anything grown in the Rhône or hatched by California's current crop of "cool kid" winemakers. There's something happening here, as the old song goes, and not everyone—even in Southern Oregon—knows what it is. Right up a sommelier's alley! "Crazy Quilt" SOUTHERN OREGON IS SLOWLY KICKING OUT THE JAMS story and photos by Randy Caparoso Quady North owner/grower/ winemaker Herb Quady in his Mae's Vineyard, in Oregon's Applegate Valley. Randy Caparoso and Doug Frost, MW, MS, at 2015 the Oregon Wine Competition judging. Mae's Vineyard Syrah in the latter stage of veraison, August 2015.

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