Are wine critics still relevant or are you?

I have a simple rule for reviews of my wine; celebrate them when they are good,  ignore them when they are bad and never put too much stock in either. Fortunately the wine press has been kind to us with some very good reviews and no bad reviews only a few mediocre ones. I continue to send wines in or sit down to taste with reviewers and along the way I have learned a thing or two.

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Most reviewers have palates just like you. They have likes and dislikes based on their body chemistry and life experience.  Most critics don’t taste wine blind in manageable flights comparing like vintages and regions.  Most wine professionals can’t predict the future in spite of their assurances of when to drink the wine.  Wine is not static and very few people can taste an Oregon Pinot Noir and see what will be there in two to five years. So make sure your wine is somewhat developed before you send it in for review. Many critics rate disparate regions and rate entirely too many wines. The good ones do have an advantage over you because they have been to the area they are reviewing, seen the lay of the land, talked to winemakers and tasted hundreds of wines making their context much broader than most of us. While that can make them more competent it doesn’t necessarily make them right.  Most of all I have learned that with wine, like art, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

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So are reviewers still relevant and who are the good ones?   Some are and I think it is important for winemakers to weigh in on who. You may think that is blasphemy because we are biased about our own wines. That is true but we also understand our wines and most of all our terroir better than anyone as we are around them on a daily basis.  I think that when winemakers read a review we turn the tables and rate the critics or at least their descriptions of our wine. Perhaps we are just giving credit to the reviewers who’s perception of our wine matches our own. But like the reviewers who have context because they visit and know an area, who has better context about a wine that the person who made it?

Some of my best critics are regular customers and many have a better sense of my wine than the people who review it especially the arm chair critics that have popped up all over the internet. Anyone can right a blog and review a wine and finding relevance in them is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Of the bloggers who have reviewed my wine I will say there is one blogger who was more perceptive than most, Fredrick Koeppel who writes Bigger Than Your Head.

But in all the of the critical landscape there is one writer who’s reviews I could plagiarize and use in the descriptive section of my winemaker’s notes: Rusty Gaffney and his publication The PinotfileHe picked out the terroir of my vineyard in the glass and few do on the first run through, especially from the cooler vintage. Rusty primarily focuses on American Pinot Noir and is also one of the few reviewers who often returns to an opened bottle of wine a day later which is essential to understanding a vintage like 2011. He isn’t reviewing loads of varieties other than Pinot Noir.  His recent reviews of my 2011 Pinot Noir’s so fit my own perception that it was uncanny. But it wasn’t the first time I have felt that way reading his reviews even when I like one of my wines more than he did.  If you are a fan of Pinot Noir you can’t ignore The Pinotfile. In addition to the reviews, The Pinotfile has some of the most informative articles out there on American Pinot Noir.  A past issue had a cover article on the Coury clone that was the most in depth reference I have seen on the subject to date.

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Perhaps finding a reviewer that you respect means finding one who’s palate is like your own. For a winemaker having a reviewer understand your wine is very satisfying, one who criticizes it not so much.  I have tasted with two different reviewers for The Wine Advocate, Jay Miller and David Schildknecht.  I had a really rewarding moment when on the third year Jay Miller visited a light went off and he totally got the soil driven, mocha aromatic which is a signature of my wines. David Schildknecht has had the unenviable task of rating two very cool Oregon vintages back to back.  I still haven’t figured out if his palate will warm up to our terroir but he is a very smart reviewer who does his homework. Finally I met Harvey Steiman this year who has about as broad a knowledge base as anyone and as comfortable and down to earth reviewer as I have met. He was in Oregon getting a feel for the 2012 vintage and probably got more of a feel for the 2013 vintage than we would have liked; it was pouring rain as he left my tasting room.

Maybe someday science will be applied to reviewing wines. Would that be interesting or ruin the fun and would it even be possible? I think it could be but don’t expect it anytime soon as the wine world is so much more vast than when The Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate started reviewing wines in the late 70’s. And how will Millennials get their wine information; will the normal channels still be relevant? I’m not so sure.

My advice is to keep an open mind and let reviews guide you to new wines. But in the end trust your palate. You are your own critic both of wines and the people who review them.

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A vintage only the parents could love?

We had a little dog that I loved dearly named Jackie. He was a little terrier-sheepdog mix and was as smart as they come. In his later years when he went deaf all I had to do is motion with my hands and he understood to come, to stop or to move away. He protected and loved us as any good sheepdog would do. We got Jackie at a terrier rescue shelter when he was about a year old.  Who knows what his first year of life was like but he had a bark that was much bigger than his bite. He was a little sweetie underneath but fearful, especially of men, and the fear often came out as aggression.
jackie

Needless to say he was hard to understand for most people who had just meet him. He would snarl his teeth, growl and scare the hell out of anyone who wasn’t a dog person.  We had to warn people as they came into the house, “don’t make eye contact with him.” That would be about all it would take to set him off and it was more than disconcerting to us who knew how smart, lovable and complex this little dog was. But our close friends, those who spent time with us, eventually all warmed up to Jackie and felt bad when we finally had to put him down last New Year’s Eve.

It took some time to appreciate Jackie but was worth it once you did and that reminds me of the 2011 Pinot Noir vintage in Oregon. It was a remarkable vintage, perhaps Oregon’s coldest ever, a vintage saved by a week of 90 degree weather in September and the fact that the rain stayed away until November. The wines have some sharp edges now and growl at you a bit and most consumers don’t understand them at the moment.

But we can look ahead. We know how cool vintages evolve and if you have forgotten get your hands on a Pinot from the 2007 vintage in the Willamette Valley. If you remember 2007 was warmer than the 2011 vintage but cooled down quickly when rain showers arrived just before harvest and persisted through most of October. The wines from 2007 started out lean just like the 2011 wines. In fact I don’t remember two vintages that were so alike upon release.2011LEPinot

Each night I sit with a bottle of wine from the 2011 vintage I get more enamored. I suspect by late spring the wines will be good and delicious by this time next year. The 2011 wines are changing rapidly like the 2007 vintage because of their relatively low tannin levels. The high acidity and low ph’s should keep the fruit intact for years to come and produce complex, delicious wines. Just like Jackie, the wines are making their way into my heart and for any Pinot Noir lover, should make their way into your cellar.

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Wheeew……just barely!!

We had record breaking rain at the end of September! But don’t panic, the season was early and much of the fruit was in before the deluge this past weekend.  At Lenné we were fortunate to have ripe, developed fruit that we harvested Thursday and Friday before the rain. We were also darn lucky to have enough pickers to harvest. The shortage of labor for picking is an ever increasing problem and one we will have to deal with. Most producers scrambled to pick before the weekend and I am sure some had to let fruit hang.haulinggrapes

And what about the grapes that weren’t picked? That is a good question and depends on the fragility of the fruit. If the fruit is intact and we get primarily dry weather for the next 10 days those wines will be good. It all depends on how much absorption and disease pressure exist in any given site. Part of our vineyard could have weathered the rain and been okay assuming we had 5 or 6 days of dry weather.mud

But I am glad we got it off. The flavors were good and I am optimistic about the vintage. The tricky part was getting the fruit out of the vineyard. In a wet year we fight slippery conditions on a steep hill which is a little scary. Try driving a tractor in that and you will know what I mean when I say………….wheeew! Somehow the wine gods smiled on us and we ripened our fruit and got it out of the vineyard, just barely.

 

 

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It wouldn’t be harvest unless I was on a tractor after dark.

Every harvest I find myself driving in the dark staging bins for an early morning pic. Sometimes its hard to see out there even though I have lights. With 4 bins stacked on the front forks it is easy to make a mistake, like the year I ran over the propane tank that feeds the bird cannon. Thank god it didn’t explode, just let out a loud hiss and I jumped out of the tractor and ran like hell.harvesting kill hill

Last night there was a full harvest moon and a perfectly clear sky. The air was warm and I stopped for a minute at the top of the vineyard and just absorbed it all; it was stunningly beautiful. It was just one of those moments that just make you feel glad to be alive. I am sure you have had that feeling in nature.

Later I thought what an interesting harvest.  Everyone harvest is different and this is an early harvest by Lenné standards, only two being around this same time. A couple of weeks ago we got rain followed by a day of record heat which could have been a problem but ensuing cooler weather helped keep the vines in check.

Thank you Dyonisus . The cool weather has kept sugars in check and I can’t see the wines clearly this harvest will produce, but I think they will be good, forward and enjoyable early. The proof will be in the pudding, or more aptly the barrel and soon.

I will keep you posted…

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Screw caps, can’t we do better?

When I get a corked bottle of wine I think corks are important and when a customer gets the same they become even more so. The cork industry has made significant progress in the last 10 years to eliminate tainted corks before reach the bottle.  Is it good enough?

Not yet though on all the Lenné wines I have samples over the last 7 years(estimated to be around 1500) I have come across less than 10 corked wines. That doesn’t mean the presence  trichloranisole, or TCA  wasn’t there, it could mean it was in low enough levels that I didn’t pick it up. So I too debate using the Stelvin(screw cap) closure in the future.stelvin_1

The fact is I hate the way the screw cap feels and looks. There is something sensual about a cork and we taste wines with our senses not just our palates. When I hear that “pop” as I pull a cork from an anticipated bottle of wine I start to salivate. I suppose it is classical conditioning, just like Pavlov’s dog.

I am conditioned to experience wine with my senses. Recently I took a trip to Victoria, B.C. and brought two perfectly shaped glasses I purchased for the trip. They were clear plastic glasses as I was tired of breaking the small Riedel glasses I typically bring. The first night I poured a glass of the 2010 LeNez Pinot, smelled it and brought it to my lips……eeew! I just wasn’t prepared for the way the plastic felt and over the next couple of days never could get used to drinking wine out of those perfectly shaped plastic glasses. I guess next trip it is back to the glass.

But I am conditioned. I have been drinking wine out of good glasses for years. I have been salivating to the pop of a cork for equally as long. It is hard to teach an old dog new tricks as the saying goes. Perhaps the millennial’s will salivate the moment the metal seal breaks as they twist off the screw cap. I wonder.

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