Over the years of doing blind tastings I have learned that people have different thresholds for off aromas in wine. In a flight of wines with one noticeably flawed wine, I can almost count on at least one person from the group choosing it as their favorite. We all bring different palates and olfactory sensitivities to the table with wine. I even read about one study which doctored wine with 10 times the amount of TCA(trichloroanisole the chemical responsible for that musty smell we know as cork taint) that is normally perceived. You would think people would have run out of the room and I am sure some did but, nearly 10% of the studies participants picked the tainted wine as their favorite.
Maybe the reason is they found something distinct in the wine they could pick out as different. Perhaps that is why I identify with my own wine so much, the mocha aromatic derived from the soil is always distinct. But we can all agree we don’t want the distinction in wines to come from flaws whether they be cork taint or other noticeable flaws including oxidation and brettanomyces.
Brettanomyces is a yeast responsible for that horsey smell in wine is less common than ever. Improved technology in winemaking and sterilization have cleaned up wines considerably in the last decade. I think you might be able to argue the same is true for cork taint. Cork producers are using a variety of techniques to catch tainted cork before it reaches the bottle and their work is paying off according to recent studies.
The level of cork taint even if below 1% as the industry claims is still too high. This is especially true if you are sensitive. Most people don’t pick up TCA at levels below 300 parts per trillion. Yet some people do. I was reminded of this recently with customers who correctly identified a tainted wine when my staff and I smelled no problems. While is is possible the taint may come from other sources such as barrels it is generally recognized that corks are the primary source. The alternative closures are screw caps or synthetic closures utilizing cork particles and food grade adhesives.
So what am I to do as a producer of fine Pinot Noir meant to be aged? It is an interesting problem and one I am thinking more about. For a white wine I would have not problem going to an alternative closure. For age able red wines I still prefer cork but just by a hair. The other closures aren’t proven yet and I have had an oxidized wine from a screw cap. But that is the problem, it is just anecdotal and we need more long term data on alternative closures. Meanwhile I hope the cork industry continues to improve. I could accept a taint rate of <.05% and perhaps with some more science behind them, cork producers will get there. But I am open to new closures, I just want to know that wine will continue to evolve in the same measured way that corks do.
Most of all, I don’t want to have to apologize to my customers who are rightly upset when they get a corked bottle.
A week ago Thursday I sat on the tasting room deck and watched it pour for a good 20 minutes. Normally I try to take it as it comes with the weather. Lets face it, there really isn’t much you can to change things. In a vineyard you have to deal with what mother nature gives you the best you can.
But that down pour had me a little concerned. There are two times of year I do get nervous, around harvest and in June. Typically the vines flower at some point in June. This is a critical time of year. What we want in June is moderate, sunny weather. What we usually get is June gloom. We just hope that we don’t see heavy rain and wind and more often than not we don’t. June is generally just overcast with a few showers rolling through. The strength of the showers can dictate the outcome of the vintage.
With a heavy shower accompanied with wind, the flowers can be knocked off and don’t pollinate and form berries. The result is what we call shatter. Shatter results in lower yields and uneven cluster formation. We would rather have a good fruit set and go back and selectively drop fruit than have mother nature do it for us. That way we get more uniform clusters and we can drop the weakest clusters.
So after the weather last week and some more ensuing showers I couldn’t imagine that we wouldn’t see some shatter. I hadn’t been up at the vineyard since Saturday and on Thursday I had a pretty good idea of what I would find. While it is a little early to access the overall percentage of shatter, I can see we have some and that we will see reduced yields this year.
June gloom spreads it’s doom once again.
I was enjoying the first wine we released from the coolest year ever in Oregon, the 2011 LeNez Pinot Noir and it struck me; single site wines are more important than ever. Yes, I know that is self serving as all of my wine comes from a single site. But in a world of homogenized wines, being distinct is important. And I have said it before, Lenné is a poster child for what you would want from a Pinot Noir site in the Northern Willamette Valley. It has the right elevation-375-575 feet, the right orientation-south facing and a horrible, nasty, why would anything grow in this dirt soil type called peavine. It all makes for distinct terroir.
The 2011 LeNez Pinot Noir is an especially interesting wine because it came from such a remarkable vintage, a vintage that could have been a disaster because of the late onset of bud break and a cool summer. Fortunately Dionysus took pity on us and gave us a week of heat in September and a dry October. We finally picked three weeks late on November 1st at the lowest sugars we have ever experienced. But sugar doesn’t mater, flavor does. The 2011 wines have plenty of flavor and are changing rapidly and will shed their initial lean profile in 6 to 8 months. What we will be left with are delicious wines that remind me of a better version of 2007. If you remember, those wines started out lean and gained so much depth with a little bottle age. The 2011′s will change rapidly because of their low tannin level and should be drinking beautifully by late fall.
But the most interesting thing about the 2011 LeNez is that it has the undeniable personality of Lenné. Their is a certain aromatic that I talk about endlessly that is soil driven and shows up in every wine we have made. But it is more than just that mocha aromatic, it is the mid palate feel and the entirety of the wine. Each new vintage there is a point when I taste the wine and it is like rediscovering an old friend again. It is familiar, warm, satisfying. Each Lenné wine redefines the character of this particular place in a new way changed only by the vintage. The underlying personality is always there, the vintages just dictate the framework of how it is expressed.
That is why single sites are important, they give us a reference point that blended wines just can’t do. In a world where there are many wines that are made without flaws, taste correct if not entirely satisfying, it is good to know that personality does exist in wines, you just have to look in the right places. Becoming intimate with single site wines is a good place to start.
You just never know what you will dig up at Lenné. I decided to move about 80 vines with a track hoe last week as we get ready to expand the lower half of our tasting room. After it is done we will be able to enjoy a dinner indoors in the middle of December and look out at the pouring rain and blowing wind. But to do that we had to move some vines.
- Lenné’s Peavine Soil
It is very difficult, almost painful to take a mature vine out of the ground. It has spent years sending tap roots down to sustain itself and that is no easy task in Lenné soil. But it had to be done and so we thought we could at least gather some of the root ball and transplant the older vines to the southeast corner of the vineyard. I know the soil is bad in all of the vineyard but thought it might contain more organic matter in the lower part of that corner. Boy was I wrong. We dug up nothing but compressed siltstone and sandstone rocks and I loved every minute of it.
How can a plant sustain itself in this soil? Well it goes to show you how hearty grape vines are and why you need to control their vigor by planting them in poor soils. If you want a more detailed explanation of why we like our horrible soil see our trade page.
Every time I smell a Lenné wine it reminds me of a chocolate covered black cherry. Every taste of our wine settles into the back part of my mid palate and I think of all the strange things we dig up at Lenné.
How does this year look? I get asked that all the time, even now, early in the vintage year. I always reply, “ask me about a week before harvest.” Truth is anything can and will happen but I don’t get very excited about it unless it is close to harvest or during bloom, a critical time of year for fruit set. Truth is there isn’t much you can do about the weather except to make adjustments as the season progresses. There is also some credence to the notion that the most difficult years bring the most interesting wines. Pinot Noir just likes to make us suffer a bit sometimes.
Whatever the year brings it all starts with pruning. It isn’t very glamorous but an important part of what we do. We cut off all of last years canes leaving just one cane and a renewal spur from which next years fruiting cane grows.
After we cut off all the growth we wait for some warm, wet weather so the canes are not brittle and we bend the canes over and tie them to the fruiting wire.
Each of the new canes this year will emerge from the 10 buds we leave on the cane we tied to the fruiting wire.
Sometimes, we even get some pretty nice weather and great views to work in. Spring is coming and so is the season so off we go to experience the mysteries of yet another vintage in the Northern Willamette Valley. We hope you will come visit us at Lenné and enjoy spring.