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.
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.
The one thing that is predictable about fall in Oregon is that it is unpredictable and cool Septembers bring the most interesting wine. Sure we had early warm weather in April and May and appear to be headed for an early harvest. It is easy to think that way sitting here in Yamhill on August 6th at 93 degrees with the temperature in the middle of the vineyard about 2 degrees beyond that.
But that’s why we keep notes and looking back we were at about the same place at this time in 2007. We have just started veraison, or color change over the weekend. In 2007 on the 10th of August we were about 10% through color change. By the 24th of September we were sitting at between 23 and 24 degrees brix throughout the vineyard under beautiful clear skys. At that point we were just waiting for flavor development.
Then the sh*&% hit the fan and it started showering, heavy at times, right through harvest. Fortunately our steep slope, windy site and well drained soil served us well. With a little patience the 2007 wines developed into one of my favorite vintages. The wines started out lean and with 2 years of bottle age gained color, texture and beautiful aromatics. Unfortunately the vintage was overlooked by most of the press and many consumers. By the time the early revues were in, many decided to forgo the vintage and wait for the 2008 wines. The 2008 vintage was being hyped as one of the best ever just as the 2007 wines were being released. But two years down the road many of us learned something invaluable about cool Oregon vintages and how they respond in the bottle.
Or did we? The 2011 vintage seems to be heading down the exact same track. The wines are hard to understand at the moment because they are lean but they are changing rapidly and I suspect will provide a great deal of pleasure in the near future and be delicious with a couple of years in the bottle. I may even delay the release of my 2011 Lenné Estate and bring the 2012 out ahead of time.
So what will 2013 bring? Despite the early start, the weather as been average, temperate just what we like. Ask me about 2 days before harvest and I will give you a better answer. Who knows what September will bring. What I can tell you is that while fall in Oregon is unpredictable, the cooler vintages in Oregon produce some of the most nuanced, delicious wines if you have a little patience. But you already knew that. Or did you?
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.