Friday, November 9, 2018

New Oregon Grape Varieties on the Rise

I embark with Uncruise Adventure on the Rivers of Wine cruise tomorrow. The riverboat cruise lasts seven nights, navigating the Willamette and Columbia Rivers from Portland to Walla Walla. I'm leading a presentation five nights of the trip—each thoughtfully timed with happy hour.

One talk will focus on new grape varieties on the rise in Oregon and Washington. To make sure I had the most up-to-date details, I reached out to several of my favorite winemakers to see which grapes they're most excited about. Here's what the winemakers working with Oregon grapes reported to Ravenous Traveler®:

Brianne Day, Day Wines

Brianne Day [Photo: Facebook/DayWines]
"In my cellar I am most excited by Malvasia Bianca, Tannat, and Marsanne."

  • Malvasia Bianca: I drank Malvasia Bianca in many forms while living in Italy. The grape grows throughout the Mediterranean and is made in many styles, from a dry white wine to Chianti's Vin Santo dessert wine.
  • Tannat: Oregon only grows a little tannat, so kudos to Day for claiming it. The red grape is grown in France, is iconic to Uruguay, and has a massive tannic backbone.
  • Marsanne: I've seen people working with Marsanne quite a bit in Oregon over the years. It's a white grape associated with the Northern Rhône, where it is typically blended with Roussanne, to produce powerfully textured full-bodied white wines. 

Kate Norris, Division Wine Co. and Southeast Wine Collective


"We've been working with Trousseau and Aligoté."

  • Trousseau: Aka Bastardo, Trousseau is famously used to produce port in Portugal, but the red grape is also featured in dry wines from the Jura wine appellations in France. According to the Oregon Wine Press, Abacela planted it first in Oregon in 1997, with Eyrie bringing it to the Willamette Valley in 2012.
  • Aligoté: From Burgundy, it produces bright white wines full of minerality. 

Nina Buty, Buty Winery

Nina Buty [Photo: Mattie John Bamman]
"In The Rocks District, Syrah has claimed center stage, but the more we farm through various vintages, the more we learn. I enjoy what I've tasted from The Rocks from other Rhone varieties: Grenache, Mourvedre, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier. We grow the first four at Rockgarden Estate. The affect of the basalt cobblestones on Mourvedre, and also on Cabernet Sauvignon, is very counterintuitive. The cobblestones give these wines lift, energy, prettiness. It's very different from the bass notes and broodingness they often possess when grown in other areas. It lifts the Syrah when they are blended together."
  • Oregon's Rocks District sits just south of Walla Walla and has earned huge respect from connoiseurs despite being one of the state's lesser-known vineyards. As Buty highlights, the area is planted with Rhone varieties. She also notes, though she is not working with it, Tempranillo is on the rise in the Rocks District. Tempranillo is a red grape from Spain and often the dominant grape in Rioja Tintos (reds).

Annedria Beckham, Beckham Estate Vineyard

"We are pretty excited about Trousseau Noir, Nebbiolo, and Aligoté, which we have planted, though we are not the first. There are small plantings of each of these around the valley in the last few years. We should have our first fruit from each of these next vintage."
  • Nebbiolo: One of my favorite red grapes, Nebbiolo is famously used to produce Italian Barolo. While it ages well, it can also be drank younger. I love the tarragon and tabacco notes in Nebbiolo, and it's acidic structure.

Barnaby Tuttle, Teutonic Wine Company

Barnaby Tuttle is a man of many talents. [Photo: Mattie John Bamman]

"We've been working with Weißer Heunisch aka Gouais blanc, Schwarzriesling, Scheurebe, and Sylvaner."

  • Weißer Heunisch: Where is Tuttle getting his hands on these Medieval grapes? This ancient white grape is an ancestor to many grape varieties in Europe, including Chardonnay, Aligoté, and Gamay.
  • Schwarzriesling: Literally translated as "black Reisling," this light-red grape is more commonly called Pinot Meunier, the third grape variety used to make Champagne. A mutation of Pinot Noir, it has higher acidity, often with tart berry flavors.
  • Scheurebe: This white grape variety was created in 1916 by Dr. Georg Sheu in Germany. Wikipedia says it was a cross of Riesling and an unknown wild vine, and it was designed to resist frost and chlorosis. I've never tasted it by itself, but it allegedly has aromas of blackcurrant and grapefruit. It is most often sweet, but sometimes made dry.
  • Sylvaner: Believed to have been developed in Transylvania, Sylvaner is a cross of Traminer and Österreichisch-Weiß. The white grape is a bit of a blank canvas and can produce terroir-driven wines in the right vineyard.

So if you thought Oregon only grew pinot noir, now you know there's a lot more growing out there. Keep on the lookout for these up and coming grape varieties in Oregon over the next decade.

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