Last year in April we partnered with EaT: An Oyster Bar and brought in four distinct Pacific Northwest Oysters to partner with a variety of Austrian Grüner Veltliner. This year, on March 26th, we reprise this merroir/terroir event, and invite you to join us.
EaT’s presentation of PNW oysters ranged from Oregon’s own Netarts Bay and Yaquina oysters to more recognizable Washington State oysters, to the unique Ostrea Lurida oyster – a native oyster with a 3000 year-old archeological record tying it to the Chumash people of the Pacific Northwest. The idea of "merroir" is familiar one: oysters, like wine, reflect the specific natural conditions that surround their habitat. The salinity of the water, the presence of algae, even a wet summer can affect the flavor profile of an oyster, accenting the metallic finish of oyster “liquor” or adding a melon-y sweetness to its flesh.
It was the experience of slurping a briny oyster out of its shell that drew us to partner the crustaceans with our Estate grown Grüner Veltliner. Since 2010, winemaker Scott Shull has fermented our estate Grüner Veltliner in stainless steel, and foregone malolactic fermentation to preserve the racy acidity that the grape typically displays. Personally, I find that the mid-palate weight of the Grüner grape compliments the sweet, melon-like richness of our cold water PNW oysters.
Beside our Estate Grüner Veltliner, we presented 4 Austrian wines from the Niederösterreich, or Lower Austria, which is home to three of the greatest Grüner producing regions in the world: the Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal. This region of Austria is lower and flatter than the Alpine wonderland that most picture when they think of the country – it lies to the east of the Alps, and sits on the edge of a vast central-European basin called the Pannonian Plain. Heat tends to collect in this basin, making summers in Eastern Austria, Hungary, lower Slovakia and neighboring regions especially warm and ideal for grape production.
Our own Estate Vineyard bears a further resemblance to the great Grüner Veltliner vineyards of Niederösterreich – the soil. The Raptor Ridge Estate Tuscowallame Vineyard sits on the north slopes of the Chehalem Mountains AVA, an area marked by the predominance of loess or wind-blown silt. Around 17,000 years ago, at the end of the Ice Age, huge continental sheets of ice began to melt and recede into the Canadian interior. These same glaciers extended down the crest of our Oregon cascades, carving out the topography of our high elevation volcanos. As the ice receded, massive bodies of water were loosed from behind frozen dams near present day Missoula, Montana, and rushed over the Pacific Northwest toward the sea. The resulting flooding event filled our area with 400 feet of water, and deposited silty, glacial flour on the sedimentary beds of the Willamette Valley. Subsequent to this flooding event, this loose silt drifted up hillsides, and, in the case of our Estate Vineyard, covered weather Jory soil with feet of glacial sediment.
Alluvial and aeolian (wind) forces are also at play in Eastern Austria. The gradual erosion of the high Alps has resulted in the deposition of glacial sediment in the low plains of Germany, Austria and other surrounding countries. As in the Chehalem Mountains, wind has carried this deposited sediment up hillsides, and in Austria, lower elevations along the Danube are marked by deep loess deposits. Typically, as one travels up these same vineyards, more primary and less weathered rock will reveal itself. Where Riesling excels in these latter growing conditions, Grüner Veltliner loves loess.
Last year, we selected 4 Grüner Veltliners from multiple vineyards in the Kamptal and Kremstal river valleys – two tributaries of the much larger Danube. For the most part, these wines were fermented in stainless steel, however we chose one matured in (neutral) French oak to accurately represent the diversity of winemaking practices in this part of Austria.
This year, we will choose 4 other Grüner Veltliners, and partner again with EaT: An Oyster Bar to show off this great pairing, and learn more about two premier wine-growing regions!