Raptor Ridge Winery Blog
Have you ever poured a bottle of Raptor Ridge and noticed the “LIVE Certified Sustainable Grapes” on the back label? Perhaps you’ve even heard some of our staff talking about “organic” or “biodynamic” farming and wondered what these things mean for the land and for the wine? Well, today we’ll be looking at sustainable farming practices prominent in the Willamette Valley.
First, a collective amount of credit is due to many Willamette Valley wineries that have adopted and have continued to practice some form of sustainable farming for the past 30+ years. As a whole industry, they are leaders in environmental responsibility. Even though the third-party certification process can take 3 years to complete, more and more wineries every year are following suit to achieve LIVE, Biodynamic, or Organic certification.
Wine that receives Organic certification is strictly regulated and precluded from using synthetic additives. Synthetic pesticides and herbicides are not allowed for use on vineyard sites if wine is to pass Organic certification qualifications. Any kind of pesticide that has been determined to be harmful to the environment or to people is not allowed at these vineyard sites. Organic farming also focuses on preventative methods for pest control and soil fertility practices that protect the integrity of the land. In the Raptor Ridge portfolio, these sites include Temperance Hill vineyard and Logsdon Ridge vineyard.
Biodynamic practices adhere to many of the same standards as Organic farming but go beyond these measures to treat a site as a complete, living organism. These practices focus not only on the macro-ecology of the land, but also on the microorganisms that are so important to soil and plant health. These microorganisms are added to the soil using a preparation of enlivened compost that’s left to sit underground inside a cow’s horn through the winter. Biodynamic farming also adheres to farming in concurrence with cosmic rhythms that influence the earth, such as lunar cycles. One of our popular vineyard designated wines, Meredith Mitchell, started using biodynamic practices in 2015, and was certified Biodynamic in 2018. Though the first vintage we were able to use the certification was 2019, the already delicious fruit from this site has developed even more depth of character since adopting biodynamic practices.
Lastly, our Chehalem Mountain Estate is LIVE certified. Low Input Viticulture and Enology (LIVE) refers to a set of sustainable agricultural practices that are certified through the International Organization for Biological Control (IOBC). This set of standards requires participants to show continuous improvements in diversification of the ecosystem and reduction of fuels and chemicals used on site. Each year, we complete a checklist of over 200 parameters and an accompanying set of reporting documents. The annual process enables third-party inspectors to verify, through on-site visits, that sustainability goals are being met. This certification, which takes at least three years to complete, focuses on holistic practices. These include adherence to a rotational vine spray program aimed at avoiding pest resistance without using heavily toxic pesticides, non-chemical weed control, native pollinator and beneficial insect conservation, and establishment of an on-site “eco reserve” of protected undeveloped property.
As different as these certifications may seem, they all have the same goal: to create more accountability and environmental responsibility from farm to finished product, and to deliver wines with a sense of purity and integrity. This responsibility extends to us, as consumers, to support and maintain the agricultural programs that reinforce conscientiousness for our earth and our future.
A good, bubbly wine has always been part of life’s best celebrations. The sparkling fizzle of tiny bubbles popping in the glass evokes memories of birthdays, milestones, and holidays. Yet, how often do we stop to celebrate this vivacious wine itself?
Last year, I was fortunate enough to attend “Bubbles Camp,” a seminar that was part of Oregon Pinot Camp. This seminar discussed the intricate process of making sparkling wine using méthode champenoise, which, as the names suggests, is the same method used in the production of champagne. Though not the oldest way to produce a sparkling beverage, it sure yields some tasty results. The process starts with a delicate press of the first grapes at the beginning of harvest and fermented to complete dryness. Then, a small amount of sugar and yeast is added to undergo a second fermentation inside the bottle, giving the wine its sparkle. The wine is then set to rest for 3-4 years so that it can contact the yeast and flavors can develop, a process referred to as the wine being “en tirage.” This first bottling is also what constitutes the base cuvée.
As part of the Bubbles Camp seminar, we got to taste some of this base cuvée wine with varying wines levels of sugar, and vehicles (a vehicle is just still wine used to dissolve the sugar going into solution). We sampled the first presses of pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and blends thereof. Sounds tasty, doesn’t it? Well, as anyone who has ever tasted champagne base wine knows, it is far from palatable at this point in its process. Because of the additional sugar that is added in order to undergo a secondary fermentation, the base cuvée is often very acidic and astringent. There are few things more effective than a cup of strong coffee to jolt your body awake, but a flight of cuvée base before breakfast is certain to force your senses, and your soul, immediately and aggressively alert. It turns out that winemakers must taste a lot of this acidic, astringent juice in order to decide what parameters will taste best as a finished product. (Ah, the things we do for our dear, dear bubbles.)
On average, more than 10 million combinations can arise when one considers all the factors that go into deciding the final product. After resting for some years, the yeast is removed from the wine, and the missing volume is replaced with another wine that has some sugar dissolved in it, a process known as “dosage.” Once the initial cuvée base is chosen, the factors that go into dosage trials still result, for practical purposes, in about 75 different combinations. When asked about this selection process, Scott likes to envision it in a pragmatic, organized way: “You have to think about it like a 3-D cubed matrix where you have sugar levels on one side, the type of sugar on another side, and the vehicle on another side. We’re trying to find the sweet spot somewhere in that cube by varying all the different factors to see which combination we like best.”
To break down some of the highlights from the 2016 Brut Rosé dosage trials, Shannon and Scott experimented with different vehicles and different types of sugars. They tested:
- Different varietals from the same year, such as ’19 Grüner Veltliner vs. ’19 Chardonnay.
- The same varietals with different sugars, such as ’18 Chardonnay with Turbinado sugar vs. coconut sugar vs. white sugar.
- The same varietal with varying levels of sweetness ranging from 0-12 grams-per-liter.
- There were also trials done with Barrel-Fermented Rosé, and even one done with a Pinot Blanc.
- A final round of varying sugar doses to really pin down what level of sweetness worked best with the chosen vehicle.
Then came time to experiment with some of the sweetener contenders to see how they would change in the bottle. “We didn’t know how Turbinado sugar would react,” said Shannon, “so we did a flight with Turbinado and coconut sugars in Chardonnay.” There was a clear winner, too, and it was Turbinado, because the coconut sugar ended up tasting like soy sauce. “It blew our minds! The Turbinado became floral and the wine was a lot cleaner. This is when we decided to go with it and do 4 vs. 3 grams-per-liter trials in Grüner vs. Rosé.” After tasting with the staff, a unanimous decision was reached to use 3 grams-per-liter of Turbinado sugar in a Grüner Veltliner vehicle.
What makes turbinado unique choice is that it has some similarities with sparkling wine. “Turbinado is the first press of sugarcane, usually very gently pressed and less refined,” said Shannon, when asked about the choice to consider Turbinado. “This is similar to how we treat the grapes that we use for making the base cuvée.” Shannon pointed out that Turbinado is also vegan, while white sugar is not. In general, Turbinado takes more time and care to make, but yields a product that has more character – another parallel to méthode champenoise sparkling wine.
It may seem like a rollercoaster of decisions, and it absolutely is, but one can’t argue that all this deliberation isn’t worth the end product. There is no instant gratification in the world of wine, after all, and this magnificent, bubbly brew is a prime example (as it takes about 4 years to make, rest, and prepare). But alas, the best things in life are worth the wait.
So, go on, pop open that bottle of 2016 Brut Rosé and celebrate, just remember to celebrate the wine as well.
Check out our Bubbles Packs Here!
Modern winemaking relies as much on tradition as it does on innovation. Without the latter, we’d still be selling fine Pinot in clay urns; without the former, we’d probably be drinking insipid wines made with poor technique. While tradition must be honored, it’s important to recognize when to move forward.
I get a lot of questions in the tasting room about our choice to utilize screwcaps. Most notably, a lot of folks are puzzled as to why we would bottle such fine wines with a topper that a couple of decades ago was associated with cheap, mass-produced wines. My answer is always two-fold: Science and Consistency.
A lot of innovation has occurred since the early days of the humble screw-cap closure. From the adaptation of corrosive-resistant metals to the implementation of porous membranes that allow the wine to “breathe,” decades of work in material chemistry have left us with a near-perfect closure in an industry obsessed with quality control. The biggest hurdle? Public perception. I believe this is merely the result of a disruption in an industry-standard that has stood for more than 400 years (as mass-produced cork became more available around the 1600s). Traditions don’t go down without a fight, however, and this is a prominent example. I’m sure that the first person to use a glass bottle instead of a small barrel to transport their wine was either seen as a plebian or a genius. In concordance to the point that traditions die hard, it was made illegal to sell wine by the bottle in England, a law that stood until 1860.
When it comes to consistency, screwcaps are the way to go. Not only do they eliminate the risk of cork-taint, but research has shown that the porosity in corks can be wildly variant. As far as cellaring wines with screwcaps? Well, research on this has also shown that wines cellared with screwcaps age in the same manner as wines with cork closures. The only difference being that those with screwcaps will age more consistently and will not have cork taint. They can also be stored upright, without the danger of a cork drying up or breaking apart. Because of the natural variability in porosity, wines with cork closures can also suffer from premature oxidation, a problem that is not present in wines with screwcaps. Consistent oxygen transmission allows consistent aging, and screwcaps have been found time and time again to be the most reliable closures.
Just how reliable are they? I once heard our owner, Scott Shull, tell a private group that “we’ve produced something close to 1.8 million bottles with screwcaps, and of those, only two bottles have been sent back because of a flaw in the closure. That’s a one-in-a-million margin of error.” With numbers like that, it’s easy to see why whole regions, such as Australia and New Zealand, have adopted the technology.
With research becoming more accessible, and great wine producers embracing the technology, the association of screwcaps with quality and consistency isn’t too far behind. We can only hope, until then, that one day the sound of a screwcap crackling open will remind you of a wonderful, well-aged wine that you had from Raptor Ridge.
Prominent Sources & Recommended Reading:
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About the author: Luiggi
~ Courtesy of Chef Irene Bonn Laney
1 cup uncooked quinoa rinsed, drained
2/3 cup coconut milk
1 1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons coconut sugar, brown sugar, maple or honey (your choice of sweetener)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
Sliced fruit of your choice berries, banana, pear, citrus
Chopped nuts of your choice (I like toasted) almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews
Milk of your choice for serving, coconut, almond, cashew, cow
Toast the quinoa in the bottom of your dry pan for 1-2 minutes, over low heat, tossing occasionally. Add coconut milk, water, sugar, vanilla, salt and spices to saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and cook, covered, for 15 minutes. Turn heat off and let sit for 5 minutes.
Spoon into serving bowls and top with nuts, fruit and milk of choice.
Raptor Ridge continues its quarterly educational series on May 7th, when we welcome Chef Paul Bachand of Recipe: A Neighborhood Kitchen (Newberg, OR) and debut the 2016 Bellevue Cross Vineyard Rosé of Pinot Noir. Our “Shades of Rosé” celebration takes as its theme not a particular grape variety, but a method of making wine. Rosé is tremendously popular this time of year, and we want to take this occasion to learn about the various ways it is produced across the world of wine.
Many rosés are made by the “saignée” method: juice is “bled” (saignée is the past participle of the French verb saigner, meaning “to bleed”) from a red wine maceration, thereby concentrating the red wine and producing a blush juice suitable for rosé production. Others, such as our own are made via direct pressing of red grapes; Raptor Ridge has always made rosé “intentionally” from a single-vineyard site. We farm and harvest the grapes selected for this wine with the singular purpose of making rosé. Usually, this entails harvesting the vineyard earlier than other Pinot Noir sites, to ensure a lower pH and more lively acidity in the finished wine. Once harvested, the grapes are destemmed and allowed to macerate for up to 30 hours, during which period color and flavor is extracted from the skins. Ultimately, it is the varying lengths of maceration that determine a rosés color, and contribute to its overall texture.
Our fleshy style of rosé finds a common European counterpart in the wine of Tavel, a small commune near the mouth of the Rhône river in Southern France. Curiously, Tavel AOC wines must legally be rosé, though their permissible grape varieties may include Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. By and large, Tavel shares with neighboring AOC Chateauneuf-du-Pâpe the hot, humid, and largely flat growing conditions that contribute the characteristic body and texture to its wines.
Legally, Tavel AOC wines must maintain a certain minimum alcohol level (11%), though low alcohol wines are seldom produced in this sunbaked environment!
Italy also produces a wide variety of rosé wines, with virtually every winemaking region producing a rosé from native grapes. As explained in Vinous by the incomparable Ian D’Agata, the breadth of Italian rosés is apparent in the confusing array of terminology used to describe them. Collectively, Rosato, Cerasuolo, Ramato, Chiaretto, and even the odd German Kretzer, are used to describe rosé wine throughout the Italian peninsula. The principle of shortened or extended maceration remains, however, the most important determining factor of the color of the resulting wine. Italy can perhaps claim to use the widest array of grapes for its rosé production – the great red grapes of the country, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Aglianico, are just a small portion of those used for rosé production. Combined with the difference in climate between south and north, this provides a great diversity of flavor profile in Italian rosé.
For our May 7th event, Spain will be providing a rosé from the Cava producing region of Penedès. Cava must, by law, be produced by two fermentations, the second taking place in bottle. While Cava can be produced in several other wine producing regions around the country, its greatest examples come from the hills outside of Barcelona. The example we are showing on the 7th is made from the rare variety Trepat, an indigenous grape to Northeast Spain that is frequently used in rosé production. Beyond Cava, look for great rosé production coming out of Rioja, largely as a biproduct of red wine production, and lightweight, summery rosés from the northern Basque country.
We’d love to see you on May 7th for this educational tasting, complimented by Mediterranean fare courtesy of Chef Paul Bachand of Recipe: A Neighborhood Kitchen. Expect flavors typical of France, Spain and Italy – stewed onion and anchovy pissaladière, briny olives, bright tomato, and regional cheeses along with much, much more.
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!
Raptor Ridge in 2017
January has been an exceptionally cold and snowy one for the Pacific Northwest. A series Pacific fronts blanketed the Raptor Ridge Estate Vineyard in nearly a foot of snow, and at higher elevations the surrounding mountains are accumulating snowpack that will thankfully last deep into summer, replenishing local aquifers. Summer seems a long way off, but now's a great time to look towards the year ahead, and share with you the events and wine that we have planned for the next 3-6 months.
Our Flight Club Members will receive twelve vineyard-designate and cuvee Pinot Noirs over the course of the year, with some new additions joining the lineup. This coming March we will introduce three Pinot Noirs, including the fifth bottling of our Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir and the new Estate Vineyard 777 Clone Pinot Noir. Taste these wines together to reveal the subtle differences that may be found within clonal selection from the same vineyard. Our work also continues with many of our established vineyard-designate sites, and we mark the second year of production of the Temperance Hill Pinot Noir. Wine Club and Raptor Ridge fans are also advised to look towards the release of the 2015 Tempranillo, which will be released as an extended Reserve, having spent 2 full years in French Oak.
(Map of Langelois, and surrounding vineyards - Austria)
In 2016 we held three food and wine pairings to celebrate three unique Raptor Ridge wines: the 2015 Estate Grüner Veltliner, the 2015 Auxerrois and the 2014 Tempranillo. For each event we offered an educational look at the variety, and partnered with European examples of the same variety, paired with regionally themed foods.
Merroir/Terroir with Grüner Veltliner and EaT: An Oyster Bar
At the April 2016 launch of this new series we hosted Raptor Ridge Flight Club members and guests for our celebration of Gruner Veltliner and Oysters. Portland’s EaT: An Oyster Bar displayed four different Pacific Northwest Oysters, and explained the concept of “merroir,” or the idea that the surrounding environment dictates the flavor characteristics of oysters. Jonathan brought in 4 distinct Austrian Gruner Veltliners, and led guests through a tasting designed to place the Raptor Ridge Estate Vineyard Gruner Veltliner in the greater context of Gruner around the world. In Austria, the hills overlooking the Danube, where the premier Gruner Veltliner in the country is grown, are rich with loess, or wind-blown glacial silt. Our own vineyard shares this geological trait with its Austrian counterparts, and we chose mineral-driven, stainless steel fermented Austrian wines to further accentuate the terroir similarities. We are happy to announce that this event will be reprised on March 26th of this year!
"Auxtoberfest" with Auxerrois and Alsatian feast from Recipe
We continued this educational theme in Autumn, and released the debut vintage of our Auxerrois, sourced from the Eola-Amity Hills. Auxerrois is a curious grape in the USA, occupying a miniscule share of Oregon’s acreage under vine, but a hugely important grape in Alsace, France. Following a rule passed in 1945, producers of the grape in Alsace are permitted to label the resulting wine “Pinot Blanc.” Subsequently, the majority of Alsatian wines labelled Pinot Blanc, as well as a large chunk of Crémant d’Alsace, contain Auxerrois. Tending toward luscious, ripe-fruited expressions on the nose and palate, Auxerrois carries a mid-palate weight and moderate acidity similar to that of Chardonnay. We wanted to pair our neutral French oak-fermented Auxerrois with regional cuisine that matched its rich flavor and texture, so we asked Recipe (Newberg, OR) owner and chef Paul Bachand to prepare food inspired by Alsace and Germany – house-made charcuterie, cured fish and the classic choucroute garnie were among the offerings. We poured our 2015 Auxerrois with 4 Alsatian wines, including bubbles from to producer Meyer-Fonné. In attendance were journalist Jade Helm and photographer Andrea Johnson, whose efforts resulted in a great article published in Oregon Wine Press
Lastly, as the season changed from fall to winter, we warmed up the tasting room with paella pans and served our 2014 Tempranillo with 4 Spanish Tempranillos. Portland’s Crown Paella joined us and prepared two typically Valencian paellas – duck confit, chorizo, and local chanterelles complemented the earthy richness of the red wine perfectly.
In 2017 we are looking forward to repeating each of these regionally inspired events, bringing in new European varieties, unveiling the recent vintages at Raptor Ridge, and giving our guests an opportunity to broaden their geographical knowledge as they taste. New to this event series this year will be a rosé celebration – expect the 2016 Raptor Ridge Rosé of Pinot Noir paired with French and Italian rosé, and an array of Mediterranean bites. Tickets to the second-annual Grüner and Oyster celebration are currently available on our online store. March 26th, 11am-2pm. Join us!
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