Raptor Ridge Winery Blog
Our Spring 2016 Flight Club shipment covers the spectrum of AVAs from which we source fruit, on display here in both barrel-select cuvées and single-vineyard designates. We are happy to offer our Flight Club members an overview of these wines and their respective regions in the Willamette Valley. Please enjoy!
Quiescence represents a barrel selection crafted exclusively for members of Raptor Ridge’s wine club. The name means a state of rest or stillness, and acknowledges the time our Pinot Noir spends reposing in the cellar before its release, as well as the meditative act of tasting itself. In previous cuvées, such as Trig, Scott and Kevin have chosen two to three barrels, seeking ones that strike a balance of flavors, and capture the nuances of the vintage. A new blend, Quiescence draws fruit from three AVAs we work with – Chehalem Mountains, Yamhill-Carlton, and Eola-Amity. Vineyards chosen for this blend include our own Estate (Tuscowallame) Vineyard, Shea Vineyard, Olenik Vineyard and, new to Raptor Ridge, Temperance Hill Vineyard in the Eola-Amity AVA. The latter sits atop the Eola-Amity hills, just north of neighboring Bethel Heights and Zenith Vineyards. Managed by Dai Crisp (Lumos, owner and winemaker), Temperance Hill was originally planted in 1981, making it one of the older vineyards in the area. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris as well as Gewürztraminer are grown on 100 acres sitting atop Nekia (basalt) soil. Temperance Hill fruit constitutes 25% of the cuvée for our 2014 Quiescence – a single-vineyard designate Temperance Hill Pinot Noir is due for Flight Club members (link to club webpage) later this calendar year. Quiescence reveals soft, enveloping red and black fruit, with a tones of cherry and baking spice. We are excited to offer Flight Club members this vino da meditazione, the first cuvee released of the 2014 Pinot Noirs.
Meredith Mitchell Vineyard
Meredith Mitchell Vineyard provides fruit for one our most popular Pinot Noirs, a wine that is marked by power and depth of fruit. Much of this wine’s personality comes from the unique characteristics of the vineyard and its surrounding area. McMinnville AVA is found to the southwest of the city of McMinnville, and its geographical size dwarfs the total acres planted – of 40,000 acres, only around 600 are planted to wine-grapes. The physical appearance of the AVA is also distinctive and striking. Heading south from McMinnville, the South Yamhill river valley cuts a wide plain between the Eola-Amity hills to the east, and the foothills of the Coast Range to the west. At lower elevations, these hills contain rolling green pasture and Oregon oak savannah. The vineyards of the AVA are found in this network of hills, on uplifted marine sedimentary soil with an underlayment of basalt.
The climate of this AVA is hugely important for the resulting wines. Frequent mention is made of the Van Duzer corridor and its effects on the wines of the Willamette Valley: a conduit of cool, coastal air that serves to regulate temperature in an otherwise warm growing season. McMinnville AVA is the most proximate growing region in the Willamette Valley to this corridor, and its vineyards are subject to dramatic day and night temperatures. The wines of the area frequently display deep pigmentation, often inky and purple in their youth, and lively acidity, due to cooler nighttime temperatures.
Planted in 1989, the 25-acre Meredith Mitchell Vineyard grows Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and own-rooted Pommard clone Pinot Noir. Raptor Ridge has worked with Susan and Frank since 2000, sourcing both red and white grapes from the property. We traditionally have sourced from the top of the Pinot Noir block, at an inflection point of south and east aspects – the rockiest and thinnest soils on the vineyard.
The 2014 Meredith Mitchell Vineyard Pinot Noir features qualities our wine club members have come to love about the site: vivid coloration, plummy and rich fruit, full body, and long, age-worthy tannin structure.
Atticus Vineyard has been intimately connected with Raptor Ridge’s history for the past decade. Its owners, Guy Insley and Ximena Orrego, have used Raptor Ridge’s winery as a custom crush facility on top of supplying fruit for Raptor Ridge’s blends and single-vineyard designate wines. Atticus is a small vineyard, occupying 4-acres on a southwest facing hillside in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. The dry-farmed vineyard sits at 300 feet elevation on Willakenzie soil, and consists mostly of Pommard clone, along with Dijon Clones 667 and 777.
Scott routinely uses Atticus vineyard to contribute richer blue and black fruit characteristics to Raptor Ridge cuvées, and on its own the vineyard tends toward fuller-bodied, velvety Pinot Noir, with enticing savory aromas. 2014 was a warm vintage, and our Atticus Vineyard Pinot Noir reflects the darker, more muscular side of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA.
Running twenty miles southeast from Forest Grove to the Willamette River, the Chehalem Mountains represent a large and diverse growing region for Valley wine-producers. Their high point, Bald Peak (1629ft), stands over the Ribbon Ridge and Yamhill-Carlton AVAs to the south, and offers panoramic views of Cascade volcanoes. At lower elevations, the mountains reveal an array of soil types that make it difficult to name a single characteristic of the AVA’s wines. The (150) vineyards that call the mountains home are, on average, less than 15 acres in size, and are found throughout the 100 square mile formation. Our Spring 2016 Wine Club selections dig into the Chehalem Mountains with three vineyard-designated wines displaying three distinct soil types found in the area.
On the south slope of the Chehalem Mountains, vineyards rise in elevation from low-lying North Valley Road up to nearly 1000ft, approaching the crest of the mountains at Mountain Top Road. The south slope contains a dense concentration of vineyards. Of the three areas Raptor Ridge is representing for Wine Club members this March, this slope is marked by the oldest soil, with a predominance of uplifted marine sediment. These vineyards reveal the geological uplift that sculpted Oregon’s Coast Range approximately 30 million years ago - the same forces responsible for much of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. Olenik, a 29 acre, 300ft elevation vineyard planted to Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, is the vineyard selected to represent this region in this club release. The vineyard combines old and new vines, from which we source mainly Pommard, as well as a block of Dijon Clone 115. Olenik is a perennially warm site, whose grapes are often among the first to arrive in the winery during harvest. The vineyard is notable for possessing unusually rocky topsoil, most likely a remnant of a landslide that sculpted the precipitous topography of the southern flank of the mountains. Raptor Ridge’s 2014 Olenik Vineyard reveals lifted aromas of red fruit and dried flowers, and the palate offers hints of sun dried tomato and fig. This is a lively wine that reflects the warmth of this pocket of the Chehalem Mountains.
Parrett Mountain is a unique feature in the Chehalem Mountains AVA. It rises at the southern tip of the area, and is noted for a predominance of volcanic soil (Jory, Nekia) in its vineyards. In this way, Parrett Mountain bears a resemblance to the famous Dundee Hills to its south. In both cases, these uplifted sections received generous deposits of volcanic debris during the Miocene period (25-5mya), which over time has weathered to the silty, clay loam found in the vineyards today. Black Hole Vineyard, which is the proprietary vineyard of Le Cadeau winery, occupies 10.5 acres at relatively high elevation on the south face of Parrett Mountain. For the 2014 vintage of our Black Hole Vineyard Pinot Noir, we have sourced 777 and and Pommard grapes. The wine was matured nine months in a low percentage of new oak, and today displays rich black and dark red fruit, with savory notes of black olive and dried herb. The palate is surprisingly broad and inviting despite the wine’s youth, but the wine should age well for years to come.
Finally, we include our 2014 Raptor Ridge Tuscowallame Estate Vineyard. Our 18-acre estate sits between 500 and 250 feet elevation on the north slopes of the Chehalem Mountains. While the vineyard contains an underlayment of volcanic Jory soil, it is Laurelwood loess, the soil series typical of the north face of the Chehalem Mountains, that forms its topsoil. Of the three soil types represented in this Wine Club shipment, Laurelwood is the youngest, a vestige of the glacial history of the Pacific Northwest. Glacial erosion left fine-grained, sand-like rocks in its wake, which has consequently drifted up the gently undulating hillsides of our side of the mountains. This is well-draining soil that is known to produce wines with subtle red fruit flavors, cherry, pomegranate and even hints of orange peel. Kevin Johnson of fellow Laurelwood-based Dion Vineyard describes the region's aromatic profile as an "octave higher" than wines grown on Jory soils, providing red fruits and, frequently, white pepper, while winemaker Luisa Ponzi, of Ponzi Vineyards, adds a distinction she finds between old and young vines on the north side of the Chehalem Mountains: "I see vast differences in young vines (15-20 years) inhabiting the top soil and those older vines that have accessed the basalt layers...the younger Pinot Noir vines show vibrant red fruit, baking spice, fairly soft tannins, while the older vines become much darker, blueberry, brambly, plum with aromatics of white pepper, anise, cola and tobacco with bigger denser tannins. Vine age plays a big role in defining the wines from this soil."
Scott began planting our estate in 2001, and today it includes a variety of Pinot Noir clones as well as Gruner Veltliner. The 2014 Estate Vineyard confirms the red fruit profile of Laurelwood-grown grapes - strawberry compote is revealed on the nose and palate. The wine also provides elements of mandarin orange, sandalwood and tea leaf. Of the three wines offered in this Club Shipment, the Estate bottling contains the most tannin structure, and is suitable for long-term ageing.
We hope this exploration of the Chehalem Mountains AVA by its vineyards and sub-zones has been helpful. Of course, should you need further information about our estate and vineyard-designate wines, please visit our store or contact us.
sources: www.chehalemmountains.com ; www.owb.com ; Orr, Elizabeth L & William N Oregon Geology : Sixth Edition Oregon State Univeristy Press, 2012
As Thanksgiving weekend approaches, we are looking forward to another release of one of our 2014 vintage Pinot Noirs. On the heels of our October Flight Club release, consisting of 2014 Shea Vineyard and 2014 Gran Moraine Vineyard, we are excited to offer a wine from our own vines: the 2014 Estate Whole Cluster Pinot Noir.
As the name suggests, whole cluster fermentation refers to the addition of grapes still attached to their stems into the fermentation vessel. Each cluster of grapes is held together by the pedicels (the growth immediately attaching the individual grape to the stem) and the rachis (the central stem emerging from the fruiting cane and binding the cluster of grapes). Along with the biological ripening of grapes, these stems transform over the growing season as they develop chemical compounds called lignins. As lignification progresses, stems lose their pliant and tender green qualities, darken to a deeper hue of greenish brown, and more closely resemble the wooden texture of the canes of the vine.
The addition of “under ripe” grape stems into a ferment risks imparting green, vegetal aromas to the resulting wine. Fortunately, the use of a crusher/destemmer for red grapes allows producers to remove these undesirable flavors in the case of stems which are green and undeveloped. Warm and dry vintages, however, offer the occasion for whole cluster fermentation, which can provide remarkable flavor characteristics. Raptor Ridge joins a host of producers in the Willamette Valley working with whole cluster, aiming toward delicate spice and tannin in their wines. I asked Scott about his motivation to produce a whole cluster bottle: “When you think about it, destemmers have only been available in modern times, about the last 60 years. So, vintages for 1955 or older are mostly 100% whole cluster. The grapes were loaded into fermentation vats and the vintage was treaded out. Tasting some recent Oregon wines where a percentage of the ferment was whole cluster, I became curious. Since about 2005, I have tested-out the effects of adding whole clusters into my fermentations at varying degrees.”
Our 2014 Estate Whole Cluster is drawn from three blocks, and is composed mostly of Pinot Noir clone 114, with a small percentage of Pommard. We observed these blocks to have plenty of sun exposure, increasing the likelihood of ripe, lignified stems. Scott explains what about 2014 lent itself to the whole cluster experiment: “Like the 2015 to follow, the dryer the vintage, the less “sap” that is flowing into the stems and rachis. In dry years, one gets the spice and ripe tannins into the ferment that produces the sought aromatics and silky palate feel. If the growing season is not dry, the vines remain in a vegetative state where using the whole cluster may produce unwanted herbaceous, green flavors.”
After harvest, Scott and Kevin carefully layered whole cluster with destemmed grapes in the fermenters, including 15% whole cluster on average. The overall percentage of whole cluster used in such fermentations varies among Willamette Valley producers. Scott: “My past experience is that, with whole cluster ferments, a little goes a long way. We don’t want this to be a stand-out feature. Rather we want the technique of whole cluster to support the style of Pinot noir: silky texture, complex aromas of spice and flowers, and long finish.”
After nine months in barrel, the finished wine combines two hallmark characteristics of whole cluster pinot noir. First, the inclusion of ripe stems supplies an appealing tannin profile, which ties together the velvety and broad texture of the wine. These tannins will contribute to the maturation of the wine, but also make it quite appealing in its youth. The inclusion of whole cluster also enables the process of fermentation within intact berries. This is one of the features most often cited by producers of whole cluster as producing fruity and floral aromatics in finished wines. The distinctive qualities of whole cluster fermentation should be apparent when compared to the forthcoming 2014 Estate Pinot Noir, or other wines from the 2014 vintage. Scott has also suggested working whole cluster into Raptor Ridge Vineyard Designate wines: “it is most important for this to enhance the true characteristics of the vineyard rather than overtake the wine as its own dominant feature.” We look forward to seeing what the next vintage offers us, and, in the meantime, how the 2014 Estate Whole Cluster evolves in the bottle.
(grape cluster image: www.youcellar.com)
As the North Yamhill River descends from the mountains, it enters the fertile Yamhill-Carlton valley, whose contours are home to some 1200 acres of vineyards. One of the six established AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) of the North Willamette Valley, visitors to Yamhill-Carlton are struck by its miles of rolling hills, and the grand vista of the Coast Range behind them. The rain-shadow of the mountains keeps these vineyards dry, while the nearby Van Duzer corridor cools the grapes at night with coastal air. While each vineyard is unique, Yamhill-Carlton wines typically provide black and blue fruits, marked by bramble and spice, and deliver rich non-fruit components as well, such as licorice and earth. These are frequently muscular and structured wines, benefiting from age, but are highly enjoyable in their youth. Raptor Ridge is proud to source grapes from some of the premier vineyards perched above the valley floor.
Heading west from Carlton on the valley floor, Meadowlake Road gradually ascends into the Coast Range, where it tracks the Nestucca River through coniferous rainforest to the Pacific Ocean. The foothills here contain one of the larger vineyard designates in Yamhill-Carlton, the 210-acre Gran Moraine Vineyard. Planted in 2005 by Pacific Partners, in conjunction with CALPERS (California Public Employees Retirement System), Gran Moraine climbs from 180 to 420 feet, and is planted to both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Well-drained, ancient Willakenzie and Hazelair soils are aided by state-of-the-art vineyard management, and produce classically-styled red-fruited wines, with hints of bittersweet chocolate and baking spice. Since 2009 Raptor Ridge has sourced clones 114, 667 and Pommard from mid-slope blocks, as well as those at the top of the hill. The 2014 vintage provides ripe cherry and strawberry, and a rounded, broad mouthfeel. While this wine is showing surprisingly well young, it would benefit from bottle age. New to the Raptor Ridge family for the 2015 vintage is Gran Moraine Chardonnay, sourced from near the base of the hill. Currently resting in neutral French oak in the Raptor Ridge cellar, its anticipated release is Autumn 2016.
Across the valley from Gran Moraine vineyard, in the hills between Yamhill and Chehalem Creek, lie the two hills of the Shea Vineyard, planted in 1989. Raptor Ridge’s working history with this vineyard extends back to the earliest days of our winery, when, in 1996, Scott began sourcing ungrafted Pommard from Block 1. These days, Raptor Ridge draws its fruit from Block 11, near the base of the East Hill, planted with clones 114 and 777 on 4409 rootstock. Shea is a perennially warm site, and its wines display dense, powerful red and black fruit, with notes of cola and black tea. The structure of Shea usually permits long-term aging; we recently opened a bottle of 1997 Raptor Ridge Shea Vineyard that was still vibrantly alive!
Finally, further north, looking over the town of Yamhill, lies Goodrich Vineyard, the youngest of the three vineyards in the November 2015 Flight Club selection. Goodrich contains 21 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay planted in 2007, and has since 2010 supplied fruit for several of our cuvees, notably the Reserve bottling. We began a single-vineyard designate label in 2012, and for the 2013 vintage, sourced Pommard from the southern, middle block of the vineyard – within eyesight of another Raptor Ridge designate – Atticus Vineyard. Young vines on shallow soils provide early ripening grapes, and wines with strong notes of Italian plum and pepper. Smokey tones often emerge with time in the glass. The 2013 adds a surprisingly elegant high note of raspberry and bramble, and with generous time decanted, reveals red plum and tobacco.
Having worked with the fruit of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA since 1996, Raptor Ridge has grown from a fledgling winery of 800 cases to total production of 8 to 10 thousand in the two decades since. Expanding our production meant branching out and seeking fruit sources from additional AVAs, as well as purchasing our own Chehalem Mountains property, Tuscowallame Vineyard. Stay tuned for future primers on each of the Willamette Valley Sub-Appellations with which we work. If you are interested in following along with a flight of wines from each AVA, our Flight Club will feature a distinct AVA focus with each release, November 2015, March 2016, and May 2016. We’d love to have you on board!
Yamhill Carlton Growers association - www.yamhillcarlton.org
Oregon Wine Board - www.oregonwine.org
Oregon Pinot Camp - www.oregonpinotcamp.com
This week, we begin a series authored by Founding Winemaker Scotty Shull sharing his basic insights on winemaking, winegrowing, and what inspires him to continue perfecting his craft as an Oregon Pinot Noir producer. The first installment takes us into the vineyards where it all starts… enjoy, and let us know what you think! -Annie
With pride, I call our work "winegrowing" because to make good wine entails a holistic approach. Tending the wine from the roots, through the vines, to the harvest and into the cellar and beyond is like modern day alchemy—Earth,Wind, Fire, and Water.
With all our vineyards, but especially our Raptor Ridge Estate Vineyard, we are monitoring and managing the soil, the vines, and their fruit throughout the growing season. We view ourselves as part of nature's process; we are part of the creation of these wines. We monitor soil nutrition levels through annual soil sampling and analysis of nutrient levels, pH levels, water holding capacity, and general "tilth.” This even includes watching our friendly earth worm population. If something is deficient, we address it with cover cropping or feeding with our bi-weekly canopy spraying. We plant legumes and rye grass and till them back into the soil to provide "green manure.”
Wind & Fire & Water
In our Estate Vineyard, which is our bellwether for what we do across the Willamette valley, we monitor temperature, wind, soil moisture, and light radiation. We then use the data to tell us how much water the plants are using on a daily basis (evapotranspiration). Certainly we want plants to struggle and produce fruit with character, but we don't want them to stress out to the extent that they produce off-notes with vegetal characteristics. Balance is the key, so we must watch the plants and measure the environment and make decisions.
Pruning, Tracking, Irrigating, Tuning, and Tasting
We prune the vines in February and then make a prediction, vineyard by vineyard, as to the crop load and canopy 'style' we want that coming year.
Throughout the growing season, we're tracking heat unit accumulation (Growing Degree Days) to estimate how much fruit the vines want to ripen this vintage. A cooler vintage may ripen less than two tons per acre. A warmer vintage would ripen too fast with such little fruit and may want to hang more than three tons per acre. We use our best judgement to manage crop levels based on the long range seasonal weather forecast. By mid-growing season we make our final call and may come through our vines and drop more than half the crop on the ground.
We have the ability in our Estate Vineyard-- and a few of our leased sites like Gran Moraine, Goodrich, and Meredith Mitchell Vineyard, to efficiently drip small amounts of water onto the root zone of the vine. This provides each vine with the right amount of water to avoid stress, yet continue the struggle, which is called deficit irrigation.
As a final means of “tuning” the vines for optimal ripening, we may go through the vineyard and actually hand pull a few leaves off the vine right at the fruit zone. This allows each wine grape cluster to bathe in sunlight and air which develops more skin color and tannins, while at the same time naturally fights plant diseases such as mildew and botrytis.
As the end of the growing season nears, we're regularly tasting and sampling each block of the vineyards from which we source our wines. Tasting is the most important step, but it is also key to monitor the chemistry, including sugar levels (potential alcohol) as well as pH (mouth feel) and total acid (TA to maintain length and freshness).
Annually, we invest in aerial spectral photography of our vineyards, which helps us visualize vine vigor and crop load. Visually, it can guide us in our block-by-block harvest decisions as well as give us feedback about our cover cropping and feeding regimen throughout the year. This closes the loop on each season’s farming activity, and tells us where to go, vine-by-vine, in the coming years.Annually, we invest in aerial spectral photography of our vineyards, which helps us visualize vine vigor and crop load.
(aerial spectral photograph of Estate vineyard)
In Flight for 20 Years
As we launch this new website and ready ourselves for our 5th summer of visitors to our Chehalem Mountain Estate, we plan to keep in closer touch with you through this Blog space. Scotty and I will take turns updating you with stories. From the windshield of his Tuscowallame Estate Tractor to my travels across the country and the connections I make through Raptor Ridge Oregon Pinot Noir, we have found that community can happen just as easily in a car working with a sales rep as it can at the tasting room bar, around a Summer Lunch table, or on a yoga mat at one of our Yoga In… the Vines retreats at Raptor Ridge. All of your stories and observations on and about Pinot and enjoyment of the Pacific Northwest are important to us. We value the time we take to get to know each and every one.
Scotty will undoubtedly add his quirky (and always educational) roving video footage as he checks vineyards and tends Tuscowallame Estate throughout the V.2015 growing season. I will regale you with stories and insights from the yoga and meditation mat to the road.
Top of mind right now is the fact that we are celebrating our 20th anniversary the same year that the Willamette Valley is celebrating its 50th. Relative to the rest of the winegrowing regions, Raptor Ridge is still a gangly teenager, while the Willamette Valley is perhaps more through graduate school and starting a family of its own. We’ve gone through quite an evolution in these two decades. Some of you Flight Club members may have met us when we were still holding private tastings in the kitchen at Wildhaven Lane, making the wine out of a converted sheep barn 50 yards up a forest path from that kitchen table. We’ve traversed the Willamette Valley since those days, making wine from Gaston, to McMinnville to Carlton, collaborating with other small brands along the way to get their vineyards and tasting rooms established while they were still growing.
When we commercialized in 1995, we were winery #172. The North Willamette Valley alone now boasts over 400 wine brands. We’ve gone from being distributed in 3 states in 1996 to nearly 30 in 2015. We now ship to 46 states, and have a 3-tier wine club. Growing can be a blessing and a challenge. The most important thing to us, however, is to keep a high quality product and customer service that continues to earn us a sustained connection to you: our Guests, Flight Club Members, Distributors, Retailers, Restaurateurs, Sommelier, and Server community. We are truly grateful for your support, enthusiasm and sustained interest in Raptor Ridge wines.
Today we launched our new website for Raptor Ridge Winery. This is the begining of a new adventure in our winery business. We invite you to come in and take a look around our virtual winery online and then come visit us in Newberg, Oregon when you are in the area, we would love to meet you!Annie & Scott Shull Owenrs/Winemaker
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