Something Old, Something New

By Karl Klooster

When Bostonians Donna Morris and Bill Sweat made the decision to leave their corporate careers, move west and start a winery, the Yamhill Valley was their ultimate destination.

“We love Pinot Noir and our favorites are from Northern Oregon,” Morris said. “Wines made from grapes grown on Jory soil seem to be the common denominator for us. So we began searching for property in the Dundee Hills and the Eola Hills.”

Some would call it due diligence, others would say the couple knew a good thing when they saw it. Either way, they stacked the odds in their favor by acquiring one of the best vineyards in the Jory-laden Red Hills of Dundee.

That would be the former Goldschmidt Vineyard on Worden Hill Road.

First planted in 1974 as Dundee Hills Vineyard, the 16.5-acre site is now Winderlea’s estate. Only the earliest plantings by David Lett, Jim Maresh, the Sokol Blossers and Ken Durant are older.

Lynn Penner Ash, who makes Dusky Goose wines from Goldschmidt grapes, said, “There is an incredible dried cherry quality that is unique to that site. The fruit smells like dried cherry tea, and then moves into a ripe-red-pear mouthfeel. It produces a very focused, red-fruited wine that is incredibly rich and sweet.”

The adjacent ANA and Weber vineyards, planted in 1976, are Winderlea’s other primary sources of fruit. These acclaimed vineyards are managed by longtime Oregon viticulturist Andy Humphrey, who owns ANA.

Wines from the Goldschmidt Vineyard will bear the winery name for the first time with release of the 2007 vintage.

They are being made by Robert Brittan, a UC Davis graduate and veteran of such noted Napa Valley wineries as Far Niente, Stag’s Leap and St. Andrews. He brings 30-plus years of experience to the work.

Brittan made the first two vintages—2006 and 2007—at the Coeur de Terre Winery in the McMinnville AVA.

It was Morris and Sweat’s baptism by fire. They experienced every aspect of crush, from working side by side with the picking crew, to meticulously inspecting clusters on the sorting line, to ushering the must into fermentation tanks.

“Our mantra was no MOGs,” Morris said, using the acronym for “material other than grapes. “And we meant it. Only those grapes with great beauty and character were granted permission into our inaugural vintage.”

But the parenting of one’s first children, oenological or otherwise, only began there. The couple worried over their ’06 wines while they went through fermentation and took part in barrel tastings to gauge their progress, learning as they went under Brittan’s tutelage.

The first vintage yielded a modest 570 cases. That nearly tripled in 2007 to 1,600 cases, with the owners as personally involved as the previous year. The eventual goal is to reach an annual production of 5,000 cases.

While that’s scarcely large by anybody’s standards, it’s large enough that Morris and Sweat are planning ahead. Their 2008 vintage will be processed at 12th & Maple, the custom crush facility in Dundee, with Brittan continuing as winemaker.

Thus far, the marriage of two eager neophytes and several thousand mature vines appears to be a most harmonious one, especially with an old hand like Brittan repeating the vows of commitment on an annual basis.

The couple carry that commitment through in attention to detail at every level.

Take their newly completed building on Worden Hill Road. It combines a dining room, gourmet kitchen, tasting room and offices on the upper level and storage on the lower.

The ultra-modern, steel and glass structure seems to hang suspended off the edge of a steep hillside overlooking the vineyard. Its striking, linear, light-drenched design wraps functionality into a stylish, 21st century package.

To top it off, every penny of their $10 tasting room fee goes to ¡Salud!, the health care program for vineyard workers.

At a winery luncheon a few months ago, talented young chef Paul Bachand paired his creative cuisine with Winderlea’s three 2006 Pinot Noirs. Bachand, whose business card could read, “Have pan, will travel,” has emerged as an in-demand, special occasion chef in wine country.

He chose duck breast with butternut squash purée and gingered baby carrots to accompany the ANA Pinot; lamb with lentils, braised turnips and Swiss chard to go with the Goldschmidt; and a wine-poached pear with mascarpone, stewed dates and pistachio sabayon for the Inaugural Reserve.

The artistry of wine and food pairing—where the wine takes center stage—seems to be building momentum as a culinary phenomenon in Oregon wine country.

On this occasion, Bachand acquitted himself admirably. The squash proved to be an inspired accompaniment to the magret of duck, and the flavor combination played to the ANA’s strengths of supple fruit and bright acidity.

The navarin of SuDan Farms lamb was tender, succulent and full-flavored. It was, however, just at the point where the salinity might have become a bit too noticeable were it not for the Goldschmidt’s lush, sweet, mouthfilling fruit.

Desserts have never had it better, as the finale of this luncheon confirmed.

Chef Jack Czarnecki calls Pinot Noir “the food-friendliest wine on the planet.” The supple red seems to buddy up cozily not only to dark chocolate, but to appropriately sweetened fruits as well—in this case, the Napoleon pear, which showcased the Winderlea reserve’s layered complexity.

If this sort of thing keeps up, we could be looking at a Pinot-pairing cuisine competition on the Linfield campus to go along with IPNC.

Were that ever to happen, Winderlea would likely be in the mix. It won’t be long before word gets out that the little winery referred to by its owners as a “luxury boutique” is, indeed, a viticultural version of Gucci, Hermès and Versace. ◊

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