By Karl Klooster / photos by Marcus Larson
Facility and equipment sharing is one of the admirable attributes of Oregon’s wine industry. It’s an important aspect of the collaborative environment that sets the state apart from other wine regions, in this country and around the world.
Nowhere is this spirit of support more evident than at Laurel Ridge Winery on Kuehne Road east of Carlton where owner Susan Teppola and winemaker Chris Berg have created a setting conducive to, at last count, seven wineries, including Laurel Ridge, carrying out at least a portion of their production there.
To make the concept work, Berg leads by example in fostering cooperation and encouraging, if informally, clear lines of communication. The goal is to establish camaraderie among the guest wineries and build a congenial environment.
“Winemakers are a very independent-minded bunch,” Berg said. “Being one, myself, I know how they feel about their work. We understand one another and appreciate what we do. Mutual respect is the key.”
On the weekend of Feb. 6-7, Laurel Ridge launched its first event to celebrate the cooperative effort going on under the winery’s roof. Dubbed Guest Winery Weekend, the public was invited to meet owners and winemakers and sample their wares.
A relaxed, low-key atmosphere presented the opportunity for attendees to get up close and personal with the people whose names are on the door and signatures are on the wines.
Berg, who deserves credit for coordinating the whole show, wasn’t able to be there. Though Berg’s babies, Roots and Klee, were poured along with his Laurel Ridge portfolio, his own time was occupied that weekend by an even more important new arrival.
At 10 a.m. Feb. 5, his wife, Hilary, gave birth to a 6-pound 12 ounce, 20-inch long baby boy named Theodore Paulsen Berg. All the proud papa’s wines will well serve the pleasure of toasting this singular 2010 example of personal production.
Standing in for Berg behind the tasting counter was Gary Bertrand, who works in the tasting room at Laurel Ridge. He poured the Klee Pinot Noir, a spicy, earthy example just released from the 2008 vintage.
The 2007 Klee Walla Walla Valley Cabernet displayed multiple layers of flavor including dried currant, juicy berry, leather and tobacco.
There were two wines from Berg’s primary brand, Roots — 2008 Columbia Valley Viognier and 2008 Cherry Grove Vineyard Riesling. The viognier exhibits the round, rich mouthfeel for which this Rhone variety and the riesling hits all the right notes with bright acidity, green apple tang and a languid finish.
Just across the way, Susan Teppola held forth with Laurel Ridge’s latest releases including their 2006 estate reserve pinot noir, the last elegant example from a phylloxera-ravaged vineyard.
A 2006 Zinotage proved to be soft, well balanced and brightly berry with resolved tannins. The ‘07 syrah had a heady tar and ripe berry aroma followed by loads of fruit and youthful tannin.
Gewürztraminer lovers should grab up their ‘07 release, fermented dry with a classically spicy varietal aroma and citrus fruit flavors complemented by crisp, lively acidity.
Although this story centers on the wineries and their wines, it would be an unforgivable oversight not to mention the food offerings.
Noshing is expected on occasions such as this. Rounds of imported cheeses, loaves of artisan breads, small crocks of cornichons and other light nibbles are frequently found at wine tastings.
Sometimes, however, the fare is far fancier. Such was the case with this event. The Laurel Ridge Guest Winery Weekend featured an array of classic hors d’oeuvres, and each item was nothing short of exquisite. With so many excellent restaurants and top-flight caterers around these days, it may be going out on the tip of my tastebuds to say that the selection prepared by Johnny Nunn of five-O-three Restaurant in West Linn has to be among the best I’ve ever had. An individual cup of creamy, rich carrot soup laced with cilantro and lime was a starter. Next came a single, curled basil leaf on which was nestled a compote of currant-braised pork, hazelnuts and Brussels sprouts. An amazing flavor combination.
A small, delicate puff pastry encased an herbally enriched sauté of wild mushrooms and black truffles. Chunky crab balls also received the herbal treatment along with a touch of lemon and Dijon mustard.
Eaten alone or dipped in a tangy tartar sauce, they were delicately flavorful and oh so crabby, in the most positive sense.
Paté and sliced baguettes are a standard hors d’oeuvres item. But Nunn’s take on the theme sets a standard of its own. The-not so-secret secret appears to be bacon. This is paté that merits high praise. It’s also available on the regular menu at five-O-three.
Tearing oneself away from a table laden with such a superb, self-serve spread wasn’t easy. But the reality that tasting wines was the primary purpose of this outing meant adios to the ambrosia and back to sniffing, sipping and savoring.
As they say, it’s tough work, but somebody has to do it. Fortunately, the load was lightened by the fresh, lively effervescence of Domaine Meriwether’s sparkling wines.
Marketing Director Buzz Kawders was on hand to tell the story of owner Jack Bagdade’s quest to create Oregon’s best bubbly and craft a couple of very fine still table wines along the way.
Dr. Bagdade, a physician/scientist and longtime wine merchant from Seattle, said his association with French winemaker Jean-Louis Denois of Epernay brought a brilliant conclusion to that quest. It’s now his passion to seek perfection in every bottle.
The Brut Rosé, an ideal drink for Valentine’s Day, is proof positive of how well he has succeeded with former King Estate winemaker Ray Walsh, a Denois protégé, now in charge of winemaking.
Discovery Cuvée Brut, a crisp, clean, classic blend, with a tantalizing hint of yeastiness in the nose, was the other Domaine Meriwether sparkler being poured that day, as were a 2005 chardonnay and a 2005 pinot noir, both benefiting from bottle age.
Lujon Wine Cellars is a boutique winery owned by John Derthick. An amateur winemaker for 20 years, Derthick sources grapes from Spofford Station Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley for his rich, chocolatey syrah and briary berry cabernet.
Both are 2007s, big wines with loads of extraction and youthful tannins that should resolve nicely over the coming months.
Another newcomer on the local wine scene, Honig Schlucht, is owned by Barnaby and Olga Tuttle. The grapes for their pinot noir and pinot meunier come from Alsea Vineyard, 22 miles from the coast.
These are lighter style reds accented by a flowery perfume, with dried fruit and soft tannins on the palate.
Deux Vert Vineyard requires a subtle double take to decipher the clever play on words in two languages. Owners Mike and Patty Green — get it? “Two greens” — presented one wine at the tasting, of which they made all of 50 cases.
It’s an impressive 2008 tempranillo with rich, dry fruit flavors, already resolved tannins and vanilla-tinged hints of new oak.
Rounding out the supple seven at Laurel Ridge is J. Daan. Owner/winemaker Justin D. Van Zanten makes a pinot noir from the Willamette Valley, a syrah from the Columbia Valley and “rouge,” a red blend from four Rhone varietals.
His wines are medium weight, nicely balanced and approachable immediately. Pricing in the low $20 range adds to their appeal.