By Riggs Fulmer
Tammy Remark is a force to be reckoned with on the local wine scene. A writer for the Wine Speculator, as well as a wildly successful weekly column in the Oregon Portlander, the shadow of her pen falls darkly over our local wineries and their produce. Recently I had a chance to sit down with her and talk in great detail about what she refers to as the “emasculation of Pinot Noir.” I found her relatively gracious, as she wolfed down a ludicrously thick steak at a local restaurant, but when she pushed the bill in my direction at meal’s end I was glad to have my Oregon Wine Press credit card on hand.
Ms. Remark, known as “Tam” to her friends, was nothing if not expansive on her various interests. Like her writing, her speech is gruff, earthy, and never beats around the bush. Around a mouthful of tiger prawns and sparkling Shiraz (having eschewed the salad, which sat somewhat limply on my own plate), she launched into it.
“I am sick and tired of Pinot Noir being treated like some shrinking violet. When did it ever come into vogue to produce wines you can see through?” I had the temerity to point out that the Burgundians had been making wines in this style for a few years now, and she cut in, brandishing her fork at me. “Bullshit! You know damn well they import Garnacha for color. Delicacy is for toilet paper.”
I could not argue with this kind of logic, so I asked her to comment on local wines she found to be exemplary of her preferred style. Ignoring me, she went on. “I mean, if you want something clear to drink, there’s always Gatorade. Wine should be powerful, muscular, and dark. That’s why we shouldn’t be harvesting grapes at less than 30 brix, or using half-assed methods like ‘neutral’ oak. I mean, come on!
“You have winemakers out here like Jason Lett, Ken Cancilla, and Kelley Fox. Hacks! These little baby wines they produce are fit only for reduction sauces. If I wanted to smell rose petals in my wine I would dump in a bottle of perfume!”
I averred that Kelley Fox, proprietor of the eponymous winery, and winemaker at Scott Paul, made wines of haunting, ethereal concentration, sexy, feminine, and expressive of site; that Ken Cancilla was doing wonderful things out by the Coast Range; and that Jason Lett was heir to perhaps our most important vinous heritage here in Oregon, Eyrie Winery. Ms. Remark merely glared at me over the Flintstones-sized slab of steaming beef that arrived before her. “Are you bleeping kidding me?” she demanded, as I timidly lay in to my salmon.
“Listen, Fulmer,” her steak knife a conductor’s wand in the air, “It’s all about moving product, and that sissified swill you have the naiveté to call ‘expressive of site’ is just grape juice. There’s a reason no one has heard of Cameron or J. Christopher. It’s because their wines are barely entitled to the name ‘wine.’
“First of all, ‘terroir’ is nothing but French propaganda. They get to amp up the cost of wine made from grapes a few hundred yards from another vineyard whose wine gets half the price! ‘Clos’ this and ‘clos’ that. ‘Clos’ your damn mouths, Frogs! The idea that the place a wine is planted has anything to do with its final flavor is the biggest red herring in the history of alcoholic beverages.”
I could only frown at her and reach for a dinner roll. She snapped the flat of her knife down on my knuckles like an angry nun, drawing a spot of blood, which she sopped up with her napkin. “See there? Does it matter that I did that at this table? Would it have hurt less across the street? Or if I were eating some little fishy fish instead of a real dinner?”
“Wait a second,” I got out, flexing my injured hand to see if anything was broken. “That’s not the same thing at all!”
“It is indeed. True wine is never made in the vineyard. If so, the crows would be making Barbaresco. True wine is made in the cellar, in the hands of a talented winemaker who knows what the hell she is doing!
“Look,” she went on, mollifying me somewhat by flagging down a waiter and asking for a bandage on my behalf. “There are a few wineries up here who get it. Few, and far between, but I write them up with pleasure, because they understand that Pinot is not about ephemeral tripe like ‘grace’ or ‘finesse,’ but about power and extraction! It ain’t Johnny Weir, brother, it’s wine!”
She reached into her back pocket while chewing on a particularly fatty hunk of steak, and pulled out what appeared to be a small sheaf of photocopies. “Here are some of my reviews. I brought them knowing your style, Fulmer. Don’t think I didn’t read that piece of crap article you wrote about John Paul a few years back. Cascade Republic indeed!” She snorted in derision.
“Here, now do these names ring a bell? Chateau Derrière. Think bacon fat, flesh, stewed black cherry… Mmm, yes! C’est Moche, who made Oregon’s first $100 Pinot (which I laid in by the case), from vines sensibly in their third leaf! None of this tired old-vine crap. Youth is vigor! I mean, any winery that has the business sense to bottle the Dundee Hills aquifer is one I will follow, and write up every chance I get!”
I pointed out that, though big, Derrière’s “Slacktide” aged gracefully and knit together into a far more delicate wine. I started to say “expressive,” but a look from Ms. Remark cut me off. “Aging gracefully is for Hollywood has-beens! Wines must be drunk young! Otherwise, why waste all that money on new American oak? Sheesh!”
She went on. “Pretty Brothers ‘Up a Terrace’ is what I’m talking about. It’s like Napa in the North! Like Barossa Pinot, only more expensive! I want a wine that is gonna straight kick my butt! Why should Lodi Zin get all the glory, huh?”
I didn’t think it really did get all the glory, and I said that Zinfandel can be coaxed into refreshingly spicy, eloquent wines, like the wonderful one from Heydon Road in the Umpqua Valley. “Well, at least they have the sense to be growing grapes where it’s hot,” she granted. “Who ever heard of good wine coming from cool climates? A total farce!”
She calmed down a bit, well into her third bowl of Petite Sirah. “Listen. It’s not that we can’t make decent wine up here, it’s just that folks don’t have the cojones to really do it. Mechanized punch-downs, six weeks of skin contact, exclusive use of new wood- these are expensive steps, sure, and I can see how foolish upstarts like Barnaby Tuttle from Honig Schlucht try to hide behind words like ‘exquisite,’ or ‘terroir,’ or- my favorite, ‘food-friendly’! Ha! Great wines must be beaten into shape, and that takes money! Just look at what Yellowtail are doing with their Reserve Pinot- if the Aussies can do it, so can we, by God!”
Sighing a bit over my cheese plate, watching awestruck as Ms. Remark devoured a piece of cherry chocolate cake roughly the size of my left thigh, I absorbed her parting blow with no comment and a defensive slurp of Holloran Riesling. “This is what wine should be like,” indicating her dessert. “Rich, filling, enormous. There’s no room for delicacy in real wine. Those jerks can drink Budweiser. For the rest of us, there’s Walla Walla, at least. Those guys get it right. We can do the same thing down here, especially with global warming, proper hangtime, and fearless winemaking.”
As I stumbled out to my delicate, graceful little car, nursing what would likely be a muscular, heavily-extracted headache, I glanced at the tasting notes Ms. Remark had given me, and had to laugh. I guess this much is clear: I just don’t get it.
TAMMY REMARK, recent tasting notes
C’est Moche, 2006 Culote Vineyard Pinot Noir
Huge, gushing, and extracted, with gobs and gobs of syrupy, blackberry compote fruit. A head-spinning display of vanilla bean, burnt coffee, and tar, with a long, sweet finish, ending on a lingering note of grain alcohol.
Pretty Brothers 2003 “Up a Terrace” Pinot Noir
Shows brooding layers of stewed tomatoes, prunes, over-steeped black tea, and butterscotch, playing against a solid backbone of sugar and pine sap. Hedonistic and delicious, this would be perfect with ostrich sashimi.
Chateau Derrière, 2006 Slacktide Reserve Pinot Noir
A massive tsunami of ultra-jammy sweet cherry preserves, with utterly muscular flavors of horse hoof, dirt, burning paper, and blood sausage. A buffalo steak dinner in a glass, with a fat dollop of vanilla icing and chocolate syrup gussying up the finish. Should age for at least 45 minutes.
* Riggs Fulmer is a language-loving prankster, wine writer and musician. He resides in Portland. He writes OWP’s annual “April Fool's” joke story.