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Chris Hermann, founder of 00 Wines. ##Photo by Kathryn Elsesser

Back to Black

00 Wines champions unique techniques

By Tamara Belgard

Though the rise of Oregon Pinot Noir has been astonishing, now Oregon Chardonnay is having its day in the sun, and 00 Wines makes some you won’t forget. 

Founded in 2015 by prominent Portland wine industry attorney Chris Hermann, 00 Wines produces rich-textured, low-alcohol wines of power and elegance. And while the Carlton-based winery makes exceptional Pinot Noir (300 cases a year), the current focus elevates Chardonnay production (1,700 cases) — from exceptional sites such as Seven Springs, Bunker Hill and Hyland — beyond the current boundaries of Oregon wine using the “Black Chardonnay” technique.

Extra Good White and Very Good White are 00 Wines’ 2016 Chardonnays — the former is $115; the latter, $65. ##Photo by Kathryn Elsesser

According to Kathryn Hermann, 00 Wines co-founder, Black Chardonnay features a traditional Burgundian method of extreme pressing, extracting more phenolics and fine particulates from the fruit. She explains, “As soon as the grapes are pressed, the resulting juice is dark and cloudy brown, almost black. We do not add sulfites to the juice; instead, we let it oxidize. This scares many vintners because it looks like the Chardonnay is ruined. However, this early oxidation is important because it develops complex aromatics, flavors and texture with the additional benefit that it prevents the wine from oxidizing later in the bottle.” The technique results in layered, textured wines with superb aging potential.

The winery champions Black Chardonnay in Oregon, where most winemakers extract a pure, clean juice treated with sulfites immediately, preventing instant oxidation; many also settle the juice longer than 00, allowing the fine particulates time to fall out before placing in the barrel. The difference between the methods is like the distinction between apple juice and cider, in terms of flavor intensity and texture. With Black Chardonnay, the fine particulates combine with dead yeast particles to form an extra thick layer of lees in the barrel. According to Kathryn, “We don’t stir the lees after fermentation; but because we have a lot of them, the chemical reactions that take place during élevage (the period of time in barrel between fermentation and bottling) impart the salinity, layers of flavor and the long, satisfying finish we’re going for.”

Chris Hermann’s emphasis on Chardonnay springs partially from a conversation with legendary Burgundian winemaker Dominique Lafon, who declared Willamette Valley vineyards, such as Seven Springs in the Eola-Amity Hills, produce the best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir fruit in the New World. Hermann agrees, “It’s right here in our backyard, and it’s up to us to take what nature has given us to make world-class, collectible wines.”

The sole vintner in Oregon exploring the thread of cool-climate Chardonnay among Oregon, Burgundy and Champagne, 00 also produces white Burgundy in Beaune from Grand Cru Corton-Charlemagne and Blanc de Blancs Champagne in Mesnils-sur-Oger from a Côte des Blancs vineyard. The 00 Corton-Charlemagne is crafted using the same methods as the Oregon Chardonnay. Hermann’s goal is simple: “We want to offer people who are obsessed with Chardonnay — like we are — the chance to experience the relationships, interplay and balance between French and Oregon Chardonnay, and between tradition and innovation.”

While 00 Chardonnay tastes truly exceptional, the winery also leads a unique Pinot Noir program, sourcing fruit from Shea, Hyland and the lesser-known Stardance. The winery bases their picking decisions for both Pinot and Chardonnay on acid levels — not sugar levels (brix) — to achieve its signature flavor profile. With laborious production that includes hand snipping each Pinot berry from the cluster and whole-berry fermentation in 500-liter clay amphorae, the resulting wines are smooth with soft tannins on the back palate.

While the winemaking has been guided by Burgundian winemaking consultant Pierre Millemann, whose clients include world-renowned producers such as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Dujac, 00 recently hired winemaker Wynne Peterson-Nedry — formerly with Chehalem Winery — for the 2018 harvest. She will be making the wine alongside current winemaker Maxence Lecat. Peterson-Nedry will lead the cellar in November, when Lecat returns to France.

In the spirit of individuality, 00 labels don’t resemble anyone’s in the Valley either. Inspired by the Burgundian style of chalking the vintage on bottles while cellared, 00 has created a brand emulating the classic, Old-World feel while suggesting a playfully understated and elegant simplicity. Look for the 00 VGW (Very Good White) and EGW (Extra Good White), alongside the 00 VGR (Very Good Red) and single-vineyard bottlings of Shea, Hyland and Stardance.

As for the atypical name, Chris explains, “The name was selected based on our original

approach, which was picking Pinot Noir grapes in the vineyard, snipping each berry from the cluster and immediately placing them in the amphorae inside a refrigerated truck on site at the vineyard to start the fermentation process within a few feet of where the grapes grew and were picked. Thus, 00 stood for zero distance in time and space from the grapes on the vine to the wine in the bottle.”

 Sample the wines at the Carlton Winemakers Studio and by appointment. The Hermanns are in the process of buying and renovating a cottage in Carlton, which they hope to open by September/October for private tastings.

 

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