Jure Poberaj and Nina Jimenez in their newly planted vineyard in the hills above White Salmon, Washington. ##Photo by Joshua Chang

All You Knead Is Dolcetto

White Salmon Baking Company crafts pizza-ready red

By Michael Alberty

A bottle of Dolcetto from the Columbia River Gorge took me home again. The fact it is made by a kayaking prodigy who also makes incredible pizza is merely a bonus.

A perpetually broke grad school existence meant relying on the advice of my local bottle shop owner when it came to the cheap and the good. One day, he placed a bottle of $12 Dolcetto from Piedmont in my hands. It was dark, rustic and compelling. I was hooked for life.

I recently tasted a domestic Dolcetto that returned me to that epiphany. The front of my discovery reads “Smockshop Band,” an alternative label used by Nate Ready and China Tresemer of Hiyu Wine Farm fame. If you turn the bottle around to look at the back label, you will see, in tiny print, the words “White Salmon Baking Cuvée,” which is where this Dolcetto story begins.

Jure Poberaj and Nina Jimenez own White Salmon Baking Company, a magical place just across a rickety toll bridge from Hood River. People make long-distance pilgrimages to this temple of flour to buy loaves of bread and pastries baked in their wood-burning oven. The pilgrims are treated to the best pizza this side of Brooklyn when fortunate enough to be at White Salmon Baking Company on a Monday night.

Smockshop Band 2018 “White Salmon Baking Cuvée” Dolcetto

Poberaj’s background is different from other winemakers in the area. Born in Slovenia’s Soňáca Valley, he came to the U.S. with his family in 1993. His father, Silvan Poberaj, was a legendary K1 slalom racer who coached the USA Canoe Kayak teams at seven Olympic Games. It was only natural that Poberaj and his brother were both elite slalom kayakers.

Poberaj is also the nephew of Josko Gravner, one of the world’s great winemakers. That familial connection led the local wine mojo wire to twitch in earnest when Poberaj and Jimenez cleared part of their property in the hills above White Salmon. The word quickly spread that the couple was planting Ribolla Gialla and Friulano. This fall, they plan to add Nebbiolo and plant even more Ribolla Gialla vines.

Luckily for me, Poberaj decided not to wait for his own grapes before making wine. His first effort is a humble red wine that comes within a Justin Theroux eyelash of replicating my first Dolcetto experience.

Smockshop Band 2018 “White Salmon Baking Cuvée” Dolcetto

The announcement of this wine is the most excellent fermentation news to come out of White Salmon since founder Erastus S. Joslyn accidentally let his apple cider ferment.

Poberaj crossed the toll bridge to buy grapes from the owners of Allegre Vineyards The organically certified fruit grows in the shadow of Mount Hood, just south of Hood River. Poberaj made the Dolcetto at nearby Hiyu Wine Farm.

Reminiscing about my first Dolcetto as I poured Poberaj’s into my glass, I wondered: Would it be anything like the uncomplicated, earthy experience that first introduced me to the wines of Italy?

The wine’s color appears deep garnet with a tiny cranberry rim.

So far, so good.

Then the aromatic show began. First, dried herbs and wet grass. After a few swirls, scents like loamy dirt and pottery clay joined the fun. The fruit was black and tangy, like a not-quite-ripe blackberry with a little lilac thrown in for good measure.

The first sip sealed the deal. The acidity level is modest, and the pronounced tannins made my tongue interpret the roof of my mouth as polar fleece. The juice didn’t ooze and coat my palate. Instead, it zipped from side to side while trumpeting the moral superiority of its 12.5% alcohol.

The Dolcetto tastes tart, with a bittersweet dark chocolate note that triggered a hankering for a handful of cacao nibs for munching. The fruit flavors changed their story as often as a White House press secretary. At first, I thought I was tasting damson, the plum’s kissing cousin. Then I thought it was blueberries. I finally settled on something close to cassis after the wine sat in my glass for an hour.

Thanks for the ride home.

There are times when you want to drink, not think. This isn’t a wine to share with people who care only for pundits and points. The “White Salmon Baking Cuvée” is for sharing with a friend who appreciates nothing more than having a glass of good wine while sharing a meal and swapping stories.

The bad news is Poberaj made a homeopathic amount of his Dolcetto. The good news is the only place you can buy it is at the White Salmon Baking Company.

May I suggest pizza night tonight?

The Changeup, a monthly column by Michael Alberty, is a baseball pitch designed to disorient and confuse. It’s the perfect representation of the unknown and its mastery over those who think they know what to expect. This column is devoted to those unorthodox Oregon wines you never saw coming.

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