Winemaker Jeff Vejr. ##Photo by Michael Alberty

Can't-Miss Swiss

Garanoir makes Oregon debut

By Michael Alberty

The name of the wine is Merci, André Jaquinet, a blend composed primarily of Garanoir. Surprised? Don’t worry. Nobody expects the Swiss exposition. 

Jeff “The Winesman” Vejr, wine historian, wine bar co-owner and winemaker, crafts compelling wines from unusual grapes under his Golden Cluster label. When Vejr stumbled across an ad for someone selling Saperavi and Rkatsiteli, he suspected a practical joke.

“I remember thinking, ‘There’s no way anybody in Oregon has these grapes.’ I thought somebody was grifting me,” Vejr said.

James Moss, owner of Apical Vines Nursery in The Dalles, placed the ad. In addition to the nursery, Moss owns two vineyards: Brightlight in The Dalles and WindEarth near Forest Grove. Between these operations, he grows nearly 200 grape varieties. According to Vejr, Moss’ “diversity of clonal material is unmatched in the Northwest.”

Moss’ inventory for WindEarth includes Garanoir and Regent, which intrigued Vejr. On his winery website, Vejr confesses, “You’ve probably never heard of these grapes, and before the 2018 vintage, I hadn’t either.”

Garanoir was created by André Jaquinet at a research facility in Switzerland. The grape is a cross between Gamay Noir and Reichensteiner, which itself is a hybrid of Müller-Thurgau with yet another cross of Madeleine Angevine and Weisser Calabreser. Although the Swiss grape’s original name was Pully B-28, Jaquinet eventually decided it was not nearly as sexy as Garanoir.

Moss planted Oregon’s first-ever Garanoir vines in WindEarth after noticing its success in the wetter, cooler climes of the Puget Sound area. “It ripens early, hangs well and is resistant to botrytis in wet, marginal years,” Moss explained, further describing wines made with Garanoir as “ripe and round, with low acidity.” 

Vejr’s Merci, André Jaquinet consists of 95% Garanoir and 5% Regent. The Regent grape is a cross of Chambourcin and Diana — which itself is a hybrid of Silvaner and Müller-Thurgau. Like Garanoir, Regent ripens early while resistant to botrytis and various forms of mildew. 

Merci, André Jaquinet

Moss planted Regent after reading about its success in cool-climate, organic vineyards located in Germany. “Regent makes bolder, Mediterranean-style red wines I thought were lacking in the Willamette Valley,” Moss said.

WindEarth Vineyard sits approximately 425 feet above sea level on south and southeast facing slopes. The dry-farmed Garanoir and Regent vines grow from deep, windblown loess soils layered above the sediment. Moss says the grapes at this location achieve excellent phenolic ripeness, and the soil’s mineral content makes for compelling flavor profiles.

Moss and Vejr make a match made in grape heaven. Moss planted a dizzying array of grapevines from places like Georgia, Croatia, Greece and Switzerland to offer Oregon’s winemakers the opportunity to branch out. “I think the market is in flux, and people are suffering a bit from ‘Pinot fatigue,’” Moss said.

These words are music to Vejr’s ears. He even created a new brand, Vinous Obscura, for the wines he makes from Moss’ more eclectic grapes. 

Vinous Obscura 2018 Merci, André Jaquinet Garanoir ($25)

Vejr firmly believes Garanoir and Regent have greater potential in the Willamette Valley than Pinot Noir, particularly with organic farming. With perhaps a cheeky poke at comparisons made between the Willamette Valley and Burgundy, Vejr states in bold print on his website: “We can taste like Switzerland.”

To make his case, Vejr blended the Swiss ex-pat Garanoir with a small amount of Regent. Ambient yeasts triggered fermentation, after which the wine rested in neutral French oak barrels for six months. Vejr bottled 75 cases worth of unfined and unfiltered Merci, André Jaquinet.       

The wine’s deep plum color reminds me of the lush velvet curtains in the old movie theater where I grew up watching horror movies and cartoons. The wine, however, does not have any chewing gum attached.

Aromatically, Vejr’s Garanoir-Regent blend offers waves of blackberries, chalk and a smoky-meaty combination reminiscent of grilled pork fat hitting open coals. I don’t know if André Jaquinet likes to rough it, but his namesake wine is welcome at my camping cookouts anytime.

The flavors of waxy dark cherries and bittersweet chocolate carry on with the plush theme. The wine’s mouthfeel is thick and smooth with velvety tannins holding court. For added interest, a mildly bitter note of raw almonds makes an appearance.

Vejr calls his can’t-miss Swiss “highly smash-able.” I agree with him wholeheartedly. If this wine were a classic rock album, it would be The Who’s “Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy.”

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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