Winemaker Corey Schuster of Jackalope Wines. ##Photo by Michael Alberty

Fielder's Choice

Winemaker scores serendipitous blend

By Michael Alberty

Meet the white wine never meant to be: Jackalope Wine Cellars 2019 Field Blend. Happenstance never tasted so good.

In 2019, Corey Schuster was all set to make a 100% Alvarinho wine for his Jackalope label. He found Alvarinho, the Portuguese name for the Albariño grape, growing at Brightlight Vineyard near The Dalles. Schuster’s plans took a detour when he arrived at the vineyard to collect his agreed-upon ton of grapes.   

James Moss, co-owner of Brightlight Vineyard with Karen Fowler, greeted Schuster with the news that there only three-quarters of a ton of Alvarinho was available. Schuster’s press requires a one-ton minimum load to do its job properly, so this was an unwelcome surprise.

Moss had a small amount of Gewürztraminer grapes ripe and ready, but it still wasn’t enough. Moss began rapidly picking other white wine grapes to complete Schuster’s ton. Unfortunately, Moss was moving too fast for Schuster to keep tabs on what he was picking. “I really have no idea what they were,” Schuster said.

When the vineyard dust settled, Schuster had three almost full bins of Alvarinho, which Moss topped off with Gewürztraminer and the unidentified fruit. A fourth bin was filled with the same mysterious mix. Schuster hauled the grapes back to his winery space in S.E. Portland to run through the persnickety press.

Jackalope Field Blend ##Photo provided

The only thing Schuster knows for sure is that his wine is 75% Alvarinho, bolstered by a small amount of Gewürz and three, possibly four yet-to-be-determined varieties. Schuster’s Alvarinho vision had transformed into a true field blend, a centuries-old practice of harvesting, crushing and fermenting multiple varieties together.

Fans of the field blend frequently wax poetic about the technique’s charmed qualities, all the while trying to remember if it was Aristotle who proclaimed, “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” In this case, the adapted adage “Blending is done in the vineyard, not in the cellar” might be appropriate.

“I think the magic is that you really get a sense of place with varieties that all grow well together in the same vineyard, all made into wine at the same time. I think it’s a rad way to taste the vineyard,” Schuster says.      

I know exactly what the winemaker means. Thirty years ago, I discovered a wine made with Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah and a laundry list of other grapes. The strange medley from a lone vineyard put everything I loved about California wines into one bottle. I sang its praises to anyone who would listen.

One day, my beloved field blend disappeared, likely swallowed by some company whose name rhymes with “hallow.” So, you’ll have to excuse me if I get overly excited about my latest field blend epiphany. 

I do have one problem with this wine, so let’s get it out of the way first. See that antelope and jackrabbit on the label? While they are sedate enough on their own, their unrelenting amorous activities bring jackalopes into the world. These bunnies with sharp weapons sticking out of their skulls have a mean streak as wide as South Dakota. I recently read about a jackalope injuring a man during a community gardening dispute in Chugwater, Wyoming.

Mascot aside, this $25 bottle of Jackalope wine is excellent.

The color kicks things off with a homey touch. Its pale-yellow hue lies on the Sherwin-Williams chart somewhere between curbside lemonade and a cup of chamomile tea.

Aromatically, the wine offers much to process. Initial bursts of honeysuckle and almonds give way to a scent I describe as lemon peel dipped in Yaquina Bay. Meanwhile, a pesky pine needle note hovers in the background. After that, it gets weird, as in a sweet and savory combination that had me craving melon wrapped in mortadella.

My first sip sealed the deal. Waxy, grassy flavors filled my mouth as the wine’s acidity caused me to drool just a bit. Flavors of grilled pineapple, tart apricots, allspice and green tea proceeded to blow up my olfactory system while I looked for a napkin. Top it all off with a rocky flavor instantly recognizable to anyone weird enough to have licked a piece of granite.

I know Brightlight Vineyard grows Fiano, a grape responsible for some of my favorite Italian whites. Based on this tasting encounter, it wouldn’t surprise me to discover the intense variety in this serendipitous wine.

I just hope Schuster figures out how to accurately recreate this enigmatic blend because I want to buy it every vintage.

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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