The 1970s pickup that carried the vine cuttings to RainSong Vineyard in 1985 is still in action on the estate. ##Photo by Marcus Hall
Marcus Hall, RainSong winemaker. ##Photo by Michael Alberty
RainSong Vineyard, Cheshire. ##Photo by MIchael Alberty

Getting My Fix

Sparkling Meunier a habit that needs no kicking

By Michael Alberty

I recently traveled 200 miles roundtrip in the same day to taste RainSong Vineyard’s Sparkling Blanc de Pinot Meunier. My trip to tiny Cheshire was well worth the mileage.

I shake my head when people refer to Pinot Meunier as “Champagne’s third wheel.” I’ve been hooked ever since I opened a bottle of Egly-Ouriet “Les Vignes de Vrigny” on the night my son was born. In my book, if Pinot Meunier is a wheel, it’s a turbo-charged unicycle piloted by Daniel Craig.

I can count the number of sparkling Pinot Meuniers made in Oregon on the front paws of a three-toed sloth, which pains me — the number, not the sloth, that is. This is the reason I drove into the heart of the Lower Long Tom AVA just to taste RainSong’s méthode Champenoise-style treat.

RainSong Vineyard is located in the forested Coast Range foothills northwest of Eugene. The stands of fir, oak and madrone trees surrounding RainSong’s eight-acre vineyard are so thick, Sasquatch flash mobs could be operating out there, and you’d be none the wiser.

Mike and Merry Fix launched RainSong in the mid-1980s. Their names might be familiar to anyone who practiced the art of in-home fermentation in 1970s-era Eugene. That is where the Fixes owned Winemakers West, a wine and beer-making supply company that eventually inspired them to turn their hobby into a profession.

Unfortunately for the Fixes, there wasn’t a lot of fruit for sale in the southern Willamette Valley in those days. They decided they needed to grow their own grapes to make wine commercially.

In 1984, the Fixes purchased a 55-acre plot of land in Cheshire. At an elevation close to 800 feet, the cumulous clouds here fool you into reaching out to touch them. When you fail, RainSong’s ever-present wild turkeys offer mocking clucks.

The following year, the Fixes, with help from their school-age daughter, Fiona, started driving a pick-up loaded with Pinot Noir vines to their property in the hills. The year 1985 also marked the birth of Allie, Fiona’s little sister. Chardonnay vines were added in 1989, followed by Pinot Meunier in 1996 and 2005.

Early on, the Fixes’ grapes struggled to fully ripe at such a high elevation. This problem was solved during their 20th wedding anniversary trip to Europe. In Champagne, the Fixes discovered winemakers using slightly under-ripe fruit to make some of their best wines. Inspired, the couple returned home to make their first sparkling wine in 1992.

Mike and Merry recently handed over the bulk of the vineyard and winery chores to their daughters, Fiona FixMitchell and Allie Hall, and winemaking husband Marcus Hall. The transition of ownership has been seamless.

Allie Hall, RainSong’s lab scientist and disgorgement specialist, continues her father’s practice of hand-signing and numbering every bottle the winery produces. That’s approximately 9,600 bottles a year, making her beautifully precise penmanship all the more impressive.

Marcus Hall carries on another of his father-in-law’s traditions: making sparkling wines by hand. Every step of the process, from secondary fermentation in the bottle, to riddling, disgorgement, dosage and bottling, occurs at RainSong’s facility.

The winery’s 30-year méthode Champenoise legacy makes RainSong one of the oldest sparkling producers in the Willamette Valley. Bottle No. 31 (of 577) of Sparkling Blanc de Pinot Meunier ($35) remains an example of the fun that decades of “hands-on” experience can create.

The wine’s pale gold hue shimmers like a wedding band in the glass. Small bubbles form a column, then get bored and disperse in random patterns as they approach the wine’s surface.

If you’re looking for loads of fruit, the aromas slap you while whispering, “Guess again, hedonist.” This is a spartan nose with an earthy quality that eases back and forth between daisies and wet straw. Scents of cold steel and frozen grapes, followed by bits of fresh-baked sourdough bread, lemon zest and a distinctly spicy note, blow you a kiss.

Then you pour. For a Meunier maniac like me, the moment is like Langston Hughes asking you to let “silver liquid drops” sing you a lullaby in his poem, “April Rain Song.”

The bubbles of this sparkling Pinot Meunier bump against the upper roof of the mouth like petting zoo inmates looking to get fed. It’s a warm and fuzzy sensation filled with good intentions.

I wrote “grapey” and “cardamom” after my first sip of this non-vintage blend from the 2017 and 2018 vintages. The wall of vinosity crumbles with a few swirls of the glass, allowing small amounts of citrus, Golden Delicious apple peel and honeycomb flavors to slip through the cracks.

This wine isn’t for everyone. This wine is for me.

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.

Web Design and Web Development by Buildable