Johan Vineyards winemaker Morgan Beck. ##Photo by Michael Alberty

Johan Travolta Lives

Biodynamic chicken wine has all the moves

By Michael Alberty

This is a fowl tale of fine wine and a selfless servant named Popcorn.

His full name was Popcorn the Great, but we’ll stick with Popcorn to avoid confusion with the Macedonian military leader who laid siege to Pericarp. Also, Popcorn was a rooster, and the only thing he conquered was a hennery.

The bird’s story begins when Johan Vineyards was on high alert during the summer of 2020. Chickens were stressed beyond belief as raptors threatened death from above while four-legged predators launched a ground campaign. After negotiations with owner Dag Johan Sundby, Popcorn and his brother, Iris the Mad, relocated to Rickreall to save the day. Why a rooster is named Iris is unknown. We do, however, understand why he is mad.

The two brothers had radically different management styles. Iris is a jack-spurred tyrant that uses fear to rule. Popcorn preferred a kinder approach. “Popcorn was a champion of personal growth through freedom of choice. He would walk with the hens, like a big brother, patiently listening to their clucking, while generously sharing his wisdom and compassion for others,” Sundby explains.

When the great wildfires of 2020 raged all around the Valley, Popcorn’s gentle demeanor kept the hens calm and productive. They all learned to love and dance like no one was watching. Popcorn preferred the uplifting music of the likes of Donna Summer and Kool & The Gang for those dance sessions. Iris thrashed alone to early Meat Puppets.

With his upbeat attitude and skilled dance moves, Popcorn won the hearts and minds of everyone at Johan Vineyards. It was decided a wine would be named in his honor. “Disco Chicken” is available at the winery tasting room for $25, which isn’t a lot of scratch for such an excellent wine.

The 2020 Johan Vineyards “Disco Chicken” is a direct-pressed rosé made with Biodynamic estate-grown Blaufränkisch, St. Laurent, Zweigelt and just a beak’s worth of Pinot Noir. It is quite an honor, as winemaker and general manager Morgan Beck doesn’t sign off on too many pink wines.

Before we proceed, let’s erase those “lemonade from lemons” wildfire thoughts from your head. Beck made this wine with intentionality, and for more reasons than just honoring a rooster. For several years, she wanted to recognize her favorite Austrian rosés. The challenge has been acquiring enough fruit from the young vines bearing Johan’s Austrian grape varieties.

In 2020, she finally harvested fruit enough to make her pink wine. While Beck admits diversifying wildfire risk was a consideration, she also used the same grape varieties to make red wines in 2020.  

I’ve helped knock off four bottles of the “Disco Chicken” in the past two weeks. Not out of a need to get a thorough tasting note, but because I enjoy it so damn much.

The color of the wine is pure “Le Freak.” It looks like someone squeezed a pink grapefruit sunset into a wine glass. Just staring at the juice in the bottle might cure scurvy.

The first sniff of the wine continues the pink grapefruit theme. Or is it quince? Heck, this wine even smells tart. The next few, slightly more thoughtful inhalations unearth evidence of wet concrete, dry straw, sage and an Elberta peach. Every aspect of the way this wine smells will make you never want to stop ’til you get enough.

The first slurp of “Disco Chicken” will light up your palate like a Williams Electronics state-of-the-art 1978 “Disco Fever” pinball machine. This is the acid queen of Oregon rosés with enough pure electricity to power Google in The Dalles.

Surfing the waves of acidity are brave flavors like, yes, you guessed it: pink grapefruit, nectarines, pine needles and Melba toast. Do you enjoy a brisk, crisp drinking experience? Then the sections of your brain that regulate pleasure will be screaming “I will survive” after two glasses.  

Sadly, the wine’s inspiration is no longer with us.

Sundby reports that Popcorn’s lifeless body was found inside a chicken coop on the exact same day the “Disco Chicken” labels were being printed. Iris was unavailable for comment.

Popcorn’s brief time on this planet touched all who worked with him. “In the time Popcorn was a part of the Johan family, he left a lasting impression on the farm. He showed us all how one can be both a guardian and a gentle (bird) man,” Sundby says.

I’m happy to report there will be a 2021 “Disco Chicken.” When you buy a bottle, pour a glass and stare into Popcorn’s eyes — he’s the one in the Tony Manero suit — on that amazing label designed by Lia Sued. C. Then raise a glass and exclaim, “Stayin’ alive” — forever in our hearts.

“Fly, Robin, Fly,” dear Popcorn.

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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