Simple Machine owners Brian
Denner and Clea Arthur. ##Photo by Michael Alberty
Simple Machine tasting room in Talent, Oregon. ##Photo by Michael Alberty
Simple Machine tasting room sign in Talent, Oregon. ##Photo by Michael Alberty
Simple Machine tasting room in Talent, Oregon. ##Photo by Michael Alberty

Low-Tech Take

Blend rages against complex machines

By Michael Alberty

Looking for a hot wine tip? I have two words for you: Simple Machine. Haven’t heard of it before? You need to fix that right now. Begin your education with one of the best Oregon white wines I tasted this year: Simple Machine’s “Leverage.”

 I know, Simple Machine sounds like a Burt Reynolds movie or something Anthony Sullivan would pitch you while watching television at 2 a.m. Instead, the Talent-based winery’s name refers to the intuitive, low-tech winemaking philosophies of Brian Denner and his partner in life and business, Clea Arthur.

 “I smell, look and listen to the wines,” Denner says. “Nothing is really added. In physics, it’s like magnifying or changing the direction of a force. We take clean, healthy grapes and turn them toward their natural direction with minimal intervention or use of technology.”

According to Denner, it comes down to two decades of experience and developing a feel for the wine. “It’s kind of like ‘Spidey sense’ or a Jedi moment.” After a laugh, Denner adds, “maybe I need a lightsaber for this.”

Simple Machine "Leverage" ##Photo by Marcus Larson

The 2018 Simple Machine “Leverage” ($28) is the perfect example of the process described by Denner. The wine is a 50-50 blend of Marsanne and Viognier made with grapes purchased from two Rogue Valley legends: Andy Pearl and Herb Quady. The grapes are brought into the winery and whole-cluster pressed.

No enzymes, acids or sulfites are added at the crusher, and fermentation is triggered by yeasts from the vineyards. Solids are left floating in the juice to capture the textural qualities usually associated with malolactic fermentation. Denner added 40 parts-per-million of sulfur dioxide to “Leverage” after primary fermentation. The wine  then aged on its lees in stainless steel for five months.

“I can’t think of anything more natural than that unless I squeezed the grapes with my bare hands, which isn’t very practical,” Denner says.

There it is. The dreaded “N’” word: natural. When quizzed about how Simple Machine fits in the natural wine world, Denner gets a look on his face like I’m trying to sell them term life insurance. “We’re not trying to be part of any ‘natural wine society.” It’s just what we do,” Denner says. 

“Making wine naturally, no matter how you define it, starts a conversation with people about what is in their wine,” Arthur says. “Most people don’t realize how much can be added to wine, like additives and acids.”

Denner nods his head in agreement and adds: “It’s like cooking or baking. If you get amazing vegetables or a great piece of fish or meat, you don’t mess it up with a bunch of extra stuff.”

“Keeping it simple” created a wine that begins casting its spell as you pour it from the bottle. It’s the color of a moonbeam hitting the bedroom wall when five-year-old you is trying to fall asleep. It’s David Bowie’s hair color, circa 1983. “Leverage” is some serious moonlight in a glass.

Things get even more impressive when you stick your nose into that glass. The first sniff brings scents of grilled honeydew melon, gardenias and a touch of white pepper. After some time in the glass, “Leverage” began developing a nutty aroma that reminded me of roasted walnuts. Also, lurking in the background was a mineral note reminiscent of the white powder I’d always lick of my sticks of Juicy Fruit gum back in the day.

There’s no malolactic fermentation, and “Leverage” lived in stainless steel. Yet there’s some serious body here. Thanks, floating solids! “Leverage” clocks in at 13.8% alcohol, and its supple texture makes it fun to just swish about in your mouth. It’s like putting on your favorite, most comfortable bulky sweater.

Flavor-wise, the wine rivals the cornucopia on your grandmother’s dinner table for fruit diversity. White peach, orange marmalade — with bits of ginger, quince and Bosc pear all make appearances. Add touches of honeycomb, smoke and lemon peel, and you have yourself quite a treat. Best of all, “Leverage” has more than enough natural acidity to provide a sense of balance.

Like I said, “Leverage” is one of the best Oregon white wines I had the pleasure of drinking this year. Considering they only made 90 cases of this striking Rogue Valley Marsanne-Viognier blend, maybe you should call 541-897-0668 and order some right this instant. Two Talent-ed operators are standing by.

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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