left) Winemakers
Eric Weisinger of
Weisinger Family
Winery; Vince
Vidrine of Irvine
& Roberts; and
Rob Folin of Belle
Fiore Winery. The
trio organized the
Ashland Nouveau
Celebration and
plan to do it again
next year. ##Photo provided
The wines
offered at the
event from the
three Ashland-area
wineries. ##Photo provided

Nouveau in the Rogue

Ashland collaboration inspires “new” tradition

By Patty Mamula

While Rob Folin’s fellow Ashland winemakers began harvest, he awaited fruit to ripen at Belle Fiore. Feeling somewhat restless, he needed a distraction. That’s when he got the idea to make a Beaujolais nouveau-style wine.

Traditional Beaujolais nouveau involves Gamay Noir fermented for only a few weeks and released on the third Thursday in November. It involves a unique process called carbonic maceration.

Folin convinced friend Eric Weisinger, winemaker and general manager of Weisinger Family Winery, and Vince Vidrine, winemaker at Irvine & Roberts, to join him in the nouveau project. Originally, they planned to produce one barrel together. “Then the Irvine & Roberts crew said, ‘Let’s do a celebration,’” said Folin. A space in the middle of downtown Ashland became available, and the date was secured: Nov. 21, 2019, the third Thursday. Perfect.

As soon as the Ashland Nouveau Celebration was on the books, the winemakers readied themselves to craft the special wine. “First, we researched the process,” Weisinger said. “The Beaujolais style starts with whole-cluster Gamay grapes; then carbon dioxide is pumped into the tank. In this semi-controlled environment, the grapes begin to ferment.”

During carbonic maceration the fermentation occurs inside the berries. “Hundreds of thousands of individual fermentations occur during this fascinating process,” Weisinger explained.

Instead of Gamay, the group used Pinot Noir. Both are light in tannins. Weisinger and Folin chose the Pommard clone and Vidrine decided on Dijon 777. “Although all three of us produced it in a slightly different way, the final wines were very similar,” Folin said. First, he and Vidrine inoculated the clusters inside the tank filled with carbon dioxide; Weisinger did not. After about a week on skins, Weisinger and Folin pressed the grapes, let them settle and then pumped the juice into barrels where it rested until ready. After pressing, Vidrine left his juice in the original tank.

Weisinger explains, “We gently pressed it off and then took the juice that was about 50% fermented with close to 8 Brix left to ferment and finished it in a barrel. The color was a light, bright red, and the aroma coming off it was very strong cinnamon.” They bottled the unfiltered wine the first of November, ending up with about 25 cases each.

The celebration was a sold-out hit. “We want to continue, to develop it into a tradition here and build on the opportunity to work with other Ashland businesses,” said Vidrine.

The successful collaboration celebrating the first wine of the season was great exposure. Between the celebration and tasting room sales, there are only a few cases left. Belle Fiore created a three-pack of the wines, promoting it for holiday meals. “It goes well with most foods, and it’s light enough for white wine drinkers,” said Folin.

Weisinger hopes they’ve begun a tradition, similar to the age-old one in Beaujolais. Folin learned things from this fermentation that he’ll use again. “We all learned something,” he said. “I liked the competition and the sharing of information. We have to keep learning and trying.”

Irvine & Roberts

In 2007, Doug and Dionne Irvine first planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; the vineyard sits at 2,100 feet with the Cascades and Siskiyous on either side. In 2012, they added 23 acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. They’ve since been joined by Doug’s sister and brother-in-law, Kelly and Duane Roberts, as well as winemaker Vince Vidrine. Case production is 5,000 to 6,000 cases with room to grow both in production and future plantings.

Weisinger Family Winery

The Weisinger Family Winery was the first in Ashland. The original vineyard, planted in 1979 by John Weisinger, contains Gewürz, Pinot Noir and Tempranillo. Since son Eric’s return from New Zealand in 2011, he’s taken the reins as winemaker and general manager. While production measures about 9,000 cases, custom crush business accounts for a large share.

Belle Fiore Winery

Ed and Karen Kerwin purchased Miller Ranch outside Ashland in 2000 and planted vines in 2007. The 32-acre vineyard features French, Italian and Spanish varietals planted in micro-blocks. Other varietals include Barbera, Caprettone, Pinot Noir, Montepulciano and Muscat Canelli. Annual production is 4,500 cases, and sales are mostly through the tasting room. Winemaker Rob Folin started at Belle Fiore in 2018 after the closure of his namesake winery due to family circumstances.


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