Ross and Bee Maloof moved from the East Coast to make wine in the Willamette Valley. ##Photo by Michael Alberty

Maloof Sparkles in the Shadows

Could ancestropetnoise become the new rage?

The Changeup by Michael Alberty

Bee and Ross Maloof are the poster children for essayist Christopher Marley’s notion, “the plural of spouse is spice.” Now, the charismatic pair offer a sparkling wine to make it official: L’eau Épicée, aka the “spicy water.” 

Ross first heard the siren song of Oregon wine while working the 2015 harvest for Day Wines in Dundee. Unable to shake the positive harvest vibes, he took another break from his Philadelphia sommelier gig to do it again the following year. He was joined on that trip by then-fiancée Bee Selman, who, at the time, was using her materials engineering skills on projects like Bell Boeing’s V-22 Osprey. In 2017, both agreed to take the winemaking plunge and move to Oregon permanently. 

In addition to helping Ross with the wine, Bee continues to work full time in the aerospace industry. “We both have jobs, and it can stretch you a little thin, but we make wine in the shadows, and we love every minute of it,” Bee says.

Maloof L’eau Épicée ($25) tastes so good I will immediately begin paying closer attention to what’s lurking in those Willamette Valley shadows.

L’eau Épicée is crafted from Riesling and Gewürztraminer grapes from BeckenRidge Vineyard, owned by Ken and Becky Jacroux. The Maloofs pride themselves on maintaining a close working relationship with the families who farm their fruit and BeckenRidge, outside Dallas, satisfies two main requirements: sustainably farmed and zero irrigation. The Maloofs also appreciate BeckenRidge’s upcoming organic certification and the age of the self-rooted vines: 43 years old.

Nearly all Maloof wines include white grapes such as Riesling and Gewürz. “We appreciate beautiful Pinot Noir,” Ross says, “but it’s just not what we drink all the time, so why make it? Plus, we’re already outsiders here, so we weren’t exactly anxious to take on all the great Pinot Noir producers.”

L’eau Épicée is a perfect example of the couple following their own path. The Riesling was pressed and fermented in 500-liter puncheons. One batch of Gewürztraminer was directly pressed and fermented in stainless steel tanks; the other, fully macerated, de-stemmed and fermented on its skins for 20 days before being pressed off into neutral French oak barrels.

Once the yeast carried out fermentation to dryness, they blended the batches together into a tank. Next, the Maloofs melted a batch of Riesling frozen the previous fall and stirred it into the wine. “We had fun achieving bubbles in a way we really haven’t seen done before,” Ross says. “Instead of doing a pétillant naturel, where we catch a ferment at the perfect time and let it finish in the bottle, we actually made still wine and then right after it went dry, we gave it a bit of sugar via frozen must and then bottled it all up. Two months later, poof, bubbles.”

This unorthodox process doesn’t have an official name. The Maloofs suggest possibly combining ancestral Champenoise and pétillant naturel to create ancestropetnoise. If the Beach Boys don’t object, they may be on to something.

The sparkling wine itself is equally fun and quirky. L’eau Épicée is the color of dried marigold flowers with a haziness that reminds me of the halo that forms around the moon before a summer storm. This exotic color held my attention as it swirled around the glass.

The swirling motion unleashed a torrent of aromas matching the wine’s hue. First, it was blood orange mixed with dried apricots, honeysuckle and basil. It was as if someone had mixed up a cocktail of San Pellegrino Aranciata Rossa and Hangar One Buddha’s Hand Citron vodka. Then notes of wet hay, saline and brushed suede made an appearance. Finally, I picked up a powdery mineral-like aroma reminding me of how cold water smells running out of a warm garden hose. 

The attractions do not end once you stop sniffing and start sipping. There’s a nice froth at play and a carnival sideshow’s worth of flavors to occupy the palate. Tangerine dominates, which makes for an oddly compelling companion to the muddled spearmint and spicy coriander flavors. The acidity is tangy, and the lightness of 12.5% alcohol is a beautiful thing on a hot, humid evening.

I’m hard-pressed to think of any Oregon wine that smells and tastes like L’eau Épicée, and I recommend it highly. Sadly, the Maloofs made only 120 cases for the world to share. If you’re lucky enough to find a few bottles, guard them well because, to paraphrase a line from Frank Herbert: She who controls the spicy water controls the universe.

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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