Welcome to the HillCrest Vineyard blog, here is where we will be highlighting events and news from around the winery.
Good morning from a sunny and cool winter morning in the Umpqua Valley.
Looking out the window this morning I was struck by the similarity of our location
to the Russian River region of Sonoma County. The conifer covered hillsides to the
west with easterly facing fingers of red sandy loam running into the valley floor
below. So much for daydreaming!
Well back by popular demand is a revisit of a very unique and historic grape from
Tuscany and Umbria, Italy. One of the over 2800 varieties grown in the vine
library of Italy, I was first introduced to this variety on a visit to the region of
Maremma in South Western Tuscany in 2011. Many of the great wine regions of
the world are known today for different grapes than those that made them famous
and such is the case with Tuscany where many of the wines grown in Roman times
were based on a variety called Ciliegiolo. This name comes from the word for
cherry in Italian – ciliegia. The berries are large, round, perfumed and lighter
skinned compared to other modern Tuscan reds like Sangiovese. Just 50 years ago
this variety was almost extinct, but today there is a renaissance in the use of
Ciliegiolo. The variety is known for its richness and lower acidity which can
sometimes contain the edginess of the class Sangiovese.
More and more it is also made into a standalone wine that speaks back to ancient times and tastes.
I first had the opportunity to visit the winery Sassotondo in 2011 while traveling
with a friend through Europe. We spent 2 days with Carla and Edoardo at their
humble yet inspired winery in the Maremma region of greater Tuscany. It is a
simple winery with ancient caves that go back to at least the Romans and probably
the Etruscans. Carla has been the real force behind bringing this variety back from
the precipice and today they are famous for it.
They first isolated Ciliegiolo from ancient planting on the winery property when they obtained it. The landscape
in this part of Maremma reminds me a lot of the Sierra Foothills south of Sacramento. Winemaking is very traditional with small lot fermentation in stainless and aging in larger oak cask or what are called “botti”. Also of note is that Sassotondo is experimenting with the most traditional of fermentation techniques where both whites and reds are left on the skin after fermentation in clay amphorae. When there last time we tasted both colors that had been aging about 6 months and the wines were unlike anything I had experienced before.
Please enjoy and here is to the Genie in the bottle!
Greetings to all,
It’s the beginning of 2018 and as I write this we are winding down things in the
winery and getting ready to start pruning for the 2018 vintage. Hard to believe we
have been here almost 15 years as it seems like just yesterday the kids were riding
bikes up and down the driveway and I was trying to get ready for our first vintage.
We are excited to release another first for HillCrest the 2015 Malbec/Tempranillo
from our estate. I first had the opportunity to taste a blend of these 2 while working
for Mondavi in Argentina. The wine was so beautifully fruit driven yet with a dark
almost leathery fruit. This blend has lurked in the back of my mind, along with
another that you will taste one day, since that visit to a small producer in the
Tupangato area of Mendoza.
Malbec has roots all over France and at one time was grown in 30 districts of
France. It is said that there are over 1,000, yes thousand, synonyms for it in
France. Best known in the SW wine region of Cahors, this broodingly dark variety
was famous for its dark color and deep, almost mulberry type fruit. Over the last 50
years it has fallen out of favor in many areas of France because of its sensitivity to
many diseases. As a little sideline, it is Malbec that made Bordeaux’s wines famous
and it was the dominant variety on both sides of the Gironde until the end of the 19
Tempranillo is another sort of grape that is really best known for its texture. These
2 grapes are almost a peanut butter and chocolate kind of strange combination that
works incredibly well. Where Malbec in Southern Oregon tends to carry its dark
color and bright and fresh black fruit, the Tempranillo lends a richness of
mouthfeel and length. The 2 are really magic together.
Our 2015 Malbec/Temp blend was co-fermented in our patented concrete
fermentors and then aged in European oak for almost 2 years. This wine tastes
great today, but should be a great ager. 200 Cases produced and I would suggest
you use a Cabernet or Bordeaux styled glass.
Cheers and Happy New Year!
On our recent February winemaking trip into Western Europe, we arrived on the heels of a cold spell that had dropped moderate amounts of snow on the hillside vineyards of Germany's Mosel Valley and Italy’s Piedmont. Many of these sites have been famous for a millennia for their ability to ripen fruit under such challenging continental conditions. In these cooler conditions, with their late-ripening varieties, the difference between a slope that is Southeastern to Southwestern and the alternatives is often the difference between a legendary wine and something that you need to add sugar to for a wine of mere moderate quality.
While we often speak of this effect, there are times that it is more than evident to the naked eye. In each one of these areas our first few days were cold and sunny, but it was more than evident which the optimal sites were. As we drove through the twisted roads, the best exposures were bare of any snow while the lesser sites were still blanketed in white. It was from these sites that we source the best fruit and wines for HillCrest's International selections.
As a side note, it is interesting that these same attributes hold for other food products as well. It is said that the greatest fruits in the world come from the coolest environment in which small crops can barely ripen. Examples include apples from Normandy and Southern England, Maraska Cherries from Bosnia or white apricots form Kazakhstan. These environments, on the edge, allow for the brutally slow accumulation of sugar while the flavors are able to develop to maximum levels. The best salmon comes from the coldest water in which it will swim. Alaska's Copper River salmon are some of the most sought-after, regarded as some of the world's most exceptional wild salmon whereas pen-raised salmon often closer to the equator (where it grows faster) lacks the elegance and texture of its northern cousins.
So not unlike life it is the challenging conditions, or in the case of great wine the vineyards on the edge, that produce the wines with the most depth and strength of character.
To the Genie in the bottle!
Greetings from a very cold and sunny day in the Umpqua Valley.
We are on the backend of a long cold streak. Today’s high was 38 and we woke up to 17 this morning.
This wine release is really years in the making. The roots are my friendship with Umpqua’s one and only Hungarian winemaker Gabor Palotai. I am sure many of you remember his famous bulls blood that was a proprietary wine comprised of Baco Noir, Zweigelt, Kadarka, Cabernet amongst other things. Prior to meeting Gabor, I had tasted Hungarian versions of this wine as well as the Spanish version of Sangria de Toro. Gabor's wine was not the traditional blend made in Szeged or Eger Hungary, but kind of a reserve house blend that spoke to his unique life experience and palate. In 2007 we produced our first bulls blood that was a blend of Cabernet, Tempranillo and a few other things. This wine was a raging success but was not replicated until the 2009 vintage following my first trip to Hungary with Gabor. Upon my return from that trip, I decided to do something very special for our second vintage that really spoke to our house style and with that let me introduce this very special wine.
Our family’s 2009 Bulls Blood is the product of years of aging. One of the many magic differences between wine and so many other food products is how it develops in the bottle over time. Early in my career, I was exposed to many great French and German wines from the late 1800’s on. Thanks to one of my mentors, Gary Andrus of Pine Ridge Winery, I saw what magic time imbued on this fruit. Time not only integrates flavors and textures but provides wines with their bouquet, the flavors developed in the bottle. Our new release of Bulls Blood spent 3 years in barrel, 2 in large tank and finished with 2 in bottle! Yes, that is 7 years!
A blend of Pinot, Cabernet, and Petite Sirah this wine shows the depth and richness of Pinot with the gentle power and complexity of the later 2. It drinks great and is something that can be enjoyed for 5 years or more still.
We pride ourselves in doing things in a way that speaks to the great wines and techniques of days gone by in the old world. Once again, we hope you enjoy this seductive and rich red as we work our way through winter and its hearty fare.
Merry Christmas to all!
Susan and I are just back from a post-harvest trip overseas to India, Thailand and Hong Kong. Part of the reason we travel is to eat, drink and relax, but more than anything is the inspiration and renewal that helps us be better winemakers/chefs and hopefully humans. After this last trip, here are just a few thoughts or observations I would love to share.
While we are all aware of the poverty that India is famous for, the young generation of professionals there are welcoming in an exciting new age. As more and more citizens work for western companies and travel abroad, they are bringing back with them not only the desire to eat a range of new foods from other places but also to drink wine and other alcoholic beverages. Susan and I often speak of how lucky we are to be born in these times where daily our tables are set with flavors from all corners of the world. Susan’s father who was born in the Ozarks in Missouri was 21 before he had anything along the lines of Chinese food or pizza.
We were fortunate enough to be invited to a wedding where there was no alcohol, but those young professionals we spoke with all mentioned their love of wine and drinking with friends. For both Susan and I, it was an interesting two weeks in the north and south as we rarely had the opportunity to drink wine or beer. The experience reminded me of the French saying that "a meal without wine is just food." The culinary future of this country is great, and in time, many of the obstacles of the past will melt away. Susan and I took wine as a wedding gift but brought a few bottles of Riesling that we enjoyed with the great flavors of Northern and Southern India. This is the variety of choice for me with the complex flavors and textures of the classic Indian masalas.
Thailand in ways was the same, but further along the curve. It has been a long 15 years since my last work trip to Thailand while I was working at Robert Mondavi. At that time, there were a few high rises dotting the skyline. Today the city is so modern, with clusters of these professional and residential towers dotting the skyline for as far as one can see. Bangkok is one of the most international cities in the world today. The cuisine that we experienced there were the best of those from around the world. An example of this was a French restaurant called JP’s in the Sukamvit neighborhood of Bangkok. JP, short for Jean Pierre, came to Thailand 13 years ago and never looked back. His classic cuisine matches what we eat on a regular basis on our trips to that
great culinary country. You name a world class cuisine and you can find it there. Unlike India, there is wine and beer everywhere, but in the famous street food market, it comes at a price. The current tax on all alcoholic beverages is 300%, making all but the cheapest versions of wine inaccessible. It was not unusual to see wines like Yellow Tail sell in restaurants for $50.00 a bottle. We were told why the government does this, but it does throttle back the wine and food scene - only slowing their culinary evolution. I am sure in time this will fall by the wayside as well. The flavors of Thai cuisine and the fusion of all other recently introduced flavors once again match perfectly with the aromatic whites and lighter, fresher reds like old school Oregon Pinot Noir. The Thai climate begs for this as well and I can tell you we enjoyed more than a few crisp whites with our Pad Thai and sautéed calamari.
Once again wine makes the world small. Our experiences on this trip were all made more personal speaking about Oregon wine and our culinary traditions, and it just reinforced my favorite wine saying that, “Water separates the peoples of the world and wine brings us together.” It is going to be an interesting and beautiful future as we share this magical ingredient in the good life.
To the Genie in the bottle!
This is our third release of a Pinot Noir Reserve. This wine is a blend of the best barrels of three different vineyards from 25-48 years of age. These vineyards are all dry-farmed, hillside sites that yield somewhere between 1.5 and 2 tons per acre. In the case of the oldest, which is a 1968 planting, this was a massale selection from the Carneros region of Napa and the others are both early Dijon clones. All three sites come from sedimentary soils that range in color from gold to red and are what would be considered low vigor sites.
The 2014 growing season started about two weeks early with harvest almost three weeks earlier than normal. There were over 50 days above 90 degrees, a record with nighttime lows being much higher than normal. Not only did the year produce very powerful wines, but it was a bumper crop with many vineyards up 30-40%. In the modern world, we don't have so much good or bad vintages as much as we have years that play into a particular style. Our house style tends to be one more of elegance and finesse that allows for wines that develop over years in a bottle. A vintage like 2014 can make that a challenge, but one taste and you will agree that it was a success. Short growing season vintages can prevent the tannins, or phenolics, from fully developing giving the wines coarseness. A way to overcome this is to allow time on the skins, during and after fermentation, for the tannins to polymerize which stabilizes and softens them. This wine was 35 days on skins and some of our wines were up to 60 days this vintage. The standard for skin contact in the new world is usually 7-10 days. Upon completion of our extended maceration, the wine was aged two years in all-European cooperage and bottled unfiltered.
The 2013 HillCrest Vineyard Pinot Noir Reserve is almost opaque in color and its dark red pushes to the edge of the glass. Last night I poured this wine for a very wine-knowledgeable friend who said it tasted French to him. In the southern part of Burgundy, or what is known as the Cote de Beaune, the wines often show minerality and the last two vintages of this wine show this unusual trait. The mouthfeel of the wine is dense and rich with an almost creamy texture. Very long on the palette, this is a good indicator of nice things to come. 175 cases produced and an alcohol content of 13.9.
Herbed gravy, tangy cranberry sauce, and sugary sweet potatoes can all overpower an oaky Chard - even if it could stand alone with turkey. Pinot Noir is a solid choice; High-acid, low-tannin with bright cherry and cranberry flavors over rich spices, and does well along almost any exuberant side dish a turkey requires.
Beyond Pinot, another variety we like for Thanksgiving are sparklers - the most versatile pour with bubbles carrying acidity and underlying fruit.
Wines with a healthy "whack" of acidity will cleanse your mouth from the battery of flavors found on a classic Thanksgiving table. Two things to look for in your wine pairings are high acid and a touch of sweetness. Super-dry wines perish in the midst of all the fruit, sugar and salt present on the Thanksgiving dinner table. White wines with some residual sugar lend themselves well while red can be harder to pair because most are dry. White or red - it must be fruity.
Above all, for your family at Thanksgiving, the wines shouldn't be intimidating. Bring out something familiar and versatile enough that novices and family wine experts alike will drink with delight.
Well, what can I say but Pink Wine!
In the old world, there is a history of drinking a lot of very high quality rose wine. In the new world, the production of quality rose is just beginning to take hold. Well, here we go!
Our latest creation is the 2014 Rose of Burg, Grenache Rose. Made in the style of the great Tavel styled roses of the SE corner of France and along the Italian border. This wine is indicative of an emerging quality level of pink wines arising in the new world. For so long we have thought of beautiful fresh and fruity pink wines only, while the French in particular produced roses of extreme complexity and focused richness. These wines, as is the case with the great rose Champagnes, actually represent the best of their type anywhere in the world. It is not uncommon at a Michelin-starred restaurant in the South of France to see the pink wines from Tavel and Bandol on the list for $100 - $150 a bottle. In this case, these wine are created from what many believe to be the greatest grape in the world for rose...Grenache. This grape of Spanish origin can deliver wine with a silky and bright texture that makes it a go-to wine all summer.
This first Rose of Burg was selected to produce rose which is quite unusual. Most roses today are produced as a byproduct of red wine production. When selecting red grapes for red wine, you would choose a grape with higher sugar content and lower acid to translate into wines of high alcohol and dull texture. The Rose of Burg was harvested very early and finished with an alcohol of 11.8, versus many wines with 13.5 - 14.5% alcohol. Because of this, the wine shows an almost watermelon-type red fruit with a twist of Ruby Red grapefruit. It is hard for me to keep my hands off this glass! Fermented out in late October, the wine was left to rest on it lees or yeast until bottling. We only produced 60 cases and as of this writing, we have about half of it left, so if you find yourself craving a little more please give us a call soon.
Enjoy this creation both with and without food. I will drink a glass of this every night this summer before dinner and some evenings with grilled chicken or fish.
Cheers, and To the Genie in the bottle.
As I write this 2016 harvest update, we are on the cusp of picking our first fruit in about a week. Others have been picking in the Umpqua for a couple of weeks now and this has been comprised of the earliest varieties and warmest sites. For the most part, we grow our HillCrest wines on cooler sites within the region in the hopes of delaying the sugar accumulation in favor of flavor development. Historically the best vintages are the long, cool and dry ones.
The 2016 season began as a mild winter and spring. Unusual for our area, we had a bud break that was a month earlier than average, but a moderate spring and earlier summer ate into this a little. Although we have had a few very warm spells, this year has been a mild and balanced one. In the last couple of weeks, we have cooled down especially night temperatures, which bodes well for a classic harvest. Having said all this, you don't know until the horses are in the barn as they say. Knock on wood, but should things hold out I think it is one of the best and most classic seasons I have had in Oregon. A HillCrest year.
To the Genie in the bottle!
Good afternoon from the Umpqua Valley,
I am writing you sitting over a glass of our newly released 2012 Lo Americano, Grenache, and Carignan. Fine Inspiration! The first three words to hit me when smelling this wine are big, dark and fresh.
When I first entered the wine business so many years ago, there were many instances that I would see someone with far greater experience than I discuss the need for the aging of a certain wine or bottle. At first, I wasn't sure what to make of it, but over the years I have seen many wines evolve from their dark, astringent youth to silky and complex adults. While it is hard to put this experience into words, I think I have come to understand this evolution that is truly one of nature's gifts to us. The first thing that came to my mind when tasting this selection upon its arrival was this same sense of something that will be. The nose of roasted black and plummy fruit, along with a port like aromatic richness, the wine delivers great weight on the palette that is not totally explained by the flavor. Where this wine has a very dense sweet type of fruit and tannins that are more reminiscent of mocha, there is a certain unexplained weight or richness that is not equaled by the flavor. For me, this has come to symbolize the sign of good things to come. This is much like looking at a rose bud that is ready to unfold, where you wait to see the gift inside.
This wine, for the ages, should be fascinating to drink over the next 15-20 years. Harvested from Grenache, with a kiss of Carignan, this is the style of blend that has renewed interest in what was one of the most famous areas of Spain for the "King's Wine". Falling dormant for hundreds of years, it has only made a comeback in the last generation where it has attracted attention from the world's finest collectors.
The vines for this wine are entering their 7th decade and were all hand-picked and fermented in small lots. Barrel aged for two years, this broodingly dark wine shows the extreme side of Grenache, and it's potential to age along with many of the greatest wines in the world. I would serve this wine with a big fat tri-tip this summer, but save a few bottles to see what will be revealed over the next decade. Hopefully, you will see this transformation that makes wine such a magical experience.
To the Genie in the bottle.