For those who get excited when they hear the cork being popped on a bottle of Sparkling wine, the amount of time and labor that goes into producing this treasure is often not the first thought on their wine drinking radar. It’s the seduction of the sound, the shimmery bubbles, and the perfect flavors that keep Sparkling wine sales rising here in the United States. With ten consecutive years of sales growth in the U.S., sparkling wine sales is a good indicator that people are not just buying more wine, they are buying more expensive wine and enjoying every sip. In Oregon, there is a continuing devotion and an uptick in Sparkling Wine production which is gracefully elbowing its way into a place among the worlds top-quality bubbles.
While Oregon may well be known for its versatile and award-winning Pinot Noir, yet its accomplishments with sparkling wines change the dialogue when it comes to discussions about Oregon wines. With a suitable climate for the production of traditional Champagne varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Oregon’s sun soaked and wind swept hillside vineyards are yielding an array of sparkling wines exhibiting Oregon’s pioneer determination as well as elegance and complexity.
Recently I had the opportunity to visit Argyle Winery in Willamette Valley as part of the Wine Writers Educational Tour (WWET). Our stop at Argyle was both a lunch, beautifully hosted by Argyle and an Oregon sparkling wine educational seminar with four Willamette Valley Sparkling Winemakers.
During lunch we had the pleasure of tasting Sparkling wines from Argyle Winery, ROCO, Willamette Valley Vineyards, and Bryn Mawr. The winemakers from each of these prestigious wineries shared with us the story of their sparkling production journey while we sampled each of their unique Oregon sparkling wines. The Oregon Sparkling Seminar, with an emphasis on the Willamette Valley, was a great way to dive deeper into the history of Sparkling production in the Valley as well as get a better perspective of how the winemakers see this style of wine evolving in the future for Oregon and the Willamette Valley.
More than three decades ago the journey to produce Oregon Sparkling wine on a large scale was pioneered by Argyle and Rollin Soles of ROCO, then the head winemaker and co-founder (along with Brian Croser) of Argyle Winery. Rollin will tell you that the Willamette Valley “is really a fantastic place to grow sparkling wine grapes, but you don’t turn the sparkling winemaking process on (in a snap of the fingers) and you don’t learn the craft in that way either.”
“If you want to become a red winemaker in the Willamette Valley, and make Pinot Noir in the Valley, it’s like Bingo Bango Bongo and you look like a champion. But, with sparkling wine, that is not the case. It is hard for folks to wrap their heads around the proper long term process and aging methods of sparkling wines.”
Although most Oregon wineries age their sparkling wines for two to three years before releasing the vintage, it’s becoming common to hold back a portion of the production for extended 5 to 10 year tirages.
For more information on the Sparkling Wine process visit Wine Folly’s informative Website: https://winefolly.com/review/how-sparkling-wine-is-made/
Individual winery production of sparkling wine in the state is still small, with Argyle leading the way with the largest production of five different sparkling wines. Many other Oregon wineries are only releasing fewer than a hundred cases, making their sparkling wines hard to find, even locally, outside the winery tasting rooms. Sparkling wine is undoubtedly more challenging than a still wine like Pinot Noir, and the processing time is not the only hurdle that wineries have to overcome when producing sparkling wines. Growing or sourcing the right fruit, in the right condition, can be a limiting factor for some wineries. Luckily the climate of the Willamette Valley is ideal for producing exclusive fruits and thus exclusive wines with flavor characteristics different for anywhere else in the United States.
The fact is that some wine regions lend themselves to sparkling wine production better than others and Oregon is continuing to, like bubbles in a glass, rise to the top in the world of sparkling, one vintage at a time. Below are just a few examples of the Sparkling wines tasted on the Wine Writes Educational Tour that are available from Willamette Valley wineries.
Sometimes words just can’t do a wine justice and this is the case with this Arygle Sparkling Wine. With layers of fruit flavor and crisp acidity this 2008 Entended Tirage Brut was aged upon the lees for 10 years giving it a deep and creamy character. Orange zest springs forward with each sip, followed by honey buttered toast flavors. A beautiful Sparkling that sings a beautiful song of elegance with each bubble released.
If you haven’t tried a ROCO RMS Sparkling wine yet, spoiler alert…they are fantastic! The 2015 Sparkling Brut from ROCO is a blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, and made in the traditional méthode Champenoise. Alluring is a word that comes to mind when sipping this sparkling, the color, the shimmer and the aroma vie for your attention, distracting you from taking that first sip. Then when you pull your attention back to the task at hand and indulge in the first sip you get flavors of a fresh morning breakfast of fruit cocktail and freshly toasted bread mingled with a saline wish. In a word, Sparktacular!
The Willamette Valley Vineyard Brut 2015 may have held the most surprises for me in the way of flavor. More citrusy than the other sparkling wines tasted, this Brut washed over my tongue in waves of citrus and zest with hints of apple and that all familiar burnt toast note. Lovely with a silky and smooth texture I couldn’t imagine a better wine to have with a cheese platter on a lazy summer afternoon sitting under a shade tree. Delightful!
Bryn Mawr describes their Innovation Series as an introduction to “unbridled winemaking curiosity and technical exploration to our lineup. Different varietals, different techniques, and anything but predictable, these small batch experiments are made with no guarantees of a repeat next vintage. ” This completely sums up what you will experience in a bottle of their 2018 Pétillant Naturel (natural sparkling) a uniquely unpredictable sparkling experience. I loved the use of 10% Maréchal Foch (read more about my infatuation with this grape https://drinkinlife.blog/a-grape-odyssey-marechel-foch/ ) in this sparkling along with 84 % Pinot Gris and 6% Pinot Noir. Winemaker, Rachel Rose, has created a creamy, dreamy, sweet and spirited sparkling with this wine. A must try!
I had the opportunity to enjoy a dinner at Left Coast Cellars in Rickreall, OR with Beth James during the WWET WV tour. As their 2017 Chris James Cellars ‘Prost!'(meaning “cheers” in German) Willamette Valley Sparkling Wine was being poured Beth, with a contagious amount of enthusiasm, told us a little about their journey into the world of winemaking and the conception of this delicious Oregon Sparkling wine. What made this sparkling so appealing is that it is a white blend of 60% Cider and 40% Gewürztraminer. An absolutely amazing flavor combination with sweet green apple taking center stage in both aroma and flavor. Mingled with flavors of a fresh batch of spiced applesauce you get whispers of floral notes and a refreshing dry finish. A sparkling so lovely that I could not bring myself to pour it out when the next wine needed space in my glass. So, I eagerly finished it, problem solved!
On the last day of the WWET WV tour we were hosted at the stunning tasting room of Native Flora for lunch and a wine tasting. While enjoying views of the Willamette Valley that stretched on for miles we tasted our way through some of Native Flora’s best wines and enjoyed the story behind each bottle from Scott Flora. Saving the best for last Scott brought out a bottle of his limited production 2015 Cuvée Libertus! and he completely wowed us with this sparkling pour. This Extra Brut Sparkling is made by hand, a true Methode Champenoise, and was so refreshing and unique in flavor that when lunch was over may of us (including myself) lined up to purchase a bottle of this sparkling gem. No tasting notes here on this wine as I was so wrapped up in enjoying the glass that I did not take time to do anything else but enjoy the view, the company and the shimmering wine in my glass. If given the opportunity I would say snag a bottle of this sparkling as quick as you can.
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