Thursday, July 24, 2008

Oregon Wine in 50 years: Burgundy or Disneyland?

For my upcoming book, Oregon: The Taste of Wine, due out this October, I asked winemakers, winery owners and vineyard managers what will the Oregon wine industry look like in 50 to 100 years. Here are two responses:

I think that the Willamette Valley grows a variety in a style which appeals to a very narrow part of the palate. Where southern Oregon and eastern Oregon have climates and growing conditions that serve a much bigger part of the palate, the Cabernets, Syrahs, and Merlots. So in a hundred years, the Willamette Valley might become a little Burgundy, and the rest of Oregon might be where the action is, where the economic and industry growth takes place. It’s very possible that the center of gravity will change.
Jim Bernau, Willamette Valley Vineyards

Economics won’t protect the vineyards. We’ve seen in Napa valuable vineyard land that is still more valuable for houses. The same is going to be true around Portland, if we let economics run the game. You could see the vineyards of McMinnville, Dundee, Carlton, Eola Hills all overwhelmed by the demand for housing. You could end up with this kind of vineyard in a terrarium, with a little glass dome over the cute little wine maker’s old pick up truck and his dog. You drive out and pay your fee to see them. It’s like a visit to the zoo. Ed King III, King Estate

What do you see in the future?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Oregon's Biblical-sized grape glut

Ancient cash register along side an original bottle of wine from Hillcrest winery, said to the be the oldest estate winery in post-Prohibition Oregon.

"'What we have coming,'" said Bill Hatcher, managing partner with A to Z Wineworks in Dundee, 'is a grape glut of biblical proportions.'

"Hatcher estimates that by 2012 the amount of acreage planted in pinot noir grapes will be almost double what it was as recently as 2005."

Hatcher's statement in the July 2, 2008, Oregonian surprised me after interviewing more than 80 Oregon winemakers, owners and vineyard managers for the past 8 months for my new book, Oregon: The Taste of Wine.

The Oregonian article continues: "That result, if realized, could drop the bottom out of the state's wine industry. Profits could fall precipitously, and a number of Oregon's 400 wineries, particularly those locked into pricey, long-term grape contracts, could find themselves facing disaster."

For one of the chapters of my Oregon Wine book titled The Future, I asked what the Oregon wine industry will look like in 50 years. While I neglected to interview Hatcher, I got a totally different picture than his vision.

I'm very curious what people in the Oregon wine industry think. I would really appreciate comments. (I'm getting lots of personal email comments, but readers seem to be reluctant to respond on the blog. Come on, stand up and be counted. I really want to hear your view.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Wine, a luxury item in Ethiopia

The night watchman watching the sunset in front of the Awash Winery vineyard near Ziway, Ethiopia. In one month he earns less than Americans pay for a single bottle of wine.

When I'm in the most remote corners of Africa on another photographic project I've been working for the past 9 years, often I reflect on our American lifestyle. I do these comparisons. The tribes I stay with have no running water (except for the river or perhaps a well several miles away). They have no electricity. Most have no doctors that are even close. The average life expectancy among some is 48 years. If I were part of their tribe, I would already be dead for 12 years.

Then I'm back in the United States doing all of this vineyard/winery work where a single good bottle of wine might cost $35, even $200. Often I think about what $35 could do for an Omo tribe in Ethiopia. We sponsor a child in Zambia for $35/month. That's the cost of a single bottle of wine that will last one evening. It's a separate reality. Even after all of these years, I'm still not sure how to deal with those separate realities.

But then even Ethiopia has a winery.


Monday, July 7, 2008

Name Winery and Win Wine #4 & rules

This "Name the Winery and Win Wine" has been informal to this point. And truth be told, more people have emailed me personally than have posted on the blog. So here are some slightly more formal rules:

We will take the correct answers every month or two, draw a name for the winner of a fine bottle of Willamette Valley Vineyards wine.

And here's another possibillity. The photo is of Rollin Soles, the winemaker of the next Name the Winery and Win Wine. The winery is in Dundee, Oregon. Should be easy.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Oregon The Woodstock of Wine?

When I interviewed Josh Bergström at Bergström Wines for my new book Oregon: The Taste of Wine, he succinctly summed up Oregon's post-Prohibition wine history:

"Oregon really started out with a bunch of well-educated hippies sitting around in meadows passing around bottles, critiquing each other. No bias about sharing information. It was all about sharing information. That spirit is still alive today–take Oregon Pinot Camp."

back to the studio past David Adelsheim's winery, I thought about how he said he had started planting grapes in "the Whole Earth Catalogue period". As I turned on the oldies radio station–Jefferson Airplane was playing–I wondered if Oregon just might be the Woodstock of America's wine industry.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Can you taste the dirt in wine

A number of years ago when I finished a photo shoot at Bethel Heights winery in the Eola Hills, Pat Dudley offered me a taste of their Pinot noir. First she poured some Pinot from the Flat Block part of their vineyard. mmm.... good. Immediately afterward she poured Pinot from the next block over–the Southeast Block. "Wait a minute, these taste different," I said tentatively. So the two vineyard blocks are separated by only 20 feet. Otherwise the two wines were made the same way, same winemaker, same everything, except the vineyard block.

So what could make them taste so different?

Winemaker Terry Casteel explained that the soils of the two blocks were formed by separate volcanic events. He conjectured that there must have been one volcanic flow, followed by another which didn't cover the first. So in fact, the soils were slightly different. What a taste bud awakening that was.

(You will be able to read about these volcanic flows out of eastern Oregon–probably the greatest geologic event of its kind our earth has ever seen–in my upcoming book:
Oregon The Taste of Wine due out in October.)

One of the people I interviewed for the book, Scott Burns, geology professor at Portland State University, claims that he can taste whether a Willamette Valley wine was made from grapes grown in either of the two major Willamette soil types: Jory (volcanic) or Willakenzie (ocean-bottom sedimentary).

Jim Kakacek, winemaker and general manager at Van Duzer winery, is a bit more skeptical about tasting soil types in the wine. He says that the taste differences might reflect factors like soil water retention. He does concede that the science is still out.

So can you taste the dirt in wine?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

One health benefit of wine

Just received this from my Aunt in Napa.

As Ben Franklin said: In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria. In a number of carefully controlled trials, scientists have demonstrated that if we drink 1 liter of water each day, at the end of the year we would have absorbed more than 1 kilo of Escherichia coli, (E. coli) - bacteria found in feces. In other words, we are consuming 1 kilo of poop. (that's over 2 pounds).

However, we do NOT run that risk when drinking wine & beer (or tequila, rum, whiskey or other liquor) because alcohol has to go through a purification process of boiling, filtering and/or fermenting.

Remember: Water = Poop, Wine = Health

Therefore, it's better to drink wine and talk stupid, than to drink water and be full of shit .

There is no need to thank me for this valuable information--I'm doing it as a public service.