Scott’s Blog

Welcome to the Hotel California

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Every once in a while I get to step back into my former rock & roll life for a few minutes. I spent 30-some years in that world and had a fantastic time. I did it until it wasn’t fun anymore, and stepped away to follow my crazy dream of making wine. It was a great decision, everything has worked out well, and I’ve never regretted a thing. But it is fun to jump back in to that world for a minute – especially knowing that one can indeed not only check-out, but actually leave, contrary to the lyrics of the classic song.

My friends and heroes the Eagles were in town last night for another sold-out show on their never-ending tour of the world. See them if you get the chance, it is truly a great live show. Along with Springsteen, they put on one of the best shows on the planet. It was a thrill to introduce daughter Pirrie to Don Henley backstage last night before the show. It was a great night in the rarified bubble of rock superstardom – now back to our regularly scheduled reality!

Miss P and Mr. Henley backstage before the show last night...

4-5 weeks away? Harvest 2014 update…

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

All of us in the wine business know not to count our chickens before they’re hatched, but I can say that we’ve got some nice looking eggs in the nest at this point, and the weather has continues to cooperate. Even though we’ve had a string of days in the high 80s to low 90s, we’ve continued to have a nearly 30-degree drop every night, helping the grapes maintain their acidity and keeping the ripening process from hurtling on too fast. In other words, so far so good.

I walked our blocks at Ribbon Ridge Vyd. this morning, where veraison is about 85-90% complete and the crop looks really nice. We’ve already done our thinning pass, so today I just dropped any clusters that were 100% green and lagging behind. Everything else should ripen easily.  (Famous last words!)

Ribbon Ridge, 8-26-14

Maresh Vyd, is quite a bit behind, as always, and will certainly be the last stuff we pick – barring anything totally unusual. Only about 60-65% of the grapes are colored-up so far, but it’s a very healthy looking crop for this site. Our own-rooted old vines here typically never deliver more than 1.5 tons to the acre, and I’m estimating that’s right about where will be this year.

Still coloring-up at Maresh, 8-26-14

Over on the next hill to the south, Nysa Vyd. looks to be pretty advanced already – about 90% thru veraison, and a nice thinning pass has left us a good 2-2.25 tons to the acre. I wouldn’t be surprised if we pick this on the early side this year, possible around the same time as Ribbon Ridge.

Getting ripe at Nysa - 8-26-14

On the next hill to the north – Azana Vyd. is looking good, but due to the higher elevation (up to 950’ at the top) it is behind most of the others, maybe at about the same stage as the higher blocks of Maresh right now. Best crop we’ve seen here yet, as these vines at age 7 are starting to get dialed in.

Azana - 8-26-14

It is supposed to cool down and maybe drizzle a bit this weekend, which would be a welcome drink for the vines. As of now I’m guessing we might start harvest the week of Sep. 22nd – but of course that could slide all over the place in the coming weeks. More as it happens…

Live and in living color & on the big screen…

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

We’ve got the first signs of veraison – color change – showing up at all of our sites now. We’ve had a few cooler days this week, slowing things down nicely a bit, and I can feel the weather turning cooler in general over the next week-10 days. I’d guess now we’re looking at harvest over the last 10 days of September, which is fine by me. We’ll be dropping a little bit of fruit everywhere next week, getting the crop load down to around 2.25 tons per acre on average. So far, all is looking good…

Color-change underway at Azana Vyd. - 8-15-14

In other news: The new documentary that we’re featured in, American Wine Story, is screening in Portland at the Clinton Street Theater on Friday September 5th at 7:00pm. All the info is here – check it out if you can, this is an excellent film!

Pinot in Paradise…

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

To this point, we could not have had better growing conditions this year. Sunny, warm, dry – it’s been ideal for the most part. There was some rain during flowering in mid-June that caused some shatter (potential grapes to abort) at Nysa and Maresh, but otherwise it’s been very smooth sailing.

We have had a long string of 90-degree days and 55-60-degree nights, so we’re getting that nice 30-degree diurnal fluctuation that helps keep the acidity at a good level. The grapes have been plumping up pretty quickly, but it hasn’t been too hot to move things along too fast so far.

Ribbon Ridge Vyd - 8-6-14

I’ve seen no signs of color change yet, though we should be seeing it in the next few days at Ribbon Ridge (typically our earliest ripening site and the first place we’d see varaison.) It has now cooled to 80-82 degrees this week, and then it looks like we’ll head back to around 90 again for a bit. The season-long forecast that came out last spring has come true – it’s a warm and dry summer, with cool nights, just what Pinot Noir wants and needs.

So, as long as we don’t get big heat spikes into the mid-hi 90s from here on in, we should be in good shape in terms of having a nicely balanced and not over-ripe year. Timing has moved up a bit due to the overall warm temps – I’m guessing we could start around September 17-20th or at this point, but that of course could still move around a lot between now and then. Stay tuned…

Keep on rockin’ in the free world…

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Another IPNC is in the books, and as always it was a great one. The best wine event in the USA every year? No doubt about it. If you’ve never been, make sure you make it at least once – it truly is the best of the best.

It all kicked off with the Oregon premier of American Wine Story on Thursday night, a documentary that we’re featured in that tells the story of several US winemakers who abandoned successful careers to chase their dreams of making wine. Look for it this fall on demand and on iTunes, and Amazon, etc. It’s playing the film festival circuit now, and will then be in independent theaters.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday was non-stop tastings, meals, tastings, seminars, meals, tastings, and tastings. And then we had some wine.

Our '99 Chardonnay - the first Scott Paul wine ever...

On Friday we were part of a blind-tasting seminar, with five winemakers (3 Oregon, 1 California, 1 Burgundy) each presenting a wine, and everybody trying to identify whose was whose. Only three of the winemakers correctly identified their own wines (fortunately we were one of them) – it’s a very humble experience tasting blind, to be sure.

Yes, please...

The Grand Dinner Friday night and Saturday night’s Salmon Bake were the highlights as always, with thousands of bottles of amazing wines making the rounds. Favorites for me were a lovely ’95 Bonnes Mares from Domaine de Vogüé (merci François Millet!), a young but stunning ’11 Richebourg from A-F Gros, and a side by side of ’04 Musigny from Mugnier and de Vogüé (the de Vogüé won this round in a close call.)

We’re now in the middle of what looks like a long stretch of sunny, 90-degree days. The vines are happy, the grapes are plumping up, and summertime in Oregon is good. Let’s have some Grower Champagne, if you don’t mind…

2014 in the vineyards, 2013s in the cellar…

Friday, July 11th, 2014

Summer has arrived with a vengeance here in Oregon – sunny and hot non-stop for as far ahead as we can see. There’s a heat-wave on the way this weekend – 95-100 degrees for at least three days straight. The vines have been really happy up to this point, but this heat will be too much. At these temperatures, the vines will just shut down until the heat abates, and we are likely to see some signs of water stress in some places.

Overall the fruit set looks pretty good this year – there was some rain near the end of flowering that caused a lot of potential grapes to abort – it’s called “shatter”, so the clusters don’t have as many grapes on them as they would have. That said, we have a healthy amount of clusters, and likely won’t need to drop any fruit, as the clusters themselves will be on the small side. There are a lot of hens & chicks – clusters with tiny berries mixed in with the normal sized ones – and this makes us winemakers very happy. Those tiny berries have hardly any juice, but provide intensely concentrated flavor with very little tannin.

Looking good in our blocks of Ribbon Ridge...

It was my great pleasure to host my friend François Millet, winemaker at Burgundy’s legendary Domaine de Vogüé in Chambolle-Musigny, for a few days in Oregon earlier this week. He’s here with his wife and son on vacation touring the western US (it’s their third time in Oregon – they’re big fans!) – and we took him on a vineyard tour and invited him to sit in in our tasting and blending of the 2013s this week.

François Millet in the vineyard at Nysa

It’s not often one gets the undivided attention of the winemaker of arguably some of the world’s greatest wines – what a treat to have François taste through the cellar with us! The 2013s have arrived at a really nice place, thanks to Kelley Fox’s skillful vinification and elevage. There will be six different wines from us from the ’13 vintage – Audrey & La Paulée of course, along with single vineyard wines from Nysa, Azana and Ribbon Ridge, and a very special bottling we made in collaboration with Jean-Nicolas Meo of Domaine Meo-Camuzet in Vosne-Romaneé. More details on these next year as we get closer to release. Stay tuned…

Blending the 2013s with Kelley Fox, François & Julien Millet

So who do you like in the World Cup final on Sunday? I think Germany is the overall stronger team, but my heart is with Leo Messi and Argentina. He will cement his place as the the greatest player of all time if Argentina wins, and he totally deserves it in my book. Should be a tremendous match – I’m totally psyched.

I’ll leave you for now with a shot from the 4th of July on the banks of the Columbia in Hood River – what a great night!

Martha in the twilight in the Gorge...

Gooooooooooooooooooaaaaaaal!

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

I’m back from France, with apologies to Martha, who has been a Word Cup widow for much of the time since I returned. What a great tournament so far! Like a broken clock, even I am right once in a while, and my pre-tournament picks of Brazil, Argentina, Germany & the Netherlands have all made the semi-finals. Only Spain disappointed me this time around. I can see a Germany-Netherlands final. I just don’t see Brazil getting past the Germans without Neymar and Thiago Silva. The Netherlands have been playing at a higher level than everyone and should probably beat Argentina, but a moment of Messi magic could derail the Dutch in the semis. In my heart I’d love to see Messi and the Argentines win it all, but they haven’t shown us much, in all reality. Big action to come Tuesday and Wednesday…

I was in Burgundy for the first 10 days of the Cup – and saw many of the matches at the Publican, a great little brit-style pub in Beaune that attracted all the soccer fans from all over the globe that were in town. It was a trip to see big contingents of Brazilians, Belgians, Swiss, Costa Ricans, Argentinians, and of course a bunch of fellow Americans packed in to the pub to cheer on their national teams. Big fun…

With the French team crashing out of the World Cup to Germany yesterday, it was another blow to our Burgundian friends, who are all still reeling from the killer hailstorm one week ago. Thiébault Huber texted yesterday after the match to say simply “this is not a good vintage”…

À propos of nothing - Chicken with Époisses sauce. I'm just sayin'...

The big action this week in the winery is the blending trials for the 2013 Pinots – which have developed superbly post malo. Kelley & I and a special guest-star will be putting together the cuvées over Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday. As of now it looks like there will be six different Pinots from our 2013 vintage – La Paulée and Audrey, of course, plus single-vineyard wines from Azana, Nysa, Ribbon Ridge, and a special collaboration we did with Jean-Nicolas Meo of Domaine Meo-Camuzet in Vosne – Romanée, with fruit from our best blocks of Maresh Vyd. This is going to be very exciting indeed. More as it unfolds this week…

Who is this man?

Violent hail in the vineyards – a report from Volnay…

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

Yesterday afternoon at 5:15pm, the Côte de Beaune was hit with a violent hailstorm, destroying 50-90% of the potentially beautiful crop that was hanging in the vineyards in Meursault, Volnay, Pommard, and Beaune. This was the third year in a row that these villages were hit with a devastating storm. As if that were not bad enough, this will now be the fifth year in a row with a very tiny crop, as 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 all produced a fraction of what a “normal” year would bring. Over those four years, they produced about two years worth of wine. As you can well imagine, the effects of this will be beyond devastating for many of Burgundy’s producers of all sizes.

I was taking a nap when the storm hit. It was so loud I thought the house was being bombed or was exploding. I stumbled to the window to see ping-pong ball sized hail stones covering the courtyard and inch or two thick. I walked to the bathroom, where the storm had blown open the window and a layer of hail stones was on the floor surrounding the toilet.

Hailstones on the courtyard outside my front door in Volnay...

The storm passed in about 2 minutes. I went outside and saw neighbors’ windows literally smashed out by the hail. It was so violent I was in shock – semi paralyzed and dazed by the destruction and the noise and the suddenness of the attack.

I stood in the doorway, just looking out at the carpet of hail, and then saw my friend Thiébault Huber walking toward the house. I was choking back tears thinking about what must have happened in the vineyards. I hugged my friend, who could barely speak, so distraught, crushed once again by the damage and the loss.

I’ve been Thiébault’s importer for 10 years now. He has become one of my dearest friends over those years, and he’s one of the finest people I’ve ever known. I don’t know anyone who works harder or does more for his neighbors and his industry. He is an inspiration, a leader, a person who works tirelessly to try to make things better for all concerned. He’s the president of the Volnay vignerons. He’s a leader in biodynamic viticulture. He created the eco-service station for vineyard tractors on the Côte de Beaune. He put together the lab that dozens of Volnay producers share during harvest to analyze their grapes and juice. He spearheaded the organization and deployment of a Côte-wide network of anti-hail cannons. And then to have everything destroyed yet again in a two-minute eruption of nature. It was simply too much to bear.

They launched the anti-hail cannons yesterday morning (they shoot silver nitrate into the air, which gets picked up by the wind and carried into the clouds, and mitigates the amount of hail and the size of the hailstones that fall – it cannot, however, stop the storm. Amazingly, it could have been even worse!)

Weapons of mass destruction - a close-up of the hailstones in Pommard...

The cruel icing on this cake was the fact that yesterday was the 10th annual celebration of the “Élegance des Volnay” – a special event that draws wine lovers from all over Europe and the world for a day of immersion in the special wonders of the wines from this magical little village. As the storm hit, Thiébault was under a small tent in the vineyards pouring wine for a group of American tourists who had come for the celebration. The tent saved them from potential serious injury (some people caught out in the open reported head wounds and massive bruising from the hail), but the vines were of course left defenseless.

Some 40 minutes later another violent hailstorm hit, this one closer to Beaune. I was in my car on the way in to Beaune when it hit. I thought the roof of my rented Toyota was coming in. There are permanent dents there now. Reports came in that it hailed so hard in Beaune it smashed birds to death. I am sad to confirm that, having seen a number of carcasses on the streets in the aftermath.

After all this, I knew it was going to be a difficult night at the Grand Dinner of the Élegance des Volnay – a gala affair held annually on the terrace of Domaine de la Pousse d’Or for all of the Volnay vintners and their guests – 260 of us all together. The mood was somber, to say the least, as everyone filed in with their heads hung low. Frédéric Lafarge, the Marquis d’Angerville, Nicolas Rossignol, Dominique Lafon, Pacal Bouley, all my friends were there. But what do you say? Sorry and sad do not begin to convey the depths of sorrow and sadness we all felt. After getting whipsawed for five years in a row, it just felt like cruel and unusual punishment to all in attendance.

Then Thiébault, as head of the Volnay vintners, was called to the stage to say a few words. We were all choking back tears as he took the podium, and as he began to speak it was clear he was fighting back his tears as well. His speech was short, simple, and moving. He reminded us all why Volnay was so special. A unique mosaic of over 200 different terroirs in one tiny village of just 200 hecatres, more than half of which is 1er Cru. The diversity is unparalleled, perhaps anywhere. And he reminded us that Volnay had been destroyed by hail three years in a row once before – in 1902, 1903 & 1904 – and that Volnay was still here, would always be here, and would always be Volnay. Long live Volnay!

Thiébault Huber at the podium

The applause was thunderous, and the lifting of spirits in the room was palpable. It was by no means a happy night, but everyone seemed to manage to find some flicker of spirit, and the evening moved on with at least a touch of a festive note or two. The hail did not prevent the vintners from bringing some fabulous wines to share. I counted some 32 different wines, mostly in Magnum or Jeroboam, that crossed our table, including especially nice bottles of ’93 Clos du Chateau des Ducs from Lafarge, ’93 Caillerets from Voillot, ’00 Bonnes Mares from Roumier (I was seated next to Christophe Roumier’s sister Anne, who was formerly married to Dominique Lafon), and a ’76 Pommard Rugiens from Thiébault’s grandfather, Raoul Verdereau.

This morning all of the winegrowers were out in the vineyards surveying the damage. It is very ugly indeed. Parts of Beaune and Pommard are a 90% loss. Beaune Clos des Mouches, which was a 100% loss last year, looks to have been destroyed once again. The southern half of Pommard and most of Volnay is at least a 50% loss. Pretty much the same for parts of Meursault.

Hail-damaged clusters in Volnay

It felt like walking around in the aftermath of a nuclear attack, or after a war had just pushed through. Sundays are always very quiet in France, but this one here especially so – a lot of heads hung low and muted voices, lots of TV trucks and crews on the vineyard roads filming and reporting the damages. The roads are carpeted in green in the center of the villages, layers of leaves stripped from the trees by the hail covering the streets.

Hail stripped leaves from the vines, and sent clusters crashing to the ground as well...

I am worried that this one will be the one that breaks people’s hearts, or their spirits, or both. Certainly some will be broken financially as well. After the last four years there were already major problems, and this will certainly spell the end of the line for a number of small family domaines. The damage of these five years will change much for many generations to come.

I am writing this now in the house that Thiébault’s mother was born in, and her mother before her. It was occupied by the German army during WWII. The stone walls here are three feet thick – this house isn’t going anywhere. Neither is Volnay.

Every picture tells a story…

Friday, June 27th, 2014

This one tells just part of the tale of a very good night at Ma Cuisine…

Attack of the Great Whites…

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Continuing forward with the understanding that there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing, we cruised up the Autoroute to Gevrey to taste with Alexandrine Roy at Marc Roy, and we’re blown away by Alex’s 2012s in bottle – which are being packed and ready to ship as we speak. Alex took us on a nice tour of her parcels of La Justice vyd., and really helped illustrate what she’s doing in the vines, and all the hands-on adjustments she does all season long that make the difference in the end.

Alexandrine Roy, in Geverey-Chambertin "La Justice"

Lunch was at Castel Très Girard in Morey-St. Denis – chef’s choice of a three-course meal that was really outstanding. His perfectly rose-pink pork tenderloin was exquisitely done, and it totally rocked with the ’07 Clos St. Jacques from Bruno Clair, itself a kaleidoscope of aromas and flavors as it opened in the glass.

Then we made a pilgrimage to the Grand Crus of the Côte de Beaune – first the hill of Corton, and then down to Puligny and Chassagne to visit the motherlode.

All of us at Chevaliers-Montrachet

The topper of the day was a stellar tasting with Patrick Essa in the cellar at Buisson-Charles in Meursault, with several of the ‘13s in barrel, all of the ‘12s in bottle (including the new Chablis Grand Cru and the Puligny Caillerets), and a couple of older things served blind. Patrick put me on the spot to guess the vintage and the appellation. To my amazement I correctly guessed the ’95 Goutte d’Or (I may never do that again, so remind me that I once did that), and I was right on Charmes but wrong on the vintage for the next bottle – it was an ’89 that I guessed as a ’93. Regardless of lucky guesses, these were both amazing wines, living testaments to the ageability of non-mucked-with white burgs. Wow, what a treat.

And now an attempt to stay awake to watch the France-Ecuador World Cup match. More as it happens…

Patrick Essa - the master of Meursault for the new generation...