Scott’s Blog

The hills are alive, with early bud-break…

Friday, April 10th, 2015

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2015 growing season is underway. Well underway! Due to an unusually warm winter here in the Willamette Valley, all of the plant life has come to life way ahead of schedule – which has both positive and negative attributes. Here’s what it looks like when the buds are just about to burst forth -

Depending on the site, we’ll typically see bud-break somewhere around April 1-15th. This year, our first ones popped at Ribbon Ridge the first week of March! All of the other sites, including Azana, our estate vineyard on Chehalem Mountain, are now through bud-break and are leafing out as we speak. Here are the first leaves popping out…

On the good side, this could mean that we have an early season, and will be ready to harvest way before the rains arrive in the fall. On the other hand, we are still potentially at risk for a spring frost, which could kill off most of the young leaves and wipe us out for the year. That’s not likely, but with Mother Nature calling the shots, one never knows. Hang in there, little babies…

Watch this space and stay tuned for more developments as we follow the vines over the season. It’s never a dull a moment, to be sure!

In praise of older wines…

Friday, March 20th, 2015

I am still astonished whenever I hear the proclamation that “Pinot Noir doesn’t age”! Like many things in the world of wine, this bit of conventional wisdom gets passed around endlessly, even though it could not be further from the truth.

I’m a huge fan of older wines, especially older Pinot Noir, be it from Oregon or Burgundy. That may be largely due to the fact that one of my first meaningful wine experiences was with an older wine, a 10 year old 1959 La Tâche tasted in 1969. (In retrospect that was a fairly youthful wine, in the scheme of things – I’ve had that wine a number of times since and found it much better in 1985, 2005, and most recently in 2010.)

We don’t have a culture of cellaring wine for later consumption here in the US, unfortunately. Most people have probably not had the opportunity to taste a beautifully aged, mature Pinot, which is really a shame. I suppose a lot of people have tasted fruit-bomb style Pinot that has fallen apart after just a few years in the bottle, and therefore have the impression that Pinot Noir “doesn’t age”.

Certainly all Pinot Noir does not age very well – most entry level wines (in the case of Pinot that’s probably the $25 and under range) are meant to be consumed in the first 2-3 years. Some of those may benefit from a longer time in the cellar, but not many. A lot of more expensive Pinot is not meant for the long haul either – mostly from producers that work in a bigger, riper, more heavily-extracted and oakier style.

But a well-balanced Pinot Noir, foreign or domestic, can be a candidate for serious long-term ageing. I’m here to testify that your patience will be rewarded. Pinot Noir tends to get exponentially more interesting as it matures, and starts to reveal layer after layer of secondary and tertiary aromas and flavors that can only come from time in the bottle. I’m of the mind that Pinot becomes most interesting when it reaches or nears full maturity. Before that stage, it can be a nice, yummy, fruity and aromatic pleasure – but true beauty, all those things that make Pinot the most emotionally thrilling wine on the planet – those only come with time.

We recently poured the first Oregon Pinot I ever made, the 2000 Cuvée Martha Pirrie, in a line-up of our new releases and a single-vineyard wine from 2008. The 2000 was clearly the most interesting and most popular wine of the flight, and was the biggest seller that day in the tasting room as well. I LOVE to show people an older, mature wine – and love to see the proverbial light bulbs go off when folks are exposed to the beauties of what aged Pinot is all about.

So when should you drink your Pinots? That’s the question I get most often, and the hardest one to answer. If you like the juicy burst of fresh fruit that you get in most younger wines, then by all means drink ‘em up young. On the other hand, to see what great Pinot is really all about – let them linger. For longer than you’d think. I‘ve found that most of the wines I’ve made in Oregon started to get to their most interesting stage a minimum of 5-7 years from the vintage, and in some years will take even longer. The 2008s and 2012s from Oregon I’ll be drinking when they are 15-20 years old – it would be a shame to rob them of their potential by drinking them up too soon.

Hide a few bottles from yourself, forget you have them. Rent a small off-site wine-storage locker and put some bottles down for the long term. Wait. And then wait some more. I would always rather err on the side of catching a wine on its downside rather than disturbing it too soon. Of course, in the name of science a few bottles may have to be sacrificed to check in on the evolution of the wines, but I truly believe it is better to wait.

Once a wine passes 20-25 years of age, the old adage “there are no great wines, only great bottles” rings true. You may have three bottles of 1966 DRC Romanée-St. Vivant – and one will be brilliant, one pretty nice, and one will be just plain tired. That’s just the way it goes – but it’s those brilliant bottles that keep us coming back and keep us putting those wines down in the cellar for a good and proper rest.

I hope you have at least once the opportunity to experience a beautiful Pinot at its peak of maturity – to me there is no greater pleasure to be had on the planet. Now off in search of that next bottle of ’45 de Vogüé Musigny

Wine, Children, Life…

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

While running 17.5 miles in Forest Park this morning (it was only supposed to be 15 miles, but I took a wrong turn. Yikes!) – my mind started wandering to all sorts of bizarre places, which happens often on the long runs. (Hence the wrong turn.)

I was listening to an interview with a great grower Champagne producer – Alexandre Chartogne of Chartogne-Taillet – talking about how his wines are like children. He was saying that one needs to listen to your children, and hear what they have to say. If you don’t listen to what is unique about them and let them express themselves, but rather try to push them into being a certain way – they’ll close up and you’ll never get to hear who they really are.

Daughter Pirrie on the wall at Musigny - 2008

I think he nailed it on the head. He’s OK with some of his wines (and presumably some of his children) being more expressive than others. He just wants them to be honest and authentic. And that’s really all we can ask for, isn’t it?

I’ve been blessed with four human children and dozens of wine children. I’ve stumbled many times in the course of fatherhood, no doubt. On the wine front, I look back now and can see that the ones that were the least successful were the ones I tried to push in a certain direction, rather than letting them be what they were intrinsically meant to be.

On Saturday March 14th in Carlton you can come taste a special line-up of some of my vinous children – three newborns from the 2013 vintage, a grade-schooler (2008 D122 Pinot Noir), and a teenager (the 2000 Cuvée Martha Pirrie Pinot Noir – our first Oregon wine). I look forward to seing you then!

The Willamette Valley – 50 years of great wine and counting…

Friday, February 6th, 2015

I’ve seen the pictures, and heard many of the stories, but it’s hard to truly imagine the realities that David Lett and the other pioneers who followed faced when they boldly ventured into the Willamette Valley with a few grapevines and a vision 50 years ago. Conventional wisdom at the time was that wine grapes could not be grown here, it was supposed to be too cold and too wet. (Yet another reminder to not rely too heavily on conventional wisdom!)

Everything great was probably started by someone who was told that whatever it is they wanted to do “could not work”. We owe a huge debt to the Letts, Eraths, Sokol-Blossers, Jim and Loie Maresh, Adelsheims, Ponzis and all who blazed the trail for us here. Then came the Drouhin family from Burgundy, who put Oregon on the world wine map and validated the potential for great wines from our hillsides.

That the Willamette Valley is now a known entity for world-class Pinot Noir is an amazing achievement in just 50 years. The many waves of vintners that came before us worked tirelessly, hell they still work tirelessly, to promote first and foremost “Brand Oregon”. We humbly acknowledge that we have been the fortunate beneficiaries of all of their hard work.

The trail was already blazed when we started 15 years ago. There were about 200 wineries in Oregon at that point. There are over 600 today. 600! That means 400 more dreamers started after we did, and the list keeps growing seemingly exponentially. We are proud to be part of the amazing Oregon wine community. Proud to have had the pleasure to know “Papa Pinot” himself, David Lett, and to have had the chance to buy grapes from one of his vineyards when we were starting out here.

And somehow it feels like we’re still at the beginning of something that will be even greater. All of the investment here from the big boys in California and France points to a very robust future indeed for Oregon wine as a whole. We’re looking forward to celebrating the 50th anniversary of great wines in the Willamette Valley, and tasting some of those amazing bottles from the early days. Come check out our 2000 Cuvée Martha Pirrie as part of a special flight we’re pouring in Carlton on March 14th! (Of course conventional wisdom is that New World Pinot doesn’t age well, you know…)

The heat, the romance…

Monday, January 26th, 2015

We’re having an unusually warm winter so far here in Oregon – lots of days in the 50s or low 60s, and only a few hard freezes earlier on in the season. While this is quite pleasant and comfortable for us, I’m not sure it’s a positive for the vines. Centuries of Burgundian wisdom holds that a cold winter with sustained periods of freezing weather is good for the vines and the soil – letting everything get a good, long, hard winter’s sleep. Our friends in Champagne are in agreement on this as well, and they are all presently quite happy to be freezing their butts off in northern France.

Happy vines in the deep freeze in Champagne

At least you won’t need gloves, scarves and snow tires to come taste at the Fred Meyer wine department in the Hollywood store this Saturday – I’ll be there from 3-6pm pouring our La Paulée and new Wildstock Pinots, just in time for you to stock up for your Super Bowl festivities the next day. I hope you can join us!

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Wine is the fascinating thing it is because of the mystery – there is truly so much we don’t know about it. Why it is what it is, how fermentation really works, why grapes grown in certain places taste the way they do, how they develop over time – the mystery of the unknown is what continues to captivate me. Eric Asimov wrote a great piece on this in the NY Times – it’s a good read

In victory you deserve it, in defeat you need it…

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Those famous words are from Napoleon Bonaparte in reference to the wonderful beverage we call Champagne. At least he was right about something! A nice bottle definitely made the Oregon Ducks loss in the Nat’l Championship game a little more palatable Monday night. Hell, Champagne makes everything better. That is a scientific fact, as far as I’m concerned :-)

When it comes to romance. love or seduction, nothing is remotely as effective, not to mention festive, as a great bottle of bubbly or two. Yes, Scott Paul Wines is getting out of the import business, but we still have some nice bubblies in stock for all your Valentine’s Day needs – and they’re all at wholesale pricing to boot. Plan to join us in Carlton on Saturday, Feb. 14th from 12n-5p for a Valentine’s Day event filled with great Grower Champagnes and loads of our great Oregon Pinots as well, of course.

Bring a date or a mate. Or find one in Carlton perhaps? No guarantees on that front, but we can definitely promise you’ll find some killer bottles. I’ll be on hand to pour all afternoon, and I look forward to seeing you then!

And the New Year begins…

Monday, January 5th, 2015

We’re entering our 16th year, and it truly just keeps on getting better. I hope you had a wonderful holiday, and wish you all the best for a banner year in 2015. I spent the holidays here at home, thrilled not to have to travel for Christmas. Son Kevin was in from Kona for a week, my first grandchild was born Dec. 17th, and Martha, Pirrie & I had some time to relax and enjoy our home and reflect on how blessed we are to live in Portland and to be here doing what we love.

My 2014-2015 Grocery Store Victory Tour continues this month in Portland – I’ll be at New Seasons Progress Ridge on Friday Jan. 9th from 4-7p, and then at the Grand Re-Opening of the Fred Meyer Stadium store on W. Burnside Saturday Jan, 10th from 3-6p, pouring the ’11 La Paulée and ’12 Wildstock Pinots – so please come by and taste and say Hi! It’ll be a perfect time to stock up for the big Ducks game Monday night. I’m super stoked to have the U. of O. in the national championship game, and will be rooting loud and hard for my adopted Ducks!

In the cellar, malo-lactic fermentation is underway on all of our 2014s. Kelley and I will do a thorough tasting when malo is finished, likely at the end of the month or early February. Tastings to this point confirm that the ’14s are a plush, sexy bunch of delicious wines – quite similar to what the 2012s were at the same point. It will be very interesting to see where they go over time. I’m betting the press will say it’s one of Oregon’s best vintages ever, and rightly so. More as it happens…

What a year – musically and otherwise!

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Well, it has been one amazing year, to say the least. One of our most abundant harvests ever from a great growing season that gave us superb quality, my first grandchild is about to be born, my 2nd oldest daughter just got engaged, my son moved to Hawaii, Martha’s mom passed away, and our daughter Pirrie just started high school this fall. Oh, and we sold the winery. Other than that, not much going on :-)

As we draw close to the end of the year, I always like to look back over the year in music – my other obsession and former occupation. (OK, chocolate may be another one, as well.)

The Grammy nominations just came out this week, and I’m sad to say it’s generally a pretty sorry lot. If we can’t do any better than Taylor Swift’s horribly plastic, cheesy and disposable “Shake it Off” for a Song of the Year and Record of the Year candidate, we’ve truly hit a new low. When a novelty hit like Meghan Trainor’s “All about the Bass” is also nominated in those categories, we’ve clearly reached the nadir. Yeesh.

There was, thankfully, music that excited me this year. I have become a rabid, passionate fan of Swedish pop-folk-americana duo First Aid Kit (who Pirrie turned me on to two years ago – the kid has great ears!) Think Joni Mitchell meets Simon & Garfunkel meets Emmylou Harris – brilliant stuff. See them live when they come to your town – they are the real deal.

2014 was the year of the Swedes, it seems. I also got into emerging artists Likke Li and Tove Lo, who are both from my ancestral land. (My mom was 100% Swede.)

Closer to home, I’ve been really loving the new Foo Fighters album and accompanying HBO series – Sonic Highways. Dave Grohl is making great music, and has emerged as a talented director as well with vision and something to say. (See his excellent documentary Sound City if you haven’t already – great stuff.)

Best live show of the year – still my guys the Eagles. After 40 years they just may be better than ever. Only Dr. Dré (who sold Beats to Apple for 3 Billion Dollars!) and Beyoncé made more money in the music biz last year. Don & Glen & Joe are still flyin’ high.

Pirrie & Henley backstage in Portland

I’ve put a bunch of tracks from the new Pentatonix and Idina Menzel Christmas albums on our Xmas Master Mix, which is streaming around the house as I write, looking forward to a joyous celebration with family and friends over the coming couple of weeks. Oh yeah, and lots of great Pinot, Burgundy & Grower Champagne! Cheers, and a very Merry Christmas and Happy 2015 to you!!!

Post-Harvest Thankfulness…

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Ever since the end of harvest in September, I’ve been on the road, spreading the gospel of Scott Paul and Wildstock to our customers and distributors around the country. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Milwaukee, Miami, Boca Raton, Naples, New Orleans and Baton Rouge – kind of reminds me of my days being on the road with rock bands back in the 90s. (No living on a bus these days though – sometimes winemakers live better than rock stars!)

It was a great trip – lots of great times, great meals, and great people along the way. I love seeing our customers all across the country. And I love being back in Oregon most of all. Now that I’m back home through the end of the year I’ll be out and about doing a lot of appearances and pouring samples at a number of top retail accounts around the state – be on the lookout…

Now that our 2014s are all settled down in barrel, Kelley and I will be tasting through the cellar over the next week or two to get a handle on where each of the lots are at this point. It’s always interesting to see the very significant changes that arrive after the malo-lactic fermentation – which should be finished by February or March at the latest. This was not a high-malic year, but nonetheless when all of that malic acid converts to lactic acid, the overall character of the wines will finally be revealed, and we’ll have a much better handle on the true character and personality of the vintage. What we know for sure is that the quality is outstanding. How that quality ultimately expresses itself remains to be seen.

In Burgundy, all of our friends and producers seem very happy with the quality in 2014, but again they had a woefully small harvest – with 80-100% losses in much of the Côte de Beaune. In Champagne everyone seems very optimistic and quite pleased – lots of good stuff to look forward to there, for sure.

I’m excited to be back home and settling in for the holidays ahead – thankful for the bounty of Mother Nature this year, thankful for the love of great family and friends, and thankful for the opportunity to do what I love. It’s all very good indeed…

Another harvest in the books, and the passing of a legend…

Friday, November 7th, 2014

Harvest 2014 is now put to bed, and man, these are going to be lovely wines. Like everyone in the Willamette Valley, we’ve been scrambling for barrels and space to put it all – the rare combination of quality and abundance have us packed to the gills.

I’ve been traveling the country since the end of harvest, spreading the gospel according to Scott Paul far and wide. It’s nice to finally have enough volume, with our new Wildstock Pinot Noir, to supply top restaurants and retailers on a regular basis. It’s been a blast to get out and see a ton of customers, and so nice to see the wines being so well received.

We celebrated that harvest with our annual La Paulée dinner at Imperial in Portland last Saturday night, with a great group of Pinot-lovers popping a lot of corks over a delicious dinner from chefs Vitaly Paley and Doug Adams (Doug is currently starring on Bravo’s Top Chef!) Too many great wines to mention, but I continue to be blown away by the staying power of my very first wine, the 1999 Kent Ritchie Vyd. Chardonnay. I truly never expected it to go this long…

We toasted Burgundy’s legendary Hubert de Montille, who had passed away that day at age 84 while drinking a bottle of his 1999 Pommard Rugiens with friends in Alsace. Hubert was one of Burgundy’s great characters – you may remember him if you saw the film Mondovino – outspoken, cranky, cantankerous, and larger than life. He is remembered for his long-lived wines (often they took 20 years or more to reach drinkability), and for being the attorney who successfully prosecuted Robert Parker on behalf of Burgundy negociant Maison Faiveley. Parker had accused Faiveley of doctoring the samples they gave him for review. The case was settled by Parker paying a token settlement of 1 Franc, and signing an agreement banning him from ever reviewing the wines of Burgundy again. For this we thank you, Monsieur de Montille!

When in Burgundy I stay in Volnay just around the corner from the de Montille domaine, and saw him often in the village and at events over the years. RIP, Hubert…