From many centuries of experience in Europe, winegrowers have learned that the best wines are most often the result of three essential concepts:
METICULOUS, MINIMAL WINEMAKING
In our continuous quest to produce the best wines, we strive to follow this holy trinity. There are not a lot of old—vine vineyards here in Oregon — the first Pinot Noir vineyards in the Willamette Valley were planted in 1965. We are fortunate to work with some of Oregon’s oldest plantings at Maresh Vineyard, which was planted in 1970. The quality from these vines is clearly superior, and the grapes they produce most generally go into our flagship bottlings.
(Grapevines can be a lot like us humans — in their youth they can be inconsistent, sometimes a little wild, often way too exuberant. By the time they move into their adulthood — generally 25-30 years or so, they have gotten most of the craziness out of their system, know and understand their job and responsibilities, and get on with doing what needs to be done with quiet confidence and a minimum of drama. In practical terms this means that older vines naturally set a smaller crop with more concentrated flavors, they are less likely to be affected by changes in weather patterns, and with their deeper roots can produce grapes that give wines more complex layers of flavors and aromas than those produced by younger vines.)
Regardless of vine age, we know that we can only achieve the best quality by keeping yields very low. “Two Tons per acre” seems to be the industry-accepted standard as the upper limit for top quality for Pinot Noir, though often we set our crop-loads at significantly less. (Or sometimes nature sets it for us – as in a meager .8 tons/acre in 2004!) Compare this with Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, where top wines can be made from five, six, even eight+ tons to the acre.
As to meticulous, minimal winemaking, there is simply no substitute. Being non-interventionists or “doing nothing” is actually a lot more labor intensive than making wine to a formula, with chemical additives and high-tech machinery. Every tank, every barrel here, is tended to by hand, every detail requires personal attention. There’s certainly an easier way to do it, but we don’t believe there are any shortcuts to quality.
In the winery, it’s a lot of work to “do nothing”. Grapes and must are moved only by gravity. Fermentation is conducted only by wild, indigenous yeasts. Malolactic fermentation is allowed to occur naturally. The Burgundian techniques of Pigeage (punch-down) and Remontage (pump-over) are used as means of gentle extraction. French Oak barrels (less than 20% new) are used to age the wines – to let them breathe and mature, not to impart artificial flavors or aromas. The wines are generally bottled un-fined and un-filtered — which means they must be pure, clean and sound from beginning to end.