Thursday, November 26, 2009

Meeting Winemaker James Cahill and Tasting his Soter Vineyards Wines from Oregon

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with James Cahill, Winemaker at Soter Wines; Steve, On-Site Owner of Out-of-Sight Wines on the left side in the background

James Cahill, the charming winemaker of Soter Vineyards came to the Out-of-Site wine store in Vienna, Virginia to lead us through a tasting of his Sparkling Rosés, Oregon Pinot Noirs, and Napa Valley Cabernet Franc. James Cahill is a 10+ year veteran of the Oregon wine industry and now works full-time as winemaker with Soter Vineyards. James came to Soter after a long stint with Beaux-Freres.

This boutique winery in Oregon is owned by Tony and Michelle Soter. Tony, with over 30 vintages under his belt, came to Napa Valley in 1975, founded Etude Wines in 1982, and served as consulting winemaker to such famous estates as Araujo, Niebaum-Coppola, Shafer, Spottswoode, Viader and Dalle Valle. Etude was known throughout the wine world for elegant and balanced Cabernet sauvignons, Chardonnays and most especially Pinot Noirs. But the Soters decided to return to their native state and to sell Etude in California. They purchased land in Oregon and founded Soter Vineyards
Soter Vineyards is devoted to biodynamic wine growing and wine making. There are sheep on the Estate as well as goats. No pesticides, herbicides or fungicides are used within the vineyard. Tony plants beans, peas and other legumes in between the rows of vines as a means to "fix" the nitrogen content in the soil.

Soter Vineyards is in the Willamette Valley, were about two-thirds of the state's wineries and vineyards are. Buffered from Pacific storms on the west by the Coast Range, the valley follows the Willamette River north to south for more than a hundred miles from the Columbia River near Portland to just south of Eugene. It has been recognized as one of the premier Pinot Noir producing areas in the world, although it is still a young wine growing area. Pinot Noir has been planted in Oregon for a bit more than 40 years only. Sater Vineyard lays at the 45th parallel of latitude, just about on par with Burgundy some 6,000 miles to the east.

Tasting Notes

We started out with two sparkling wines.

2004 Soter Brut Rosé, a beautiful example of American sparkling wine, salmon pink-colored, tiny bubbles, with aromas ranging from peach to raspberries, fresh and vibrant on the palate, with a lasting finish.

2005 Soter Brut Rosé, 48% Pinot Noir and 52% Chardonnay, salmon pink-colored, nice legs on the glass, constant stream of tiny bubbles, minerals and raspberries on the nose, medium-bodied, long finish.

Of course, these two world class sparklers are made in the Methode Champenoise. I asked James about the remuage technique, which was invented by Veuve Clicquot with her German cellar master Antoine Mueller. The remuage technique revolutionized sparkling wine drinking. The system centers around wooden racks into which the bottles are placed neck first at an angle of 45 degrees. Each day the bottles are turned and tilted so that the bottle points further downwards with each day, the process gradually bringing all the sediment into the neck right behind the cork, from where it can be removed during disgorgement. With Veuve Clicquot's new technique, Champagne would no longer require decanting before serving, or being left in the glass for the sediment to settle before drinking it. But the system of remuage is a tedious process as James was able to confirm.

We then tasted 3 Pinot Noirs. In the US, Pinot Noir shows great promise in Oregon and California. In Germany, the Pinot Noir is called Spätburgunder. It is to red wine what the Riesling is to white wine: the cream of the crop. The reputation that gets Pinot Noir so much attention, however, is owed to the wines of the Bourgogne in France, where it has probably been cultivated since at least the 4th century (first documented, however, in the 14th century).

Regardless of where it’s grown, Pinot Noir is not typically a value wine. That is so because Pinot Noir is such a delicate grape that it is difficult and expensive to grow and make into the spectacular wine it can be. It is sensitive to climate and soil, Pinot Noir needs warmth (but not intense heat) to thrive and does well in chalky soils. As the German name implies, it ripens late (spät). Oregon’s Willamette Valley has emerged as a highly regarded new-world source for superb Pinot Noirs.

2007 Soter Pinot Noir "North Valley", a blend of Pinots from both Estate-grown fruit and also grapes purchased from some of Tony's esteemed neighbors, medium-ruby colored, attack of strawberry and pain grille on the nose, very delicate and lean on the palate, long note of spice on the finish, a typical cool-climate Pinot Noir, the North Valley wines are mostly aged in previously used French Oak cooperage.

2006 Pinot Noir Beacon Hill Vineyard, medium-ruby colored, attack of concentrated dark red fruit and dark chocolate note on the nose, coupled with wet leaves, spicy wild berries, deep fruit aromas on the palate that lasted through a long finish.

2006 Pinot Noir Mineral Springs Vineyard, medium-ruby colored, beautiful nose with a wave of spice, earth, and strawberries, soft and silky on the tongue, with an a lasting spicy light-tannin finish.

All three Pinot Noirs are very approachable, but could improve with bottle age for several years. However, these are clearly not wines that are not drinkable now and need several years of maturing to display all their brilliance. They do that now

The wines reminded me of top German red wines that are increasingly appearing in the American market. Germany also is an area —- like Oregon --- where people used to say, it does not work for red wines, but now produces extremely elegant red wines with a lot of finesse.

We finished up with a Napa valley wine

2004 Napa Valley "Little Creek" Proprietary Red, a Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon --- a right bank Bordeaux--- blend, the wine was grown in Napa valley (around the house where Tony used to live), harvested, destemmed and brought with dry ice on it, preventing fermentation, to Oregon, much darker in color than the Pinot Noirs, the Cabernet Franc contributes unmistakably to a cigar-box aroma, the bouquet presents impressive concentration and intensity with aromas of black cherry, vanilla and a subtle note of smoky toast, full-bodied, persisting finish, much more closed than the Pinot Noirs, I feel this wine will indeed benefit from putting it away and letting it age gracefully.

Schiller Wine --- related postings

In the glass: Pinot Noir from California, Germany and France

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