Oregon Sparkling Wines Part II

13th June 2023

Oregon Sparkling Wines Part II

I flew into Portland attending my brother’s funeral, he’d been in declining health for years stricken with failing organs, and cancer. We were brothers in the family but distant, as he was being married as an adult when I was invited to his wedding as an infant, accompanying my mother. Perhaps it was prescient having me thrust on the wedding celebratory open bar top performing an impromptu toddler jig (an early hammy character flaw of mine) in my Blazer, dress seer sucker shorts, and bowtie much to my father’s delight, and my mother’s severe reprimand.

My father used his perfectly wastrel attitude to excuse his bad behavior. I was visiting downtown Eugene, Oregon’s Inn at the Fifth cozy hotel, an extraordinary restaurant culinary destination and a local wine treasury.

I had been a fan of The Eyrie Vineyard Pinot Gris paired with Maryland Blue Crabs when I lived in Washington DC during the 1980’s, but I hadn’t experienced the red Eyrie Vineyard Pinot wines. On the Inn at the Fifth’s wine list was the latest Eyrie Vineyard bottling. The founder of Oregon’s Eyrie Vineyard David Lett, graduated with an Oenology degree from the prestigious public Ivy agriculture school UC Davis (University of California, Davis) in 1965. The restaurant’s wine list featured the most recent release 2011 Eyrie Vineyard Pinot Meunier Dundee Hills Estate Sparkling rosé (with a hand written label, a damned Unicorn wine if there ever was one; from my research, evidently only produced in that one sparkling wine vintage).

I swiftly ordered the wine, requesting it to be served with an oversized wine glass, and chilled cool, but please do not serve on ice! This trick I recalled when drinking a Krug multi vintage Champagne in 1987 (a mostly one-third blend of Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay) when aerated in a large wine glass, becomes moreish tasting. Stubbornly tannic is the way I’d describe how Pinot Meunier wine initially behaves. In Krug’s example, the base wine has a complex melange of autolytic yeast impressions, and the seasoned oak barrel aging displays root-like aromas. Not that I was expecting a Krug Champagne equivalent grown in the Willamette Valley, but grape identities are revealed at a structural DNA level. The 2011 Eyrie Vineyard sparkling Pinot Meunier had a floral wild sassafras quality that herb & root foraging Boy Scouts will surely recognize. The current non-vintage Eyrie Vineyard Spark cuvée 37$ sparkling wine (a compelling blend of Pinot Noir, Chasselas, and Pinot Blanc) is a Pinot Noir dominant sparkling rosé and a less savage wine from the previous sparkling Pinot Meunier version I had experienced at the Inn at the Fifth hotel.

The Inn at the Fifths open kitchen was visible from my barstool perch, and deliciously maddening to be culinarily teased this way. The tavern bar staff was accommodating, which led to high-spirited conversations about local vineyards, and new white grape releases from southern Oregon’s Umpqua Valley region. The Inn at the Fifths bar staff graciously offered me a blind tasting, guessing the mystery grape; which I failed miserably! I doubt I will forget misidentifying the French white Petite Manseng grape by Kermit Lynch, a Jurançon Sec import. There’s nothing so humbling as to discover your failed tasting and ego’s ability, a one-upmanship to drive you to perform better. Oregon has David Lett who established the iconic Eyrie Vineyards planted in McMinnville, Oregon; enter Tony Soter (one of Carneros California’s most revered Pinot Noir practitioners) his turn of the century Etude Winery California exodus to establish Soter Vineyards Mineral Springs Ranch in Carlton, Oregon. However, thirty-five years apart both the Eyrie and Soter estates are pesticide free Oregon grape natural wine trailblazer’s. When I met Nicholas Joly in 1986, I remembered him saying it was important to maintain the Biodynamic holistic wine estate under your control. His regard for Biodynamic farming principles naturally led him to reconsider the boundaries of his neighbors conventional grape farming practices. How will Joly’s Coulée de Serrant Chenin Blanc Biodynamic vineyards be affected by his neighboring conventional farming overspray or potentially contaminated rain runoff? To practice the Biodynamic farming principles you need to embrace wholeheartedly the vineyard environment’s safety, and orderly cleanliness. Tony Soter has balanced his 240 acre estate buffering his grape vineyards perimeter from neighboring insecticide foreign overspray by only planting 50 acres to Soter’s Biodynamically certified vines. Aside from Mr Soter’s estate Biodynamic planning, Tony displays his savvy with the most sophisticated, and easily navigated website I’ve ever used. Every question I thought of asking is easily searched, simply answered, and in the rare case your query is not addressed by the website, the Soter team completes the mission returning to you by 10am PST the following business day. I’m simply astonished by this kind of conscientious follow through in corporate USA!

Next is winery harvesting and bottling supported by the Radiant Sparkling Wine Company of McMinnville, Oregon whose mobile wine services stem from a simple, no frills warehouse. Andrew Davis began his career with Rollin Soles at Argyle, and offering mobile business services for bottling wineries base wines customized yeasts for tirage aging and disgorging thereby reducing the need for bottled wines to move from the winery, Davis is a roving winery doctor. He will evaluate wineries premises needing specialized services equipment he provides. Thus far, wineries like Adelsheim, Brooks, Elk Cove, Lange, Ponzi, Rex Hill, Sokol Blosser, Trisaetum, and Willamette Valley Vineyards are satisfied clients. It appears as though Davis’ Radiant Sparkling Wine Company has high expectations for the future of Oregon’s Methode Champenoise wine market.

Mr Paul Gregutt’s preliminary reporting on the state of the Oregon sparkling wine trade has aided me immensely! I had met Mr Gregutt (a founding member of the Wine Enthusiast’s Tasting Panel), once in Washington DC hosted at an Oregon wine tasting. He is an accomplished author of the critically-acclaimed Washington Wines & Wineries—The Essential Guide. He also consulted on the Pacific Northwest entries in current versions of The World Atlas of Wine, and The Oxford Companion to Wine.

Peter Birmingham

Restaurant General Manager, Corporate Beverage Director, & Hospitality Consultant, with these qualities he represents a Triple Threat: a culinary tableside historian, an accomplished wine taster with the casual ability to make flavor relationships and beverage quality value accessible.