Monday, January 19, 2015

Looking Back

It is the end of the second day in Beaune and I am struggling to not only get over the consequential jet-lag of such a long journey, but also to allow the reality of my actually being in France, of my staying in the heart of Burgundy to really sink in. Even the tour and tasting with winemaker Jacques Lardiere at Louis Jadot which started off my day seems eons ago, as was the wine sensations presentation given by Jordy at the University of Burgundy. As these scenes of a full day fleet back in the recesses of my memory nearly as quickly as the train that brought me here from Paris, even still I have had the opportunity to look back and begin to understand why the Oregon wine industry looks back to this beautiful place for a place of reference, heritage, and camaraderie.

Prior to leaving, I and my fellow interns had the opportunity to meet with essential figures in the Oregon wine industry who have helped establish relationships between us and the Burgundians. Perhaps most influential was the efforts made by David Adelsheim, who, shortly after planting his first vineyard in the early 1970s, felt it necessary to travel to Burgundy to help with a harvest to gain a better understanding of how to grow ad make wine. This initiated a series of ventures by Adelsheim that led to the establishments of relationship between Oregon and French winemakers, viticultural and enological imporvements, and paving the way that ultimately led the French to our soils and ignited what I dub as the French Invasion.

This "invasion" began with a bang when the large French negocion Domain Drouhin purchased vineyard land in the Dundee Hills in 1987, not without much subtle persuasion at the lips of Adelsheim. They made wines from the 1988 vintage and soon after Drouhin was building a winery and tasting room on their Oregon estate. David Hilman of Domaine Drouhin - Oregon asked my co-interns and me when we met with him would such an act, and more broadly, the exchange of winemakers between the two regions, influence our perception of the quality and story of Oregon wines? I knew historically, the move was a stamp of approval, so to speak, of the then barely borned Oregon wine industry. It spoke to the quality and potential of the wines being made in our great region. But further reflection and discussion  allowed me to see beyond the obvious and understand that this wasn't just a mere quality seal (I think the industry would have moved on (if only a bit more slowly) without it), but it was an exchange of ideas, a community built. It was moving beyond the superficial assessment that "Oregon as similar climate as Burgundy, therefore we must be able to grow the same wines" (two days here and I can already attest that these were very broad stroke statements), but rather learning from each other, how to manage vineyards sites or change winemaking techniques, etc. This would inevitably lead the way to more connections.

While certain winemakers in the Willamette Valley, such as Doug Tunnell and Josh Bergstrom, had since gone to Burgundy to study winemaking in one fashion or another, I think it was the release of Evening Land's first vintage in 2007 that further established the Oregon-French connection. Evening Land was initially conceived as making Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in California, Oregon, and France, respecting the terroire of each growing region. While the California and France programs have since been cut-off, it was clear duing our barrel-tasting that Ian Burch, the winemaker for Oregon wines, that Oregon arm based on Seven Springs Vineyard maintained a focus on this goal. But this also revealed Oregon as a willing and confident participant in the international wine community. Yes, we have maintained our friendship with the Burgundians, but have grown to better understand our soils, to know what decisions to make in a breadth of growings seasns, and how to make wines that really reflect what Oregon identifies itself to be. Oregon wine is no longer the meonic mess of a child between France and the Unversity of California - Davis, but rather have matured, albeit in record time, to engage a conversation that will ultimately give shape to our story.

And perhaps this was what Jacques was getting at when he talked about the inner parts of the grape as having the expression of the place, of the terroir, of where the vine is planted. Louis Jadot has finally gave in and purchased vineyards in Oregon. But if we look back, we see Jacques standing quietly in the background, observing and moving so cautiously before spearheading the project of purchasing the highly-regarded Resonance Vineyard. If we look back, we see the eyes of many Frenchman eyeing in curiosity what may become of our industry Well, we have fallen from the vine and have been harvested to bccome something greater. While we as an industry must never forget to look back, but we must keep our focus on a greater tommorrow. We must now look forward.

And I to sleep.

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