I had an educational and fun tasting experience at the 2022 Northwest Wine Expedition Masterclass: Sustainability. We had Barbara Philip MW host the event with Alex Sokol Blosser, co-owner and winemaker, from Sokol Blosser Winery from Oregon, and Cam Matches, Sr Director of Sales, from Aquilini Beverage Group (Vancouver) from Washington to give us information about each state as it relates to sustainability and the wines we tasted from each state.
Barbara started off the masterclass trying to outline a more expansive description of “stewardship”. She noted that there is the stewardship of the land and minimizing changes to the land, but also fostering support to the workers at the winery and vineyards, respecting your neighbour’s land (e.g. not spraying herbicides or pesticides close to the border with your neighbour that could travel onto their land, especially if they farm organically), to try to improve years and to have a business plan on how to be sustainable and economically viable.
Being a steward of the land does offer some options to the winery, such as undertaking organic, biodynamic, or regenerative farming. There are many certification programs around the world. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a certification program that wineries can apply for their winery and vineyards. One thing I found interesting is if a winery uses sulfites in any amount (to help preserve wine and minimize chances of the wine going bad) then the wine cannot be USDA Certified Organic. The EU certification and Demeter (for biodynamic wines) do allow a certain amount of sulfur to help stabilize the wines. In fact, sulfur can be a byproduct of wine as part of the vinification process, without the winemaker adding any to the wine.
More locally in WA state, there is a new program called Sustainable WA, run by the Washington State Wine Commission. Their target is to get a 90% uptake in this certification for up to 90% of total grapevine acreage. The program is in beta testing at the moment and they are testing the five largest vineyards in the state after which the program will be rolled out to the remaining vineyards in WA, followed in 2-3 years to certify wineries as sustainable. The vineyards are all being audited by a third party. Sustainable WA covers the pillars of sustainability: environmentally sound, socially equitable, and economically viable. It is a rigorous, science-based program and built with continuous improvement in mind. Being sustainable in eastern WA state is easier as it has dry conditions (like our Okanagan) along with cold winter and winds that help reduce pests and mold.
Biodynamic farming has a large uptake in Oregon state. We were told that 52% of all the Demeter-certified wineries in the USA are located in Oregon. There are about 300 organically certified wineries in Oregon, and in all of the United States, Oregon has the first “Organic Regenerative” certified winery.
There were five wines from Oregon and five wines from Washington state in this Masterclass. Let me tell you about the wines.
My Wine Tasting Notes
1. Cristom, Eola Amity Hills, Chardonnay, 2020, OR – Cristom is a biodynamic winery. This wine has a bright, medium-intensity lemon colour. Light aromas of toast, lemon and butterscotch. Light body, smooth and soft with a lean mouthfeel. Pears, apples, lemon, butterscotch and oak flavours with vanilla toward the finish. Elegant.
2. Left Coast Estate, Van Duzer, White Pinot Noir 2020, OR – Part of the vineyard area has oak trees which they are helping to conserve as it takes many years for these trees to mature. The winery participates in The Oak Accord in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. This wine has a light pear skin colour. Medium intensity fresh stone fruit aromas plus a touch of orange. Dry, soft and smooth, medium-bodied. Stone fruit flavours plus a touch of pepperiness that lingers on the finish. Tart finish. Elegant. –
3. Foris, Rogue Valley, Cedar Ranch Pinot Noir 2019, OR – A clear, lighter red cherry colour. Light aromas of tart red cherries and a touch of sweet spices. Light body, dry and soft, with a semi-round mouthfeel. Ripe red fruits, a touch of herbaceousness (dill), and a touch of sweet spices and black pepper toward the finish. Medium length. Light tannins on the finish.
4. Sokol Blosser, Dundee Hills, Big Tree Block Pinot Noir 2018, OR – Medium intensity clear garnet colour. Medium intensity aromas with a mix of cedar, red cherries, sweet spices (nutmeg) and a touch of tea leaves. Medium-plus body, soft and round with medium intensity tannins and acidity. Thicker mouthfeel. Candied cherries and sweet spices on the palate. Some tart cherries and firmer drying oak on the finish.
5. Citation, Oregon Pinot Noir 2006, OR – 2006 is the current release. The winery will not release a wine until they think it is at its best. This wine has a medium-intensity brickish garnet colour. Light leather, old wood, and deeper red fruit aromas. Dry, medium-minus body, soft with a light mouthfeel. Leather, stones, aged wood, red fruit, and a touch of black pepper. This wine is not overly fruity. It is showing its age and complexity. Quality. –
6. Treveri, Columbia Valley, Blanc de Blanc NV, WA – A sparkling wine with bright medium lemon colour. Light yeasty, toast, crisp apple, and pear aromas. Also a bit later a touch of apple cider aroma. Dry, medium-plus body, and medium acidity. Small creamy bubble with tart acidity behind. Crisp apple with touches of apple blossoms and tart stone fruits. Some pepperiness toward the finish. And also with time in the glass a bit of apple cider flavour.
7. K Vintners, Washington State, Golden West Pinot Noir 2020, WA – Clear, medium-plus intensity garnet colour. Deeper aromas of leather, licorice, and red cherry aromas. Medium-plus body, lean with dark fruit, red fruit, some sweet spices and candied cherries plus pepperiness on the finish. Intense flavours with a lean mouthfeel. Also picked up some herbaceous notes. Medium intensity firm tannins. Muscular wine. Atypical Pinot Noir.
8. Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Valley, Cold Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WA – Deep colours with a mix of purple and garnet. Opaque in the glass. Medium-plus intensity aromas of toast, sweet spices, oak, and dark fruits. Dry, medium-plus body, semi-round. Sweet dark fruits and peppery on the palate. Medium tannins and acidity. –
9. Aquilini, Red Mountain, 10,000 Hours Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WA – This is still a relatively new winery and vineyard in WA, so they currently do not have any certifications but are considering organic certification. This wine is opaque garnet colour. Medium intensity berries, dark fruit, and oak aromas. Medium-plus body, round and smooth, but not mouth-filling. Ripe dark fruit, nutmeg, and black pepper flavours, along with touches of herbaceousness and cedar. Medium intensity tannins. Shorter length without much tannins on the finish. This wine has a fresh feel to it.
10. Seven Hills, Red Mountain, Ciel du Cheval 2016, WA – Very deep, but not quite opaque, garnet colour. Old World oak aromas, plus deep ripe red fruit and some leather. Dry, medium-minus body, smooth and round, with a light mouthfeel. Medium tannins and acidity. Dark fruit, nutmeg, some pepperiness plus cedar and oak flavours. A dry finish. –