Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 17

17 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

I can often tell how much I like a wine by how many notes I take.  Even when it doesn’t hit me at first how much I am taken by a bottle, I’ll suddenly look down and a whole notebook page is filled up of musings and guesswork and random sensory impressions, the various threads through which I eventually try to sort out the essence of the wine and how it speaks to me.  On blog days where the bottle doesn’t have much to say, or doesn’t quite spur the imagination, the pen moves very slowly.  Tonight I have three pages of notes in about 30 minutes, and I had to stop myself from writing more so that I could post this early enough for people to actually read it.  This was the first bottle in Advent history that had me autonomically exclaim “WOW.”, reflex-like, as soon as I opened the bottle.  I had never had a Ken Wright Pinot Noir before, but I was very well aware the level of quality it represented.  For my first bottle to be his 2015 Shea Vineyard, from the now-famous plot that he almost single-handedly put on the map, can’t be more perfect.  Welcome to the last week of the calendar, which almost surely can’t get better than this.

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Ken Wright was first exposed to wine as a waiter and student in Kentucky, and the regular staff tastings at his part-time job soon led to a complete change of vocation and an enrolment in the prestigious UC Davis viticulture program in California.  He spent close to a decade in the state honing his craft, but a single visit to Oregon in 1976 convinced him that his destiny lay there, where he felt North America’s pinnacle expressions of Pinot Noir could be made.  He loaded up his family and all his earthly belongings and founded his first Oregon winery in 1986 (Panther Creek Cellars, which still exists today, though Wright has since sold it), then his eponymous winery in 1994, which focuses entirely on single-vineyard expressions, mostly of Pinot Noir, from 13 different vineyard sites.  Shea Vineyard, the home of tonight’s bottle, is in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA in the northern part of the Willamette Valley, a sub-AVA that Ken helped define and create (along with five others) back in 2004.  Ken also established his winery’s tasting room in the heart of the small town of Carlton, echoing his belief in the power of site for his grapes by connecting his business directly to their land of origin.  His was the first winery to take root in Carlton, and it has now been joined by a large tasting room in the town’s old train station.

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The soils of the northern Willamette tend to be either sedimentary or volcanic in nature, and Yamhill-Carlton’s are the former, comprised of ancient marine sediment dredged up from the ocean floor from the collision of tow tectonic plates that run through Oregon.  Shea Vineyard was planted in 1989 and is home to four different clones of Pinot Noir across its 140 acres of fossilized ocean sediment.  Wright practices “nutrition-based farming” on his vineyard soils, which focuses on maintaining mineral and microbial balance among the vines and a strong bacterial and insect presence, the holistic ecosystem approach championed by biodynamic practitioners but on a micro (and microscopic) scale.  He then ferments all of his Pinots the same way, in hopes that the flavour and structural differences in the wines will be wholly reflective of site variances:  using small-batch, clone-by-clone fermentation in open-topped neutral tanks, followed by one year of maturation in French oak which has been prepped with a mixture of salt and hot water to tone back some of the more overt woodiness.

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Cork Rating:  6.5/10 (I have to admit – I’m not a Nomacorc fan.  Non-cork corks weird me out.  Bonus points for a rock-star neck foil though.)

I almost have none of the actual wine left when the time comes to actually write something about it — tonight’s research spiral ran deep.  But I almost don’t need to smell the wine to recall the aromas burned into my memory:  Bing cherry forever; lavender and roses; sandalwood and grilled cedar plank (sans salmon); Coke-bottle candy and Dr. Pepper.  There are insane levels of fruit concentration here, somehow mixed with both delicacy and structure, an utterly weightless mouthfeel kept in this dimension by subtly potent tannin, awoken and enlivened by prickly acidity that comes in waves.  Why are great wines always oxymorons?  They inevitably seem to be two contradictory things at once, their grandeur overwhelming our rational ability to keep track of everything that’s happening at the same time.  Oolong tea, autumn leaves, blueberry and raspberry weaving among the omnipresent Pinot cherry bloom, all-spice and sweet cinnamon all grace the tongue before they’re gone, and only a haunting echo remains, lingering.  I want to know more about this wine, this place, this person; these 800 words are not enough, but they will have to do for now.  The best wine of Advent 2018 by a substantial margin…for now, at least.

93 points

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