Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 23

23 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

“Great wines taste like they come from somewhere. Lesser wines are interchangeable; they could have come from anywhere.”      – Matt Kramer in “Making Sense of Wine”

YES. Just yes. Last year we were universally astounded by the Ken Wright Cellars Shea Vineyard bottle from Day 17, a mind-blowing flashpoint of the sort you might not expect in a wine Advent calendar, even ones as carefully curated as these have been. I open today’s squat bottle almost reluctantly, flooded with fatigue and all kinds of associations that converge on how done I am with wine blogging, at least for a month or so, because DAMN, this is a labour of love but still requires fortitude in what is already a busy December for me… And poof. All that is gone, burnt away like a flammable fog suddenly detonated by a struck match. I remember why I love wine. My whoop of delight startles the cat in the den where my wine fridges live, and Ken Wright is BACK, baby. And it is not the cuvee from last year.


Ken Wright has been described by friends as a “brinksman”: someone who can pull off miracles just when it seems all hope is lost. Wrestling competitively from the 6th grade until his first year of college, Ken discovered wine while waiting tables in Kentucky, suggesting to the restaurant owner that they could likely sell more bottles if they knew how each wine actually tasted. A fascination with Burgundy and Pinot Noir was born, with Ken and his roommate Alan Holstein cutting their teeth on such bottlings as La Tache and Richebourg. I am trying to fathom the very notion of university students being able to afford such wines, and this only serves to reinforce the oft-present feeling that I was born in the wrong era. In any event, Ken gave up his pre-law studies to pursue enology and viticulture at the University of California, Davis. He struggled with the chemistry components of this program, although for the quiet but shrewd Ken that was no real obstacle when it came to learning how to make wine. He got by with a lot of help from his friends. Dying to leave California after concluding that the place was simply too hot for top-shelf Pinot Noir, Ken arrived in Oregon in 1985 with barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon to sell as the inaugural offerings of his own winery, Panther Creek. Selling such undocumented wine was illegal, but the silver-tongued Ken got a pass.


Alas, Panther Creek fell upon hard times and had to be sold. Ken got a divorce, fortunately an amicable one. Financial difficulties associated with the sale of Panther Creek got sorted, and Ken Wright Cellars was born in 1996. The mission? To showcase Pinot Noir from 13 single vineyard sites, wines with precise flavours and sharpshooter finesse, unencumbered by booziness or excesses of other structural components (tannins, acid). All wines are made using the same cellar regime, so that terroir is maximally accentuated and facilitating direct comparisons across the sites. Grapes are hand sorted and always de-stemmed, as Ken states that including the stems with these various sites yields wines that are too angular. Fermentation takes place in open vats, with the wines seeing around one year in new French oak barrels (albeit barrels specially treated with salt and hot water to mitigate resinous notes from the wood). Supple and seamless. “Grippy and tannic does not provide pleasure”, he says. Ken encouraged growers to farm for quality by paying them for each acre instead of by the ton. He introduced vertical shoot positioning in Oregon to expose grapes in the relatively cool climate to more sun. He continues to use research links between microbiological activity and soil quality to rehabilitate tired old sites such as Bryce, working closely with vineyard owners so the latter can sell quality fruit to wineries across the state. To top it all off, Ken himself petitioned growers to create six sub-appellations in the Willamette Valley: Yamhill-Carlton, Chehalem Mountains, Ribbon Ridge, Dundee Hills, McMinnville, and Eola-Amity Hills. Yes we Ken. Burgundy comes to Oregon.

IMG_1417I should be careful with such statements. Oregon Pinot will probably have more bright fruit than your average Cote d’Or. But one cannot escape the comparison when it comes to such fine-grained mapping of vineyard sites. The 2015 Ken Wright Cellars Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir hails from a Willamette Valley AVA site said to yield the most firm and structured Pinots in the Ken Wright stable. Occupying a gentle southeasterly slope that is conducive to ripening, the soils are known as “bellpine”, a mixture of uplifted ancient seabed and siltstone that is said to contribute to the aforementioned structure in the wines, even as freshness is preserved. Ken states that such soils yield more floral and spicy characters in the finished wines, as compared to nearby volcanic soils that enhance fruit. One might be forgiven for wondering if this site manages to capture the best of both worlds.


This is darker than expected colour-wise but not opaque. The nose does pop with Bing cherry and black raspberry, high-toned wild blueberry and plum, but there they are as advertised, a few floral squadrons filling the skies of my Burgundy Zalto glass with Thrills gum, Parma violet candies, lilacs, rose hips, iris, cinnamon toothpicks, allspice, cola, cinder blocks, warm pavement, and an earthy verdant wreath of Irish moss, English breakfast tea and old growth underbrush. Less cerebral and pretty than the Shea Vineyard, this is more bold and powerful, a Pinot Noir Tony Soprano…but do not confuse power with a lack of complexity. The finish lingers with watermelon Jolly Ranchers and a few dirty pan drippings. What more can I say? The calendar has probably peaked. I’ll see you fine folks next year, barring unforeseen circumstances. Bring it on home, Peter.

91+ points


Cork Rating: 4/10 (Nomacorc plus washed-out graphic. Ken Wright has to do one thing wrong, I suppose.)

Wine Review: Sokol Blosser Evolution Red, 1st Ed.

26 05 2012

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

That familiar E, now in red form.

If you are at least a semi-regular wine drinker, chances are you’ve stumbled upon the white version of Evolution, a borderline-bizarre blend of 9 different grapes concocted by Oregon producer Sokol Blosser which has become the poster child of fun quality table wine.  White Evolution has been around for 15 years and counting, and this year it has been joined by a red counterpart out to accomplish the same mission using darker-skinned grapes.  Sokol Blosser is keeping the specific mix of grapes for this new wine a secret, revealing only that red Evolution is a Syrah-based blend, but a look at past SB red offerings can let us take an educated guess as to what might be in the bottle.  For the past few years, Sokol Blosser has made a sister red brand called Meditrina, which was a blend of Syrah, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.  With the introduction of Evo red this year, Meditrina is no longer being made, and I would think there’s a better than even chance that the Syrah, Pinot and Zin grapes which were previously sourced for Meditrina may have found their way into this new label.  I almost hope this is true, because I found Meditrina quite enjoyable when it still existed, and tying it to the juggernaut Evolution brand would certainly help increase its exposure. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2009 Evening Land “Blue Label” Pinot Noir

9 01 2012


One of my favourite labels in recent memory, and a great bottle to boot.

As I mentioned last post, although buying and drinking Burgundy is my top mission for (at least the first half of) 2012, in order to go about it the right way and actually learn something, I’m going to be deferring much of my Burgundy tasting/writing for a few weeks while I source wines and firm up a drinking plan.  Since I tasted a 2009 Bourgogne Rouge last week, I thought it would be an interesting contrast to follow it up with what is effectively its New World equivalent:  a 2009 Pinot Noir from Oregon, from the Burgundy-inspired rising stars at Evening Land Vineyards.  Even though Evening Land’s first vintage was in 2007, less than five years ago, it has quickly gained attention and critical acclaim for its lineup of true-to-the-land wines from the classic Burgundian varieties of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  I had known them as an Oregon producer (I tried two of their Oregon Pinots in WSET class) and was quite surprised to discover that they actually make wine in 4 different Pinot/Chard heartlands around the world:  Oregon’s Willamette Valley, California’s Sonoma Coast and Santa Rita Hills, and Burgundy itself.  While I’m sure that other wineries must do this too, I can’t think of another one off the top of my head that produces wine from different countries under the same name and label.  Colour me intrigued.

Read the rest of this entry »

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