31 May 2011

Wine Notes: The dirt on Willamette Valley soil types

Published: Wednesday, May 25, 2011, 9:39 AM Updated: Wednesday, May 25, 2011, 9:54 AM
Willamette-Valley-vinters.JPGView full sizeVintners Jim Anderson (from left) of Patricia Green Cellars, and Jessica Monzeico-Blair and her father, Howard Mozeico, of Et Fille, say the Willamette Valley's main soil types -- Jory, sedimentary and loess -- help define a wine's flavor profile.
t the open houses hosted by so many local wineries this coming holiday weekend, there will be no shortage of information.

Just about every wine in Oregon these days comes with its own "tech sheet" -- that is, a summary of detailed information that may or may not have any resonance for the consumer.

Unless you're a geeky wine insider, it's difficult to see why knowing the harvest date, clonal selection or cooperage should make any difference in your appreciation of the wine. (And if you're not sure what a clone or a cooper is, don't worry; you're not alone.)

That said, there are a few areas where a bit of knowledge can benefit us in our appreciation of wine. And one of those might well be the nerdiest bit of info on that tech sheet: soil type.

I recently met with some folks who spend a lot of time thinking about soil. Jim Anderson is co-owner of Patricia Green Cellars; father-and-daughter team Howard Mozeico and Jessica Mozeico-Blair run Et Fille; both wineries are near Newberg.

At Patricia Green Cellars, the quest to capture a sense of place in each bottle of pinot noir borders on the obsessive: The winery releases between 18 and 20 pinots each year in an effort to express the distinct characteristics of various sites. At a Patricia Green Cellars open house, you'll find wines arranged on tables according to the location of the vineyard they're derived from.

For its part, Et Fille produces between five and six single-vineyard pinot noirs annually, with an emphasis on representing as diverse a range of soil types as possible. Attend an event where Mozeico-Blair is pouring, and she'll set up a row of glass urns filled with soils so that you can smell, touch (and taste, if you like) the dirt while you sample the wines.

Just three to know

Although Oregon wine country encompasses a wide variety of soil types, the most attention and deliberation over soil in this state happens in the Willamette Valley.

Here, the delicate pinot noir grape -- arguably the red best-suited to expressing the differences between sites -- has a cultish following among collectors who buy multiple single-vineyard releases from their favorite producers and taste "horizontals" (a variety of site-specific bottlings from the same producer in the same year) to compare and contrast the effect that vineyard location has on a wine's aroma and flavor.

But you don't have to blow the rent on a catalog of limited-edition single-vineyard releases to discover the difference soil type can make in pinot noir.

"It's very common for people to walk into one of our tastings saying, 'I don't know anything about soil types,' then walk out having tasted the differences very clearly," Mozeico says. For him, just two or three bottles -- representing the three major soil types outlined below -- can relay the diverse range of overarching characteristics found in Willamette Valley pinots.

Why we should care
Why is it important to familiarize yourself with the valley's various soil types?

First, it goes a long way toward explaining why so many wineries bottle single-vineyard pinot noirs. Winemakers believe that the differences between wines grown on different soils are so stark that they often don't blend them.

Conversely, another reason many local wineries source from so many different vineyards is that having such a diverse array of wines to choose from can be a helpful tool in creating a harmonious blend.

So there's no shame in preferring the basic "Willamette Valley" pinot noir when you visit a tasting room; it's simply a representation of multiple soil types.

But do taste single-vineyard bottlings, and ask about soil types while you do. Because, if you maintain an awareness of this issue, you might find you prefer the pinots of one soil type over another.

Mozeico-Blair says that when she conducts tastings and explains the differences the soils make in the aromas and flavors in the resulting wines, her customers come away equally divided as to which type they prefer: Of the three main types, each appeals to about a third of her customers.

So, here's a challenge: If you are visiting your favorite winery this weekend, try to taste a bottle of juice derived from each of the following soil types. If the winemaking method was the same for all three, you may discover that you prefer one soil type over another.


The Willamette Valley's flagship dirt is Jory, the basalt-based volcanic soil found in most vineyard sites in the Dundee Hills (the most prominent sub-appellation in the valley).

High in clay content and iron, Jory is reddish in color and nutrient-rich. "You could grow anything in volcanic soil," Anderson says. "It is lush." It holds water well; smash it between your fingers and it will stick together.

"I can pick out a Dundee Hills wine pretty consistently in a blind tasting," Mozeico says. "There is a minerality to it, especially on the finish, with a bright cherry and red-fruit flavor profile." Mozeico-Blair says she always finds that this silty clay-loam imparts a "dusty earthiness" to pinot noir.

Name to remember: Jory is the Willamette Valley's most prominent volcanic soil.
A taste of geology: Many millions of years ago, fissures near what is now the Washington-Idaho border released unimaginably massive lava eruptions that blanketed huge portions of Washington and Oregon with basalt. Between approximately 15 million and 6 million years ago, these flows spread through the northern Willamette Valley, leaving basalt that would later be exposed on hillsides.


Rub a sedimentary soil between your fingers, and it feels "like talcum powder," Anderson says. "It's really super-dry." That makes more work for the vine-tender, who must enrich the brittle dirt with plenty of compost and cover crops.

The payoff: That difficult soil yields "powerful, more structured wines," according to Anderson, especially if the vines are older.

After a couple of decades, these vines "have these incredible roots systems because they've gone down deep in search of water and minerals," Anderson says.

Mozeico describes typical sedimentary-soil characteristics in pinot noir as dark color, black fruit, cola, coffee and chocolate.

(Fans of the Ribbon Ridge, Yamhill-Carlton District and McMinnville appellations of the Willamette Valley will be nodding their heads here, as these regions are primarily composed of sedimentary soils.)

Winemakers might wait longer to bottle pinot noirs from sedimentary soils because they tend to be less approachable when young; by the same token, these wines benefit from cellar age.

"They are slow-developing, a little more austere," Anderson says. "It might take people a little longer to wrap their heads around these wines."

Name to remember: The mustard-tinted Willakenzie is the best-known sedimentary soil in the Willamette Valley.

A taste of geology: Western Oregon was once the floor of an 8,000-foot-deep sea. Starting -- as with the aforementioned lava flows -- about 15 million years ago, the Pacific and North American tectonic plates collided, lifting up this ocean floor and creating the Coast Range and the Cascade Mountains.

Willakenzie soil is composed of the marine sediment of that former seafloor. As the collisions continued, the hills of the Willamette Valley were formed, with the top layer of volcanic soil exposed in some places and the lower layer of sedimentary soil revealed in others.


Loess, or windblown silty loam, is the shallowest of our three main soil types.

"There is always something underlying," Mozeico says. Brown and ashy, its texture is somewhere in between sticky volcanic and dusty sedimentary. It tends to be fertile, but it drains well and erodes easily, which requires careful vineyard management.

The pinot noirs that come from this soil "tend to have brighter red fruit, with an earthiness to them, and sometimes a little bit of white pepper on the finish," Mozeico says; the soil also may contribute to a brighter acidity in the wine. Loess sites are relatively rare in the Willamette Valley but can be found in the Chehalem Mountains.

Name to remember: Brown and fertile LaurelWood is the region's key loess-type soil.

A taste of geology: The youngest of our three main soil types, loess is composed of silt, left by the retreat of Ice Age glaciers, that was blown onto the valley's hillsides between 1 million and 50,000 years ago.

Follow Oregon's wine scene with Katherine Cole on Twitter at twitter.com/kcoleuncorked and on YouTube at youtube.com/kcoleuncorked. E-mail her at

20 May 2011

20may- just amazing.
to my eyes and ears, a beautiful, unexpected, haunting interplay of balletic pop and lock and chamber music. like nothing i've seen before and something i'd like to see emerge as a genre.

20may - see this beer?

we love this beer.
new to this market. gorgeous belgian tripel style with this incredibly smooth, clean finish.
i mention all of this as an almost grudging acknowledgement of its being available here. we want people to try this - it's an experience we enjoyed so thoroughly and viscerally that we wanted to share it- but, because of how little is available, we're almost inclined to drink it ourselves. seriously. it came up in conversation.
so... it's available.
and if it is suddenly not, then i'm sure we don't know what you're talking about...

16 May 2011

16may- potential bev reps no nonsense guide to courting baan sawan
A quick rundown on what I look for in a new wine/beer distributor. First, I’m not looking for a new distributor. However, I said that when I had 3 and then I meant it when I had 4 and then I really meant it when I had 5 and then and so on. So I’m afraid this is going to be an uphill battle but if you’re ready for it here are some tips to help. These are also tips to courting most any new account that truly cares about its beverage list and sees it as an integral pillar of their restaurant philosophy.

  • First and foremost: give me a current portfolio. I can’t stress this enough. Hardcopy is better but emailed is acceptable. I want to be as good a client as I want you to be a good rep and, unlike in dating, there is a quick and easy way to learn about what you have to offer and that’s your portfolio/price sheet. I will look it over (don’t tell me that it’s too lengthy to give to me. If you’re worried about my comprehension and desire to go through it, don’t. if your company has a book that big it can probably afford to print one out. If there’s another reason, fine, but don’t worry about the length of a book being too much for me.) and cross-reference it with the other companies with whom I do business (this is why I prefer hardcopy.) If there are enough products that are unique enough or priced more attractively to warrant fairly frequent orders then we’ve got ourselves a relationship. If, however, there aren’t enough then it would save us both a lot of time and effort if we just agree to go our separate ways.
  • Make an appointment. Cold calls are tricky. One over the telephone is risky because I can easily ignore it and saying “no” is always easier over the phone. But showing up unexpected can often be an inconvenience and is almost always an imposition. The best approach would be to be a customer first and then introduce yourself as a rep. This also helps with the next thing.
  • Be familiar with the menu (both beverage and food.) Before the first words of a sales pitch come out you should know what we do and what we offer. These days many restaurant’s menus are available online so if your company doesn’t reimburse or if you don’t feel like shelling out for dinner (fair enough, in these days of woe and want) you still have an opportunity to familiarize yourself with the style of the restaurant. If you don’t see anything mainstream on my list it’s because I don’t want it there. If you see that I’m selling varietals like godello and mencia by the glass this should indicate that I know a least a little bit about wine and therefore don’t need to be told that articles everywhere say torrontes and gewurztraminer work well with Thai food. It’s probably not on the menu because I’ve made the decision not to offer one. Unless I can’t find one I like, which leads me to
  • Before suggesting what you think I‘m missing, ask me what I think I might need. Your opinion as a bev rep is valuable because, presumably, you know your products and any potentially attractive special pricing. But I know my market, my menu, what sells and, more importantly, what doesn’t. And I don’t think any menu “needs” anything specifically. My menu doesn’t need a cabernet sauvignon by the glass. Frankly, I don’t think it needs a chardonnay but I really like the one we’ve got right now. But sometimes I’ll find myself between varietals or styles and am therefore open to suggestions. Ask me my reasoning behind not having a pinot blanc or a tempranillo, don’t tell me that I need one.
  • Ask me what I like to drink. I’m astonished at how almost nobody ever asks this. It’s one of the first questions that I will ask you. The menu is a good indication but this conversation starter will tell you what I look for in a wine/beer. When I ask you it’s partially to give me an indication of what you’re likely to bring out to taste as well as where we’re likely to stand with each other. If the bulk of your tastes and experience is Old World then we’ll probably have a lot in common. If your experience is primarily New World then we may not have as much but that’s a region with which I’m less familiar and one I’m eager to learn about. Our tastes may be different but that could mean that our different focusses could lead to lively conversation and the rounding out our educations.
  • Please don’t tell me about points. I don’t care. This will not make a wine more attractive to me. In fact, the higher the points the less likely that it will be to my taste. I want your opinion and your synthesis.
  • Have a hook. your portfolio should have at least one emphasis in which it excels. It suggests an understanding, an appreciation, and a style. We want to buy from a personality, not just a breadth of choices.
  • Never bullshit about how much you know. Even if I don’t catch it, someone probably will and it’ll make you and your company look bad. “I don’t know” and “I’ll find out” are always perfectly acceptable answers.

So. That’s probably long enough, though by no means everything. But this should be enough to give some idea of how a bev rep should approach a potential account. We have a great deal on our plates already and many of us aren’t looking for anybody new but the allure of a wonderful new wine is always tempting. But what’s wonderful and new is different for everyone.

Good luck; this is a relationship so there is going to be an account out there with whom you’ll work great. Maybe it’s us, maybe it’s not but this town is still growing and the intelligence of its wine and beer landscape is growing, too.

13 May 2011

13May- Crap. wine eyes bigger than my fridges
... and the list... come buy up some by-the-bottle stuff because squeezed in bottles are beginning to slide out when i open the fridge doors.

and there's a bunch that didn't make the list, in red, white, rose, and sparklings so feel free to ask about what else is available

06 May 2011

06May- Baan/Bone-in BBQ on saturdays!
it's a thing now!
so swing by 11.30 to 2 on saturdays for scott hall's incredible take on bbq and enjoy our beer and wine pairings. marshall and i are also working on carefully engineered fruit/mimosa pairings (read: we sat here all morning tasting mimosas with a couple kinds of sparklings and a variety of fruit to maximize their taste potentials. hard work... but eat the damn fruit, guys. we actually did work hard on choosing them.)
and every saturday we should have at least one new bbq exclusive beer or wine we feel will work well with the food and or the beautiful afternoon and that won't be available on our regular dinner menu.

the mimosa trials

04 May 2011

05may-a quick word on our not taking reservations
we've been getting several calls lately regarding this weekend (not only graduation weekend but mother's day weekend, the mere mention of which makes most restaurateurs wince with memories of the past and brace for the future.) and we've had to break the news that we don't offer reservations.
at all, i'm afraid.
no matter the variations of circumstances and synonyms one might use to try make a reservation our refusal is necessary because of the size and nature of our business. with only nine tables and an atmosphere that tries to stress enjoyment and contentment over rapid table turn-over we simply have no idea how long a given party might want to stay with us. and therefore we could never guarantee with any degree of certainty the availability of a table.
we can make suggestions such as come early (we rarely - which is not to say it hasn't happened on several occasions- fill up upon opening at 5.30.) or limit your party to four or fewer, as most parties exceeding four would require tables to be joined.

So i guess this post is just to clarify that we don't offer reservations not to inconvenience anyone but to reduce the possibility of inconvenience.

and also, i suppose, to stress the fact that we have no idea of what this weekend will hold for us.
but i'm fairly sure it will be some level of incredibly busy.

03 May 2011

03may- a video on how to spit wine
this is a charming video on how to spit wine. it's also an immersion course in french and gesticulation.

comment cracher le vin avec élégance by Miss_GlouGlou