Buzz: Heritage

Back to basics in Oregon, The Real American Buzz & Volcanic wine

Published: 9/01/2019


Back to basics in Oregon

Portland secured its eco-hip bona fides a decade ago in TV series Portlandia. Next up could be Winelandia. South of Portland, Willamette Valley and Southern Oregon wine countries are hipsterly exploring new winemaking frontiers. A few are exemplifying that winemaking isn’t only about how it lands on the palate but how it lands on the earth. 

When Left Coast Estate makes wine, it does so with a tiny  solar-powered footprint. It preserves endangered oaks and salmon, all the while producing a bright Pinot Gris. The  Willamette vineyard also salvaged a 1950s Chevy flatbed  that guests can ride in as a tasting experience. 

The two Percheron draft horses at Illahe Vineyards are the  true horsepower behind the 1899 Pinot Noir. The wines are produced without any electricity, harkening back to the days of yesteryear. The limited cases take three days to reach points in Portland where it’s sold. That’s because the 96-mile distance is covered by canoe, mule-drawn stagecoach, and bicycle. Visitors are invited to join in on the expedition.

Soon Cowhorn Wine will cultivate Périgord black truffles, seeded in its one planted acre of hazelnut trees about a decade ago. Alongside the Applegate River, the polyculture, biodynamic farm is the first tasting room in the world to be Living Building Challenge-certified, a prestigious eco-designation. Of the 117 acres, 29 are used for plants and produce—asparagus, cherries, hazelnuts—and grapes that go into its outstanding Rhône wines.


Heritage Grapes

The Real American Buzz

The newest buzz is also among the oldest: Wines made from American heritage and hybrid grapes such as Chambourcin, Baco Noir, Lomanto, Wetumka, La Crescent, Marquette, and Jefferson. These aren’t exactly names that roll off the tongue, but they may soon be. Many of these wines are only available where they are made, in the Eastern United States, so you’ll need to pack a bag. There’s no passport necessary to drink in the history. These destinations are ideal for a thirst-quenching Thanksgiving vacation.

1. TerraVox excels at rare grapes from its base in the hamlet of Weston, Missouri along the Missouri River. Hundreds of steamboats plied the river in the 1850s, and Buffalo Bill resided here. Make it a double with a visit to Holladay Distillery  for a bourbon tasting.

2. In the fall-leaf paradise of Vermont, six miles south of  Burlington, Shelburne Vineyards is shining the light on  unfamiliar grape varieties with stellar wines such as Louise Swenson, a rare white blend. Lake Champlain is right in sight.

3. In the shadows of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia, Thomas Jefferson tried to establish vineyards. They  never took off. But time has passed, and today the region combines bucolic charm, history, and excellent winemaking. The wines are made mostly from European varieties, but they’ve got 18th-century roots. Visit Barboursville Vineyards, on the former plantation of James Barbour, governor during the War of 1812 and friend to Thomas Jefferson.


Lava Lovers

What’s hotter than molten rock? Volcanic wine.

The explosive, often destructive influence of a volcanic eruption is rarely associated with anything delicate, let alone nuanced. But around the world, wine growing regions with volcanic soils are producing intriguingly complex wines for a variety of palates.

For vines, the struggle is real. Volcanic soils—pumice, ash, basalt, and hardened lava—only account for one percent of the earth’s surface, but they create some remarkably harsh growing environments. The iron-rich soil chemistry and lack of water-absorbent clay in these geological layers cause vines to struggle, which not only produces scrappy vines, it also creates deliciousness.

Wines from volcanic soils vary greatly and tend to display higher acidity and minerality, along with saline characteristics, according to Master Sommelier John Szabo, author of Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit, and Power. Roots absorb iron and various soil components in volcanic areas, which contribute to the development of savory flavors, along with a distinct tannic structure.

To experience these qualities, look for wines from Mt. Etna, Sicily; Somló, Hungary; The Azores, Portugal; Canary Islands, Spain; Campania, Italy; Soave, Italy; and Lake County, California. Or, better yet, follow your inner volcanologist and go taste them yourself.

As seen in the issue Harvest 2019 of Touring & Tasting Magazine.