Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Lunch Date with Alloro Vineyard for #PinotInTheCity

As a corollary to the Pinot in the City activities, I attended a lunch focused on one of the Willamette Valley wineries - Alloro Vineyard located in the Chehalem Mountains AVA.  Owner and Vineyard Manager, David Nemarnik along with winemaker Tom Fitzpatrick invited me to join them at the Range Restaurant to learn more about the winery and their portfolio.

Alloro translates to Laurel in Italian and can refer to Laurel Ridge where the 78 acre estate resides or perhaps the laurelwood silt that provides a loess-like component to the soil. David Nemarnik planted the first vines in 1999 and as an experienced farmer is also the Vineyard Manager. His property also includes produce, orchards, and even livestock - a comprehensive family farm. Sustainability is a prominent lifestyle choice in Oregon and Nemarnik practices LIVE - Low Input Viticulture & Enology. The concept behind LIVE is that farming shouldn't be just following rules in order to be certified - but enact practices that benefit the entire ecosystem. Nemarnik gave an example where sulfur is used in organic farming as a fungicide - yet sulfur also kills beneficial insects. LIVE encourages the use of commercial fungicides that are specifically designed to leave beneficial insects unharmed. (I hope I got that right.)

Nemarnik also gave an overview of the Chehalem Mountains AVA, the largest sub-AVA within the Willamette Valley AVA and the last to be designated.  There are three distinct areas within the AVA that differ in soil composition. The northwest faces the ocean and contains sandstone and marine sediment, whereas the southeastern section is derived from volcanic activity. The northeast side contains soil deposited from the prevailing winds created silty, loess soils - hence Laurel Ridge and Alloro Vineyard.

The winery is a small operation, we are talking just 2,000 cases annual production which makes their presence in the Washington DC and NYC markets quite surprising.  Winemaker Tom Fitzpatrick joined Alloro in 2010 and his UC Davis education and Burgundy training is well suited for Alloro's two primary varieties, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  In the past Oregon Chardonnay was not respected and Nemarnik described how the original vineyards were planted with a poor choice of clone. Eventually, vineyards planted the Dijon clones 76 & 96 which are more suitable to the Willamette Valley climate. The 2012 Alloro Chardonnay was barrel fermented (20% new oak) and is a fresh wine, with white fruit notes followed by a nice roundness in the palette. Very nice.

Fitzpatrick applies a minimalistic wine making approach, allowing the wine to represent the vineyard as well as the year.  That doesn't mean he's not active. The cellar contains over 80 fermenting or aging barrels and for the Pinot Noir he must determine which wine will be designated for their Alloro or Riservata labels.  The Pinot grapes are four Dijon clones and all the juice is fermented in barrel. In 2011, 1,400 cases of the Alloro Pinot Noir were created - the winery's largest production.  This is a silky smooth wine, dark fruit forward with a creamy mid-palette with very smooth tannins. Very nice. At the same time, 300 cases of their barrel selection reserve - 2011 Alloro Riservata Pinot Noir - were produced. Once again dark fruit dominates with a larger mouthfeel the same creamy texture, but this time an addition of spice and more acidity on the finish. Wow. This is why the Willamette Valley is know for Pinot Noir; I need to visit soon.

If in Northern Virginia, the Alloro wines as distributed by Kysela Pere et Fils, Ltd and are available in my hometown at the Vienna Vintner. Pair with Portland's Foghorn Stringband. Cheers.
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