IPNC: Do You Know Your Own Wine?
For my group--Group B--Saturday of IPNC featured a visit to an area winery. Per standard IPNC procedures, we got on our designated bus without knowing where we were going. I recognized several winemakers on the bus. Among them was Bob Brittan, well known owner/winemaker of Brittan Vineyards (and before that, long-time winemaker at Stag's Leap) with his wife, Ellen. That meant that we weren't going to Brittan...the hosts for our destination would be at their winery waiting to greet us, not riding with us. Also on the bus were Drew Voit of Oregon's Harper-Voit Wines (previously, winemaker at Shea Wine Cellars), Piero Incisa of Argentina's Bodega Chacra (the family's better known winery is in Italy, where their flagship wine is the legendary Sassicaia), and from New Zealand, Mt. Beautiful's Sam Weaver.
It was a relatively short drive from McMinnville to our destination: Maysara. We were welcomed by owner Moe Momtazi and his family (including daughter/winemaker Tahmiene Momtazi). What gracious and friendly people! I'd heard that before--that the Momtazis are among the nicest people in the Valley. They casually mentioned that they were not scheduled to host an IPNC group this year--but someone else had dropped out at the last minute, so they stepped in. They only mentioned it because it was obvious that while they welcomed us, they were setting up for another event that would take place right after our visit. It was really impressive that they could do such a wonderful job hosting about 40 of us from IPNC while setting up for what looked like it would be a fabulous wedding for ~150 or so soon after.
Part of the reason they could do that was their absolutely stunning new winery! It is the largest family winery I can remember--and beautifully done with rustic timber and stone all harvested from the property. It helps, of course, that Moe has construction businesses, with the knowledge to builid what he wants and the work force to carry it out. The winery was remarkably spacious--just one example: the doors opening onto a vista of the vineyards are 74' wide...and at that size, they're in proportion with the rest of the winery!
Moe and his wife, Flora, and Tahmiene gave us a tour of the lovely winery and talked about their philosophy of grape growing and winemaking. They have come to believe strongly in biodynamics. That was not a surprise to me. Jimi Brooks's day job when he died in 2004 was winemaker at Maysara. Jimi, who was among the biodynamic pioneers in Oregon, certainly influenced Moe...but I suspect the reverse was true as well. In those early days, they were feeling their way...and spent considerable time talking about what they were doing and why. I had a brief chance to speak privately with Moe about Jimi...he said they were very close. Chris Williams--currently winemaker at Brooks--was Jimi's assistant at Maysara.
Of course we sipped Maysara wines (white and rosé) and munched on delicious hors d'oeuvres while we wandered around the winery. Then it was down to the barrel room. There were a number of round tables arrayed in front of a head table, which had five places facing the room. In front of every seat (head table and rounds) was a place mat with five glasses of red wine, identified only as wine 1, wine 2, etc. The game was explained.
The five winemakers--the four from the bus and Tahmiene Momtazi--sat at the head table. The wines arrayed in front of each person (including them) represented the wines that each of the winemakers had brought to IPNC. Each winemaker would stand up and take two or three minutes to talk about their vineyard, their grapes, the vintage they featured and the wine they had made...describing it's characteristics. Then we'd all have about 15 minutes to taste the wines, make notes, and decide which wine was which.
And I do mean "all!" The winemakers had to go through the same process the rest of us did. And they had to go first, describing what they thought was in each wine glass and why.
So how did they do? Interesting! And soothing for the spirits of those of us who have sometimes struggled with blind tastings! Not so well. In fact, only two of the five winemakers even successfully identified their own wines! And none came close to getting them all right.
Those results were consistent with the results the A Group had the day before. On that occasion, the majority of the winemakers identified the Brooks as the wine they had made. That might be the ultimate compliment--and in a way, that's appropriate...since we were at Maysara, where Jimi Brooks had been the winemaker.
How did I do? Not so well. I got the Harper-Voit right. But I had the other two Willamette Valley wines--the Brittan and the Maysara--switched. So did Bob and Ellen Brittan, and a well-known sommelier from New York at our table, so I was in good company. And I had the two Southern Hemisphere pinots switched. Ah, well. My logic was reasonable, even if the results weren't great. It was interesting and fun.
Then we were up to the tasting room for a five-course lunch (with Maysara wines). Chef Jack Strong from the Chinook Winds Casino prepared a delicious menu that intentionally featured Native American influence in each course...and he described that influence as he and his team presented them. That made it really interesting as well as really tasty.
Somewhere around 2 pm we settled happily back into our seats on the bus for the ride back to Linfield College. I suspect if the ride had been a little longer, there would have been quite a few naps on the way back. But it was a short ride.
So the naps had to wait until we got back. But they were important. After all--there was a lot more wine to drink that afternoon and that evening!