Willamette, Dammit! Wine & Dinner with Brian O’Donnell of Belle Pente

 

One of the many cozy lounge areas at Gedney Farm.

I have been fortunate to meet many of my fellow wine lovers in person after getting to know them on Twitter and Instagram. Sommelier Peter Miscikoski and I share a love of organic, biodynamic, character driven wines from small producers and a love of post-punk and goth music. [Follow him here peterm_99 ] In addition to his usual duties as sommelier, Peter hosts a “Sommelier Series” of winemaker dinners and events at Gedney Farm in the Berkshire mountains in Massachusetts. Two restored Normandy style barns crafted for the finest stallions and Jersey cattle during the Berkshire’s “Gilded Age” are the backbone of Gedney Farm. Surrounded by 200 acres of rolling pastures, the barns [one a 16 room boutique hotel, the other a restaurant and event space] are both exceptionally preserved and strikingly modern. Check out their innovative and extensive amenities here.

I was super excited when Peter invited my husband and I out to Gedney Farm for a winemaker dinner with Brian O’Donnell, owner/winemaker at Belle Pente in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. Accompanying the selection of Belle Pente wines was a specially curated tasting menu from Executive Chef Rob Burnell. Chef Burnell expertly crafted a menu reflecting the notes of Spring, yet with a hearty richness as the temperatures are unseasonably cold. He particularly included root vegetables to compliment the earthy character in the wines. A true farm to table menu, all ingredients are organic, sustainably sourced and local.

Brian is incredibly knowledgeable and down to earth, he happily chronicled the story behind each wine, along with his 20+ year journey in winemaking, answering all questions along the way. The title stems from this East Coast/Western Europe girl being enlightened to the correct pronunciation of Willamette. Brian, himself originally from New York, was informed immediately upon his arrival in Oregon that it is pronounced “Will-AM-it, dammit”.

Owner and winemaker Brian O’Donnell of Belle Pente.

Estate: Passionate about crafting high quality wines with respect for the environment, Brian O’Donnell, along with his wife Jill, founded Belle Pente in 1992. They purchased a 70-acre farm in what is now the heart of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. Belle Pente [bell-pont’] means “beautiful slope” and refers to the estate’s hillside vineyards, along with reflecting “the inspiration that we draw from the exquisite wines of Burgundy and Alsace”. The 16 acres of vineyards are 240-500 feet in elevation, planted with Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay. For more information on the estate vines, terroir and the dedicated, neighboring vineyards that additional fruit is sourced from, click here.

Winemaking: Both organic and biodynamic viticulture is used, along with dry farming and intensive canopy management. Sheep, goats and cows roam the property, providing natural weed control and compost. Cover crops are rotated, grasses planted for biodiversity, and forest left for buffer. Almost everything they use is generated on the farm.

All grapes are hand harvested. The winery has a 3 level gravity-flow facility “designed for gentle, natural winemaking in small lots, with minimal handling and manipulation, to preserve varietal integrity and the unique attributes of the time and place in which the wines were grown”.

Philosophy: “Great wine is made in the vineyard and merely nurtured in the winery.”

Belle Pente Muscat Willamette Valley 2015

Tasting Notes: Super aromatic, with lush peach, apricot, candied ginger and white flowers. Juicy apricot and pear with a squeeze of lemon accented by a floral hint and balancing acidity. Finishing dry and fruity, keeping you reaching for more. Dry and refreshing, a perfect companion to hot summer days.
100% Muscat
11.8% Alcohol

Winemaker’s Note: Brian recommends this as an aperitif, or with first courses, and that it is fantastic with asparagus!

Belle Pente Pinot Gris Willamette Valley 2014


Tasting Notes: Enticing aromas of marzipan, golden fruit, wildflowers and a drizzle of honey. Fresh acidity frames yellow apple, apricot and a trace of ginger spice, finishing dry and fruity. Easy drinking and fantastic on its own or at the table.
100% Pinot Gris
14.1% Alcohol
$18

Winemaker’s Note: Aged half in neutral wood barrels [a combination of oval barrels that are 4 years in age, and larger barrels 10 years old], half in stainless steel for about 10 months. This combination allows for richness and weight but retains freshness. Can be paired with everything, a terrific food wine.

Paired with avocado toast & spicy buttermilk cress salad.

Belle Pente Chardonnay Willamette Valley 2012 Continue reading

Chateau Maris ‘Le Carignan de Maris’ 2015

Estate: Named the “The Biodynamic Apostles of the Languedoc” by Wine Spectator, Chateau Maris is located at the eastern edge of the village of La Livinière at the foot of the Montagne Noire Mountains, in the Languedoc region of southern France. With a goal of “creating “grand cru-level” wines from La Livinière in the Minervois appellation, winemaker Robert Eden took over the estate in 1996. Eden converted the entire estate to biodynamic farming after trying different methods to revitalized the soils that had been rendered unusable due to the previous owner’s overuse of chemicals. Over the years his green approach and biodynamic processes have gained much recognition. He has built “the world’s first hemp cellar” that functions carbon neutrally. The hemp bricks not only capture carbon dioxide, but also maintain temperature and humidity so that heating or cooling is not needed.

Winemaking: Hand harvested from vines with a mixed soil of sandstone and clay, fermented for 1 month with natural yeasts in large concrete tanks.

Tasting Notes: Garnet in colour with aromas of cherry, raspberry, brambly vegetation, peppery spice and a shake of funk. Ripe, juicy fruit [blackberry cherry cranberry] is accented by a savoury streak, fresh acidity and good tannins. Crushed rock minerality, black pepper and a trace of licorice comprise the lengthy finish. Easy drinking on its own or with a wide variety of dishes, a phenomenal value. [It was fantastic with soy chorizo, roasted pepper, mushroom, ricotta, mozzarella  and cotija pizza.]

100% Carignan
IGP Coteaux des Peyriac
France
13.5% Alcohol
$11
Enjoy now thru 2019

An Afternoon Discovering the Beauty of Panzano Sangiovese at Podere Le Cinciole

The stunning view of the rolling hills of Panzano from the vineyards at Le Cinciole. Click on the photo for the full panorama.

I love wine. I love Tuscany. However, I am terrible at choosing which wineries to go to. I want to visit all of them and return to those I’ve been to and love. So rather than take up the arduous task of figuring out where to go [and the headache that is getting in and out of Florence in a car] I enlisted the assistance of Coral Sisk at Curious Appetite. I gave Coral a list of my favourite winery characteristics, such as family owned, sustainable, as natural as possible, expressive wines. She curated a day in the rolling, dramatic yet serene hills of Chianti Classico that was truly an amazing experience. [So amazing, she is putting together my next adventure!] Head over to Curious Appetite to see her bespoke food and wine tours both in and outside of Florence.

Le Cinciole is located in the heart of Chianti Classico, outside of the picturesque village of Panzano. Named after the property’s ancient Etruscan-Roman name, which designated the immediate area as “the lands of Quintius,” the estate was purchased in 1991 by Milan natives Luca and Valeria Orsini. Leaving their city life and careers behind, they radically changed directions and dedicated themselves to revitalizing the land and vines, and rebuilding the cellar, simultaneously learning how to become grape growers and winemakers. Their commitment, devotion and hard work paid off, today they are recognized for their quality and expressive wines. Wine Advocate has declared Le Cinciole as one of their favourite Chianti Classico estates, saying “its wines epitomize fragrant, elegant high-altitude Sangiovese…for finesse, focus, and personality these wines are hard to beat”.

I was fortunate to have Valeria take me on a tour of the vineyards and cellar, along with a guided tasting of her wines. She was warm, hospitable and wonderfully patient with all of my questions. Her dedication and commitment to the land is exhilarating, and that energizing quality is one of the many characteristics reflected in their wines.

The estate is certified organic and only natural and sustainable products and methods are used. Fertilizer is obtained from composting the grape skins and the pruning bits from the vines and trees, along with manure. Wheat grass and barley are grown in between the vines. Not only do they supply nutrients to the soil, the roots help aerate, as well. With the life of the soil their focus, they also work with biodynamic preparations. Their dedication to organic farming [and Valeria’s organization efforts] prompted the surrounding vineyards who were not already following environmentally friendly practices to adapt to organic farming. Currently, 90% of the neighboring vineyards are organic.

Compost pile of grape skins and pruning bits.

Over the years, and particularly the past few years with unprecedented extreme weather conditions, Valeria has seen how valuable these methods are; their healthy soil and strong vines were able to stand up to the extreme heat that the area had last summer.

The estate has 13 hectares of vines [9 hectares are Sangiovese vines, the remainder are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Caniaolo], along with 5 hectares of olive groves. At 400-450 meters in elevation, their vineyards are some of the highest in the area. Their Petresco vineyard has limestone soil, the rest of the soils are the famed Chianti Classico galestro mixed with sand and chalk.

Galestro, shale, clay and limestone.

Only natural yeasts are used. Depending on the wine, cement tanks, eggs or large barrels are used for aging. Classical music is played in the cellar, as “it is good for people and good for wine”. Always experimenting and learning, Luca and Valeria are experimenting with crafting a wine without sulphites.

The cellar: Chianti Classico 2015 barrel aging, along with one of the cement eggs.

The Wines:

Podere Le Cinciole Rosato Toscana IGT 2016

From vines in argillaceous slate and Pietraforte sandstone soils. Grapes were picked a little early to maintain low alcohol. Following a brief maceration with the skins, only the free-run must is vinified. Aged in stainless steel, bottled in the spring the year after the harvest during the waning moon.

Light coral pink in colour with delicate aromas of summer ripe strawberry, a wisp of smoky earth and chalky minerality. Mineral driven, with strawberry, red currant and a hint of wild flowers. A drizzle of honey compliments the bright acidity, finishing dry and crisp. Lithe, clean and crisp, each cheerful sip disappears rather swiftly.

100% Sangiovese
11.5% Alcohol
$13 [average price]
Enjoy now

Podere Le Cinciole ‘Le Cinciole’ Chianti Classico DOCG 2014

Across Chianti Classico, 2014 was a very difficult year. At Le Cinciole they had to deal with very low temperature in the summer, along with white flies. The weather affected the grapes to such a degree that their production was significantly decreased. Rather than make 6 fair wines, they selected the best grapes across the vineyards, and cut their production down to only 3 wines; Rosato, Chianti Classico and Aluigi. They were unable to make olive oil at all.

Grapes are from vineyards 450 meter in elevation, with Pietraforte, sandstone schists and clay-calcareous marly soil. Natural vinification with spontaneous fermentation in cement tanks, followed by 18 months in oak casks.

Transparent ruby red in colour with aromas of candied violet, raspberry, strawberry, cherry, damp terracotta, and a shake of white pepper. Well balanced, with cherry, raspberry and earth framed by silky tannins and bright acidity. Cherry, spice and a clean, earthy minerality return on the dry, elegant finish. Light and agile, an easy drinking, fantastic Chianti Classico, that becomes even more remarkable in view of the challenging vintage of 2014.

100% Sangiovese
13% Alcohol
$18 [average price]
Enjoy now

Podere Le Cinciole ‘Aluigi’ Riserva Chianti Classico DOCG 2013

In honor of Valeria’s father, ‘Aluigi’ means “dedicated to Luigi”. Sangiovese grapes are carefully selected from a single vineyard. Soil is galestro clay-limestone schist over sandstone. Natural vinification with spontaneous fermentation in cement tanks, aged in big barrels for 2 years, refined in cement vats for 1 year, followed by 6 months in the bottle. Unfiltered.

Brilliant ruby red in colour with delicate aromas of cherry, wild flowers, clay minerality, earth, herbs and a hint of anise. Well balanced and elegant, with layers of cherry, plum, black pepper, thyme, earth and a trace of sour cherry. Silky tannins and fresh acidity fuse into red fruits, baking spice and woodsy oak on the lengthy finish. Pure and clean, a spectacular expression of Sangiovese and the terroir of the hills of Panzano.

100% Sangiovese
13.5% Alcohol
$40 [average price]
Enjoy now thru 2028

Nero and Tigre, coming to say goodbye as we left.

Chateau Maris ‘La Touge’ Minervois La Livinière 2015

Estate: Named the “The Biodynamic Apostles of the Languedoc” by Wine Spectator, Chateau Maris is located at the eastern edge of the village of La Livinière at the foot of the Montagne Noire Mountains, in the Languedoc region of southern France. With a goal of “creating “grand cru-level” wines from La Livinière in the Minervois appellation, winemaker Robert Eden took over the estate in 1996. Eden converted the entire estate to biodynamic farming after trying different methods to revitalize the soils that had been rendered unusable due to the previous owner’s overuse of chemicals. Over the years his green approach and biodynamic processes have gained much recognition. He has built “the world’s first hemp cellar” that functions carbon neutrally. The hemp bricks not only capture carbon dioxide, but also maintain temperature and humidity so that heating or cooling is not needed.

Winemaking: Certified Biodynamic by Biodyvin. Grapes are sourced from vineyards with “hard and soft limestone and alluvial soils”. Only natural compost from the free roaming cattle is used as fertilizer. Fermented with natural yeasts, aged 16 months in a mix of concrete eggs and tank, unfined and unfiltered. Suitable for vegetarians and vegans. Both the bottle and label are from recycled sources.

Tasting Notes: Inky red-violet in colour with inviting strawberry, black cherry, pepper spice and meaty aromas. Pepper spice driven, with layers of black currant, cherry, strawberry and smoky earth supported by fresh acidity and silky tannins. Baking chocolate and fruit linger on the plush, dry finish. Sumptuous, yet agile, fantastic on its own or with hearty and/or spicy dishes.

70% Syrah, 30% Grenache
Minervois La Livinière
France
Bottled for Domaine des Comtes Méditerranéens by F-11160-315
14.5% Alcohol
$12
Enjoy now thru 2019

Rated 93 points by Robert Parker

Casebianche ‘Il Fric’ Rosato Paestum IGP 2016

Estate: Seeking a better quality life, Elisabetta Luorio and her husband Pasquale left their careers in architecture in Naples to return to Elisabetta’s family’s farm, Azienda Agricola Casebianche. The estate is located in the famed “Magna Grecia” coastal region of southern Italy that was settled by the Greeks in 800 BC. The 14 hectare property [of which 5.5 hectares are vineyard] is just inland from Agropoli in Campania, southwestern Italy. The area’s winemaking roots go all the way back to those ancient Greeks; grape cultivation and wine drinking are a predominant theme in the artifacts discovered in the region.

Passionate about non-interventionist winemaking, Elisabetta and Pasquale follow organic and biodynamic methods. In addition to the vines, there are also olive and fig trees, along with citrus groves. For an in depth look at the estate, check out their bio page on their importer’s site, Giannoni Selections.

Winemaking: Grapes are from the 1 hectare Dellemore vineyard with clay and limestone soils. Hand harvested, and gravity fed, a 6 hour maceration before skin removal gives the wine its intense colour. Bottled and re-fermented in the bottle by adding grape must to create its sparkling quality. No sugars, yeasts, or sulfites are added, not disgorged. Certified organic.

Tasting Notes: Copper-red in colour with aromas of fresh summer strawberry, wild flowers and a thump of Brothers Johnson funk. Chalky mineral driven, with fresh strawberry and raspberry gliding about light, frizzante bubbles. Finishing clean and fruity. Engaging, expressive, funky and refreshing, this was fantastic on its own, and with vegetable tartare and smoky polenta.

Winemaker’s Note: It is recommended to invert the bottle before opening in order to reintegrate the lees.

100% Aglianico
Paestum IGP
Italy
Estate Bottled by Azienda Agricola Casebianche
12% Alcohol
€14 [I paid around €20 in a restaurant in Florence.]
Enjoy now