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

Castello di Farnetella Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG 2015

Estate: Castello di Farnetella is located in the province of Siena in Tuscany, Italy. The name Farnetella derives from farnia, “the English oak”, which grows in great profusion at Farnetella. The Poggiali family [owners of the renowned Fèlsina estate] purchased the historic 432 hectare estate with its 56 hectares of vineyards in 1981.

Fèlsina is headed by Domenico and Giuseppe Poggiali along with Giovanni Poggiali, the oldest of Giuseppe’s three sons. Fattoria di Fèlsina is renowned as one of the greatest vineyards in the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany, producing “one of the finest ranges of age worthy and complex Chianti bottlings in all of Italy”.

Philosophy: “A profound respect for the Tuscan traditions of yesterday.”

Winemaking: As with all of Fèlsina’s properties, the vineyards are farmed organically and sustainably, additionally, Castello di Farnetella is also practicing biodynamic methods. Grapes are hand harvested from vineyards with loam, sand, clay and chalky soils. Aged in large oak botti for 8-12 months, followed by 3 months in the bottle.

Tasting Notes: Transparent ruby red in colour, with aromas of cherry, leather, black pepper, toasted oak along with a trace of floral. All the cherries [red, black and a streak of sour] layered over a pepper spice and earth core, framed by fresh acidity and dry tannins. Black cherry, tobacco and a wisp of spiced oak linger between each sip. Super versatile at the table, and a great value. [It was fantastic with roasted cauliflower, lentil stew with cheddar, thyme and ricotta.]

90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot
Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG
Italy
Estate Bottled by Fèlsina S.P.A. Società Agricola Castelnuovo Berardenga
13% Alcohol
$11
Enjoy now thru 2025

Rated 89 points by Wine Advocate

Santa Julia ‘Organica’ Malbec Mendoza 2017

Estate: The Zuccardi family has been making wine in Mendoza since 1963, when Alberto Zuccardi planted his first vines. Now in his 90’s, Alberto is known as a pioneering force in both Mendoza and the Uco Valley. Today, the multiple estate vineyards and winery are headed by Alberto’s son, José, along with José’s eldest son, Sebastián, and daughter, Julia [the 3rd generation].

Established in the 1990’s in honor of Julia, “Santa Julia represents the Zuccardi Family’s commitment to achieve the highest quality levels through sustainable practices, contributing to protect the environment and to develop the community”. José’s only daughter, she is now the director of the Familia Zuccardi winery. The family is committed to achieving the highest quality wines through sustainable practices, working to protect the environment, wildlife preservation, water conservation and developing the community. Expanding to the Uco Valley, the family opened Valle de Uco Winery last year, where winemakers focus on research and development, while studying the variables that influence wines throughout the Uco Valley.

Philosophy: “To be natural, environmentally friendly and grow in harmony with the community of which we are part.”

Winemaking: Grapes are form the Santa Rosa and Maipu Vineyards in Mendoza. Vinified in stainless steel tanks, skin maceration for 10 days.

Tasting Notes: Red violet in colour with aromas of grape preserves, black cherry, earth and soft cigar box spice. Ripe blackberry, cherry and plum are laced with tobacco leaf and a trace of baking chocolate. Good acidity and light tannins add a refreshing, easy drinking character. Dark berry fruit and a hint of licorice and earth linger into the lengthy finish. A lovely sipper on its own, or with spiced, earthy dishes.

100% Malbec
Mendoza
Argentina
Produced & Bottled by Bodega Santa Julia
13% Alcohol
$11 [average price]
Enjoy now thru 2021

Sample submitted for editorial consideration.

Château des Charmes Gamay Noir Niagara-On-The-Lake VQA 2015

Estate: Paul Bosc brought his young family to the Niagara on the Lake region of Canada in the 1960’s “with the idea that growing our own grapes was the best way to make fine wine”. Paul is a 5th generation French winegrower who holds degrees in Viticulture and Oenology from the University of Burgundy in Dijon, France. Founded in 1978, Château des Charmes consists of 280 acres of vineyards in four locations all within the Niagara-on-the-Lake region.

Paul established himself as a pioneer in the region, from planting traditional French varietals to employing cutting edge techniques such as installing wind machines to protect the vines from the cold. Their extensive cellars are geothermal and do not require any heating or cooling, especially impressive considering how cold Canadian winters can be. In addition to being recognized for their progressive, groundbreaking work with traditional French grapes and methods, their wines have garnered accolades for their balance, finesse and quality. Paul Sr still has an active role in the vineyards, his son Paul Jr is President of the estate, and Paul Jr’s wife Michèle is the Director of Marketing.

Philosophy: “We are custodians of the land.” Crafting wines that are “food friendly and age worthy. We hope you will call them delicious”.

Winemaking: Committed from the very beginning to sustainable practices, the family is a charter member of Sustainable Winegrowing Ontario. Chemical treatments are never used, and sustainable methods such as hedge vine canopies, and under drainage are utilized. Naturally occurring yeasts are used for the majority of the wines. All by-products from the winemaking process [stems, skins, seeds] are returned to the vineyards as natural fertilizer. Fermented and aged in stainless steel.

Tasting Notes: Bright garnet in colour with aromas of cherry, earth and a floral trace. Cherry, red currant, pomegranate, hint of sour cherry and crushed rock minerality are framed by silky tannins and fresh acidity, finishing dry and fruity. Peppy and refreshing, super versatile at the table.

100% Gamay
Niagara-On-The-Lake VQA
Canada
Estate Bottled by Château des Charmes
13% Alcohol
$16 [Canadian Dollars]
Enjoy now

 

Giacomo Fenocchio Dolcetto d’Alba DOC 2016

Estate: The Fenocchio family has been producing wine from their land in the heart of the Bussia in Monforte d’Alba since 1894. In 1964, Giacomo Fenocchio took over for the estate with the goal of crafting the finest wines in Barolo, so he purchased prime parcels in some of the best crus in the Langhe. Today, Giacomo’s son Claudio heads the estate and continues his father’s tradition of crafting character driven wines. Considered as one of the next stars in Barolo, Claudio is known for his minimalist, non-internationalist approach. He makes 11 different wines from 14 hectares of vineyards. His wines are renowned for their “level of terroir clarity that is only found in the top echelon of producers”.

Winemaking: Following agricultural practices passed on for 5 generations, the estate is both organic and sustainable. Grapes are from 30 year old vines in a 1 hectare vineyard in front of the cantina in Bussia. Fermentation and maceration on the skins for 10 days, aged for six months in stainless steel.

Tasting Notes: Red-violet in colour with aromas of cherry, licorice, black pepper and smoky earth. Cherry, cranberry, blackberry, a streak of sour cherry, along with fresh acidity are highlighted by baking spices and subtle earth notes. The finish is dry and fruity, displaying the distinctive refreshing bitterness of the Dolcetto grape. Friendly and well balanced, fantastic with a wide variety of dishes.

100% Dolcetto
Dolcetto d’Alba DOC
Italy
Estate Bottled by Giacomo Fenocchio S.S.A.
13% Alcohol
$14
Enjoy now thru 2019

Rated 91 points by Wine Spectator