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

Walla Walla Meets Wairau: The Expressive Single Vineyard Wines of Hillersden

Hillersden is located in the Upper Wairau Valley in Marlborough, New Zealand. The estate takes its name from the now long forgotten settler’s town of Hillersden, which was one of the country’s largest sheep stations. Owned today by the Forlong family, the winery is known for being the first family owned, single estate, wine label in the Upper Wairau Valley. Passionately committed to sustainability, solar energy, irrigation technologies, innovation in frost management and repurposing vineyard waste for productivity are just a few of the many methods and approaches they utilize in creating a fully sustainable vineyard. The entire family is dedicated to the honoring the rich history of the land and “creating a new legacy and home for the modern wine lover”. The 3 sons now each have a role in managing the estate, from creating the label art to marketing and vineyard and farm guidance.

I had the pleasure of a guided tasting with their passionate and friendly winemaker, Adam Kubrock. Adam began his wine journey crafting single vineyard Syrah and red wines in Walla Walla, Washington State. Enamored with the cool climate winegrowing in Marlborough, he spent the past 6 years at Indevin, New Zealand Wineries and Mahi “learning the heart and soul of Marlborough wine”.

Winemaker Adam Kubrock.

Hillersden Single Vineyard Legacy Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2015

Winemaking: Fermented in stainless steel, aged on light lees.

Tasting Notes: Light on its feet with sweet apple, peach and honeysuckle flavours balanced by bright acidity and an herbaceous streak. Fun, perky fizz carries thru to the clean mineral finish. Refreshing and light, a fun change of pace from Prosecco or Cava.
13% Alcohol
$18 [average price]

Hillersden Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Wairau Valley Marlborough 2016

Winemaking: Fermented in stainless steel, aged on fine lees to give the wine a refined texture to compliment the exuberant flavours. The wine was blended from 4 different vineyard parcels each contributing their own character.

Tasting Notes: Radiating with aromas of lemon, yellow apple, lime and grass. Apple, apricot, lemon and herbs are given a quick shake of white pepper, accenting the crisp, refreshing finish. A gorgeous balance of intense fruit and savoury elements.
13% Alcohol
$15 [average price]

Hillersden Single Vineyard Riesling Wairau Valley Marlborough 2015

Winemaking: Sheep chew the leaves to open the grapes up to the sun, grapes were picked young as they were not looking for the bell pepper flavours. Fermented in stainless steel.

Tasting Notes: Subtle petrol notes are ensconced with bright citrus, apple and honeysuckle flavours. The zippy, flinty mineral driven finish completes the refreshing character. Light, lively and changeable, it will disappear from your glass rather swiftly.
12% Alcohol
$15 [average price]

Hillersden Single Vineyard Pinot Gris Wairau Valley Marlborough 2016

Winemaking: Fermented in stainless steel, aged on light lees to build a refined texture and full palate.

Tasting Notes: Juicy and fresh, with vivid apple, pear and nectarine flavours. Cinnamon and ginger dusted pear linger tantalizingly between each summery sip.
13.5% Alcohol
$15[average price]

Hillersden Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Marlborough 2014

Winemaking: Grapes were sourced from high elevation terraced vineyards, wild fermented and aged just shy of 10 months in 25% new oak. Only 300 cases produced.

Tasting Notes: Light and elegant, with layers of blackberry, plum, cherry and raspberry spread across a floral core, accompanied by bright acidity and silky tannins. Traces of earth and baking spice linger on the fruit and floral finish.
13.5% Alcohol
$21 [average price]

 

 

Media event hosted by New Zealand Wine.

 

 

Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT 2014

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Estate: Tenutae Lageder [or Alois Lageder Wineries] was founded by Johann Lageder in 1823 in Alto Adige, northern Italy. Today, five generations later, Alois Lageder is at the helm of the family estate. Since the early 1990’s he has been a pioneering force at the estate; he expanded the vineyard holdings and transformed all of the viticulture practices to organic and biodynamic principles, and constructed a high tech, sustainable, solar powered winery. He is renowned for his commitment to ecological awareness, sustainable practices, as well as cultural projects involving art and music, believing that these are important sources of inspiration that “enhance the experience of wine”.

Philosophy: Simply stated: “to pay attention to the natural properties of our vineyards and to make the best possible use of them”. A more comprehensive explanation is: “to understand the ways in which the following relate to one another: the rhythms and forces of nature, the human being and cultural traditions, technology, the cosmos, the past and the future, tradition and life in the modern world”. To further explore their impressive ideology and biodynamic principles, please click here.

Winemaking: Committed to sustainable, holistic methods, they strive to carry organic and biodynamic principles from the vineyard into the winery with the use of “non-invasive procedures” along with the “most advanced technology” in the cellar. Grapes were sourced from vines 3-60 years old located in the southern part of Alto Adige with an elevation of 750-1380 feet. The soil is a blend of rocks and sand, with a distinguishing limestone content. Fermented in stainless steel tanks, aged for “approximately four months on the lees”.

Tasting Notes: Brilliant gold in colour with radiant aromas of apple blossom, chalk minerals and spice. Sunny and cheerful with a clean mineral streak running thru fresh apple and pear notes, the steely lemon finish adds to the irresistibility of this crisp, clean Pinot Grigio.

Suggested Food Parings from the Winery: Starters, fish and shellfish, poultry, white meat and mushrooms.

100% Pinot Grigio
Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT
Italy
Bottled by Alois Lageder
12.5% Alcohol
$13
Enjoy now thru 2018

Old York Cellars Gold Medal Winning Pinot Gris & Cabernet Sauvignon Tasting

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Two fantastic wines for summer bbq, patio and roof deck sipping. [Photobomb by Violet]

I had the pleasure of participating in a Virtual Vines discussion last month with winemaker Scott Gares of Old York Cellars and sommelier Laurin Dorman. Old York Cellars is located in the Ringoes section of Hunterdon County and contains some of the oldest vineyards in New Jersey. Owner David Wolin currently has 12 acres of vineyards, cultivating a diverse selection including Barbera, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, Syrah and Riesling. In addition to award winning wines and a lovely tasting room, they also hold special events such as art exhibits, yoga classes and Master Chef Dinners. Check out their website oldyorkcellars.com for current special offers and to purchase the wines below.

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Old York Cellars Pinot Gris 2013
Crafted in the French style, this is a heartier version of Pinot Grigio. A interesting example of winemaker prowess, Scott used R-2 Yeast, a yeast that is typically paired with Riesling; the result is the crisp apple character and the clean, dry finish. Incredibly pale gold in colour, this Pinot Gris exudes tart granny smith apple flavours that are backed by grapefruit zest, minerals and the tiniest trace of coconut. Lemon and pink grapefruit shine on the dry finish. Super refreshing, like taking a bite out of a granny smith apple. [Gold Medal Winner of the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition]
100% Pinot Gris
$16

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Old York Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon
Aged for 8 months in American oak, which Scott explained imparts a little less vanilla flavour to the wine then French oak. A juicy summer red that is light on its feet with ripe cherry and blackberry flavours, hints of oak, soft tannins and a fantastic spicy dry finish. One of the signs of good winemaking, the 15.6% alcohol is unnoticeable [so watch out, it does sneak up on you!]
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
$21

Media event hosted by Old York Cellars

Pierre Sparr Pinot Gris 2010

 
Long summer holiday weekends seem to clamor for the pouring of white wines. With so many varying types of activities that tend to include all kinds of friends and family and generally take place in the sun and heat, I am always on the lookout for refreshing, simple, crowd-pleasing bottles of white. A combination of early afternoon heat and readying for a wedding found me plucking Pierre Sparr Pinot Gris 2010 from the fridge. Jean Sparr founded Domaine Sparr in 1680, many generations later, Pierre Sparr revitalized his family’s estate with his business sense and pioneering practice of estate bottling his wines. Today his sons René and Charles have continued to enlarge the vineyards and practice sustainable and organic viticulture. Following their father’s motto of “invest, progress and maintain”, they have enlarged the estate and adopted sustainable and organic farming methods. They produce a varied range of wines from single vineyard grand crus, to reserve cuvees to entry level, budget friendly everyday wines.
 
Pale gold in colour, aromas of citrus blossom and traces of dried herbs swirled about in the glass. Tart lemon notes in the nearly medium body brightened up flavours of summer apple and pear. Zesty grapefruit and stony minerals comprised the racy, snappy finish. Sunny and refreshing, this is a friendly glass great with appetizers and lighter meals.
Alsace
France
Bottled by Mason Pierre Sparr Successeurs
13.5% Alcohol
$13
Enjoy now thru 2013