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

Peter Lauer ‘Senior’ Fass 6 Riesling 2016

Estate: With its distinctive microclimate, the Saar region of the Mosel is regarded as one of the premium Riesling producing areas, and winemaker Florian Lauer is recognized as “one of the greatest winemakers in this sacred place”. Lauer’s vineyards are located on the hillsides of the Kupp, and it has been his life’s work to preserve his family’s old vines [up to 100 years in age]. For an in-depth look at Florian Lauer’s pioneering Riesling and estate history, click here.

Philosophy: Lauer’s goal is to craft “stylish wines with elegance, not too alcoholic but with depth and density”.

Winemaking: The estate is organic and adamantly utilizes spontaneous fermentation with native yeasts. Vineyard parcels are harvested separately and fermented with their own natural yeasts, allowing the vineyard’s character full expression. The word “fass” [barrel] seen on many of the labels, is an identifier of each wine and vineyard parcel. ‘Senior’ is considered by Lauer as “a village-level wine”, however it is a single vineyard wine with an average vine age of 70 years, sourced completely from the Ayler Kupp.

Tasting Notes: Pale gold with green hues in colour. Aromas of apple, honey and minerals abound. Sunny apple, honey, lemon and a trace of rosemary are underscored by bright acidity. A nuance of petrol accents fresh citrus and minerals on the clean finish. Well balanced and focused.

100% Riesling
Mosel
Germany
11.5% Alcohol
$29
Enjoy now thru 2026

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.

 

 

Kungfu Girl and Eve: Two Charles Smith Washington State Beauties to Welcome Spring

Winery: Renowned, self-taught pioneer winemaker Charles Smith is the founder and winemaker behind Charles Smith Family wines. His “kick ass attitude and bold packaging has earned him the moniker ‘rock star’ of Washington State Syrah”. With his many diverse brands [K Vintners, Wines of Substance, Sixto, Charles & Charles, Secco and Vino] he is able to offer a wide variety of wines varying in cost from budget friendly to highly rated, single vineyard Syrahs in the $100 range. Within all of his labels, Smith strives to craft sustainably farmed wines that “are full of flavor, balanced, and true to place of origin”.

Created in 2006, the Charles Smith Wines label was themed as “The Modernist Project”. Focusing on how people tend to drink wine today, which is immediately, the goal is to create approachable wines “to be enjoyed now, but with true typicity of both the varietal and the vineyard”. A fantastic concept; a Riesling that tastes like a Riesling from Washington State! Modern with a sassy edge, Charles Smith labels are renowned for their clean black and white artwork created by Charles Smith and artist Rikke Korffsure. Super eye catching and easily recognizable, the style has become synonymous with K Vintners and Charles Smith.

Philosophy: “It’s just wine, drink it.”

Winemaking: Both Riesling and Chardonnay grapes were sourced from the ‘Evergreen’ Vineyard. Planted in 1998, the vineyard stretches across steep cliffs above the Columbia River, within Washington’s newest AVA, Ancient Lakes. The soil is composed of fragmented volcanic rock, gravel, limestone and silt, and is known for producing “fruit with sublime mineral character and great acidity”. Kungfu Girl Riesling was aged on the lees for 2 months in barrels. Eve Chardonnay was fermented with partially native yeasts. Aged on the lees for 5 months in barrels [no new oak].

Charles Smith ‘Kungfu Girl’ Riesling Washington State 2015
Pale gold in colour with invigorating aromas of grass, apple, earth and petrol. Peach, green apple, pear and minerals are glazed with a touch of honey. Perfectly balanced, with an energizing play between acidity and subtle sweetness carrying thru to the clean, zippy finish. Super refreshing and easy drinking, the moderate alcohol contributes to what I would call “fantastically gluggable”.

Pairing Suggestion from the Winery: Thai or Chinese food, five spice pork or duck, fresh seafood.

100% Riesling
12% Alcohol
$12 [average price]

Charles Smith ‘Eve’ Chardonnay Washington State 2014
Gold in colour with aromas of lemon balm, orange blossom, anise and a trace of butter. Silky layers of lemon, apple, pear and a streak of minerality culminate in a delectable creamy finish. Sunny and cheerful, fantastic on its own or with a wide variety of dishes. [It was perfect with goat gouda grilled cheese with arugula.]

Pairing Suggestion from the Winery: Golden squash with sautéed Shrimp.

100% Chardonnay
13.5% Alcohol
$12 [average price]

 

Samples submitted for review purpose.

Between the Lines Winery

Located in Niagara on the Lake in Ontario, Canada, Between the Lines Winery is run by brothers Greg and Yannick Wertsch. They grew up in Germany working their grandfather’s vineyards, when the family came to Canada their father purchased land in order to carry on the family’s winemaking traditions. The name of the winery is a reflection of the roads in the area, which are labeled north/south as Line 1 Rd, Line 2 Rd, etc. [If they had used their surname, the pronunciation would have resulted in it sounding like “Worst Winery”]

Greg studied Wine Economics at Geisenheim University in Germany. He is the more public face of the winery and manages the marketing and day-to-day operations. Yannick studied winemaking and viticulture at Niagara College, and then continued at Weinbauschule University in Weinsberg, Germany. He is known as “the quiet one” and focuses on winemaking, “allowing the region to speak for itself instead of influencing it through aging or other winemaking processes”. Their red wines are only briefly barrel aged in order to maintain the terroir and preserve the fruit character.

gregorigin

Greg explaining his innovative ‘Origin’, sparkling Vidal single serving cans. At the time of my visit it was unreleased. It is now taking the market by storm and receiving fantastic reviews.

During our visit*, I had the immense pleasure of a private tasting with Greg. Knowing your soil is one of the foundations of winemaking and Greg provided in-depth detail about the distinctive terroir of their 40 acres of vineyards. Pockets of glacial deposits cut across the land, so the soil can dramatically change every couple of feet. The main soil is mixed, sandy loam, whilst the glacial deposits are heavy clay. They take advantage of these contrasting characteristics to suit different varietals needs. Cabernet Franc is planted in the lighter soils, as it receives more heat, whilst Chardonnay is grown in the clay deposits, as clay remains cooler in the heat.

btlriesgewurz

Between the Lines Riesling 2014
Their Riesling is the result of years of listening to what their customers are looking for and experimenting with different fermentation approaches. People were not interested in a dry Riesling, so they use maolactic fermentation on half the volume of the wine. Malic acid confers granny smith and buttery notes and removes some of the acidity and dryness.
Fresh and fruity with citrus, apples and minerals. Light, clean and crisp, this is perfect for summer sipping.
$15 [Canadian Dollars]

Between the Lines Gewurztraminer 2014
Well balanced, with a fantastic play of sweetness and acidity. Loaded with fresh fruit [peach, apricot traces of mango] along with hints of buttery fruit tart, culminating in a fruity finish.
11.5% Alcohol
$15 [Canadian Dollars]

btlpinotnoir

Between the Lines Pinot Noir 2013
The 2013 harvest saw the Pinot Noir grapes coming in with high alcohol; they did open fermentation in order to reduce the level. Aged for 3 months in French oak barrels, the wine was very aromatic with aromas of cherry and sun warmed bricks. Soft cherry and black cherry flavours are backed by a food friendly acidity, finishing with hints of earth and dried cherry. [The brothers are honored that this has been selected as the official Red Wine served and sold at Ontario’s Legislative Assembly for 2016. In fact, during our visit, they were in the process of removing the original label and replacing it with one chosen by the Assembly.]
13% Alcohol
$16 [Canadian Dollars]

btlmeritage

Between the Lines Meritage Reserve 2013
Aged for 18 months in oak, Cabernet Franc is the star of this blend. Bright tart fruit harmonizes with a streak of almost smoky minerality. Fantastic with hearty dishes.
12.5% Alcohol
$28 [Canadian Dollars]

btlicewine

Between the Lines Vidal Icewine 2013
Decidedly different from many Icewines, this is wonderfully balanced with a vibrant acidity to break up the sugar. Gorgeous, rich pear, peach, and honey flavours are never overwhelming. This is fantastic with both sweet and savory dishes.
11% Alcohol
$40

*During our visit to NOTL [Niagara on the Lake] in Ontario, my husband and I booked an all day, private winery tour with Niagara Vintage Tours. Check out their fantastic array of tours and packages here. Our driver Chris, was incredibly engaging and all around fantastic. He took the time to learn what we were most interested in, and focused the tour around those aspects.