July 1st, 2017

Evening Land: The Rise of Oregon Gamay

2016 Evening Land Vineyards Gamay Noir - Viticole

Furthering the Conversation
I found myself in Santa Cruz yesterday, eavesdropping on a discussion with a dedicated group of local wine growers. At the end of the meeting, which sprawled through viticultural rabbit holes (irrigation techniques, canopy management etc), one of the growers looked at me and said,

“Brian, how do you think Santa Cruz should go about marketing itself?”

I didn’t have a very good answer for him.

It's not that I don't believe in the raw materials of Santa Cruz. On the contrary I was there because I am a believer. It's just how do I look into the eyes of a middle-aged couple who’s sunk everything they own into a vineyard and tell them ‘it takes time’? Who am I to say ‘keep figuring out what grows best where’, having never gotten my fingernails dirty or laid my money on a piece of property?

And yet, I envision no other way than the slow path, a qualitative approach to building a region – taking what we know from the places that have gone before us, looking at our template and saying, “This makes sense.” Not because this grape will give me x dollars per ton, but because this grape belongs here.

It takes guts to eschew fashion for the sake of craft. With rising land prices on the west coast, it takes nerves of steel…

Destination Evening Land winery

2016 Evening Land Vineyards Gamay Noir - Viticole
2016 Evening Land Vineyards Gamay Noir - Viticole

Our society tends to be enamored with branding. It can make us feel safe. It can be a quick route to economic gain if we get in early. But so often we put the cart before the horse, which is why we're not watching movies on Laser Disc.

Forget Napa Valley for a second. Forget Oregon Pinot and Sonoma Chardonnay. Fly a plane up the coast from San Diego to Washington. Look down on the land and say ‘Where is best place to plant ______?

If we look at much of Oregon, the case for Gamay Noir is a strong one:

1.) Gamay likes volcanic soils. Oregon is rich in Basalt.
2.) Gamay likes a similar, if not slightly warmer climate than Burgundy. Many pockets of Oregon apply.
3.) Gamay is not a grape associated with a high price tag. Oregon land prices are 'currently' within reason.

10 years ago you could count the name of Oregon Gamay producers on one hand. Today, a small army is growing with Evening Land Vineyards on the front lines...

Hipster map of Seven Springs Vineyards

2016 Evening Land Vineyards Gamay Noir - Viticole

Teachable Moment
Let’s look at that map above for a second. I know it’s funky. You have to tilt your laptop on its side. It lists different grapes, different clones (e.g. Pommard clone of Pinot Noir). It lists different elevations and aspects (the direction each part of the vineyard faces).

And then there are words like ‘Jory’ (JOR-ee), and ‘Nekia’ (ne-KYE-uh), and Witzel, which are all essentially different stratifications of the native volcanic basalt soil. Lastly there is vine age. Next to one of the Gamay blocks you’ll notice the year 1983. This is arguably (and perhaps arguably NOT arguably) the oldest Gamay vineyard in North America.

Not one of these elements: 'variety, elevation, weather, aspect, soil type, vine age...' matter in and of itself. It’s the sum of the parts. How the pieces are assembled that make a vineyard special.

Al MacDonald – who planted Seven Springs – must’ve known something. If you want to call it serendipity, that’s fine. Either way, the Gamay he planted is delicious.

The Holy Trinity of ELV from left to right: Raj Parr, Ben DiCristina and Sashi Moorman

2016 Evening Land Vineyards Gamay Noir - Viticole

Sashi Moorman: "Back in the day, there were no winemakers. There were just 'vigneron' (grape growers). These vigneron would band together and make wine communally. At Evening Land we value the traditions of the old guard. We all make the wine."

I've seen the communal approach fail, and when it does, it is often ugly. Friends are lost. But I've also seen it succeed with producers Like Envínate and Arnot-Roberts. Every now and then the synergy of the right pairing leads to a higher form of creative expression.

Raj is like the Marco Polo of wine, venturing into the old world and bringing home valuable insights to create a blueprint each harvest cycle. Sashi's technical acumen from vine to bottle is as potent as his desire to think outside the box. He and Raj feed off each other's need to tear down institutions and forge ahead in hopes of a higher level. Ben is the war-time consigliere, in the trenches, monitoring the day to day - interpreting the collective vision, making dreams tangible...

The current incarnation of Evening Land seems poised for greatness. The energy is good. And the wines are better than they've ever been...

Old vine Gamay - Young vine Gamay

2016 Evening Land Vineyards Gamay Noir - Viticole
2016 Evening Land Vineyards Gamay Noir - Viticole

How this all came about
3/31/2017: I was flying into Oregon to work on a custom Chardonnay project with Walter Scott. Raj must have picked up my scent in the air and through a short text exchange we realized we were in the same place.

Raj: “Meet me at the winery tomorrow at 8:30am.”

4/1/2017 – 9am: We caught up at the Evening Land winery and start tasting barrels with one of Raj’s European importers. Upon first sip, I knew we would be collaborating. There is a balance of concentration, energy, and transparency that escapes most New World examples of the grape. 2016 had all the right stuff. From there, it was a matter of choosing the right barrels.

With a barrel selection there seems to be no method to the madness. What is perfect on paper often doesn’t make a good marriage. After playing with combinations of our favorite barrels, we found the right match. It’s kind on an ‘a-ha’ moment and you don’t really know how you got there. Like many things in life, there is just no substitution for trial and error…

The ELV logo brought to life

2016 Evening Land Vineyards Gamay Noir - Viticole

The Vineyard Walk
6/12/2017: I had to walk Seven Springs Vineyard for myself. To date, my personal experience was from afar. It is a majestic site. In Sashi’s words, “Very special vineyards often have a view. They’re beautiful to look at.” I think for the most part that’s true. It certainly is in this case. From the bottom of the slope to the distinctive tree-lined hill, immortalized in the ELV logo, Seven Springs is a sight.

The old vine block of Gamay, own rooted, and riddled with phylloxera has been interplanted with young vines to ensure the efficacy of future vintages…

Portland Nights and a special Viticole bottling

2016 Evening Land Vineyards Gamay Noir - Viticole
2016 Evening Land Vineyards Gamay Noir - Viticole

As we tore up Portlandia, drinking some of the greatest Beaujolais in the world, I couldn’t help but ask Sashi, “Can we get there?” He just shrugged his shoulders. "Well see..."

The Namesake...

2016 Evening Land Vineyards Gamay Noir - Viticole

I checked the 2016 California crop report. 35 tons of Gamay were crushed this vintage – up a healthy margin from 2015.

To give someone a reference point, there are wineries in Beaujolais…boutique producers…who crush far more Gamay than the entire state of California. My research for the Oregon crop report didn’t even yield stats for Gamay as a separate grape. It was relegated to the “Other” category which consists of dozens and dozens of grape varieties amounting to roughly 11% of total grape production for the state.

The bottom line: The conversation about New World Gamay is a short one. What can be observed is that with each passing vintage, Evening land is furthering the dialogue…

- Brian McClintic

Cheat Sheet

Tasting Notes: For fans of the 2015 ELV Gamay, expect more generosity, mid-palate depth and length in 2016. This hit another level for me with fresh juicy black raspberry giving way to floral and spice nuances. Easy to love.

Seasonal Pairing: Grilled Salmon, herb-roasted chicken

When to Drink: Now - 2024+

Geeky Things: 2016 is the first vintage the old vine and young vine block from Seven Springs Vineyard was co-fermented together. Previously they were bottled separately.

Vintage Report: 2016 was a warm Oregon vintage by Pinot Noir standards but very well suited to Gamay in Eola-Amity.

Bigger Than Wine: Each offer Viticole donates $5 per case of everything sold to a charity of the wineries choosing. Sashi Moorman chose Salem Public Library Foundation which raises funds for the Salem Public Library to support literacy and develop programs that enhance library services You can check them out online.

The Viticole Wine Podcast: Sashi Moorman and Evening Land Vineyards Part I Check it out.

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