Salem, Oregon (Willamette Valley).
The back label on Evesham Wood bottles sums up the approach of Russ and Mary Raney:
"Our hand-crafted wines are authentic expressions of their respective vineyard sources, and as such, portray the nuances of "terroir" unattainable in mass-produced wines. In order to achieve this distinctive character and authenticity, we use only sustainably grown grapes from non-irrigated vineyards, and employ natural methods in the cellar, e.g. no filtration or use of any must concentrating devices."
We are in northwestern Oregon, near Salem. This is a region with lots of farms with orchards and nurseries in addition to the vineyards. The region is known as the Willamette Valley, named from the river that you can see down the slope in the far (small patch in the pic on top, and picture on the left) 3 km away and 150 meter lower. The Pacific Ocean is only some 60 miles by road on the west and winter are mild.
Russ Raney receives us. I had emailed him about our visit but failed to call ahead. We were lucky he was around this morning.
He created the winery 20 years ago, in 1986. He first shows us the vineyard in front of the house and facility. There are many trees around, the former owner kept his property wooded for tax reasons (Oregon tax incentives). He kneels down to tear up weeds : he says they have problems here with "imported" foreign weeds which are quite invasive. The one here is False Plantain, a big-size type of weed. He remembers that when visiting french organic growers in France, they were surprised to hear about "bad weeds" problems, as in their mind there are no bad weeds. he uses mechanical ways only to get rid of them.
At Evesham Wood, 45% of the grapes used for the wine comes from the estate, the rest being purchased from other growers. The total production is 36-3700 cases/year. The vineyard surface is 5 hectares, including 3 in Pinot Noir and the rest in Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris, plus some austrian variety. He also just recently planted some Savignan, a Jura grape variety. 2/3 of his vines are non-grafted. The grafted ones ripe a little earlier, but with the new climate (warmer) trends, the non-grafted may have an advantage. The price difference is also on the side of non-grafted vines : 55 cents apiece compared with 3,5 Dollars for a grafted vine... He tells us about when he tasted wine in Cahors made from pre-phyloxera 100 years+ vines. He says that in this part of Oregon, when people realized there was Phyloxera, they stopped sharing the machines and tools, as they did before. Phyloxere came here with the big plantings of the 60's. Overall suface is now 4000 hectares in the state. Speaking of planting, we look at soon-to-be-planted young vines in pots, outside of the winery [picture on the right] : Pinot Blanc. This will make 2 rows.
Rain : When Alsace has about 24 inches/year of rain, here, it is 40 inches/year, but most of it falls between november and march. And they have a good ventilation on these slopes. For the dry season, they do not irrigate (drip) because it would mean spoiling the vines. No drip, and the roots go deep [rhymes well, by the way]. The dry season is really dry, like 2-3 inches in the july-september season. The grapes he buys come from vineyards at a higher elevation than here, the highest being 850 feet (harvest a bit later too).
About his Pinot Noir and its reputation, he says no manipulation is his very first principle : No industrial yeasts [industrial yeasts are used to artificially bring aromas in the wine]. As of biodynamics, he does the "500" spray and also the "crystal" spray, takes the moon into account for racking and moving the wine, but he will keep short of the biodynamy certification. The estate has full organic certification.
The upper soil here is about 20 inches thick, then it is fractured basalt, all-volcanic soil. He shows us two pieces of basalt, typical stones coming up here.
Russ Raney had his training in viticulture in Bad Kreuznach in germany, and initially had wine import in mind. Then, gradually, he thought about starting making wine (Pinot Noir). He looked around in New York state, in California, also west of St Louis, but the weather there was not suited for P.N. Ended up looking around here in 1983, staying in Portland as a base.
We head to the cellar, looking on the way at just-delivered new casks from Francois Freres. He says that there are oak casks made in Oregon too, but the tree is endangered and he decided not to buy anymore. He uses 35-50% new oak for the best Pinot Noir (18 months). after a few years, when neutral, the casks are used for basic P.N. (11 months). For the Reserve P.N., the new-oak wine is blended with neutral-oak Reserve wine. Outside of the facility, we have a look at the sorting table, the screw press, the bladder press and the crusher. The bladder press works well on Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, not on Chardonnay because skins are slippery.
Once inside, he says the room looks empty because some wines have been bottled and pumped into stainless vats to rest. The white lees can have been put aside in some of the big glass jugs on the floor. The Pinot has its malolactic fermentation inoculated, both in casks and vats. No filtration for the Pinot. They only filter the Chardonnay and the Pinot Gris.
65% of the wine is sold in Oregon, the rest going to New York, San Francisco, Deattle, Minneapolis, Boston, Wash. D.C...
We taste now !
__1 Chardonnay 2005. 8 months on its lees. Was racked 3 days ago. Refined nose. Nice mouth, not wooded.
__2 Pinot Noir 2005. Went into a vat 2 weeks ago, after stay in a neutral cask. The last 2004 was bottled a month ago. This Pinot is part of a future 5-plots Pinot blend. Fruity nose.
__3 Pinot Noir 2005, from another plot, on higher elevation (usually gives higher acidity level).
__4 Pinot Noir 2005, from another grower. Nose : crushed red fruits, nice mouth. Nice substance and chew.
__5 Pinot Noir 2005 "le puits sec" plot, from a cask in a separate cellar. Estate vineyard, Pommard clone. Will be bottled next april. Discreet nose. In the mouth, very nice volume, very "gourmand". 19 years old vines.
__6 Pinot Noir estate 2005, also "le puits sec", but 12 years old vines (planted later). Dijon clone. Fresh nose. No spitting also here, I like this one too... More chewy feeling, more extraction. The clone may explain that. Not a new cask (4-wines old).
__7 Pinot Noir 2005 from Seven Springs Vineyards (a few miles from here). Not typical from Seven Springs, as usually their wines are more rich, but they did not thin enough this year.
__8 Pinot Noir 2004 "Le Puits Sec". Bottle. Has been bottled 5 weeks ago. Classic P.N. flavors, ample nose. Elegant, B. says. 45% new casks. 175 cases. 14°.
__9 Pinot Noir 2004 Seven Springs. Bottle. Little more tannic. Darker fruits, with a little more structure. Good laying down potential. Prices for the wines are very affordable. See this page for the details.
Thank you Russ for the visit.