Newberg is a small village in the Willamette valley southwest of Portland. The winding road to there is going through a scenic farming landscape of gentle hills with woods, barns, prairies with horses, orchards
and vineyards. This is the area of the Ribbon Ridge AVA, an appellation part of the Willamette valley appellation.
Doug Tunnell turned to
winemaking after another career as a CBS foreign correspondant. After studying International Affairs at Lewis & Clark University in Portland, he travelled extensively for CBS, covering world events in Europe and the Middle East from 1975 to 1992. But he eventually decided to dig roots in his native Newberg, plant vines there, buying a 40-acre farm near Newberg and founding the Brick House winery, named from the brick farm in the middle of the property (quite rare in the region).
The vineyards of Brick House, which were certified organic very early in 1990 (by Oregon Tilth), are also certified biodynamic (Demeter USA) since 2005. They make just under 30 acres which makes 12 hectares.
Biodynamic certification in the United States is stricter than in other countries as it doesn't only take into account the vineyard management, but also the cellar practices : you can't add acid, sugar, you can't use enzymes or other additives when certified biodynamic. Check this Demeter USA document (page 38 to 42) for the rules : no concentration of must, no micro-ox, no lab yeast, no, pasteurization of juice, no yeast nutrients, no acid or sugar adjustment, no enzymes, tannin, casein, silica dioxide, isinglass, blood, gelatin, gum arabic, carbon, copper, sulfate etc...Reading these rules tells a lot about the extent of corrections elsewhere in the conventional wineries.
Doug Tunnell adds that the organic certification which is Federal also requires the respect of cellar-practice rules. He says though that very few consumers seem to understand the value of that.
SE 6th Avenue & Ash Street, Portland (Oregon)
Fausse Piste is a winery making wine in the middle of Portland. Urban wineries used to be the model in France long time ago in all the French provinces, but most emigrated outside to the open spaces around villages and cities; just think of Beaune where there used to be dozens of wineries and where only 2 wineries remain today downtown, Philippe Pacalet and
Fanny Sabre (but I heard months
ago Fanny was selling). In the United States there seems to be a growing movement of urban wineries, a phenomenon which may be rooted in the fact that many people here began to make wine in their basement.
But here to make our matter a bit more complicated, the Fausse Piste winery is set behind the back doors of a natural-wine bar named Sauvage, a hot spot for Portland's real-wine amateurs. Jessie Skiles (on left) is the man behind this double adventure, and his love for Syrah and Viognier led him to first work in Owen Roe winery in Oregon, which opened the way for making his own wines. It's not usual to sit at the counter of a wine bar and catch sight of a large wooden foudre in the background like on this picture, and I wouldn't have guessed that I'd experience that for the first time in Portland, Oregon.....
And for yet another layer of complexity in this intricate web of relationships, one of the associates, Jeff Vejr, (at right on the picture) uses the place as a front door for his wine importation business, drinkSNOB, and all the foreign wines here come through his channel... The two other people on the picture are Molly Madden and Seth Morgen Long who seem to be both into wine.
Carlton is one of these small villages/communities of America that I love at first glance : it's a simple place with a few businesses and has not yet been remodelled by urban types looking for business opportunities with a wine tourism background. There are still a few buildings reminding the visitor that the place is still a farming community,
and when we drove through with Deborah en
route to Belle Pente, I immediately loved the town, its metal storage silos, brick buildings and vintage old-mercantile style shops (valley Emporium here) with covered sidewalk which are not in wood anymore but the feel remains the same. I must tell you a secret : this trip was probably at least as much about stumbling into such small towns in the back roads of America as visiting wineries, and Carlton (from what it feels in 2013, it may change) was one of these lovely places I loved immediately...
Whatever, what I didn't know is that Deborah would bring me again to this small village to visit a friend of hers who makes wine there : Kelley Fox.
What I didn't know either was that Kelley was making wine precisely in one of these old grain storage silos which had took my eye when we drove through the first time (pic on left, the tall, white construction), reminding me other such silos spotted in small anonymous communities like this one in Ogallalla, Nebraska. That was indeed a good omen for this unexpected visit.
Belle pente is a relatively recent winery, it has been set up in 1996 by Brian O'Donnell and his wife Jill after the first plantings were made in 1994.
Brian spent time in Alsace and Burgundy and liked the type of wines he found in these regions. Belle Pente makes mostly estate wines, which means that the winery uses mostly the grapes grown in its own vineyards, the rest being contracted grapes contracted to other growers.
Brian purchased the property in 1992, it's a beautiful piece of land along the slopes of gentle hills 2 miles from the village of Carlton in the Willamette valley. Only part of the property has been planted with grapes, the rest being prairies for the farm animals and woods.
McMinnville, Willamette Valley (Oregon)
It takes strong-willed individuals to explore new, unknown routes and open the way for future generations, and David Lett was one of them. We now associate pinot noir with Oregon when we think about wine in the United States, but that didn't come easy, and David Lett can be credited for starting the whole story.
As early as 1965, after a thorough research for the best planting location (and btw resisting the negative opinion of viticultural specialists of UC Davis at
that time), he moved to Northern Oregon to plant pinot noir in the Willamette valley, which was at the time just known for its orchards and quiet farming villages southwest of Portland. Pinot noir was not hype at all at the time, it was even mostly unknown by the trade and the consumers, the U.S. wineries and wine amateurs being on cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay then. To underline David Lett's pioneer vision, it must be said that he was also the first in the United States to plant pinot gris and the first to release a still pinot meunier. The pinot gris was even more forsaken in the US as a variety, and there were only 4 vines of it at the research center, wineries seeing no commercial future here for that grape. But David Lett noticed that this variety was very successful in northern wine-latitudes in Europe and that it could thrive in cooler climates in the U.S. like the one of Northern Oregon.
Swimming against the tide has been one of David Lett's strengths and his courageous choices proved successful and helped make a whole wine region in the way. Jason Lett who now runs the winery says that people today also keep thinking into the mold, like taking the limestone nature of a soil like gold standard to make burgundy pinot noir, when what counts really is the climate. Even if the soil may compare to Burgundy's, you cant't plant in the San Joaquin valley for example and expect to make a good pinot noir, but that understanding hasn't gone through yet.
I visited the winery with Michael Alberty of Story Teller Wine and my friend Deborah Heath who is an anthroplogist at Lewis & Clak University in Portland and conducts a research on wine and terroir. Deborah was kind enough to drive me to this place as I was still shy of using the enormous-looking Dodge Avenger that I'd just rented for this adventure in the region.
The beer festival of Portland, Oregon might be a good introduction for a first-time visitor of this vibrant medium-size city. Known as the Oregon Brewers Festival, it also highlights the vanguard work of Oregon artisanal breweries in the national microbrewery movement, with a stunning 26-year history of craft beermaking for this Northwestern State of Oregon. The beer festival in Munich is
certainly something that I dream to attend one day
but I can say now that Portland's beer Fest is something unique and unforgettable through which you will widen your beer experience and meet Portlanders and Oregonians in high mood.
The event draws hundreds of happy beer drinkers every last full weekend of july, people who come with friends to sample the dozens of small breweries of Oregon and a few others from neighboring States, all the while listening to live music.
The craft-beer movement actually started in Northern California in the 1960s' and 1970s', in line with the rebelness innovative spirit of this region, and it moved then to the rest of the United States beginning with Oregon. Read more on Ken Weaver's The Northern California Craft Beer Guide (if you're in France you can leaf through the book by clicking on its cover on the left).
In a recent issue, the Portland Mercury, a wonderful free magazine here, had a story about Oregon's riding the wild wave of artisanal breweries and it helped me visualize the extent of beermaking in this State. the article says that "the fest has earned a national reputation as one of the best, longest, loudest, happiest craft-beer festivals in the country" adding that Oregon's beer market is one of the most mature of the country. Besides Oregon's
prowess in the trade, this beer phenomenon underlines the ability of this country to reinvent itself and innovate all the time. And like the article puts it, the amazing thing about Oregon's beers is that you can find them samely in good restaurants, local bars and even in the retail [beginning with Safeway and Trader Joe's]..
After months of delaying, I ended up trying one of these food trucks that have been under the spotlight of the Parisian food people for a while. I didn't go around and chose the most iconic,
Kristin Frederick's Le Camion qui Fume(the smoking truck), the first, from what I know, who tried the unchartered waters of getting the city administration's green light and testing the Parisian palates for this type of food from a truck. Now there are quite a number of such food trucks, making Paris look like more like a normal city in this regard. Like you can read on the New York Times article, Kristin got every kind of push-back, like saying it wouldn't work or it'll be too expensive for street food, or the authorities will balk at giving the permission. But she did it, and in spite of parking at a different place every day (or because of), Kristin's truck gets clients lining up (like me) before the truck opens its service window. Here it was at Place de la Madeleine and the proximity of Hédiard and Fauchon didn't scare her at all, the place is one of her regular stops and I think that the business runs fine here too.
Kristin is a California native (from Los Angeles I think) and after studying in France she had the idea to duplicate this food-truck culture which was widespread in L.A.
When I arrived on the place de la Madeleine, I found the truck easily, parked near the small market, and a young (obviously) American woman was busy writing the menu on the blackboard. A few people were already waiting that the business hours begin, which was set at 11am. Kristin Frederick (the woman in black on the right), who isn't doing the service herself from what it seems, arrived later saying hello to the staff.
Canal Saint Martin (Paris)
This is the peak season of the year to picnic in Paris, and this business seems not to experience the French gloom at all. Walk around the improvised picnic areas in Paris any evening and you'll
see them occupied by 20ers and 30ers
busy partying and chatting, drinking booze in a generally pacified manner. Girls make a good share of the public and the youth in general are too happy to take advantage of a nice freedom that makes this city a nice place to live.
As I wrote earlier, several reasons explain this surge in the use by the young people of public space to have dinner or apéritif together. First, eating out is not cheap in Paris, and with Twitter or Facebook you can set up a flash party without bothering if the venue will have room for every one. Latecomers can join the fray, they just bring a few things to eat and a bottle, or nothing, it doesn't really matter, there will be usually enough for everyone.
Then, with joblessness at 26 % among the French under 25, you don't go out that much (I mean in restaurants and the likes), so, with these wonderful postcard settings at easy reach where you can just sit and unpack you dinner and drinks, who needs these bars and restaurants ? Life is beautiful...
Cravant-les-Coteaux (Chinon, Loire)
When I first met Helda while visiting Bernard Baudry earlier this year, my first impression was that she was someone with a project. She was presented to me as a worker at Baudry but my intuition was telling me she wasn't only a part-time worker in a winery, and as we exchanged words I learnt that she was setting up her own winery near the village of Cravant-les-Coteaux (picture on left), working with selected purchased from the Chinon area. She's been making wine under her
name since a year and from what I tasted she could
be around for the long term. Her story reinds me the one of Julie Balagny in the Beaujolais; like Julie, Helda is originally from Paris and she is also showing lots of energy in her approach.
Helda Rabaut didn't take the shortest way to the life of winemaker, she was initially studying law in Paris and in parallel, in order to make some money and do something, she worked by chance in a wine bar near where she lived, le Baron Rouge. She began to appreciate wine there, because otherwines there wasn't a particular wine culture in her family. Two wines were a revelation for her in these years, a Saint-Aubin by Domaine Bachelet that her uncle poured her, and a Pommard Premier Cru. She doesnt remember the estate for this one, she had guests at home and just took randomly a bottle in her father's cellar and that was also such a great pick...
She worked 3 years at Le Baron Rouge until 2005 and she decided to drop the law school then. The only thing she knew then was that she wanted to work in this field, even though she admits that she didn't know anything about winemaking. As a first step, she thought that learning how to make wine would help her work in the commercial side of the trade or something like that, it was unclear at the time.
Picture on right : the town of Chinon and the Loire river
In the field of soil life and soil regeneration, Claude and Lydia Bourguignon have been playing a central role for years through their research and through the patented techniques applied in their soil laboratory LAMS, where they do consultancy work for growers in France and abroad (as far as California).
Claude Bourguignon is an agronomy engineer who was at a time director of research at the INRA's soil microbiology department, he and his wife met in the INRA and worked 10 years there before quitting the institute and setting up their own soil laboratory (LAMS) in 1989. In the late 80s' there was no concern in the public institute about the detoriaration of the agriculture soils, like the increasing nitrates presence in water and soils, the thinking mode being to hide behind the EC norms on nitrates for example, and the authorized ceiling had been conveniently raised to keep the problem under the lid. In this regard they were a bit of dissidents in the fact that unlike the INRA they didn't accept the fait accompli of the soil deterioration by the chemicals used in industrial agriculture.
I must say a few things about the INRA,
which is in some ways the result of the French Colbertism, this coupling of government spending,
industry lobbying and state control to achieve certain economical goals.
The INRA, with today 8500 employees and a budget of 880 million Euros has had a very pivotal role in the way the French
agriculture turned from small family farms into large-scale industrial farms. Agriculture has been indeed one of the fields where this French big-government approach was applied after WW2 to implement the revolutionary benefits of the chemical industry to the (sometimes unwilling) farmers. But unlike in the Vendée in the late 1700s' where the central government had to send its armed troops to implement its revolutionary ideology, the farmers didn't resist much to the promised wonders of chemical sprayings and it was only years after the landslide of what we call now conventional agriculture that dissident voices like the one of Claude Bourguignon began to be heard. The INRA was originally a state-funded research institute then it became an EPIC, acronym for Etablissement Public à Caractère Industriel, meaning that the industry was largely at the wheel from then on, but anyway before that, the French administration has very early favored an industrial orientation for the French agriculture, envisioning (with the remembrement for example) huge fields with efficient machinery and the assistance of miracle chemicals. The INRA is now an EPST or Etablissement Public à caractère Scientifique et Technique (we French love acronyms).