When somebody says ‘Europe’ I don’t think of Russia. When they mention the Eastern seaboard, my mind does not conjure up an image of Boca Raton.
Me, I’m from the Midwest. The ‘mid’ part I get, but not the ‘west’: Detroit is five hundred miles from the Atlantic Ocean and twenty-five hundred miles from the Pacific. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only reason they didn’t call us the Mideast is that it was already taken.
So, when I was asked to join Luke McCollom of Left Coast Cellars for a wine tasting, I presupposed (wrongly) that the Left Coast referred to California (and in particular, to liberal-leaning leftist locales therein) and experienced abject confusion when I read that Left Coast Cellars was in Willamette Valley, Oregon.
‘Willamette’ also confuses us Midwesterners when we learn that to correctly say it, you rhyme it with ‘damn it’, not ‘cigarette’.
But enough of that; that’s not what my mea culpa was about anyway. My formal acknowledgment of personal fault involved a synaptical malfunction on the cellular level in my hippocampus:
In short, I forgot about the tasting.
Fortunately, the winery was accommodating enough to send me a trio of wines to review anyway—two representing Willamette’s Wonder Twins, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, and the third, the Carol ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ Channing of wine stylings, White Pinot Noir.
Now, that wine winds up being intriguing as Channing’s 2002 revelation that her grandfather was African American, although she was under no obligation—in 2002 or 1953—either to make the information known or keep it to herself. As a matter of fact, neither was Left Coast Cellars—they could have easily called this wine something Latiny and poetic like Relicto Litore and no one would have been the wiser.
Because frankly, in a blind tasting, you wouldn’t have figured out this wine’s parentage in a billion flights.
Truth in Advertising
“White Pinot is our fasted growing SKU,” Luke McCollom said when I actually showed up for our next date—over the phone. His use of the inventory management acronym betrays that he is the winery’s general manager as well as the chief bottle filler. “As a wine style, it’s definitely trending.”
Some credit goes to Burgundian Henri Gouges, perhaps the most famous domaine in Nuits St. Georges, who had some Pinot Noir vines that actually mutated into white grapes. Renamed Pinot Gouges, it winds up in the premier cru ‘Les Perrières’, which even the Gouges web site describes as ‘disconcerting’.
In Willamette, the handful of producers now labeling a proprietary White Pinot Noir actually use red grapes and employ variety of techniques to eliminate any trace of pink from the juice—most involve speed, of course, since all the color in Pinot Noir (and in most red cultivars) is in the skins, so the quicker the flesh can be separated from them, the whiter the juice ends up being.
As for the wine, not only was vintage 2014 sensational, it bore not the slightest resemblance to Pinot Noir in any permutation, leading me to conclude that not only is the color all in the skins, so is the very essence of the flavors we consider Pinot Noiry—cherry, cola, earth, truffle—all of which show up in some capacity in McCollom’s Cali’s Cuvée (red) Pinot Noir.
The white is full, rich, resplendent with tropical fruit notes and peach jam—I tasted undercurrents of mandarin orange and a steely acidity that binds it all together.
Had I not seen the label, I might have guessed that I was tasting Grenache Blanc, unoaked and grown in a cool climate. Or I might have said Pinot Blanc.
I wouldn’t have said Pinot Gris, which, over the past half century, has become the principal white wine of Oregon; it excels in Willamette, and produces a flavor profile that is unique unto itself.
Left Coast Cellars ‘The Orchards’ Pinot Gris, 2014 (about $18) is a showcase of that style: Clean and crisp from scent to swallow, it shows clear pear notes—ripe, juicy and from the tree. Behind that is ripe kiwi fruit, flinty minerality and acids like shattering ice.
“We never treat our Gris as secondary project,” McCollum told me. “Same labor, same trellising system, everything fermented in small lots—often with different yeasts. We prefer a ripe style meant to be at optimum about five years after bottling; thus, the alcohol may be a bit higher than some [14.2%], but the wine only adds layers of texture and complexity as it ages.”
I found McCollom’s Pinot Noir to be equally compelling, a reference standard for Willamette Valley Pinots in the mid-twenty dollar range. Cali’s Cuvée was named after the daughter of Left Coast Cellar’s owner Bob Pfaff—even harder to pronounce that Willamette. It is made from lots of Pinot drawn from several clones grown in various estate locations. It’s both bright and brooding, filled with deep scents of mulberry, pomegranate and dusty chocolate; it opens fully on the palate with rich, spicy notes and pithy tannins that are assertive without overpowering.
By the way, my phoned-in tasting-missing grovel caught McCollom in the field, mid-harvest, which he claims is the best one he has seen in years. As such, he was in fine spirits, and more than happy to bestow absolution upon yours truly—especially when I assured him, after my pathetic mea culpa, that I had enjoyed his wines to the maxima.