2014's Bulletproof

The 2014 vintage was a much easier vintage compared to 2013 in many ways than one. You'll hear a lot of talk about the differences with the weather at harvest as the main reason for the differences between these vintages, but that is very simplified and inaccurate view. There are subtle changes that farmers make each vintage. Sometimes these changes are due to weather, vine age, crop load, pruning practices, and hundreds of other possible challenges/changes. Each of these changes made will have an impact on the overall fruit and resulting wine. Weather is an important factor, yes, but it is not the best indicator of wine quality.

At David Hill Vineyards, we were dealing with the first vintage of changes in the viticultural improvements that we were making in the Semillon block. David Hill Vineyards was open to the idea of having my blocks be farmed differently and if successful, they would be applied to other blocks in the future. This is common in vineyards around the world. Certain blocks are farmed differently, because their is a soil transition, an aspect change, a varietal change, winemaker philosophies, etc. I was wanting to begin the process of converting to organic farming as a foundation, in the hopes of making a full conversion to biodynamics in the future.

When the fruit came in during the 2014 harvest, I was elated! It was about double the crop compared to the from 2013 vintage. Sorting was a breeze and there was a great mix of ripe and slightly underripe fruit. I'm a firm believer that a balanced wine comes from grapes at different ripeness levels. The fruit was looking so strong, I decided to keep it on the skins for about 50 hrs. Semillon in a thick skinned white grape and I wanted to highlight some of those waxy notes that it is known for.

Our ambient fermentations were smooth, flawless, and steady after being barreled down to a mix of old and new barrels. The new barrel was a single 140L Mercury CLL barrel. We had a hunch that these 140's would amplify the power of the grape and vineyard. When you walk the rows at David Hill Vineyards, it just feels powerful, beefy, noble and masculine. We were trying to find a barrel regiment that helped to highlight those attributes.

I big surprise awaited us when it came time to put a blend together. I had no intention of making more than one Semillon. I was just so excited to be able to double my production from the same block of Semillon from the previous vintage. I was just happy to have healthy fruit and to learn more about my barrels and the site. As we were experimenting with different combinations of volumes from each barrel, one wine just shot out of the glass. It was unreal. It was so singular, so unique, and yet it came from the same 5 barrels.

There are always lessons while making wine. There are so many variables to consider. The blending portion of winemaking can be the most hair raising. For me, this is really where the pressure and skill comes into play. This is were palate experience helps. For some of us, tasting wine is a job! Having said that, there are times when a wine is so individual that it demands to stand alone. This was my experience with the Semillon in 2014. It sounds so cliché to say, but this wine made itself. From a wine quality standpoint, it made more sense to make two outstanding wines, instead of one very good one. From a business standpoint, it is probably suicide. Most wineries would make the "best" wine they could from the majority of the wine provided to them, so to maximize saleability, but I didn't really care about that argument. Preserving the uniquness of the wine, its heritage and history was what I am trying to achieve, so, I split the vintage roughly in half. It is already a crazy notion to make a Semillon in Oregon, but to make TWO from the same vineyard and vintage? That takes guts.

One of the most important goals that I had for this Golden Cluster project was to highlight how special this vineyard is. So, when confronted with the decision to essentially split the 2014 vintage in half, it was an easy call to make. Sometimes a wine just wants to "be". Sometimes there are special lots that are singular wines. I know that the words "lot", "special reserve", "reserve", "special selection", "Block XYZ", are all overused, so I steered away from that. I am calling this wine "Ode to Chuck". "Chuck" is how most people addressed Charles Coury and well, this wine is probably one of the most important wines that I could make in his honor. While he may not have prefered this style of wine, I can guarantee you that he would be proud of how it turned out. This wine is special for so many reasons, but the most important to me is that this wine represents an almost 50 year prediction that Charles Coury had about Oregon. This wine is a testament to his foresight, his passion, and an ode to those first vines that he planted on David Hill in 1965.

The wine was bottled in July of 2015 and left in the bottle until it was released in April of 2016.

UPDATE: After a few Portland wine buyers and winemakers tried the "Ode" during our release party back on April 4th, 2016 the decision was made to further cellar the "Ode" until a proper release date could be determined. This wine is bulletproof, it really needs time. I am so proud of this wine and want to give it a few more months that it needs.

One prominent wine buyer in Portland after spending a few days with a bottle of 2014 Ode to Chuck open said, "The 2014 Ode to Chuck, after two days of air time, becomes a most impressive wine. One of the best Oregon white wines I have encountered to date, from any producer or decade."

Jeff Vejr