This was the cheapest and, for me, the most rewarding in a local wine club tasting of Oregon pinots. The wines were generally attractive, though expensive, and far from the stereotype that says pinot from overseas are heavy, dull and oaky.
Johan Vineyards is located in the Van Duzer Corridor AVA of Oregon. The corridor stretches east to west towards the Pacific Ocean, which gives cool temperatures and winds from the Pacific. The calcareous sedimentary soils with granite contrast with the more normal iron-rich volcanic soils in the north Willamette Valley.
Johan is Dag Johan Sundby, a Norwegian who came to Denver, Colorado, to study economy. Sundby wasn’t particularly interested in wine at the time. But when he received an offer to invest in a vineyard in Oregon and went there, it was love at first sight. So he and his co-investor had no doubts. This was in 2004. He was supposed to go back to Denver to fulfill his plans. But in 2007 his partner got sick. He moved to Oregon, hired a winemaker and took over the entire winery.
There have been many ups and downs, and a lot of responsibility. It is not a job, but a way of life. In 2009, Sundby built a house on the farm and since then he has lived in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The original farm was just a garage and one planted vineyard. The rest came later. In the beginning he grew three grape varieties which he mostly supplied to other producers, but today, on his 70 hectares of vineyards, he grows 14 different ones from which he makes wine himself. All the vineyards are grown biodynamically, and the farm was certified in 2010.
This wine comes from all estate-grown fruit. Vine age averages 10 years. It is native yeast fermented in stainless steel and aged for 9 months in neutral oak barrels.
Farmlands Pinot Noir 2019(Johan Vineyards)
Cherry red. Aroma of red fruits (raspberry, cherry), flowers and an earthy touch. Medium-bodied, fine and elegant texture, super pinot fruit and good acidity.
Plateau has been Brighton’s palace of natural wines for many years now. Since my last visit Jake, from the bar 1909 (see here), has taken over as a manager. His partner Jon has taken over as bar manager after Johan (see another report from Plateau here), who is now at Cincin Hove (more about that later). The kitchen team is led by James Mcilveen, and takes great pride in serving good, organic food from local farms. To jump to the conclusion: Plateau still delivers!
Our waiter Alex led us safely through the menu with its bites and plates. If my memory doesn’t fail me we ended up with cured trout, lobster bisque, beef tartar, bavette steak, everything with a creative twist, and concluded with a board of five English cheeses.
Here are the wines that we enjoyed this dark October evening in Brighton, everything chosen from their by-the-glass offer.
Pétillant Naturel 2017 (Famille de Conti)
A charming, straightforward pet nat from the de Conti family’s château in Bergerac, in the French Sud-Oest. It’s made from varieties sauvignon blanc (90%) and chenin blanc, according to biodynamic principles, unfiltered and with no added sulphur. The colour is light yellow. Smells of red apples and some light tropic fruit (litchis). Appley fruit, and quite high acidity to balance some residual sugar.
Impera 2015(Dva Duby)
This is a wine grown in stony soil in southern Moravia (Czech Republic), close to the Austrian border. The grapes are well-known in their neighbouring country too: 70% St. Laurent (here called svatovavrinecke) and blaufränkish (here: frankovka). It’s a cherry red (light, I think – it was difficult to see the colour in the room), delicate and fruity (raspberry), and luscious, smooth and fruity in the mouth, with just a slight touch of oak (almost too little to mention).
Continuing with two wines from La Clarine Farm, Sierra Foothills (California), both called jambalaia (sic!), blanc and rouge respectively.
In the sparse light of the bar the picture became as unclear as the wine itself…
La Clarine Farm Jambalaia Blanc 2015(LaClarine Farm)
The ‘blanc’ was not exactly white, but sorted under orange, as the skin-contact had been quite prolonged. Dominated by Rhône grapes, mostly viognier, but also marsanne, and with small percentages of petit manseng and albariño.
Smells of white flowers, citrus, peach, pineapple. Juicy in the mouth, but also with a high acidity, and a slight bitterness in the finish.
La Clarine Farm Jambalaia Rouge 2015(LaClarine Farm)
Here all grapes are known as Rhône grapes, although the main grape mourvèdre is of Spanish origin (and known as monastrell).
Cherry red, cloudy. Good fruit, raspberry, cherry, somewhat earthy. A bit tannic, quite high acidity.
A wine from Valle de Uco inside the bigger region of Mendoza (Argentina). The winemaker is Pol Andsnes. Being Norwegian, for me this name can evoke distinctive classical piano chords, but this Andsnes is a wine punk born in San Francisco, who wants to challenge established ways to make wine, according to his own website. ‘Polos opuestos’ is Spanish for ‘poles apart’, and as I read him, Pol is satisfied if the ideas from the opposition once can be the norm. Something like that. Anyway, this wine is made from three barrels of Chardonnay vinified in three different ways. You can read from the drawing on the label that they are one barrel of direct pressing and reductive ageing on lees, one barrel of one year skin contact, and one barrel of direct pressing aged under flor. They were blended after two years.
The colour is obviously quite dark (a better description is difficult in this -lack of- light). It’s fresh, with flowers, orange peel and yellow apples; quite full-bodied, with a solid backbone, and an oxidative character from the flor. It’s an interesting experiment and a wine with lots of vitality, and the winemaker’s energy shines through.
Plateau has many natural wine classics and many of my personal favourites on their current list. Some are Foillard, Ganevat, Landron, Matassa, Frick, Maule, COS, Alfredo Maestro, Barranco Oscuro, Testalonga, to name only a few. Sniff around these pages, and you will meet all of them. And you have understood by now that this natural wine bar is highly recommended, it never disappoints – and if you get the chance: Go there!
Before going for a stroll on the black Brighton november beach, we rounded it all off with a well-known champagne. It was the Cuvée Réserve Brut, from Pierre Gerbais, whose son Aurélien I met at a London wine fair a couple of years ago (see here). This red and white grape champagne is a lightly coloured, apple and citrus scented wine with a contribution of red fruits (strawberry, raspberry), and bisque, that ends off with an inspiring acidity.
Here is a syrah from Randall Grahm, who has called himself a Rhône ranger. Always enthusiastic, Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard never stands still. But his love for the grapes and styles from this French valley never dies.
(Credit: Bonny Doon)
Grahm says this vintage was exceptionally cool and elegant in the Santa María valley of California. He uses more whole clusters than before for this wine, and the stems add to the freshness and herbal character. 25% were not pressed. Natural yeast, 4 days fermentation at controlled temperatures. Then 18 months in French oak.
Bien Nacido X-Block Syrah 2009(Bonny Doon Vineyard)
Deep cherry red. Fresh, minty aromatic character, lots of red and dark fruit (blackberry), some smoke and some black pepper too. It’s bold, but not without elegance. Medium tannins, more acidity.
Paso Robles, named after the town El Paso de Robles (“Pass of the oaks”) is regarded as something of the wine industry’s wild west, not only for its landscapes, but for the creative spirit (tendency to break rules, if you like). In fact this is the fastest growing AVA in California, with over 200 wineries, as opposed to 50 only fifteen years ago.
AmByth is the first and only biodynamic certified estate here. Their vineyards are dry-farmed and head-trained in steep hillsides in Templeton. In the cellar only native yeast are employed, and the wines are unfined and unfiltered. No additions, no corrections, they use themselves the term “natural winemakers”.
Proprietor Phillip Hart is Welsh, and AmByth is a Welsh word meaning ‘forever’. Phillip and his wife Mary see this as a legacy; they give honour to the past, but they farm with the future in mind, so they can hand over a land in healthy condition.
Being eager cooks, they make wine with food in mind. Here they are going against the stream, as the typical Paso wine is rich, alcoholic, with a slightly sweet fruit. The dry farming (the practice of not irrigate, the term most often used for warmer climates) helps to keep the alcohol down. This week’s wine, a 54% sangiovese / 46% tempranillo, has 12,4% alcohol.
Venustas 2011(AmByth Estate)
Cherry red, shows signs of development towards rim. Aroma of red berries, herbs, a bit earthy, mushroom, some dried fruits. Full in the mouth, some cherry stone, good acidity. Mature, but will keep.