Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Spend Quality Time with R. Stuart & Co. Winery
If you're reading this blog you obviously have great taste, and chances are good that you've visited a tasting room before. Some of them are sparse and warehouse-y, and some are very beautiful and welcoming. The goal of any tasting room is to get you to taste their wine, you can usually tell this from the name, tasting room. However, if you've been to a lot of tasting rooms, as I have (don't judge), you have probably seen some patrons walk into a tasting room with preconceived notions. These patrons might begin and end with one type of wine; they either love or hate red or white and so don't taste through the whole flight. They throw back their "tastes" much like one might throw back shots of vodka and then in the words of Jay Z, "On to the next one." Wine is purchased (or not) and you may hear a well informed question now and again.
Most people will tell you, though, and I completely agree, that wine is about relationships. It's a drink to be shared among friends over dinner, to accompany a conversation or for a special occasion. Many of us tend to buy wine we’ve had good experiences with, or wine that a friend has recommended. The wine bar at R. Stuart & Co. Winery is all about relationships. It’s more a bar or cafe setting, and feels cozier than what you'll typically find in a tasting room. For us, it was the setting for the beginning of another great wine relationship.
Gwynne and I were cooling our jets after a bicycle ride through the beautiful rolling hills of Willamette Valley. Between lunch and the IPNC Passport to Pinot, we were checking out bucolic downtown McMinnville. A chance communication over Twitter and lucky wandering found us outside the doors of R. Stuart Wine.
When we introduced ourselves and had a seat at the bar to taste their wine, Maria Stuart (one of the owners and wife of winemaker Rob, who is the R in R. Stuart) recommended we join a group sitting at a nearby table instead. At the table were Rob, Christina Collado from Cubanisimo Vineyards and her husband. Maria Stuart, of course, and Kathy Joseph from Fiddlehead Cellars in California.
As the scene unfolded, we found that we were in for a real treat; in addition to their standard tasting flight, Rob ran us through the paces. We started with one of the most unique wines I've ever had in the Northwest: R. Stuart's Vin Tardive. The Vin Tardive is made from Pinot Gris and this wine runs totally counter to your expectations. Reminiscent of the Vendage Tardive of France's Alsace region, this late harvest fruit and skinny little bottle have you expecting sweetness on the palate. Au contraire, mon frère (ha!). The acidity on this wine makes it a wonder to behold and wonderful to drink, perfect paired with cheese or the sformato recipe Rob and Maria included on their website. Rob is still working to perfect this little number but I recommend it highly. It’s a delightfully unique example of a very balanced late harvest wine.
As we tasted through the Pinots, the conversation wandered mightily; from wine to area rugs, from transporting wine to California in a refrigerated truck to commerce. One of the highlights was the opportunity to taste two single vineyard Pinots that are planted right next to each other. The Ana Vineyard Pinot butts up against Weber Vineyard, no more than a "tractor's width" from one another but planted nearly 10 years apart. These wines are a fascinating study in the difference that older vines can make. Ana, planted in the mid 70s, and Weber, planted in the mid 80s, show some similarities - both had an element of spice. Gwynne and I both found the younger vines to be a bit rounder and exhibiting darker fruit elements. If you ask me for a good reason why it's easy to become a bit of a geek about the nuances in wine, I would hold these two bottles up as an example.
Rob tasted us through the Temperance Hill next and we were just over the moon about it. With amazing acidity, owing to its 750 to 800 feet of elevation, this wine hints at a smokiness and darker bold fruit. This is (yet another) example of why I can't really get too much Oregon Pinot, and we took a couple bottles of this home with us.
R. Stuart makes such a wide range of Pinots at a variety of price points and they're all worthy of your consideration. Given the diversity and Rob's philosophy of showcasing the fruit and hence the site, you're very likely to find something that speaks to you. If you're lucky you'll have the opportunity to speak to Rob and Maria about what makes Pinot - and the wine community here in the Willamette - special to them. What it kept coming back to were the people and the relationships. As we left R. Stuart for IPNC, we felt just a little bit closer to the wine community here in McMinnville and we understood just a little bit more what makes it such a unique place.