Slow Food caught up with Don Oman to ask him a few questions about the 2014 SLOW Pinot Noir project that he developed and has been working diligently on for the past six months.
SF: What brought you to the idea of creating a Pinot Noir for Slow Food Oregon?
There were a number of things that came together to make this idea more than a ‘pipe dream.’
The idea really came out of the 2014 vintage in Oregon. 2014 was a very desirable vintage. The producers I know dropped a lot of fruit prior to the harvest to ensure a good quality and a ripe fruit vintage. But despite this they still had not only a ripe, forward vintage due to the excellent weather in August and September, but they also had crop levels that exceeded normal by 20- 25%! With this abundance of excellent fruit, I saw an opportunity for wineries to share this great vintage with the community… in this case Slow Food Oregon.
When I shared this idea with my friends that were producers, everyone was very receptive and, in many cases, very enthusiastic. And when I explained that we would be compensating them, it became an easy decision for everyone. With Slow Food’s mission of helping support small farmers, we naturally wanted to compensate producers for their efforts. We set a price for the fruit based on where we saw the market for the best fruit in the Willamette Valley. The price, in the end, was actually better than what was paid for the vintage because there was excess fruit in the valley based on the high yields everyone experienced. Most producers ultimately gave fruit from excellent sites, many offering up wine from their best barrels.
Juice from the various wineries lined up and ready to be used in the blending. Photo by Jeff Cole.
We actually selected producers based on three criteria. We wanted fruit from excellent, sustainably grown vineyards, made by highly respected winemakers, from smaller producers who wanted to support the work of Slow Food Oregon. Everyone we approached was eager to participate, and a few we didn’t approach insisted on being in the project. (Initially we planned on eight producers offering up one barrel each, but ended up with a total of eleven.) We had to cut it off at that level, because, while we realized the wine could be great, we knew selling even the best wine could be a formidable undertaking.
Also I thought it was time for Slow Food in Oregon to celebrate over twenty-two years of activity in the state promoting good, clean and fair agriculture from the first Oregon member in 1992 (perhaps the first dues paying member in the USA!) to the more than one hundred Oregonians who’ve traveled to Torino during Terra Madre to share their food/agricultural stories of Oregon with farmers and restaurateurs from around the world.
What were the logistical challenges associated with taking on a project like this?
Don, along with Kayt Mathers, a food and wine publicist, considers the blend.
There were many things to consider. Initially we had to consider the blend. The vintage, for some producers in the Willamette Valley, offered up some challenging fruit. Some wines produced had high alcohol levels and lower acidity. These two potentially troubling factors were primary concerns in putting together the pinot noir blend. Fortunately farmers that focus on sustainable vineyard practices tend to fare better in years such as 2014. Our producers tend to be dry farmers (most shunning irrigation in their vineyards). So the barrels offered up for our project came in with alcohol levels below 14% and ample acidity to support the abundance of forward fruit from the vintage. We expressed a desire for barrels that exhibited those two traits and nobody let us down.
John Grochau, Grochau Cellars, checks out the wine from the producers. Photo by Jeff Cole.
Ultimately a tasting panel of three people from the wine world and three Slow Food members from Portland and Corvallis came up with the final blend for our SLOW Pinot Noir 2014. Frankly all the barrels offered up a very unique offering and each could have stood on its own as far as making a delicious wine, but the final blend was the unanimous choice of all tasters. Though a very young wine indeed, it showed complex flavors and a formidable structure, both interesting to drink now, but easily a wine that will reward a few years of aging.
John Grochau and Kayt Mathers measure the wines to blend. Photo by Jeff Cole.
Barrels were collected at the beginning of August. The tasting panel convened a week later. Bottling commenced on August 26 at the Bjornson Vineyard Winery under the direction of John Grochau of Grochau Cellars who capably ushered the wine from the barrels to the final bottling.
Certainly that speaks to the wine making and blending, but were there other factors in this process?
The 2014 SLOW Pinot Noir!
Sure. First, we had to come up with the capital to fund all the costs up front to pay for the corks, bottles, label design, the bottling, the labor associated with all the moving of barrels, the blending, the bottling and packaging, and moving and storage of the pallets. Some work was donated, but, for the most part, we wanted to fairly compensate all involved, including use of the winery and costs associated with the physical production of the final product.
Secondly, a small cadre of Slow Food folks worked to come up with a label to put on the bottle, and a poster to help promote the wine, the project and Slow Food Oregon. At every juncture we had some volunteer labor and some discounted prices from professionals like the label designer and the printers. All the while the Slow Food folks were beginning to formulate some strategies to market the wine…some 270 cases of stunning elegant Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2014 from some of the finest vineyards growing Pinot Noir anywhere in the world!
Thirdly, my company, Casa Bruno LLC, provided the all-important support, from computers to the vans that hauled the barrels back and forth around the Willamette Valley. Capital for the project was from Casa Bruno, as well as from our producers who gave us extended terms for payment for the barrels. And, most importantly, Casa Bruno provided a team of office, sales and delivery people to distribute the wine. I would like to thank my business partners Elaine Testa and Reed Oman for their support in this and other community minded efforts.
Tell us about how the wine will be distributed.
Slow Food Portland Board members enjoy a first taste – everyone thinks it’s a winner! (L to R) Eric Gray; Victor Willis; Russell Ruscigno, Chair; Don Oman, co-founder Slow Food Portland and instigator of the Slow Pinot Noir project; Diane Corson, Antonella Aguilera-Ruiz, and Emily Richie.
Slow Food has many members, friends and supporters in Oregon who have been very supportive of the idea around SLOW Pinot Noir 2014. With the help of Nostrana, Kathy Whims’ and David West’s internationally acclaimed eatery, Slow Food hosted a press release/tasting at the end of October. Jason French of Ned Ludd and Elder Hall hosted the public release on November 8th at Elder Hall for members and the public. Official release of the wine was November 2, although rumors of the first case trickling out to Pastaworks (home of the first Slow Food cell in Oregon) a few days early have been circulating. As of this writing, Gathering Together Farm is planning a SLOW Pinot Noir dinner celebration for early December. Slow Food Corvallis is assisting with this event.
Independent retailers have begun to stock the wine and numerous restaurants have begun pouring the wine by the glass. We hope to have a couple dozen restaurants pouring Slow Pinot during the holiday season!
THANK YOU Don for the immeasurable time and talent you have volnuteered to make this project a reality!
Find SLOW Pinot Noir at these locations.