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Carabella Vineyard

While living in Denver, Colorado, Mike Hallock was smitten with Oregon Pinot Noir on a steelhead salmon fishing trip. As a geologist, he spent twelve years mapping vineyard soils until he found his ideal site for Pinot Noir in 1995 at the McDonald farm on Parrett Mountain in the Chehalem Mountains AVA. He pursued winemaking and viticulture classes at University of California at Davis, worked along side winemaker Kathy Joseph of Fiddlehead Winery who made wine in Oregon for several years, planted 49 acres in 1996 and celebrated his first harvest and wines in 1998. It was probably the largest vineyard planting at one time in the Chehalem Mountains. The first four years, he commuted from Denver to the Willamette Valley to manage the vineyard and craft the Carabella wines, finally moving out to Oregon for good in 2002.

On my recent visit, I walked the entire Carabella Vineyard with Mike. The site is ideal for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, located at an altitude of 500 to 600 feet and consisting of gravelly volcanic soils. The original 1996 planting was Pinot Noir clones 115, 114, 113 and Pommard and Wädenswil. After ten years of learning about the site, he planted 667, 777 and a little bit more of 115 in 2007. Chardonnay plantings are Dijon clone 76, and there are two different clonal blocks of Pinot Gris. Total planted acreage is now 59 acres.

About half the fruit from the vineyard has been sold to premium Willamette Valley producers including Bergström (Chardonnay), Winderlea, Union Wine Co. and Beaux Freres. The vineyard is Certified Sustainable and Mike uses no herbicides or chemical pesticides. The vines are dry farmed.

Along with his spouse, Cara, the couple have been gradually converting the cover crop in the vineyard to native fescue and other native flora, hoping to attract beneficial insects that live in the nearby oak Savannah.

Mike’s plantings of clone 113 are unusual because this Dijon clone has been rarely established in California and Oregon in volcanic soils. ENTAV-INRA Clone 113 is from Morey St. Denis. It produces average to high sugar levels, good quality and a sufficient but sometimes irregular yield. Possibly the most elegant of the Pinot Noir clones, it is early ripening with charming aromatics and displays a classic blend of plum, cherry and raspberry fruits. This clone has prospered at Carabella Vineyard and a Dijon 113 bottling is offered, a true rarity in the Pinot Noir world.

There is an interesting story behind one particular planting in the Carabella Vineyard known as the Mistake Block. In 1998, while planted Dijon 113 vines, it was discovered after the vines were planted that some vines were mislabeled. As a result, there are 13 rows of Pommard clone (3/4 acre) and these vines have turned out to produce extraordinary wine. The grapes were blended into other Carabella wines until 2008 when a “Mistake Block” wine was released. Since then the wine has been produced in only select years.

Carabella wines are produced exclusively from estate fruit. The wines are sold on the website at and through a Bedrock Wine Club. There is some distribution to other states including New York, Illinois and Florida. A second, value-priced label ($20), Plowbuster, is sourced from several AVAs and has an Oregon AVA designation. It offers excellent drinking and is more widely distributed. Total production is 4,000-6,000 cases annually. The winery does not have a tasting room. I have favorably reviewed a number of Carabella and Plowbuster wines in the past.

I tasted some Carabella wines in the vineyard and in the Hallock’s home. My impressions follow.

2010 Carabella Estate Chehalem Mountains Oregon Chardonnay

13.5% alc., $27. Barrel fermented, 100% malolactic fermentation, aged in about 15% new French oak. · Aromas and flavors of citrus, banana, vanilla and nuts. Slightly creamy and soft in the mouth with a good cut of acidity on the bright finish. Score: 88

2008 Carabella Eva’s Garden Chehalem Mountains Oregon Chardonnay

13.5% alc., $39. · Similar to the 2010 Estate bottling but more vibrant and appealing with flavors of lemon curd, apple and peach. Soft and slightly creamy in the mouth with a long, very silky finish. Like this. Score: 90

2011 Carabella Estate Chehalem Mountains Oregon Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $39. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Highly aromatic with bright scents of cherry and plum, spice, rose petal and herbs. Beautifully balanced and highly elegant, with flavors that echo the hose embraced by modest tannins. The texture is silky and the finish is satisfyingly appointed with red fruits and herbs. Score: 90

2010 Carabella Estate Dijon 113 Chehalem Mountains Oregon Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $54. · Light garnet color in the glass. Delicate aromas of cherry, floral display and brown spice. Very elegant and silky on the palate, with light weight but pleasing flavors of cherry and raspberry supported by fine-grain tannins. A very charming wine. Score: 92

2008 Carabella Eva’s Garden Chehalem Mountains Oregon Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $75. A selection of the best blocks on the Carabella site. Primarily 113 with some of the oldest 115 plantings and Pommard from the Mistake Block. · Moderate reddish purple hue in the glass. Spectacular nose with effusive aromas of fresh black cherries, black raspberries and spice. Everything you could ask for in a Pinot Noir. Vivid and spiced dark stone and berry fruits are beautifully blended into a layered fruit wonderland, the tannins are submerged, the mouth feel is silky smooth and the finish is generous and persistent. Score: 94

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