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Winery of Year: White Rose Estate

I wrote enthusiastically about White Rose Estate earlier this year in the PinotFile: and readers should refer to this for additional coverage.

Greg Sanders is the mind behind White Rose Estate and the innovative wines produced here based on a “Neo- Classical Objective.” Greg bought the 10-acre White Rose Vineyard in the Dundee Hills in the summer of 2000. Having found satisfaction as the owner of a moderately large manufacturing company in Los Angeles, Greg had begun to look for a different pursuit that offered an emotional connection and found it in wine. He embarked on an exhaustive exploration of Pinot Noir wines, beginning with ones from California, then Burgundy and Oregon. He tasted all the wines from the established labels and studied them in depth to learn what made them special and what allowed the better wines to improve with age. Eventually he arrived at his “aha” moment, and decided the key was an old vine vineyard.

White Rose Vineyard had been planted to Pommard clone on its own roots between 1978 and 1982. The photo above shows the established vines and new inter plantings in 2014. The east-southeast-facing vineyard planted in volcanic Jory soils is well placed with prominent producers such as Archery Summit, Domaine Serene, and Domaine Drouhin Oregon located nearby. The vineyard sits at 879 feet elevation and its location provides an extended growing season that lends itself to harvest in late October. This allows for slow phenolic development, balanced sugars and acids, and mature stems. Because of the resulting quality of the grapes, Greg has called his vineyard, “One of the ten best vineyards in the New World.”

An adjacent 4 acres were acquired in 2009, planted to Dijon 115 clone grafted to American rootstock, and named the Guillén Vineyard after Jesus Guillén who has managed the White Rose Vineyard since 2002, and his son, also named Jesus Guillén, who is Greg’s assistant winemaker. Greg also sources fruit from a number of the Willamette Valley’s top growers in the Yamhill-Carlton District, Dundee Hills, and Chehalem Mountains appellations.

What is particularly impressive about Greg is that he is a self-taught winemaker (he prefers the term, “producer”) who made his first wine in 1999 and his first commercial White Rose Vineyard Pinot Noir in 2001. His winemaking expertise has evolved slowly over the past 13 years tied to the emotional connection he has with wine. The culmination of his efforts led to the term which summarizes his goal, “The Neo-Classical Objective,” first coined in 2011. This encompasses a highly innovative approach among Willamette Valley vintners and is somewhat polarizing in its theory. Greg does not consider it revolutionary, however, since it is soundly based in Old World winemaking techniques.

There are two parts to The Neo-Classical Objective: the “why” and the “how.” The “how” is the simpler of the two parts, while the “why” is the impetus but more difficult to elucidate. Let me start with the “why” first. Simply put, neo-classical refers to an alternate presentation of wine that elevates “pinotnoirness” above everything else. The word “classic” refers to the many presentations of pinotnoirness over multiple generations, while the “neo” refers to Greg’s contemporary adaptation.

The first requirement to achieve the neo-classical objective is to have vines old enough to make a wine that is age worthy. There must be enough phenolic and tannin components to outlast the process of oxidation over time. Tannins cannot be overriding initially as the wine will be austere initially, requiring years to oxidize, often reaching an acceptable level at the time the phenolics (fruit flavors) have dissipated.

The second requirement is that the vineyard must be in the correct location, produce quality fruit, and be subject to the proper temperature such that the resultant wine can achieve a sense of pinotnoirness. In the classic sense, the grapes should reach a state of crispness and freshness, preferably with cherry, raspberry and blackberry flavors. Greg gives the following analogy. If you randomly pick nine cherries and put them in the palm of your hand, three will be dark and concentrated (very ripe), three will be crisp and fresh, and three will be lean and tart (under ripe). The most desirable cherries for a classically driven Pinot Noir are the crisp and fresh ones. As a corollary, the time of the picking decision is critical.

The “how” refers to Greg’s current approach to handling the fruit, skin and seed tannins both in the vineyard and in the winery. Too little tannin and the wine will not last, and too much tannin will produce an edgy wine initially that will need years for the tannins to resolve. In past generations, the tannins were often overwhelming initially, something Greg avoids completely. The ultimate objective is to craft a wine that is good from day one, yet will undergo a metamorphosis over time, not becoming necessarily better, but different.

Ideally, Greg would prefer that much of the skin tannins oxidize away on the vine at the same time as the grape phenolics reach ideal ripeness. Tannins are antioxidants so that as they diminish, the increased available oxygen can ripen the phenolics. Invariably, some tannin remains at harvest, but Greg times his picking so that he manage the associated astringency. In the cellar, punch downs are avoided to prevent rupture of berries and the release of harsh, bitter seed tannins into solution (gentle punch overs are used instead). Post-fermentation, the must is pressed off using a laborious old world basket press. that avoids breakage of seeds and stems. In addition, post-fermentation maceration is minimized, again to avoid extracting too much additional tannin. As previously emphasized, seed tannins are an anathema because they take so long to oxidize that the wine is left with little enjoyable fruit.

Once Greg’s wines are in barrel, the process is routine. The wines are typically aged for 16 months in a low percentage of new French oak barrels, racked once after malolactic fermentatiion, and then again just before blending. They are bottled unfined and unfiltered.

PInot Noirs produced by Greg from old vines in the neo-classical objective mode, are fermented 100% whole cluster. He is not the least bit worried about the stems, only the flavor, phenolic intensity and tannins. In some years, tannin management is not ideal, and some mild herbaceous character may creep in, which may not appeal to all Pinot Noir drinkers. Still, Greg is undaunted, for the nuances, texture, haunting aromas and flavors, and age ability associated with whole cluster fermentation are too desirable in his opinion to think about pursuing another winemaking tact.

In summary, to achieve the neo-classical objective of pinotnoirness and age ability and present the varietal in a manner such that it has the greatest potential to generate an emotional connection to the wine:

(1) Farm on old vine Pinot Noir vineyard planted to quality clones or selections appropriate for the site.
(2) The vineyard must be located in the proper microclimate as growing temperatures dictate success.
(3) Pick the grapes at precisely the time of ideal crispness and freshness and modest tannic astringency.
(4) Gently handle the fruit in the winery with efforts to avoid excessive extraction of tannin, particularly seed tannin
(5) Use 100% whole cluster fermentation.
(6) Press the must manually and gently with a basket press.
(7) Minimize new oak.

Over the past 13 years, Greg has expended considerable effort in improving the grounds of his estate property, the tasting room, and the winery, so they will connect with visitor’s emotions and the “White Rose experience.” The tasting room is unique in that it has no windows to distract the visitor from the wine tasting. In the cellar, elaborate mood lighting and uniform sanding of the barrels creates an intimate and engaging atmosphere.

I tasted the following wines both at the winery and at home using my normal tasting regimen. I find the wines display a haunting floral and exotic spice aroma and flavor associated with the high percentage whole cluster ferments. For myself, and a number of other pinotphiles, whole cluster aromatics are like catnip for humans. Herbaceous characters were extremely subtle to absent in these wines. The wines were elegant and sleek, with non aggressive tannins, and commendable pinotosity (my term for Greg’s pinotnoirness). Oak is not intrusive. All the wines could be thoroughly enjoyed now but will age.

Greg was excited about the 2012 vintage wines. He does not recall a vintage with so much potential. “The 2012 vintage was reminiscent of 2002 and 2008. It was warmer than average and certainly warmer than the cooler vintages of 2007, 2010 and 2011, but cooler than the really warm vintages of 2003, 2006 and 2009. While the wines are dense and rich on the palate, they are extremely well balanced with sufficient acidity. Unlike wines from the warmest vintages where the fruit takes on an over ripe, stewed character, the wines from 2012 consistently retain a fresh, vibrant sense of fruit. Retaining this freshness is critically important to our winemaking goals at White Rose Estate. I certainly appears that 2012 will live up the hype.”

I would encourage readers to experience these wines for their uniqueness. A number of Oregon wineries are experimenting with some whole cluster inclusion in their ferments. Other than Broadley Vineyards, Cristom Vineyards and Thomas Geerie Wines, I know of no other Oregon wineries so full committed to whole cluster vinification.

White Rose Estate is located at 6250 NE Hilltop Lane in Dayton, Oregon. The tasting room is open daily from 11:00 to 5:00. Tours are available by appointment. The wines are sold through a mailing list and on the website at The Explorer’s Club offers unique bottlings. For example, in 2012, wines were offered to Explorer Club members that were produced from different elevations. Different clonal bottlings from the same vineyard will be offered from the 2013 vintage. The Neo-Classical Club offers members wines that are collectable and age worthy.

2011 White Rose Estate “The Neo-Classical Objective” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., 416 cases, $80. White Rose Vineyard (35%), Vista Hills Vineyard (31%, 115 and 777)), and Murto Vineyard (34%, Pommard, Wädenswil and 115). 100% whole cluster fermentation. 23 to 25-day skin contact. Aged 16 months in 9% new French oak barrels. · Moderate light reddish purple color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with hi-tone aromas of spice, potpourri, pipe smoke and rose petal. Elegant, juicy and refreshing, with mid weight flavors of cherry and smoky spices. The fine-grain tannins are modest and the wine finishes with a charming burst of cherry fruit. The wine builds in flavor intensity in the glass over time and is much more giving the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. This relatively delicate wine delivers the neo-classical objective of pinotnoirness. Score: 92

2012 White Rose Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.2% alc., pH 3.63, 1,094 cases, $40. A blend of 9 vineyards with multiple clones. 73% whole cluster fermentation. Aged 11 months in 11% new French oak barrels. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Appealing aromas of cherry, spice, red rose, oak and tea leaves. Soft and smooth on the palate with a good grip and intensity featuring black cherry and raspberry fruits caressed by supple tannins. A very good entry wine to sample the White Rose style. Score: 89

2012 White Rose Estate “The Neo-Classical Objective” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.6% alc., 428 cases, $80. After meticulously tasting barrel samples blind before bottling, only vineyards that meet the neoclassical objective for a given vintage are selected for this blend. White Rose Vineyard (11%), Anderson Family Vineyard (17%), Guillén Vineyard (28%), Lia’s Vineyard (22%), and Luciole Vineyard (11%). Pommard, Wädenswil, 777 and 115 clones. 100% whole cluster fermentation, 16 to 26-day skin contact, aged 16 months in 14% new French oak barrels. · Moderate reddish purple hue in the glass. Lovely aromas of black cherry, dark red rose petal, toasty oak, and exotic spice. This wine fills the mouth with a suave fruit attack and holds on through a tenacious finish that sports some fine-grain but minimally astringent tannins. The middleweight flavors of black cherry, black raspberry and spice are sparkling and fresh. Significantly more richness than the 2011 version of this wine. A superb wine that will be intriguing over time. Score: 93-94

2012 White Rose Estate Guillén Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., pH 3.70, 188 cases, $70. 9-day cold soak, 100% whole cluster fermentation, 21 to 22-day skin contact. Aged 16 months in 19% new French oak barrels. · Medium reddish purple hue in the glass. The nose offers a range of aromas including black cherry pie glaze, baking spice, potpourri and a hint of smoky oak. Plenty of robust fruit including black cherries, red plums and blueberries accented with exotic spices. Soft and velvety on the palate with a good spark of underlying acidity. Still has some unresolved tannins that will require short term cellaring. Score: 92

2012 White Rose Estate Anderson Family Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., pH 3.71, 118 cases, $90. Vineyard is in Chehalem Mountains AVA. Self-rooted Dijon 115. 9-day cold soak, 100% whole cluster fermentation, 26 days total skin contact, aged 16 months in 10% new French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of black cherry, dark red rose and cardamom spice lead to a mid weight + palate of dark stone fruits embellished with delicious spice. The wine is long and silky in the mouth and finishes with spectacular intensity with the fruit returning for several encores. The flavor is eye-opening and the texture is intriguing. Still solid the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score: 94

2012 White Rose Estate Winemaker’s Cuvée Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.6% alc., pH 3.62, 257 cases, $90. A special cuvée blended from favorite barrels in the cellar chosen by winemaker Jesus Guillén. A blend of White Rose, Guillén, Vista Hills, Luciole and Red Hills vineyards. 6 to 9-day cold soak, 93% whole cluster fermentation, 20-26 days of skin contact, aged 16 months in 9% new French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. The nose is a knockout with bright aromas of black cherry, sarsaparilla, smoky rose petal and spice. This wine is a textural masterpiece with waves of velvety goodness. The ripe flavors of black cherry, black raspberry and spice really impress and are framed by a good grip of acidity and a compliment of modestly firm, fine-grain tannins. The finish is incredibly long and vibrant. I like this wine more the longer I sampled it. It was extraordinary the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle showing an explosion of spicy fruit goodness and a very sleek demeanor. Score: 94-95

2012 White Rose Estate White Rose Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

12.9% alc., pH 3.77, 235 cases, $125. Low yields of 0.5 tons per acre due to poor set. Self-rooted Pommard clone. 6-day cold soak, 100% whole cluster fermentation, 20 to 21-day skin contact, aged 16 months in 10% new French oak barrels. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. This is a very elegant and refined wine with considerable freshness. The aromas of cherry, raspberry, wilted rose, and spice jump from the glass. The core of cherry, raspberry and pomegranate fruits is complimented by a vein of spice and leaf in the background. The very slight herbaceous note adds a bit of savoriness and is not at all off putting to me.This wine has more polished tannins than the Winemaker’s Cuvée and slightly brighter tension. The peacock finish is incredibly long and satisfying. Score: 95-96

2008 White Rose Estate White Rose Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.9% alc.. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of black cherry, stem, roasted nuts, graham and chocolate. Mid weight + flavors of cherry, black raspberry and cranberry with a touch of brioche, tobacco and cola. Intense on the attack with a burst of cherry fruit, finishing with good length. The tannins are well-integrated and the texture is very smooth. Plenty of lively fruit to last another five years easily. Score: 91

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