Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Cultivating exciting biodynamic wines at Troon Vineyard

Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley has been a pioneer in biodynamic winemaking, and the winery's commitment to regenerative agriculture is evident from the moment you set foot on the expansive property. 

There is much science behind the process, but it feels like there's a little magic here, too. And I'm not talking about cow horns, although they certainly play a role. It's more the smile on the faces of the winemakers and vineyard managers, the happy wag of the tails of the big dogs, the way even the sun seems to shine a little brighter on the flourishing vines. Quite simply, Troon is a happy place. And the combination of biodynamics, talented winemakers and viticulturists, and happy magic combines to make some pretty exciting wines.   

I had the opportunity to visit Troon during the recent Wine Media Conference in August. As part of that group, I met a number of the people who are creating these low-intervention wines. One of the folks embodying the cheerful spirit of Troon is Craig Camp, general manager. Craig originally convinced the winery's owners to take this biodynamic journey, and he has witnessed the positive difference in the grapevines since they have. 

One of the first things that strikes you when you visit Troon, is the idea that this place is a farm, not just a vineyard. There are vegetable and flower gardens along with grapevines. Walking further, you see the large fenced area for sheep and the energetic dogs who guard them -- and who know when Craig is about to give them a treat. 

And the land is tended with respect. Biodynamic farming, an agricultural approach developed by Rudolph Steiner in the early 20th century, seeks to restore balance to nature. How do modern viticulturists apply these techniques? Creating biodiversity in the farm is one approach as is turning to natural solutions to solve vineyard challenges.   

But what about the wines? In short, they are exciting and delicious. There's a playful approach and new ideas are welcomed. Winemaker Nate Wall waxed enthusiastically about his new amphorae, which he told us give wines a different texture than those stored in stainless steel or oak.  

Winemaking styles can also be playful; Troon is making a Piquette, the trending, upcycled beverage that is low alcohol, slightly fizzy, and fun.  There's also a Pet Nat - the category that is slightly carbonated as the wine is bottled while still fermenting. The Troon version is Pet tanNat - a fun play on words, as the grape used is Tannat. 

Beyond these playful offerings, there are still wines that are wonderful expressions of the varietal grapes they contain, including Vermentino and Syrah from a range of vineyard sites. Blending wine is also important, and Troon is making white, red, and rose blends, too.  I've tasted Troon wines numerous times over the past years, and the quality is always very high. 

On the occasion of our visit, we were treated to a wide range of wines served with a fantastic, wood-fired meal prepared by the authors of Fire + Wine, Mary Cresslar and Sean Martin, who also own a catering busines, Ember and Vine. The smokey, delicious fare - all prepared outdoors - was a delicious match for the vivacious wines. 

Visitors to southern Oregon can stop by Troon's tasting room to sample and buy the wines. The winery also has a VRBO onsite for those wishing to relax among the vines.  

Of all the wineries I visited during my recent trip to Southern Oregon, Troon holds a special place for me. The combination of care of the land, innovative winemaking, and a happy spirit make this a wine destination to remember. 




Sunday, September 5, 2021

Albino Armani's quest for quality Pinot Grigio in Italy's Triveneto

As the 16th generation winemaker of his family, Albino Armani is passionate about the mountain-rimmed vineyards where he nurtures one of Italy's most important export wines - Pinot Grigio. 

His family owns 750 acres of vineyards in the Triveneto, comprised of Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. 

I recently attended a virtual tasting hosted by Albino where his passion for the wines of these regions was evident. In fact, Albino has served as the president of the Consorzio DOC delle Venezie. In that role, he was committed to winemakers elevating the overall quality of Pinot Grigio in the area, and he convinced 10,000 grape growers to reduce their yields by 40 percent! These efforts to improve quality were instrumental in the former area labeled by the government as IGT now qualifiying for the more prestigiuos DOC designation. As such, all the DOC delle Venezie wines are traceable and blind-tasted to assure quality. 

As we were introduced to the region, Albino told us that he feels the best Pinot Grigio is from the mountains. Pinot Grigio forms tight clusters that can be susceptible to mold and disease, so the breezy, elevated vineyard sites where his wine grapes grow are beneficial to this variety. 

In this tasting, we explored distinct Pinot Grigios from different parts of the region. What was so suprising is the differences among them! Albino says that the three regions in the DOC are like a mosaic, and oenologists can have fun seeing how grapes from the different soils express their terroir. 

Our tasting included:

Albino Armani Pinot Grigio delle Venezie - Lime, celery, and thyme on the nose. A fresh wine with lemon and herbs on the palate, minerality and good acidity. 

Albino Armani Pinot Grigio Friuli - Nose of chamomile, minerality, with white peach and apple and minerality on palate. The wine has nice texture and body. Albino told us these vines have to fight through rocks to get through to soil, which is only 7 percent of the earth in this area. 

Albino Armani Pinot Grigio Corvara, Valdadige - This single vineyard wine had an intense nose with camilla mixed with caramel. On the palate there was white peach, pear, minerality. The wine had good structure, minerality, and ample acidity. Albino told us that limestone rock walls above the vineyards reflect sunlight onto the grapes, increasing the ripeness. 

Albino Armani Pinot Grigio Colle Ara, Terradeiforti - This wine has a slight copper tint, reflecting that the grapes are macerated on their skins briefly (8-24 hours). The nose had candied ginger. The palate had pear and more ginger, and the wine had a prickling acidity and a long finish. 

One important note is that Albino is committed to growing grapes sustainably. One of the most important factors in enabling sustainable winemaking, according to Albino, is growing the right variety in the right place. For Pinot Grigio, he says that means having "wind, altitude." In fact, Pinot Grigio is a variety that needs some of the coolest temperatures among wine grapes. 

All the wines in this tasting ranged in price in the U.S. from between approximately $10 - $20 -- a remarkable value for the quality delivered. They are available at Total Wine among other retailers. 

The U.S. is the number one export market for Pinot Grigio, and it is our third most popular grape. Wine lovers would be advised to reach for one of the Albino Armani bottles to taste expressive, high quality Pinot Grigios that are a true value.