I have been asked a few times, “How do you decide what to write about?” I have been doing the newsletter for a while now, and it hasn’t changed since day one. I am sharing my wine journey with you. It is a journey and not a destination. I follow the path where ever it leads me. I remembered a beach hike about 17 years ago. I was with another person, and we spotted seals sunbathing. We decided to get a closer look, and no matter what we did, we never got closer. It became the sole focus of the hike, and the appeal of being in the woods and the outdoors took a back burner. To this day, I have zero interest in seeing seals and prefer going with the flow to see where the day takes me.
I am sure at this point you are thinking, “What in tarnation does seeing seals and my Saturday morning cup of coffee about a winery have in common?” Well, it all started with a direct message from Stephanie at Adelsheim telling me about their Discovery Box monthly Subscription service and asking if I was interested in receiving a box to provide feedback.
Here’s where the seals fit into the story. I had seen the ads for the Discovery Box via Instagram, and I was aware of the service. I also have watched many YouTube videos with David Adelsheim exploring the past of Oregon Wine Country with others. Still, I never had a super compelling reason to visit the winery or buy the wine for some reason. For the most part, I enjoy finding the little guys in Wine Country, and Adelsheim is far from one of the little guys.
In 1972 David and Ginny Adelsheim planted their first vines in what we now call the Chehalem AVA. However, it was 1971 when the couple was inspired by other Oregon Wine pioneers such as the Lett Family of Eyrie Vineyards, Dick Erath, Chuck Coury (there is a Pinot clone named after Chuck), and the Ponzi family to plant vines even though their desire of the 19-acre parcel was to live off the land.
If you have read anything about the history of Oregon Wine, David Adelsheim will come up countless times again and again. David helped pass some of the strictest labeling laws in the country. For example, if an Oregon wine says Ribbon Ridge AVA, 95% of the grapes have to come from the Ribbon Ridge AVA. When you compare the same labeling law in California, only 75% of the grapes have to come from the AVA.
This past year Adelsheim has been celebrating the 50th Anniversary. Part of the celebration includes one-on-one interviews with the original crew members of the Oregon Wine Family. I could quickly fill up the newsletter with 50 years of history, but we are all living in the present. So let’s move forward a bit to 2017.
In 2017 Adelsheim named a new winemaker, Gina Hennen. Gina came from a semiconductor background in Oregon, which led to time spent in Dublin and Ireland. When she came back to Oregon, she looked for life sans cubicles. Her first harvest job was in 2006. Gina and the previous winemaker David Paige used to share a pot of tea every morning. When he left to pursue his label, David Paige Wines, Gina’s reaction was, “I usually make the first pot of tea in the morning for us to share, but now I’ll be surrounded by coffee purists, and I’m sure I’ll end up drinking the whole dang pot myself. I foresee lots of shaky mornings.” The Oregon Wine Archive has a great video with Gina to check out.
Gina and David Paige worked closely together for many years. At first, they were producing about 25,000 cases in 2001. Now production is well into 50,000 distributed over 20 different countries. That’s a lot of wine, and it’s great to see 50 years of hard work pay off! Truth be told, this is part of the reason I hadn’t visited Adelsheim yet. They are far from what I would call an Oregon underdog. There is something special when I find other wineries going through the same growing pains David was 40+ years ago. I have a feeling if you are reading this, we are pretty similar in that fashion. Is this a reason not to visit and explore a winery?
David is still very active in the community. I have heard stories of him advising young wineries on how to price, along with other tips and tricks he has learned. In 2019, Adelsheim partnered with CJ McCollum to create Heritage 91 that sold out in record time. Quick side note, Heritage was the name of the street CJ grew up on, and 91 is his birth year. A percentage of sales went towards a non-profit called Growing Gardens. In thinking through the partnership with CJ, how much exposure do you think it gave to Oregon Wine throughout the Wine World? Yeah, I know most of us want Oregon Wine to be our little secret, and we don’t like to share. Still, after all of these years, there has to be something said for the continuous work to bring more people to Oregon wine.
Moving forward a bit more on the timeline to the beautiful year of 2020. We all know the stories of the fires and how it is affecting the 2020 vintage. Some wineries picked before the fires. Some picked and decided to make something with the grapes, while others did not release anything. Adelsheim is not coming out with any Pinot for 2020. Their rationale behind the decision was that the wine didn’t meet their high standards. Think about this for a minute. 50,000 cases a year. How many people are employed to support that much wine? Of the 50k cases, at least 85% has to be Pinot. It doesn’t matter how big you are. This is going to hurt. Putting quality over profit speaks volumes to me.
As I traversed down the rabbit hole further and further, I knew what had to come next.
Two weeks ago, the sun was trying its darnedest to peep through the clouds as I walked into Adelsheim’s tasting room with a splash of the 2019 Artist Series Rose. To my left was an actual bar with actual people sitting and having a good time. These have been rare sightings for me in the past 18 months. I adore sitting at the bar, BTW. There were some tables off to the right and some tables close to the bar further back where I was seated. At first, my back was to the entrance with a good view of outside, but not optimal for taking in the tasting room. However, I was pretty happy with soft ambient music giving off a friendly vibe for a semi raining Saturday.
Robin came up to the table introduced herself, full of energy! My second pour was a 2018 Ribbon Springs Chard. Robin was full of information, and there was no way I could keep up with every bit of detail, but here is a little info for you. Ribbon Springs comes from Ribbon Ridge, grafted over existing Pinot Gris vines, and is a new and neutral oak combo. It was a solid Chard with a lasting finish. Give it a few years, and I have no doubts it will blossom into something extraordinary.
As Robin was setting up for the next pour, a side by side of the 2017 Ribbon Springs Pinot and 2017 Grand Oak Pinot, she told me a little story about David. He was helping the Drouhin’s find land for their vineyard way back in the day. He found a great place, but there was a minor issue. I mean, what great story doesn’t have some sort of plot twist to it? The Drouhin’s wanted to see the property first hand before making a purchase, and it was going to be a little bit before they were in town again. So David took $1,000 of his money to hold the property for the Drouhin family. I assume this is the current property in the Dundee Hills, and David got his $1,000 back.
It’s not very often you get to taste 2017s in the tasting room, much less two different vineyards side by side. As Robin told me a bit about the previous owners of Grand Oak how they used to be oyster farmers, something seemed familiar to me. I don’t know what it was exactly, but I had a hunch Grand Oak was part of Raindance. Thank goodness I had my trusty journal to confirm my suspension. July 30th, when I was at Raindance, I had 2 Rieslings, a Chard, and a Pinot from the Grand Oak vineyard.
It was great tasting these side by side, and generally, I feel the pressure to pick one over the other in these types of scenarios. I enjoyed how the Ribbon Springs had a brighter mid-palate followed with a nice long finish compared to the Grand Oak.
When Robin came back, I asked a question I already knew the answer to, but it was good to get a confirmation the Grand Oak Pinot in front of me came from Raindance. As she was walking away to get the last pour, I had to ask if it was possible to get a pour of the 2015 Elizabeth that a group sitting at the bar got a pour. Her response was, “Of course!” Have I mentioned how excellent Robin was?
The 2015 Elizabeth is now only available in magnums and is the last year of the label. Elizabeth is David’s daughter’s name. Over the years, she begged and pleaded for her Dad to stop making the wine. The portrait of Elizabeth on the label was created by her mom when Elizabeth was still in her teenage years, but the portrait needed to depict an older Elizabeth. I think there is some sort of law saying kids can’t be on wine labels. I was a little surprised the tannins were still a bit grippy for a 2015, but a solid bottle that will last for quite a while!
The final pour was a 2015 Calkins Lane Pinot. Calkins Lane is the road Adelsheim is located, and from what I can tell, the name Calkins came from S.M. Calkins, who used to be a landowner in the 1920s whose family arrived by wagon train in the 1850s. SM Calkins also helped the Sisters of St. Joseph establish the Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene. Why is it the last pour at every winery is the best? I adored the deep dark fruit of this so much!
Before I wrap things up, let’s chat a bit about the Mystery Box! Adelsheim has an excellent service of getting two bottles of wine, delivered either every month, every two months, or quarterly. You choose how often you want to be surprised. Every month it is up to Gina to pick the contents of the box. My box included the 2015 Calkins I adored paired with 2018 Brut Cuvee Sparkling. My first sip of the Sparkling was decedent and instantly took me back to summer when I was tasting other Sparkling wines. The Cuvee is a blend of 58% Pinot and 42% Chardonnay. I also got a nice Sparkling Stopper to help preserve those delicate bubbles.
I can’t say enough about Adelsheim. With deep roots in Oregon Wine History, they are still pushing the envelope to ensure a pleasant experience, killer wines, all while staying humble. When you make a reservation via their website or a good ole fashioned phone call, let them know, “A.J. sent me!”