Phylloxera has stayed in modern history as the absolute plague of viticulture. At all times did vintners have to face natural catastrophes, but none has been as destroying as phylloxera. Vines struck by the bug died within a few years, surviving only at the cost of dangerous, expensive, and not very effective treatments. The problem came from America, but the solution also: native vines there had been in contact with the insect for centuries and had developed a resistance. The solution was then clear: grafting the traditional, well-known European varieties (chardonnay pinot, merlot, cabernet, etc …), that would yield their traditional fruit, on naturally resistant American vines, that would offer them their roots.
It was a matter of life or death and although some well-known properties kept their old vines as long as they could (in Burgundy a great part of Clos Vougeot until 1920, Romanée-Conti until 1945), for fear of altering the character of their wines, in the end, it was not sustainable. Still today, tasters and vintners alike cannot help wondering about what the wine would be like without the « filter » of the rootstock.
Well, we offer you the possibility of judging by yourself. In 2017 we produced a new wine for Nicolas-Jay, the Own-Rooted Pinot Noir - composed of Hyland, Bishop Creek and Nysa Vineyards, all planted before 1990, and all sitting on their own roots. Is the quality of this wine, pure, well concentrated yet slightly lean, due to the absence of rootstock and the « direct » link between the fruit and the earth ? Or is it more simply because the wines come from older vineyards, giving naturally more concentrated fruit, with a distinctive character ? In both cases, this is excellent juice, we love it and greatly encourage you to try it !
Here are some of Jean-Nicolas' thoughts of Oregon in relation to Burgundy:
What is great about Oregon is that it’s really devoted to Pinot. As such, it's known in Burgundy. The fact that the region is two-thirds Pinot Noir tells something about the dedication of the people there.
In terms of climate and technical data for wine, the biggest difference is that the summers are really dry in Oregon compared to Burgundy. As a result, in general, I worry in Burgundy about ripening. Lately we've had some warm vintages, but the early 2010s, it was not that warm and the alcohol levels were not that high.
In Oregon, I don't worry about ripeness and alcohol, I worry about keeping the freshness and the acidity. So I would say the fundamental difference between the two regions is the difference at harvest.
Both regions should reflect the natural, true conditions each year. On that point, Oregon needs to be a little more confident, because there are still some people who think it is difficult to ripen grapes in Oregon – no, it's not. In that respect, it reminds me of what we heard about Burgundy 20 years ago, that it was very irregular, and that it was not always very good, etc, etc. My small experience in Oregon after five years is that you can really do wines that are not highly technically corrected. You can really do wines that reflect the natural conditions of the region, and this is great.
Wine writer Jamie Goode paid a visit to our Dundee House in July to taste through some wines and meet Jay and Jean-Nicolas. He tasted through the (now sold-out) 2016 Single Vineyard wines, and has now published his reviews along with a overview of his time at the winery.
Read the article here and read below for his reviews!
Nicolas Jay Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2015 Oregon
This was very warm and hot even until the end of August. It was then overcast and cool before and during harvest. There was a little bit of rain and everyone panicked, but as a result the wines don’t have the warm and sweet character that they had in 2014, and the alcohol level is a bit lower. 30% new oak in all three. Sweetly aromatic with fine, juicy, mineral notes and nice red cherry and plum fruit. Nice texture with a fine spiciness. Supple, elegant and very drinkable, with a nice sweetness to the fruit. 94/100
Nicolas Jay Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2016 Oregon
Ripe year, harvested in early September. Very ripe but with charm and this prevents it from being heavy says JN. A touch of spice and cedar on the nose, with sweet, supple, finely elegant cherry fruit. There’s some spiciness here: really supple and expressive with lovely precision and a bit of grippy structure. Lovely structure to this wine. 94/100
Nicolas Jay Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2017 Oregon
Absolutely charming year: lighter vintage showing extremely well. Balanced. Says JN. Supple, rounded and textured. Very fine. Has a faint cocoa and cedar edge to the elegant sweet red fruits. Has lovely finesse and purity with a lightness and precision. Very fine. 95/100
Nicolas Jay Nysa Pinot Noir 2016 Dundee Hills, Oregon
This was one of the vineyards we loved right from the start, says JN. Extremely velvety, fine and seductive, but has length also. DH can be a bit syrupy at the end but this ends in a lovely way. Own rooted, planted in 1990. Lovely elegant, vivid, bright raspberry and cherry fruit with nice structure and precision. Great concentration and structure here, alongside the pure vivid fruit. 96/100
Nicolas Jay Momtazi Vineyard 2016 McMinnville, Oregon
Planted in 1999. Herby slightly rubbery reductive note on the nose. Supple, fresh red cherry and plum fruit, with lovely finesse. Taut and light at the same time, showing restraint and focus. This is sleeping now, but has great promise for the future. Very expressive and mineral on the finish. Intriguing. 94/100
Nicolas Jay Bishop Creek Pinot Noir 2016 Yamhill Carlton, Oregon
Planted in 1988 on marine sedimentary soil. This is concentrated and quite structured with some grunt on the mid-palate. Has broad shoulders and bold tannins. Has weight and power but also lovely finesse. Lots of promise for the future. Such an interesting wine, and really quite serious. 96/100
In a time when we have access to clean, easy to use, stainless steel containers, why continue to use small wooden barrels? French oak, or let us say European oak, because of its relatively loose fibers, allows the wine to breathe. A slow but continuous inflow of oxygen penetrates the wood and the wine, allowing it to mature gracefully.
As a reminder, aging Pinot Noir generally involves malolactic fermentation in barrel. This triggers production of CO2 and reductive (foul) aromas, that are progressively mitigated by a regular influx of oxygen, which also helps stabilize and round out the tannins. This slow addition of oxygen is very difficult to replicate in a closed stainless steel tank. The newer the wood, the more exchange there is.
Of course, with new barrels comes the associated aromas and tannins. This can overtake the body of the wine, which is why, generally-speaking, 100% new wood is not desirable in a wine. This side effect has now become dominant in the view of the public and many wine professionals, but for us, flavor and tannic structure are not the primary reason for the use of new barrels.
We believe new barrels should have a relatively low impact on the wine, but are used in large part to preserve its integrity. Toasting of the barrels should be kept at low intensity, even though high toast tends to taste better at the beginning; at the end of élevage (time in barrel), the impact will be higher, and much more difficult to integrate.
Méo-Camuzet has developed a relationship with François Frères in St Romain, France, where this philosophy is understood. The type of wood is chosen so that a light toasting is absorbed and mitigated into the wine, if the time of élevage is long enough. The tonnellerie allows us to make the barrels under the same conditions for Nicolas-Jay.
It is a great opportunity, as this kind of offering is generally not available in the United States. We are still refining what goes best with each wine, but generally medium to tight grain is used, whereas very tight grain (generally more tannic) seems to go better, not surprisingly, with concentrated cuvées, that can use a bit more time to get ready.
- Jean-Nicolas Méo
As 2017 begins hopeful and anew, we can now take a first look at the 2016 wines aging in barrel, in the quiet cool caves of our cellars.
The 2016 season brought some challenges, as all growing seasons do, but also some catastrophes, and ended surprisingly with almost ideal harvests, both here in Burgundy and in Oregon. As we reflect back, while tasting these young wines, we learn from the difficulties and celebrate the outcomes:
In April, Burgundy was hit by the worst frost in decades, followed by a downy mildew epidemic of an exceptional virulence. Rain fell day after day–even causing national French media to declare the cows depressed and a potential cheese shortage! In an almost opposite weather pattern, Oregon’s summer started earlier than we’ve ever seen in recent history, sparking fears of a summer harvest and very ripe vines.
Then, much to our surprise, summer corrected that hectic beginning in both regions: it was warm and sunny in Burgundy, shifting the region’s course away from what could have been a disastrous harvest, quality and quantity wise. In Oregon, it was cool and slightly overcast, significantly slowing down the rapid speed at which vineyards were ripening.
As a result, it took a lot of thoughtful decision-making, change of perspective, and inevitable hesitations to decide on the harvest date in Oregon. As warm weather resumed toward the end of August, ripening took off again; harvest, at some point, very civilly-scheduled around the September 12-15, was suddenly urgent again, given the speed at which sugar was rising in the grapes.
Burgundy had the reverse experience: harvest, due late given the spring conditions, advanced at a high-speed pace during the summer. When the region enjoyed a much-needed five-day episode of rain in the middle of September, the level of humidity overreached what was strictly necessary for the maturation of vineyards. Harvest had to be delayed again, to allow the vines to dry off from the surplus of rain. Restless and stressful nights ensued as we waited to begin….
Fortunately, in both cases, weather was close to ideal during harvest, with cooler days than past years, but still brilliantly sunny, which allowed for great picking conditions. Experts were at a loss and dismayed during much of the process, but typically regained confidence once it was all over … it was actually difficult not to be optimistic looking at the resulting grapes when they arrived at wineries.
Given the hectic and sometimes gloomy conditions of the year, the wines in barrel are surprisingly balanced and charming on both sides of the Atlantic. They display a very ripe, but charming character in Burgundy. The colors are dark, some fruit-forward aromas are perceptible, but the wines are not heavy or high-toned, and should be supported with discreet acidity. Clos Vougeot is likely going to be a bit more structured than usual, whereas the Vosne Romanée wines (village, Chaumes, Brulées, Cros Parantoux, and the two grands crus Richebourg and Echezeaux), together with the Nuits Boudots and Nuits Murgers, should be very seductive. On the Corton side, wines are a bit more serious and could turn out very interesting. Chardonnay on the whole, struggled to reach a correct ripeness, but where things have been done properly, should be very balanced.
In Oregon, the wines are showing a concentrated fruit quality, in every meaning of the expression: higher in alcohol than in 2015, but less so than in 2014. The result is very appealing wines that display a natural easiness, but which we suspect will turn out to be quite complex and long-lived. The balance is there. Wines from Bishop Creek show their usual strong tannins but seem to be more approachable than in 2015 at this stage, and are supported by dark cherry, intense minerality and a complexity that will rival the last two vintages. Nysa is quite pretty, as expected, showing its best face in an early pick decision of the old vine Pommard block–restrained, seductive and red-fruited without being cloying or high-toned. The wines, at this young and awkward stage, show a balance and purity that strikes a note somewhere between the 2014 and 2015 vintages.
One of the reasons winemaking holds such incredible appeal is that no matter how long we’ve been at it, no matter the history or tradition or familiarity with vineyards, we’re always learning. Each growing season presents a new challenge: just when we think we know where the vintage is headed and think we have everything figured out, we end up being surprised. 2016 is no exception, and what looked like doom and gloom early on turned into excellent harvests in both Burgundy and Oregon.
Welcome to the Nicolas-Jay community, and thank you for your support.
We have now completed an almost 2 month launch tour, that spanned 5 cities and various people: consumers, wine professionals (sommeliers, retailers …), journalists … and we must have personally tasted close to 30 bottles of our Willamette Valley cuvée in various conditions. Although we gave birth to that wine, it was nonetheless a thrilling experience to see how our wine is behaving, now that it is bottled and living its own life.
The return was fantastic. Wine professionals were very supportive, even the ones that are usually quite stone-faced; but consumers' reactions were the most telling: some said how rich the wine felt, others that the structure was really impressive, that is has great fruit … And the most common question was when would be the good moment to open it?
While it is fair for us to say that we actually do not know, we gained some experience from this tour.
At this stage, the wine has a lot of natural elegance: an aromatic nose, a velvet opening in the mouth, a rich and fruit driven but also long finish. Decanting it is useful: it helps develop the aromatics and soften the tannins in the finish. The development in the glass is the most interesting outcome of this experience: the wine has the capacity to evolve during the course of the meal and show many facets. Coming back to it is never tiring. Someone even told us that after a 5 day opening at room temperature, the wine had improved further, showing greater finesse.
We think it indicates our wine has the capacity to show well at all stages.
Young, it will be demonstrative and display beautiful cherry aromas, great fruit, and some structural tannins in the end. In a few years, 3 to 5 maybe, the integration will be greater, the wine will be more subdued but finer and display all the delicacy of a great Pinot Noir. In ten years, it will demonstrate how a ripe vintage from Oregon is holding up, and how seductive that kind of wine can be. In 20 years…we hope to hear what you think over a glass.
We hope you enjoy it, do not hesitate to send us your impressions. You are a big part of the Nicolas-Jay team and community and our shared success.
We would also like at this stage to offer you access to a limited release of our magnum format bottles of the 2014 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. They will be available starting today through our website. Please keep in mind when ordering wine this time of year we will be shipping ground only when weather permits. We will be in touch if we need to hold the wine or alter shipping methods.