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Musings by Leah Jorgensen

Archive for November, 2009

Beaujolais Nouveau Wine Tradition – Oui Oui!

Beaujolais Nouveau is a tradition.  And, traditionally, it is released and celebrated annually on the third Thursday in November.  I was first introduced to Beaujolais Nouveau wines and the French themed parties when I first sold it in Washington, DC, back in 2000.  Then, I was working for a small wine chain called Best Cellars at the Dupont Circle location.  We sold a few boutique brands, as well as the usual suspects – Bouchard-Aine & Fils and Georges Duboeuf.

Later, I worked for a wholesaler in DC and got to pour at the French Embassy each year – the biggest Beaujolais Nouveau tradition in town.  I poured the Bouchard, Duboeuf and Joseph Drouhin selections.

Beaujolais is an interesting wine.  For some, it’s likened to a sweet, juicy wine and an excuse for a party.  But, there are nuances and subtleties to the wine that make it an excellent food wine, and a fun one at that.  It is often served on American tables at Thanksgiving.  It is a fantastic aperitif.  And, it is a great conversational wine.  It’s lively and opens any fall or winter party quite well.

For some, it’s just about the party.  I have had the priviledge to work the best party at the French Embassy.  Barrels of the Nouveau get shipped in, as well as cases.  It is le festival de l’annee!

Since I’ve moved to Portland, Oregon, I no longer sell Beaujolais.  The closest I got to it was a Gamay Noir wine  produced at Adelsheim Vineyard, a wine that is actually quite elegant and complex, thanks to the gentle and thoughtful winemaking of Dave Paige. 

Gamay Noir is the principal varietal grown in Beaujolais, France – the historical province located north of Lyon, covering parts of the north of the Rhone-Alpes region, and parts of the south of the Saone-et-Loire of Burgundy.  Beaujolais is often considered a hub of Burgundy, but the climate is more reminiscent of the Rhone, with wines unique enough to be considered completely separate.  The region is known internationally for its long tradition of winemaking, uniquely emphasized by the use of carbonic maceration, or whole cluster fermentation.

There are only a few plantings of Gamay Noir in Oregon, and most of it gets blended into Pinot Noir.   A handful of Oregon wineries produce Gamay Noir, including  Amity Vineyards, who makes an interesting Gamay Noir Eco-Wine, which is organic.  Chehalem produced Cherise, a dark, lush Gamay Noir.  WillaKenzie, Brick House and Evening Lands also produce Gamay Noir wines.

Some of these wines, alongside the traditional French Nouveau, will be poured tonight at the Heathman Hotel for their Eighth Annual Beaujolais Nouveau Festival.  There are five wine-pouring stations, a wine auction, and impressive food stations presented by James Beard award-winning chef Philippe Boulot, and the Beaujolais Nouveau wine jetted in from France just yesterday!

I have been to the past three fêtes, and I certainly won’t miss it this year.  It has become my Beaujolais tradition.  My friends rally each year to take in the amazing food, fruity wine and good company hosted by the French-American Chamber of Commerce and co-organized with the Alliance Française of Portland.  Tickets are available at afportland.org.  The event begins at 6:00 p.m.  Â bientôt!

H-ARRR-vest 2009

I moved to Oregon in September of 2004.  Hard to believe that was five years ago!  I was hired by Erath Vineyards and, although I took a job in sales and marketing, my intention was to get closer to the source to learn more about viticulture and/or production.  I wanted to eventually land in the realm of winemaking.  Five years later, I never really got into the winery or vineyard, as I had hoped.  Some of my employers allowed me to dapple in some fruit sorting or other light tasks of harvest work, but I never was able to fully experience what harvest was all about.

This year, since I had a more flexible schedule in consulting, I decided it was time to work crush.  In March, I had contacted my friend and colleague, Thomas Houseman, winemaker at Anne Amie Vineyards.  I met his winemaking team and signed on for harvest cellar work.

I started in early September with bottling some of the 2009 wines.  It was a great way to get familiar with the cellar and winemaking team.  By mid-month, I was helping with organizing and numbering new barrels.  By October, we were in production.

My tasks as a cellar worker ranged from sorting fruit; cleaning and sanitizing equipment and tanks (which I did a lot!); following various work orders; monitoring fermentations (and by this I mean sampling for pH, gathering Brix and temperature data); punch downs; barrel topping; and so on.

Harvest_work_2Sorting Muller Thurgau grapes..

The best part of harvest is working on a crew.  I would say it’s like being on a pirate ship.  A collegial pirate ship.  You work very long hours doing really hard work.  You plunder, and by plunder I mean you steal your crew mate’s galoshes and fill them up with water.  You walk the plank over a tank to do your punchdowns.  It’s exhausting and at times dangerous (you might slip on deck, which in fact, I did).  You are accountable for your work and your team relies on you to pull your weight. 

There is a romance about making wine.  Most people imagine bringing in baskets of pretty grapes and carefully placing the fruit in a barrel or bin for beautiful women to stomp the grapes with their delicate bare feet.  Okay, maybe not.  But, there truly is a romantic notion about making wine.  And, every person who has ever worked on a cellar crew knows that the reality of it is that you are cold, wet, dirty, physically beat and bruised, and tired.  It’s not romantic at all.  But, what it is – well, it’s something hard to describe.  You have to work a harvest to understand. 

Harvest_work

Decked out in heavy-duty rain gear,
I’m connecting a hose to sanitize the
sorting line…

There is a Zen nature to doing harvest work, in the meditative repetition of tasks.  When I would hose down the sorting line or do my early morning rounds of collecting samples from tanks of Pinot noir, and even when I got to do punch downs, I felt a rhythm with nature and science, with space and time.  I was very content.  My “real life” seemed far and distant.  I had been transported to a place that clamored with the sounds of beeping forklifts, wine pump-overs and loud hip hop or new wave music.  I was fed well by an incredible chef who catered to our culinary needs.  I was made fun of, harassed and prodded in good fun – hence, being part of a pirate crew.  I dished out as much as I could.  But, mostly, I learned a great deal from the excellent people who challenged me to experience a real wine education.

This was my first harvest, my first crush, and it sure as hell won’t be my last.  Arrrr!