Four from Ovum

Hello friends. A holiday treat today, as our list has exclusive access to a thrilling new project out of Oregon with a distinctive whiff of the culty.

Thanks to an old relationship, we’re also being offered these wines at heavily-discounted tariffs. These wines are normally line-priced at $30, but our list has access at two-thirds that price.

This is one of those days where I’m happy Full Pull doesn’t have a board of directors or shareholders, because offering Riesling in December might not be considered rational in an economic sense.

But why follow rationality when folly is so much more fun?

I have to think the same thoughts were running through the heads of John House and Ksenija Kostic when they started Ovum. They both had perfectly good, solid jobs at Chehalem Winery, making and selling lovely wines. The rational thing to do would be to stay.

Instead they left, and in summer 2011, they began driving all over Oregon looking for distinctive, potentially forgotten Riesling vineyards; vineyards with extreme climate shifts, poor and rocky soils, and talented farmers. They eventually settled on four sites, and when the wines came in, they treated all four the same way: old barrels, native yeast, long ferments.

The goals are to express a sense of place and time in the glass, to emphasize mineral and earth as primary flavor components (pushing fruit and floral to the background), to create something honest, something wild.

I recently had a chance to taste through all four wines. John and I met at Taylor Shellfish in the Melrose Market and drank these inaugural Ovum releases while eating about a-hundred-and-fifty raw oysters. A pretty incredible combination, but the fact remains: these wines don’t need any pairing; they’re exciting enough on their own.

2011 Ovum Riesling “Off The Grid” (Cedar Ranch Vineyard)

From a site called Cedar Ranch vineyard, down near the California border, with 10-year-old Riesling vines on an old creekbed that cuts through the Northern-Cali/Southern-Oregon forestland. The soil contains grapefruit-sized river cobbles, or “alluvial galets” over packed silt. The Riesling was harvested on Halloween and comes in at 12.5% alc and 1.5% residual sugar. Production was 71 cases.

It drinks like the lovechild of Chablis and Trocken Mosel, with a real flinty character and mineral saltiness. The acidity is high enough to erase any signs of sugar; this drinks quite dry. The nose is an alluring mix of wild grasses, flowers, and gravel, and what fruit exists on the palate is alpine in character: wild mountain fruit on an electric mineral-acid frame.

2011 Ovum Riesling “The Oyster” (Corral Creek Vineyard)

From Corral Creek Vineyard in the Willamette, a site that John and Ksenija worked with regularly at Chehalem. These are older vines, planted in 1983, about to enter their fourth decade, and they sit on wind-blown loess over fractured basalt. Ovum pulls from the very top of the vineyard, where the loess is quite shallow (about three feet), so you have to figure the vines are down into the bedrock at this point.

Harvest was late in the cool 2011 vintage; not until November 12. Even with that late harvest, the alcohol comes in quite low, at 9.5%. Residual sugar is 2.2% here, but the total acidity again washes all that away. Production is, ahem, small: 42 cases. The nose is undeniably earthy, with chalkiness lifted by high-toned spearmint notes. On the palate, this is all salt and mineral, a killer oyster wine (and in fact, there is a picture of a fat oyster on the label of this one). I loved the insistent brininess of this. It’s unapologetic about pushing its fruit to a supporting role, to a grace note. The acid is mouthwatering, teeth-rattling, racy; a thrill-ride for the senses.

2011 Ovum Riesling “Memorista” (Lone Star Vineyard)

From Lone Star Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills, which is the estate site for Argyle, bastion of sparkling wine production in Oregon. Did you know that Rollin Soles grew Riesling? I didn’t. The vineyard is essentially on a chunk of weathered basalt. There’s 30 inches of topsoil, but that wouldn’t slow down the water-seeking Riesling vines for very long. Harvested on November 2, this finished with 10.5% alcohol and 3% residual sugar. Production is 95 cases.

While this still drinks close to dry, there is a bit more suggestion of fruit here. A lovely pure pineapple note on the nose gives way to a palate that features citrusy acids and gravelly minerals: lemon and lime and rocks. The texture is again racy, nervy, exciting. There is enough acid and sugar and dry extract with this (and all these wines) to suggest a long aging curve ahead.

2011 Ovum Gewurztraminer “I’m Gonna Fool You” (Gerber Vnyd)

What happens when you set out to make Riesling but you find an amazing Gewurztraminer vineyard? Answer: you make amazing Gewurztraminer. The highest production of the lineup, at a whopping 98 cases, this comes from Gerber Vineyard, a 1976-planted site in the Illinois Valley of southern Oregon, close enough to the Pacific to get some maritime influence. The vineyard sees huge diurnal temperature shifts and sits on alluvial pebbles on top of a base of clay.

John and Ksenija harvested on Halloween and wound up at 12.5% alcohol and 1.2% residual sugar. The aromatics combine classic Gewurz – lilac and lychee – with more exotic, flinty-minerally notes. The palate is dry, spicy, minerally, austere: much more about acid and rocks than any overt fruit or flower. This competes with Dowsett’s Celilo Vineyard Gewurz as one of the most exciting versions of this varietal to come out of the northwest.

I said “a distinctive whiff of the culty” above because Ovum has two of the major ingredients shared by many a cult winery: tiny production and a sense of focus bordering on the obsessive. Wineries like this are to be cherished, and are well worthy of our support. Please limit order requests to 3 bottles of each wine, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.

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