Hello friends. Last year about this time, we wrote about the wines of Walter Scott. Here’s what I said in the intro: Despite our neighborly status, Washington has a not-uncomplicated relationship with Oregon wines. Many of the better Oregon Pinot producers send just a tiny amount over the border into Washington, and those wines can be extremely difficult to source, with allocations based on long-time historical relationships.
I used Cameron as an example: a terrific producer, one that I love and would love to write about more, but one whose Seattle allocation generally gets gobbled up by their long-term retail relationships. And then I explained that I see my current role with Oregon as trying to identify the *next* crop of outstanding Oregon producers, and to get in on the ground floor. A great example, I said – a name that comes up again and again in conversations about outstanding young producers – is Walter Scott.
Well this year, we get the best of both worlds, all in one offer. Thanks to the efforts of one of Cameron’s dedicated Seattle representatives (thank you Jen!), and to winemaker John Paul’s generosity, we have access to a precious, tiny little parcel of Clos Electrique.
Not quite enough for its own offer, but perfect to roll together with new Walter Scott releases. Today we get to have our cake and eat it too: excellent old-school Oregon and excellent new-school Oregon.
When we’ve offered Cameron Pinot previously (and it has only been a handful of times, most recently in December 2014), we’ve offered Abbey Ridge and Arley’s Leap and Dundee Hills. Never their estate vineyard, Clos Electrique, until today.
When writing about Cameron, I always like to point to this 12-minute video chronicling the 2012 vintage at Cameron, from January through harvest. That paints a picture of Cameron far more detailed than my words can, but I’ll try anyway: Founded in 1984 by marine-biologist-turned-winemaker John Paul, who worked stints in New Zealand, California, and Oregon before launching Cameron, the winery is totally focused on sustainable dry-land farming. They produce Pinot Noirs frequently confused with Burgundy when served blind, and they’ve developed a culty reputation, such that most of the small production never makes it out of Oregon.
Here are some excerpts of how John Paul describes the vineyard: The estate vineyard at Cameron Winery consists of approximately 3 acres of Pinot noir, 2 acres of Chardonnay, 0.5 acre of Italian white grape varieties and 1 acre of Nebbiolo. Each block of vines is planted to multiple clones. This technique increases the complexity of the resulting wines as well as giving the vineyard great resilience in the face of various of climatic and biological impediments. The original Pinot noir clones were planted on their own roots in 1984 and over the years, we have added new vines grafted onto American root stock. Most of the Chardonnay clones were planted in 1987 with the addition of some Pinot blanc more recently in an attempt to more truly emulate a classic Burgundian white vineyard.
Clos Electrique is farmed organically which means that we use elemental sulfur during the growing season to prevent growth of powdery mildew and use copper hydroxide and leaf removal in the vicinity of grape clusters to inhibit botrytis. Insect pests are generally kept in check by cultivation of predatory insects with integrated cover crops. This is one of the warmer vineyard sites in the Red Hills of Dundee and usually is harvested during the second half of September. Yields of the “rouge” average 1.5 tons per acre. Our vineyard was the very first certified Salmon-Safe vineyard in Oregon, which reflects our long term commitment to riparian protection, water management and conservation of native biodiversity.
The available parcel size isn’t large enough to support a sample, but I can say, based on previous vintages, to expect a wine with ethereal aromatics, flavors that run the gamut from red fruit to savory mineral and underbrush tones, and a texture that offers palate-staining character and impressive sap at a moderate weight. Cameron Pinots are must-try wines for Oregon lovers, and I feel fortunate that we’re able to offer this special bottle today.
Walter Scott is the winery of husband and wife team Ken Pahlow and Erica Landon, and they’re as buzzy as a winery gets in Oregon right now. Ken and Erica have tons of industry experience, he on the winemaking/sales side (stints at St. Innocent, Patty Green, Evening Land), she on the restaurant/somm side. The winery began in 2009, but it’s only in the past few years that the wines have escaped the clutches of the winery mailing list and the state of Oregon, and they still turn up more frequently in restaurants than at retail. A lot of the early buzz came from positive press from exacting publications like Tanzer’s IWC and Burghound. Then the excellent wine writer Neal Martin arrived in 2015 to write about Oregon for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, and the buzz turned into a roar, thanks to these (excerpted) notes:
In my communications with Ken and Erica, one of my favorite quotes comes from Erica: “Becky Wasserman was once quoted in spectator saying that you can always tell a great domain by their Bourgogne. These are words we LIVE by. We put the same care and attention to detail in these two wines as our single vineyard selections. It is our reputation and our life.”
Hell. Yes. Erica is quoting the great Burgundy importer Becky Wasserman, who was saying that a great Burg domain can (should) be judged by their entry-level Bourgogne Rouge. The equivalent in Oregon is a Willamette Valley Pinot, and Erica is intimating that she and Ken are comfortable being judged on the merits of their WV Pinot (now called La Combe Verte). Perhaps especially so in vintages like 2014 and 2015, which allowed for both high yields and high quality.
This Pinot comes from five excellent vineyards: Eola Springs, Vojtilla, Freedom Hill, Temperance Hill, and Sojouner. Average vine age is 25 years; that’s pretty damned old by northwest standards, and especially for Pinot at this price point. All that good fruit was native-yeast fermented, and then aged in 30% new French oak for about a year. It clocks in at 13.5% listed alc and offers an attractive nose: black cherry and figgy fruit married to earthy notes of peat moss and pine resin. In the mouth, this is balanced and achingly pure, with a pinpoint mix of fruit and mineral tones. It’s honest, nakedly expressive Pinot, with loads of depth and complexity at a mid-$20s tag. Density without excess weight is a neat trick in Oregon Pinot, a trick Ken and Erica pull off here.
And a bonus Chardonnay to boot, even rarer than the Pinot. Here’s Erica: We ferment with ambient yeast, in barrel (mostly puncheon) and stir the lees as little as possible, only to stir them into suspension to assist them with fermentation. Once finished they are not stirred again. Malolactic is 100%, surprising given the acidity of the finished wine. The wine aged in barrel for 10 months, then blended and bottled. There is roughly 25% new oak on this wine.
Listed alc is 13.0%, and this begins with a piercing nose of lemon oil, crème fraiche, nectarine, and chalky mineral. You notice the palate-coating intensity right away. This is fresh, bright, insistently nervy. The acidity really pops here, carrying waves of citric-mineral goodness across the palate. The lemon-drop finish invites another sip, or, better yet, another bite of your crab bisque.
Please limit order requests to 6 bottles of Cameron and 12 bottles each of the Walter Scott wines, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wines should arrive in a week or two, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.