We were recently introduced to J Wrigley wine from Willamette Valley, Oregon. We thought we would do a Q & A with the winemaker in order to understand their process. Sit back and enjoy:
John & Jody Wrigley – owners, growers, winemakers
J Wrigley Vineyards consists of an estate vineyard and tasting room located in the McMinnville AVA of Yamhill County, Willamette Valley, in Sheridan, Oregon.
The Wrigley Family purchased 200 acres of prime vineyard land in 2006 and planted their first Pinot Noir (6 acres), Chardonnay (1+ acres), Riesling (1 acre) and Pinot Gris (1 acre) vines beginning in October of 2008. The first vintage release was 2009, with the “MAC” Cuvée Pinot Noir, McMinnville.
- Tell us a short history of your winery including how it all began, the terroir and describe a signature bottling.
Our winery began in 2006 when I proposed to Jody at the top of the hill where our tasting room is now located. We saved the stumps of the trees where she sat and those stumps now overlook the Pinot Noir that we call our Proposal Block. We have 200 acres which are a mix of sedimentary and volcanic soils. This allows us to plant the same clones in different soils and get different flavor profiles. Our slopes are predominantly east-facing and south-facing which allows a benefit by being the first vines to receive the morning sun. These are also the first to dry from the night’s dew delete. This helps facilitate natural management of diseases such as powdery mildew. We consider a signature bottling to be what we call our extended barrel-aged wines. This is estate wine that is a blend of the best barrels that we have tasted. We leave the wine in barrel for two years before being bottled.
- Introduce yourself. Give us a sense of your personal history regarding your winemaking journey/education.
John is the winemaker and vineyard manager. We own the vineyard, so we’re able to control the source and quality of our fruit. It is hard to imagine having a winery without having a vineyard. However, I started winemaking by purchasing fruit. I am a self-taught winemaker. My first effort at making wine was just out of college with some plums harvested from a neighbor’s tree. The next effort was a winemaking kit with canned grape juice. And those experiences gave me the bug to develop the knowledge to evolve from an amateur to a commercial winemaker. So, self-study, experimentation, and collaboration with other winemakers are critical to making a quality product. While I have a protocol that I have developed with our wine, I continually have experiments and bench trials that I do each year to make quality improvements.
- What is your personal style of winemaking? Hands on vs. minimal intrusion, canopy management, native yeast, cooperage, blends vs. varietals, fining or filtering, biodynamic or organic, etc.
My personal style of winemaking is what I would consider minimal intervention. I use very few enzymes or additives. I am also a big believer that the wine is primarily made in the vineyard and that it is the responsibility of the winemaker to not screw up quality grapes. The saying is very true, “You can make good wine from good grapes and you can make poor wine from good grapes, but you cannot make good wine from poor grapes”. Our vineyard management is critical and our vineyard site is beautiful and gives us natural air movement and allows us to limit the number of chemicals needed to control diseases such as mildew and botrytis. I have a definite opinion about native yeast and do not use it in our wines. It takes a little longer to explain the philosophy and is better to explain than try to write about it. You will get just as many arguments for using native yeast as compared to using commercial yeast from different winemakers. So, it is a discussion that has many opinions. It is also an area that I may begin some experimentation with in the next few years. I also cross-flow filter all our wine. It is a process that provides superior filtration ability because the process reduces potential bacterial issues that might form in the bottle.
- Take us through a brief overview of one bottle examining vineyard location, topography, seasonal weather, winemaking technique, cooperage, yeast, fermentation or other factors.
Our 2012 is a good example. The growing season was perfect. The last rain occurred on July 1 and we were able to harvest on October 8 just prior to the first rain. We picked our Proposal Block early morning while the fruit was still cool. The grapes were de-stemmed into small fermenters, gassed with CO2 to prevent spoilage and was left in the winery for five days to undergo a “cold soak”. This allows development of flavors and color extraction to begin prior to fermentation. On the fifth day, the fermenters were allowed to warm and the must was inoculated with a traditional yeast sourced from Burgundy. The wine is punched down twice daily with great care taken to not crush the berries into the floor of the fermentation tank. The wine ferments for about seven days. A pumpover, is done one time to make sure the wine is completely circulated and mixed throughout the fermenter. As soon as the fermentation slows down the free run is drained from the tanks into a settling tank for 24 hours to allow the wine some clarification before being transferred to barrels. The wine has a small amount of residual sugar when transferred to the barrel so that the yeast will develop lees which contributes to the mouthfeel of the wine. Bottling occurs at 10 months for our primary bottling and at two years for our extended-aged program.
- How does your site’s soil type, localized climate or geological history affect your winemaking?
The earth in our area has sedimentary soils that are ancient marine sediments. The soils are interlaced with volcanic intrusions that contribute to the wines complexity. We are also the closest vineyard to the Van Duzer Corridor which is one of three gaps in the Coast Range that allows cooling ocean breezes into the Willamette Valley. The wines in our AVA are very structured with significant tannins, acid structure and spice components. Handling the wine with extended macerations and use of enzymes and other winemaking additives can yield wines that are overly big that require a lot of aging to be approachable.
- What are the advantages and challenges to your favorite vineyard site in Willamette, Oregon – include specific aspects such as sun exposure-facing, hillside vs. valley, and ideal topography.
The optimum location for a vineyard in Oregon is between 250 -750 feet in elevation, on a slope with east-facing or south-facing slopes which are exposed to a lot of air movement. The reason is that slopes allow cool air to flow off the vineyard reducing the risk of frost damage. Above 750 feet, the risk of freeze damage rises significantly. It is also cooler in the summer and fruit at higher elevations runs the risk of not ripening adequately. East-facing slopes receive the morning sun and dry quickest as a result. This greatly reduces the need for chemicals to control powdery mildew and botrytis. Air movement is also critical to control of these diseases as it assists in keeping the fruit dry.
To truly enjoy these wines you need to develop patience. Each time I tasted the bottles I made a point of sampling them at different intervals after the bottles were opened. Initially, both of these wines were too closed with almost imperceptible noses and huge dryness. But, if you can find a way to wait for 35-45 minutes these bottles really open up and reward you for your time.
The MAC Cuvee starts off very dry and acidic (it even shows a bit of tannin-very rare for a Pinot Noir). But given enough time it settles down and shows a big rich nose of maple syrup, even reminding me of a big port. To really enjoy this bottle, have it with food. I really liked a Spanish Iberico and crackers to soften its edges.
The Proposal Block bottling had its own personality. It started rather dry and grippy with uncharacteristically high acidity. But after 45 minutes it mellowed out considerably. I thought that it had a smoother and more refined mid-palate than the MAC Cuvee. I even managed to find a hint of cola and smoke on the nose after a while in the glass. I really enjoyed the more subtle, softer side of the Proposal Block as opposed to the more aggressive in-your-face aspects of the MAC Cuvee.
I give the MAC Cuvee 3 Stars and the Proposal Block a solid 3.5 Stars.
I was excited to try J Wrigley. They reached out to us about their wine and since we had just been to Willamette Valley, I thought, how cool to be able to try their wine and have a sense of the region from which it came. They sent us two bottles of each wine and we really appreciated that. It allowed us to have an initial tasting one weekend to just enjoy their wine and then a second tasting to really evaluate it. So what did we come away with? We definitely like their wine. We will admit that we are not huge Pinot Noir fans yet their wine spoke to us. We enjoy fuller-bodied wines and their Pinot Noirs did not disappoint. They were definitely fuller-bodied for a Pinot Noir and were actually very acidic. I likened them to a Pinot Gris, which has the tendency to be bone dry (something that I like). I think these wines would pair well with lamb, BBQ, or Chinese. They are a little offbeat, which adds to their charm.
3 out of 5 for both