The Best Storyteller

This is a story about a walk in the woods, an encounter with a mushroom,

and what it taught me about my purpose as a winemaker.


[promontory, cape falcon]

In our world of many choices, people have power to guide the priorities of the future. As we acknowledge and exercise this power, industries are changing. Think electric cars and organic groceries, but also consider wine.


As both a form of art and a product of agriculture, wine holds a unique place in our homes and on our tables. For many years, it has snuck by on its own mystique, but as we increasingly seek transparency regarding the things that we consume, wine is also changing.


In my jobs outside The Color Collector at E&R Wine Shop in Portland and Syncline Winery in Lyle, I have had a lot of encouragement and occasion to think about ‘natural wine.’ Perhaps I am a little slow to the game, but I don’t recall this term being so commonly used even six or seven years ago. As a wine consumer, I am increasingly interested to learn the details of how a wine was made. So, as a conscientious wine producer, it seems increasingly important to fully understand and be able to articulate my own guiding principles.


Since I am, and hope to always remain, in the process of learning and growing, this does not feel as straightforward a task as it might seem. I know just enough to understand how much I do not know (or as Socrates said, “I know that I don’t know.”) Drawing solid philosophical lines and calling it done feels like a cheat to the dynamic essence of my endeavor.


How then to talk about it?


[angel's wing, cape falcon]

On a recent hike through a winding, muddy forest along the Oregon Coast to Cape Falcon, I saw this Angel’s Wing mushroom and was struck by its pure, effortless elegance. Since all of my best thinking happens while walking, my mediation on the mushroom began to form itself into a thought:


Although nature operates on a longer time-scale than humans, her cycles and seasons continually reassert the same hopeful story of interconnectedness and death leading to rebirth. The perfect, snow white Angel’s Wing I saw adorning that log would only be there for a few days, but it is part of an underground mycorrhizal network that connects plants together and benefits the entire forest. The single, delicate mushroom is just part of a complex, intricately-woven chronicle, and whether we are there to witness it or not, nature is the ultimate storyteller. She illustrates her narrative in vibrant colors, enchanting sounds, and richly intense smells.


At its best, wine is one of nature’s translators. It takes all the intangible details of a place and a season, which are revealed only in nature’s time, and condenses them into a language that can be tasted by humans. The secret magic of wine lies in its ability to tell a story, not with words, but through a sensory experience. The stories that excite me most are the true accounts, the honest tales of spring rain, summer heat, and the perilous days of autumn, of the hands that thoughtfully tend to the plants in the vineyard and gently care for the grapes (then juice, then wine) in the cellar. I like these wines (these stories) because they are a tangible taste of the real mystery and magic – which is the interconnectedness of all things, the curiosity and creativity of humans, and the promise of abundant new life, even in the dark days of winter.


As a producer, it is my intention to tell an honest tale. My craft is to be a medium for translation without asserting my own agenda. I do not always do this perfectly - a craft is developed over many years of practice – but where I have the choice to alter a wine to fit my version of aesthetic perfection or to simply pay attention as it finds its own voice, I try to choose the latter.


Ultimately, rather than dutifully checking categorical boxes, I want my principles to guide me to sincere* wine. I want to learn to be led by the concept of reciprocity in order to make decisions that prioritize the health and sustainability of the land on which my grapes are grown, the people who farm them, and finally the people who consume them.


While to date, I have not had the luxury to farm my own fruit and therefore to personally begin this work in the field (or to even have much choice, given the scramble simply to get Gamay grapes as a small producer in Oregon), I recognize that the only way to truly know a story from start to finish is to be there from the beginning. My new endeavor at Alta Medō - where I have planted an acre of Chasselas vines and plan to keep planting - is my way of acknowledging this necessity and committing to go deeper. It will be a lifelong project.


For those of you who would appreciate more concrete information about what this means for my work (as I often do for wines at E&R Wine Shop) details are below. I welcome questions and responses and remain truly grateful to you for being part of this journey.


Warmly,

BK


*p.s. Interesting fact! I learned from my one of my most reliable editors (my brilliant Mom) that the word "sincere" comes from the Latin "sine" and "cera" wax. It refers to a label used by ancient pottery merchants to indicate that their merchandise was genuine and without the wax that less honest dealers used to hide cracks in the clay.


[basket pressing buona notte sauvignon blanc, #teamwork]]

- All Color Collector wines are pressed in a small, hand-crank basket press and moved only by gravity, without the aid of a pump. (Sometimes this gravity is man-made via forklift)


- One of the reasons I continue to be drawn to Gamay is that it tends to reach ripeness while maintaining good acidity. Since the efficacy of sulfur is relative to both pH and alcohol, higher acidity means that less sulfur is needed to achieve the same level of protection as would be required in a higher pH wine. As my skills and setup improve, I hope to work toward using even less sulfur.



2019 Gamay Noir


- Havlin Vineyard: LIVE certified sustainable 2010-2020

- native yeast

- no additions except SO2 (administered at harvest and post malolactic fermentation)

- unfined, unfiltered

- aged for 8 months in neutral oak






2019 Lila Gamay Noir

- Methven Vineyard: LIVE certified sustainable

- native yeast, 100% carbonic

- no additions except SO2 (administered at harvest and post malolactic fermentation)

- unfined, unfiltered

- aged for 8 months in neutral oak








NV Uitwaaien

- 25% 2019 Methven Gamay (see above), 75% 2018 Ridgecrest Pinot Noir: LIVE certified sustainable

- native yeast

- no additions except SO2 (administered at harvest, post malolactic fermentation, and a small dose at bottling)

- unfiltered, lightly egg-white fined

- aged for 8–20 months in neutral oak

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