I probably shouldn’t have used the “O” word in my title, as it’s bound to trigger preconceived notions of the wines I’m going to talk about. Well, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and mentally sweep those images into the corner of your mind. Make room for a new vision that will blow you away: it’s Craig Camp’s wild plan for a new definition of Oregon, one that extends way beyond Pinot Noir and the Willamette Valley. Hop on the magic bus, everyone, and take a seat: we’re headed to the Applegate Valley; a very real place where vivid wine dreams come to life: Troon Vineyard.
Where Is the Applegate Valley?
Located in southwest Oregon not far from the California border, the Applegate Valley is nestled within the Rogue River Valley AVA, home to the breath-taking beauty of the Siskiyou Mountains. Applegate Valley is about as far geographically and idealistically as one can go, from the familiar grape-stomping grounds of the Willamette Valley. Small towns cluster the landscape, and there is a sense of quiet and reflection enhanced by the majestic Siskiyou Mountains looming in the distance. The Rogue River rushes through the countryside, playing host to bouncing rafts full of adventure-seekers as well as those seeking quiet contemplation on the hiking trails nearby. At first glance, this rocky terrain covered with pines seems an unlikely place to grow grapes. But a closer look would reveal the promise of the soil, the capacity to surprise. Somehow, though, I don’t think Craig Camp was ever surprised by the Applegate Valley: I think he knew its secrets the first time he laid eyes upon it.
The Raw Materials – Keeping It Simple
Thousands of years ago, the Siskiyou Mountains erupted from the ocean floor, as a result of tectonic plate movements. For that reason, local soils consist of large deposits of decomposed granite, rather than the volcanic components common to most mountain areas. So, in terms of what they get from the soil, vines in Applegate Valley have more in common with their Italian cousins in Sardegna and their French relatives in Alsace, Beaujolais, and the Languedoc, than they do with their northern neighbors around the Cascades. And they benefit from elevation as well: vineyards on the valley floor lie at 1,400 feet (about the same as the esteemed Howell Mountain AVA in Napa Valley.)
Weather conditions in Applegate Valley add something else to the recipe: generally, it’s too warm here for Pinot Noir, and the shorter growing season prevents Cabernet Sauvignon from ripening reliably. Large diurnal shifts in temperature (the difference between daily highs and lows) and cooling ocean breezes help the grapes retain much-desired acidity.
As for the vineyards themselves, they are certified LIVE and Salmon Safe, and will receive their official biodynamic and organic certifications later this year. Throughout this long process, “the vines, the soil, the place, the wines and the people are all becoming one.”
The winemaking philosophy at Troon is minimalist, meaning there are few human interventions in guiding the raw materials to do their thing: native yeasts are used for fermentation, no additives (sugar, acid, or enzymes) are in the mix, and oak treatment – if any – comes from neutral barrels. Orange wines spend time in clay amphorae.
If you haven’t yet tried any of their offerings, all I can say is “What are you waiting for?”
The Oregon Wine Trail Tasting
When I saw that Troon Vineyard had a table at the Oregon Wine Trail event, I headed there immediately. After having tasted their wines previously (via a #winestudio program and wines I purchased from their online store) I was eager to taste whatever they were pouring.
It was a pleasure to speak with Nate Winters, the winery’s sommelier and national sales manager. (How did I forget to snap a picture of him? Sorry, Nate!) Anyway, here’s the line-up:
2017 Troon Vineyard Kubli Bench Vermentino (SRP $28)
Kubli Bench refers to an area of the Applegate Valley, open to Pacific breezes flowing from the west. Many moons ago, the Applegate and Rogue Rivers carved a niche where they flowed together, creating a ridge where vineyards now lie, some at elevations as high as 1,400 feet. Soils here are granite and river sediment, making them more similar to those in Alsace, Beaujolais, and Sardegna than those elsewhere in Oregon.
A sip of this wine reminded me of the Mediterranean coast: lots of fresh citrus flavors with a noticeable saline component. If a trip to the Italian riviera is not in your plans this summer, grab a bottle of Troon Vermentino and pour yourself a glass or two. It’s almost the same thing!
2017 Troon Vineyard Kubli Bench Blanc (SRP $28)
Marsanne and Viognier, best known for their roles in the heavenly white blends from the Northern Rhône, are co-fermented to make this special wine. It has all the lovely floral and stone fruit aromas you’d expect, perfectly balanced by crisp acidity and a distinct mineral component. I love Northern Rhône white wines and Troon’s version knocked my socks off! You can’t really compare them, but you can really love them both.
2017 Troon Vineyard Whole Grape Ferment Kubli Bench Estate Riesling (SRP $25)
I first tried this wine a year ago and liked it so much I served it with our Thanksgiving dinner. If you’re not familiar with the term “whole grape ferment” it’s a reference to how the Riesling grapes were processed. Usually, the juice from white grapes is fermented after being separated from the skins; in this case, the juice was fermented with the skins, like a red wine. Otherwise known as “orange” wines, these will have more texture, tannin, and complexity. You still get all the lovely aromas of the Riesling, but there’s “more there, there.” If you’re just dipping your toes into the orange wine phenomenon, this would be an excellent place to start.
2016 Troon Vineyard Kubli Bench Tannat (SRP $40)
Tannat, originally from southwest France and the appellation of Madiran, has a well-deserved reputation as a tannic beast. Perfect with a fatty, grilled steak, it might frighten your naked taste buds on its own. But, as with all things Troon, this Tannat is a whole other animal: milder in tannin, thanks to whole-cluster fermentation, and chock-full of red and black berry fruit. It’s one of the few Tannats I’ve ever tried that didn’t require some food to accompany it.
2016 Troon Vineyard Kubli Bench Cuvée Pyrénées (SRP $65)
Comprising 68% Tannat and 32% Malbec (co-fermented) this wine is a virtual trip to the mountainous border between France and Spain. There’s lots of ripe black cherry and blackberry, some red plum, and a decent amount of earthy, meaty, savory flavors. You get the best of both grapes, with the leathery tannins of the Tannat and the softer side of Malbec, making for a really pleasant sip. Don’t hesitate to fire up the grill, toss a couple of steaks and some vegetables on top, and relax. It’s all good.
Oregon Wine Month Comes to a Close
As with each of my posts from the tasting, what I sampled and learned is just a fraction of what you can discover for yourself. If you live close enough to pay a visit to Troon Vineyard in person, do it! And be sure to report back on what you tasted.
If you live on the other coast, as I do, click over to the online store and have a few bottles sent your way. It’ll change the way you think about Oregon wine – I guarantee it!