Winery Visit: Brickhouse Vineyards
Several weeks ago, I was able to take quick trip to the Willamette with one my servers, Emily. She is very interested in wine and has been a sponge lately, getting her hands on as many books as possible and asking lots of questions. We decided to take a trip down the valley together and set about making some appointments. I wanted to check in with some of my most beloved producers, Belle Pente and Eyrie Vineyards, while also learning more about producers who I had yet to taste or meet. Since we have the Brickhouse 2011 Les Dijonnais Pinot Noir from Ribbon Ridge on the list at Olympic Provisions, I reached out to Doug Tunnell and was very happy that he replied quite quickly and had some time to meet with us.
I'm glad he did because our visit with him was so absolutely wonderful. I will continue to recount it wistfully and get warm and fuzzy when I pop the cork on any of his lovely wines.
Doug grew up in Oregon City and spent many years in broadcasting before becoming a winemaker. He spent time traveling in Paris and the Rhone Valley and was in living in Paris when the Drouhin's bought land in the Willamette Valley in 1987. Keen to purchase some land himself once returning to the US, he went searching in the area that would become known as the Ribbon Ridge AVA in 2005. He decided to buy the place “about halfway down the driveway.” On the property stood an old brick house, built in 1927, and a barn. The barn was converted to the winery and it's one of the most beautiful winery spaces I have ever seen. Doug has made it a warm and inviting space, with living room furniture and antiques sidled right up next to the bottling line.
Brickhouse grows three grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Gamay. Organic and biodynamic growing practices are an important part of Brickhouse's identity. The wines have always been grown organically since it's inception in 1990 and has been certified biodynamic since 2005. All the wines are produced by native yeast fermentation, rather than inoculation by commercial yeast. Doug is also very passionate about using whole cluster fermentation. He learned a lot from Steven Doerner of Cristom, who is a huge advocate for the practice it in the valley.
During my visit, I tried three wines and was impressed with them all. The wines themselves are as charming as the stories behind them.
Chardonnay is coming on strong in the valley in the last few years and that will continue if people keep producing wines anything like the 2011 “Cascadia” Chardonnay. The wine is barrel fermented and then aged in oak barrels, with only one of the twenty four barrels being made of brand new French oak. Because of customer demand, Doug does admit that he going to make two different Chardonnays for 2012, the regular and Cascadia, with the latter having a higher percentage of new oak. Based on the wines I've tasted, I would guess that even with more new oak his wines will still have incredible balance.
The second wine we tried was the 2012 “Year of the Dragon” Gamay Noir. It is interesting that he decided to plant Gamay in the early 1990s when Pinot Noir had so much support. However, during his travels in France, Doug spent some time in the Beaujolais region; the small provincial villages reminded him more of Oregon than Burgundy. He also noticed that the pH in the soil of Beaujolais is lower that that of Burgundy (around 5.4-5.4) and more similar to Oregon. The 2012 Gamay Noir is fresh and light on its feet, but showing some serious structure as a result of the vintage. The wine received its own unique label because of the vintage, with Doug saying that “it surprised us all, it being a warm year.” While he describes the wine as the “big man on campus,” it is not a monster and still stays true the Gamay grape.
In addition the 2013 barrel samples that we tried, we opened the 2011 Evelyn's Cuvee Pinot Noir, named after his mother. He had made a previous wine as an ode to his father, the Cuvee Tonneliere and after showing it to his mother, he knew that not having a wine for her just wouldn't do. Sadly, his mother passed away in 2003. This elegant and aromatic Pinot Noir made by barrel selection is a lovely tribute to her.
After tasting, Emily and I brought in some meat, cheese, and crackers. We had intended to eat around noon between appointments, but four hours later we hadn't had the chance. After running around and tasting all day, we were relieved to get some sustenance and sip on some Brickhouse wine. Doug continued his hospitality and asked about us and how we ended up where we are. We could have stayed in that happy place for hours more, but had to get to Belle Pente for dinner.
I am happy that we have Brickhouse as a selection at Olympic Provisions and look forward to drinking many more wines from this wonderful producer with friends and family.