Thu 29 Nov 2012
A friend who works for a local wholesale house called me and said, “Listen, somebody sent us some wines to try, and we just can’t work with them because the production is so small. I’ll bring ‘em to you and you can do with ‘em what you will. If you can use them on the blog, that’s fine.” So, my friend brought the wines by the house, and they turned out to be two vintages — the only two vintages so far — of pinot noir from Labor Wines in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. I saw instantly what he meant by the small production; Labor Wines made 280 cases of the inaugural Pinot Noir 2009 and 336 cases of the rendition for 2010. Not a lot of juice to go around, and not exactly tons of information about the small winery out there, either, not even on its website. What I can tell you is that Labor Wines is a collaboration between entrepreneur Richard Oppenheimer and Corey T. Nyman, of the well-known Nyman Group restaurant consultants, managers and headhunters for the restaurant and hospitality industries. In addition to this pair of sequential pinot noirs, Labor Wines made a Pinot Blanc 2011. The wines can be found in some stores and restaurants in Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, New York, Oregon and Texas.
I’ll tell you right now that if your standard for fine pinot noir is something extracted and opulent, fruity, super-ripe and forward, then the Labor Wines pinot aren’t for you. If, on the other hand, you believe that the ideal pinot noir should be lithe and spare, that the acidity should cut a bright swath on the palate and that it is altogether a congeries of infinite delicacy, nuance and understatement, well, these are definitely Worth a Search.
Addendum for local readers: These wine ARE available in Memphis.
The Labor Wines Pinot Noir 2009, Willamette Valley, drew grapes primarily from the Yamhill-Carlton District with the addition of grapes from the Chehalem Mountains appellation. The wine aged in French oak, a combination of new and second-year barrels, but neither the percentage nor the length of time is specified, and about the latter issue I would say not too damned much time, because the oak influence here is subliminal. The color is medium ruby-cerise; aromas of red cherries and red currants are melded with hints of cloves and sassafras, dried currants, mulberries and a touch of smoke; a few minutes in the glass bring in a note of dried cranberry and (very slightly) pomegranate. In the mouth, the wine is a finely shaped amalgam of lightly sanded woody spices, dusty graphite, elusive tannins and clean, vibrant acidity, all working in concord with delicately spiced and macerated black and red fruit flavors. The finish is well-knit, sinewy, spicy. 14.4 percent alcohol. 280 cases, Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $28.
The differences between the Labor Wines Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley, and its predecessor from 2009, are subtle, indeed, but certainly present. The color is a similar red ruby-cerise but with a shading of magenta at the rim. In the nose, we perceive the same fresh, spare red cherry and currant scents but with more bottom in the form of new leather, briers and brambles and a wild touch of rhubarb. The ’10 is a bit spicier than the ’09, but it maintains, at all costs, a spirit of spareness and elegance that makes it easy to drink for its winsome fruity qualities yet demanding for its dry, rigorous character. The wine aged eight months in French oak, with only 15 percent of the barrels being new, so, again, the presence of oak is felt in the wine’s subtly shaped architecture, its framing and foundation, just as the dry, slightly powdery tannins feel organic and essential without being emphatic. There’s a touch more minerality here, too, in the form of cool flint and graphite, while the finish feels faceted, spicy, a little earthy in the way of dried moss and underbrush. 12.5 percent alcohol. 336 cases. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $28.