A trip to some Oregon wineries & reasons for hope for the Oakland Raiders

31 May

I took a business trip to Oregon a couple of months ago.  There was just enough time to visit a few wineries along the way.  Here are the wineries I visited with a little bit about them & the wines.

Chehalem tasting-room Chehalem Winery

We were driving through Newberg Oregon & stopped at their downtown tasting room.  It was late in the afternoon on a Wednesday, so it wasn’t a surprise that we were the only ones in the tasting room.  The guy who served us was friendly & helpful.

I was familiar with the winery, but really didn’t know that much about it beyond their larger production Pinot Noir.  In truth, I kind of thought that the name was Yiddish.  It turns out that it is a Calapooia word that means either “gentle land” or “valley of flowers.”  The owners try to be good stewards of the land.  Many of their wines are certified sustainable by the Oregon Certified Sustainable Program.  They are working on a path to be carbon neutral.

The key question though is whether or not their wines are worth drinking.  I definitely think that they are.

Chehalem Winery Pinot Blanc 2012 Stoller Vineyard $29
There was a strong aroma of stone fruit on the nose.  I definitely smelled peach & apricot.  It had a nice mouth feel.  It goes into neutral oak & that gives it some mouth feel without tasting oaky.  The wine is 13.8% & feels perhaps a little hot.  It finished creamy with some honey notes.  This received 92 points in Wine Enthusiast.

Chehalem Winery Stoller Valley Ian’s Reserve Chardonnay 2011. 350 cases produced (not on their site)
Nutty oak on the nose.  I tasted cream & nut & lemon.  This is a delicious Chardonnay.  It has a long finish that accents the lemon.  There is also some lemon curd, which sounds the same as lemon, but is really a textural difference.  The glycerol is pretty high & that gives it some sweetness.  The finish is distinctly lemony.  There is some French oak aging on this wine, but I don’t have the details.  Whatever they did was the right amount though.  This is highly enjoyable.

Chehalem Winery Grüner Veltliner Ridgecrest Vineyards 2013 (not on their site)
Sometimes when I taste a Grüner  Veltliner from some place other than Austria, the nose isn’t quite right.  Often it is too sweet.  The nose is perfect on this wine.  I think that you could pick out the varietal at 10 paces. On the palate I got primarily apricot. There is also some spice, green apple, & peach.  There is also a ton of acid.  As good as this wine was by itself, it is a wine that really is best with food.  I think this would have been great with some fried calamari with a spicy remoulade.  I brought a bottle home with me, so I may try that.  This is a mouthwatering wine with a lingering finish.  It is a terrific example of an Oregon Grüner Veltliner.

Chehalem Winery Corral Creek Vineyards Estate Grown Rose’ of Pinot Noir 2013 (not on their site)

With its light pink color, this wine had the look of the rose’ wines that give the genre a bad rap.  Of course that’s a reason not to judge a wine by its color.  The nose is a light strawberry & rose petal.  There is nice acidity on the finish.  The wine’s flavor is a mélange of strawberry, cherry, & a hint of vanilla. The residual sugar clocks in at 0.02 & the total acidity is at 8.23, so it has body, with a tart finish.  The wine has a little spritz to it.  I don’t know if that was added by sparging or if it is natural.  Either way, it is delightful.  This isn’t the most complex wine that I have had recently, but it delivers exactly what it should.

This is an excellent rose’.  I wish that I had saved a bottle for Easter brunch.  I think it would be great with salmon or Eggs Benedict.

Chehalem doesn’t make a rose’ every year & it goes fast when they do.  I managed to pick up a bottle a couple of weeks prior to the official release after promising not to write about it for two weeks.  Time’s up, so if you like Pinot Noir rose’, check out their website before they run out of it.
Chehalem Winery Three Vineyards Pinot Noir 2011 $32

The name is somewhat self-explanatory.  The grapes for this wine come from three different vineyards. It was light in color with almost a brown in the center.  There was cherry on the nose with some rose petal.  The alcohol was 12.7%, but tasted a little higher to me.  It had pretty solid tannins.  On the palate, there was plenty of ripe cherry, with a small amount of spice.  It had a long finish with the tannins being a big part of that finish.  The taste is dry though, rather than the sweetness you might expect on an Oregon Pinot Noir with a long finish.

Chehalem Winery Corral Creek Vineyards Pinot Noir 2011 $50
This had a nice color that moved from pink to red.  It had a pretty, delicate nose with strawberry & cherry.  There was a very subtle white pepper on the finish.  The main flavors were light cocoa with cherry.  To me this was a very enjoyable light Oregon Pinot Noir. It clocked in at 13% alcohol.  It received 90 Points in Wine Spectator, which might be higher than I would give it.  I liked it, but I don’t think I would plunk down $50 for it versus some of their other wines.

Chehalem Winery Ridgecrest Vineyard  Pinot Noir 2010 395 cases $50
In a blind tasting I would miss this & guess Burgundy based on the nose.  There were some earth & bramble notes along with Bing cherry & tobacco.  To me this had a very cool nose.  This had a bigger mouth feel than the Three Vineyards, but still not like a warm weather Pinot Noir.   On the palate there were earthy, leathery notes that mixed nicely with sour cherry.  This was a great Pinot!  For my $50, I would go this route instead of the Coral Creek.  Wine Enthusiast gave it 93 points & Parker & Wine Enthusiast gave it 91 & 90 points respectively.

Vines at Archery Summit

Vines at Archery Summit

Archery Summit Vineyards

Archery Summit Vineyards has been around for over 20 years. They are best known for their Pinot Noir.  They have the winery set up so that it can take advantage of gravity flow over 5 levels.  The grapes are handpicked, since as you can see from the photo, mechanical harvesters would not work here.

I was fighting allergies the morning I tried wines at Archery Summit.  I would like to try these again when I could really smell the wine.  The tasting notes are somewhat abbreviated.

The service at Archery Summit was great!  The main person waiting on us was friendly and informative and as various people cycled through the small tasting area, they all stopped to say hi & were fun to chat with for a short time.
Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris 2012 Willamette Valley $24
This had a generous smell of apple with a baked apple on the nose & the palate.  It had nice acid & was definitely an easy drinking wine.

Archery Summit 2013 Vireton Rose’ $24
This is a 100% free run juice Pinot Noir Rose’.  It is fairly dry.  The color is salmon pink.  It had good legs.  It actually had nice dusty notes that I didn’t expect.  That may sound odd, but a dusty smell or slight dusty taste in a Pinot Noir is a good thing & here it was an indicator that this was a serious wine rather than a cheap & sweet blush.  It had a light, but tasty flavor.  Cherry and orange were the dominant flavors that I noted.  My allergies made it hard to get a handle on the wine.

Archery Summit 2012 Premier Cuvée Willamette Valley Pinot noir $49
This had a dark red to purple color.  There was spice & plum on the nose.  I tasted ripe fruit with some baked flavors.  There was a hint of coco powder as well.   On the finish, there was a strong taste of cinnamon.

Archery Summit Dundee hills 2011 Archer’s Edge Estate (A list wine club members only)
The vines for this wine were planted in 2007. This is the first year of production.  This had a more intense nose than the premier cuvée. It had good, lingering tannins. This was a complex wine that I think would be better in a couple of years as the tannins polymerize.  In the meantime, the primary fruit flavors that I noticed were raspberry & cherry.  As I drank it I also noticed blueberry becoming more prominent.  I definitely would like to try this wine five years from now.  The wine was aged for 9 months in French oak, with only 29% of that oak new.
Archery Summit 2011 Looney Vineyard Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir $85
This has a more delicate nose than the previous Pinot Noirs, but it was fairly complex.  There was a lot going on with this wine.  It was layered & enjoyable.  Bitter cherry flavors were accented with herbs.  The tannins were still pretty good, so this will get better, but it is a tasty wine right now. It had clean fruit flavors. I tasted plum, raspberry, cherry, & orange zest.  This wine spent 10 months in 35% new French oak.

Archery Summit 2011 Red Hills Estate Dundee Hills Pinot noir $100
There was black fruit on the nose.  It had a relatively darker color, tending to the black & purple range. It had good acid, & tannin. There was some cocoa, with loads of dark cherry flavors. I also noticed some blueberry and cinnamon. This would be great with roast duck. It had a very dry finish.  For what it is worth, this received 91 points in Wine Spectator & 92 in Wine Advocate.  The wine spent a year in French oak with 44% of that new oak.

Archery Summit Estate Dundee Hills Pinot Noir $150
To me this had a light nose, with a wide variety of smells on the nose, but nothing stood out in particular.  There was a general aroma of spice more than anything. Of course that could have been my nose rather than the wine. This had a long velvety finish. It also had good mouth feel. This was a big, but elegant Pinot Noir.  The primary flavors were Bing cherry, raspberry, and spice (some cinnamon, some allspice, and something else).  It had a dry finish with tart cherry.  It definitely had big tannins for Pinot noir!  For those who care, this received 91 points in Wine Spectator & 90 in Wine Advocate.  This spent 10 months in French oak, but a higher percentage of it was new oak than on the other wines.  This was 55% new oak.

The cave at Archery Summit

The cave at Archery Summit

a torii at Torii Mor

a torii at Torii Mor

The garden at Torii Mor

The garden at Torii Mor

Torii Mor Winery

Torii Mor winery has been around since 1993.  More significantly, its Olson Estate Vineyard was planted in 1972, making it one of the older Pinot Noir Vineyards in Oregon.  Torii refers to the Japanese gates often found at the entrance to gardens.  There is a small Japanese garden on the property and a strong Japanese design influence throughout the tasting room.  Mor means earth in Scandanavia.  Combining the two, gives you a gateway to the earth.  Burgundy native Jacques Tardy is the wine maker.  The winery is LEED certified so this is another environmentally conscious winery.

Moss on spur trained vines at Torii Mor

Moss on spur trained vines at Torii Mor

Vines at Torii Mor

Vines at Torii Mor

Torii Mor 2013 Pinot Blanc $20
There was apricot on the nose.  It was a light pale straw color.  I tasted a little bit of residual sugar.  The defining characteristics for me were the apricot & some baked pie crust.  This was an easy drinker.  There was enough acidity that the sweetness was not cloying, but was instead nicely refreshing.  A portion of this wine saw neutral oak and I believe that contributed to the nice mouth feel of the wine.

Torii Mor Black Label 2011 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir $24
This is the Torii Mor wine that you are most likely to see in the broad market.  I smelled cherry & raspberry on the nose. There was light cherry & cocoa on the palate with light tannins.  It had a round mouth feel with some acid at the finish.  The wine saw 10 months in a combination of French and Hungarian oak.  This was a solid Pinot Noir for the price although it wasn’t anything special.  This received 89 points in Wine Spectator.

Torii Mor Reserve Deux Verres 2011 Pinot noir $38

This is a blend of fruit from eight different vineyards.  There are also eight different Pinot Noir clones, which I think is a good idea,  The wine is red in the center and goes pink at the edges.  There was some alcohol on the nose with tart cherry.  I tasted some light earth flavors with a hint of mushroom, although cherry was the primary flavor.  I tasted both fresh bright cherry and a darker deeper cherry. This had bigger tannins than the black label.  It had a slightly sweet finish.

Torii Mor La Colina vineyard 2011 Pinot Noir $55

There was some copper color on this wine.  It had a delicate nose with some rose petal notes.  I tasted dried fruit. Dried cherry was the primary fruit to me.  It had a lingering finish of dried cherry & rose petals.  This is an interesting wine that I would like to try with food.  I liked it the more I sipped it.  This spent 15 months in mostly neutral oak.  To me this wine was a real step up in quality from the previous two Pinots.  Of course that was reflected in the price, but sometimes that’s how it is.

Torii Mor Olsen Estate Vineyard 2011 Pinot Noir  $60 200 cases

This had a light cherry red color.  It has darker, more intense fruit on the nose. It has deeper flavors as wall.  There is some cherry & some mushroom.  This is distinctly an Oregon Pinot, but it has some real Burgundian structure & flavor.  There was soft spice at the end.  This was a very nice Pinot noir.  One of the best I have had in a while. Of course I wrote that note before I tried the next one.  The wine spent 21 months in French oak.  17.5% of that was new oak.

Torii Mor Temperance Hills vineyards 2003 Pinot Noir $60 195 cases
When we were there, they were pouring this wine from their library.  It had an earthy nose.  The wine still had the cherry of their other Pinot Noirs, but there was definitely an earthy note to it.  It had a deeper red color than their other Pinots.  This was an earthy wine with  black cherry, and allspice.  This still had great tannins.  The finish accented a brighter cherry flavor.  This would be fantastic with wild game.  I think it would be great with duck or pheasant.  This was a delicious wine and I had to take a bottle home with me.  When I am looking back over my favorite wines of 2014, I think this will make my list.

Torii Mor 2010 Syrah Port $45
This dessert wine had big red flavors with brown sugar on the nose.  I liked this a lot.  It had a sweet, but not syrupy brown sugar with blueberry flavor.  There was lingering blueberry on the finish.  To me this was very good.  I’m not the biggest Port or Port style wine fan in the world, but I enjoyed this.

 

The Autumn wind is a Raider

The Autumn wind is a Raider

Now that I have talked wine for a bit, I better think about football.  Right now I am thinking that there is actually hope for the future of the Raiders.  I know that you are thinking that this is just the wine talking.  Actually I haven’t had anything to drink today, although of course dinner is coming soon.

The Oakland Raiders haven’t made the playoffs since they lost the Super Bowl in 2002.  During that time they have only finished with more than 5 wins in 2 seasons.  In 2011 they won 8 games.  At the end of that season, owner Al Davis fired coach Tom Cable, more for off the field issues than for on the field performance.  Cable broke the jaw of an assistant coach and there were allegations of violence towards women.  Hue Jackson was named the new coach.  He managed another 8-8 season the next year despite the turbulence of the death of Al Davis and the loss of quarterback Jason Campbell to injury but was also fired.  Once again, it seemed that off the field issues might have contributed to the firing.  His influence on the trade that brought Carson Palmer to the team to replace Campbell was held against him and he seemed to be attempting to seize power in a way that was not subtle and was not appreciated by the rest of the organization.

Reggie McKenzie was brought in as the new General Manager and he fired Jackson and hired Dennis Allen, who is the first head coach with a defensive background for the Raiders since John Madden.  McKenzie a former Raider linebacker, who had spent 18 years with the Green Bay Packers was tasked with overhauling the roster.  When he came on board, the team had $154 million committed to the roster for the year and the salary cap was $120 million.  He only had few picks in the 2012 draft because of prior trades, but he still couldn’t afford them. Something had to give. He released many highly paid veterans in order to get under the cap.

Unsurprisingly, releasing veteran players and not having a lot of draft picks was not a formula for short term success.  The team has gone 4-12 each of the last two years.  There is a feeling that this year the team had better improve if McKenzie & Allen want to return for a fourth year.  “There are no built-in excuses anymore,” Davis said to Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle.

With that in mind and with $65 million in salary cap room the team has made aggressive moves this year.  Their initial moves were surprising.  They let go of some young talent like Jared Veldheer and Lamar Houston and replaced them with older players that don’t seem to be an upgrade.  Once they started signing players, there were several commentators that said that the Raiders were signing the dream team of 2009 free agency due to the number of older players that they signed.

Despite this, and despite the fact that they play possibly the hardest NFL schedule in 2014, I think the Raiders are set up for success.  It may not be this year, and they may be the Los Angeles Raiders before it happens, but I think it is coming.  Here are a few reasons why.

They have drastically improved their quarterback situation.  Terrell Pryor flashed signs of being a competent starting quarterback last year, but he just wasn’t consistent.  He couldn’t read the field and it seemed that if the defense took away half of the field, he would attempt to run.  After early running success, the defenses caught up to him.

For the price of a sixth round draft pick, the Raiders acquired Matt Schaub from Houston.  Schaub had a bad year in Houston last year, but he has been a Pro Bowl quarterback.  I think he has the possibility to bounce back.  I really wonder if he was fully recovered from his lisfranc surgery at the end of 2011.  That seems to be an injury that can take 18 month or more to heal.  Last year it looked like he couldn’t step into his throw and get velocity on the ball.  I think that contributed to some of his interceptions.  It could be that he is having a Jake Delhomme style career meltdown, but I would expect regression to the mean this year for Schaub.  For him that’s a completion rate around 64%, about 3,317 passing ards, 18 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions.  Those might not be All Pro numbers, but I have to think Raiders fans would be happy.

I think that he is the best quarterback the Raiders have had in years.  That may be more of a reflection on the Raiders than on Schaub, but it is a step forward.  The last Raiders quarterback to make the Pro Bowl was Rich Gannon in 2002 when he was the NFL MVP.  Since then, they have had a string of backups starting games for them and well over the hill former starters.  In 2007 instead of drafting Adrian Peterson or Calvin Johnson, they used the number 1 overall pick on Jamarcus Russell.  Russell managed to pass for 18 touchdowns versus 23 interceptions and 4,083 yards total for his career before eating himself out of the league.

Schaub’s 89.8 career passer rating looks great when compared to Raider starters like Josh McCown 77.5, Kerry Collins 73.8, Terrell Pryor’s 69.1, and Russell’s 65.2. If he can just have an average year, the Raiders will be better at the most important position.  I also think that allowing new draft pick Derek Carr to sit on the bench for a year or two will help him adjust to the pro game.

I don’t know if Maurice Jones Drew has enough left to make a difference at running back.  At least the team isn’t pinning all of their hopes on Darren McFadden to stay healthy for once.  I do know that Maurice Jones Drew will see fewer defenders in the box than he had in years.  I think that if he cuts back his carries and the passing game is decent, that he can have a couple of solid years while the team develops their newer running backs.  Last year he averaged over 15 carries per game & it seemed like more.  He consistently was running into 8 men in the box and not too many backs this side of Adrian Peterson are effective in that situation.

The receiving corps has improved with the addition of James Jones from the Packers.  I also think that Rod Streater will look much better with Schaub throwing him the ball.  He had 60 catches last year for 888 yards with generally bad quarterback play.  Denarius Moore isn’t going to develop into the #1 receiver that the Raiders hoped he would, but he is a terrific #3 receiver.  Andre Holmes has size and speed.  Mychal Rivera is more of a receiving tight end than a blocking tight end.  Matt Schaub might be able to use him the way he used Owen Daniels in Houston.  I don’t expect Greg Little to suddenly start holding onto passes with more frequency, but otherwise the receiving situation isn’t bad at all.

Signing Justin Tuck & LaMarr Woodley will pay dividends beyond their own performance.  The Raiders have been losers for so long that it had become ingrained in the culture.  Bringing in players who can still contribute, who have Super Bowl rings should provide veteran leadership and possibly a change in the culture of the club.  Pairing Tuck with Antonio Smith on the defensive line should result in more pressure on opposing quarterbacks in a division with solid quarterbacks across the board. I think drafting Khalil Mack in the first round instead of a quarterback was the right move as well.  Letting him work with Woodley should be a positive.  I think that the secondary will still be the weak spot on the defense, but if the defensive line can bring more pressure, which they really should, then the secondary will look better.

Overall, this looks like a team with a nice mixture of youth and experience.  They should score more point and allow fewer scored against them.  The only problem is that they are in a tough division and play a killer schedule this year between the teams they play and the travel schedule.  They have several east coast games and a game in London.

If the Raiders win more than 6 games this year, that would actually be pretty good.  If they catch a few breaks and go 8-8 that would actually be quite an achievement.  If they were playing in the AFC South, I think that they could be a playoff team.  That isn’t the case though.

If they manage an 8-8 season, I hope that Davis keeps McKenzie around.  I also would love to see the Raiders stay in Oakland.  I think that they belong there.  I wouldn’t be terribly surprised though to see them head into the 2015 season in Los Angeles with a new coach and general manager.  There is a lot riding on this season.  I think that there is reason for optimism though.  We just need to see how it plays out on the field.

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