Crush 2009: Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino County by valleyfog
Oppenlander Vineyard in Comptche (photo credit: Surprise Valley Ranch, Inc.)

Oppenlander Vineyard in Comptche (photo credit: Surprise Valley Ranch, Inc.)

Our journey in winemaking is all about learning and trying new things — and making pinot noir that represents a sense of place. This year we have been fortunate to try out some new vineyards and expand our portfolio of vineyard-designate pinot noir wines. In addition to the up-and-coming vineyards that are available through Crushpad, this year we have sourced fruit from other top vineyards. Oppenlander Vineyard in Comptche, Mendocino County, is one of those vineyards. It is well-known among a small circle of Mendocino County pinot noir fans, but is otherwise on the fringe both geographically and in the collective pinot noir consciousness.

Brian first had an opportunity to try Oppenlander pinot noir when he was at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival in May of this year. During the open house day, Sunday, he visited Baxter and Phillips Hill wineries, each of which makes pinot noir with Oppenlander fruit. He was struck by the depth and complexity of the wine and it was one of the most memorable pinot noirs he had that weekend. So when we decided that we wanted to explore additional vineyards for our 2009 vintage, Brian approached the folks from Oppenlander at the San Francisco Pinot Days back in June. Nothing was available at the time, in fact there was a list of folks wanting to get fruit from Oppenlander, but he passed on our business card just in case. As his mother used to say, “it never hurts to ask.” We asked and lo and behold, in September, we found out that we could get a small amount of 114 clone pinot noir from the nice folks at Oppenlander.

Those nice folks are John Pepe and Bill and Norm Shandel. The Shandels planted Dijon Pinot Noir clones in this old homestead and timberland in Comptche, California and Pepe is their winemaker. Comptche is in Mendocino County and is located much closer to the coast than is Anderson Valley. Located about 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean, it experiences some similar climatology as the true Sonoma Coast vineyards like Hirsch.  It manages to still get enough sun and warmth during the day and benefit from the coastal fog to temper rigor and build great flavor development over time. It is still such a small and growing region that it does not have its own AVA (American Viticulture Area) to designate its site-specific qualities.

Beautiful small pinot noir clusters from Oppenlander Vineyard, 2009

Beautiful small pinot noir clusters from Oppenlander Vineyard, 2009

When the grapes came in on October 2, we had an easy time sorting the lot. This year’s harvest brought in small clusters (think mini-hand grenades) and small berries. Great acidity when tasting the berries. After a good cold soak of 5 days and a moderated fermentation, we pressed the wine on the 15th.

Making a total of two barrels, we filled the neutral oak barrel with 100% free run juice, and then filled the new Remond barrel 2/3 full. The color was the first thing that struck us. Looking down into the bin after the grapes were dumped into the press, we saw a wonderful deep burgundy color with hot pink edges. I can’t wait to see what this looks like in the glass – I’m guessing it will be a very pretty wine.

The first taste of the free run was full of tart cherry goodness, proving that this wine will have a good amount of acidity. After pressing it in .2 bar increments, we got some earthtones and herbal tea on the nose, and raspberry, plum and dark cherry on a smoother palate. Pressing to 1.35 bars it was still tasting great and we fill the rest of the barrel with this juice. We then pressed it a little harder for our topping tank.

Great color from Oppenlander free run juice left over in the bin

Great color from Oppenlander free run juice left over in the bin

All in all, the Oppenlander in 2009 is delivering on its reputation, from beautiful fruit to a beautiful wine. We’re totally psyched to see how our new venture evolves. In the meantime, sounds like we need to take a trip to Comptche!


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[…] color on this one. I remember that color from the bottom of the bin after we dumped the grapes into the press. Chris Nelson, our winemaker, said the Oppenlander shows some of that classic “oceanic […]

Pingback by Barrel Tasting the 2009 vintage: February Notes « ValleyFogBlog

[…] After a five-day cold soak, the 1.18 tons of fruit went into fermentation mode and needed inoculation with RC212 to stoke the fermentation and get those yeasts converting sugar to alcohol at the right pace.  As we did punchdowns on the fruit, we could start to see that wonderful, vibrant color that we remembered from our 2009 Oppenlander crush and pressing. […]

Pingback by Harvest 2010: Oppenlander Vineyard Crush and Pressing « ValleyFogBlog

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