2010 Vineyard Profile: Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino County by Jennifer

Being Guided to the Oppenlander Vineyard in Comptche. Photo by J. Waits

After crafting such a delicious wine with Oppenlander Vineyard fruit in 2009, we feel very lucky to be working with them again this year. Brian first got turned on to the vineyard last year, after tasting pinot noir crafted by Phillips Hill and Baxter from Oppenlander fruit.

Owned by the Shandel family, Oppenlander Vineyard is way off the beaten path in Mendocino County outside of the town of Comptche. It’s about 8 and a half miles from the Pacific Ocean as the crow flies at an elevation of 250 feet.

Touring Oppenlander Vineyard. October 2010.

We visited the vineyard on October 10th, just a few days before our fruit was harvested. Owner Bill Shandel showed us around the family vineyard that he owns with his brother Norman and talked to us not only about the fruit, but also about the history of the land. They are 5th generation owners of the property, which was originally homesteaded in the 1860s by their ancestors from Denmark (via the Gold Rush in Australia). The site of the vineyard was originally a meadow amid the woods. Bill told us that his great-grandfather Charles Oppenlander bought the land and then sent for his girlfriend to join him by traveling across the Isthmus of Panama.

Vintage Truck at Surprise Valley Ranch

As we looked out across this hidden vineyard amid the woods outside of the town of Comptche, it was hard to not reflect on its history and on how remote the location must have been in the 1860s, as it’s still quite remote.

The property is now known as Surprise Valley Ranch and the Shandels produce their own Shandel’s Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir from the vineyards, which they originally planted in 1997 (after a test plot in 1985). We’re sourcing our fruit (114 clone) for our single-vineyard Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from a section of the vineyard that was planted in 1999.

On the property we also saw lots of brambly berry bushes, from which the Shandels create wild Himalayan blackberry jam. Bill gave us a couple of jars of it after we wrapped up our vineyard tour, so we’re looking forward to sharing it with our family on Thanksgiving. Vineyard-owner crafted jam has become a holiday tradition for us ever since we first got a hold of Shirlee Londer’s raspberry jam. It’s an interesting coincidence that jam-making operations seem to go hand-in-hand with many of the vineyards that we are sourcing from this year; so we are eagerly anticipating our family’s Londer vs. Oppenlander jam tasting at the Thanksgiving table in a few weeks. In the meantime, watch this space for our next post, which will delve into the details of the Oppenlander harvest and crush.


2009 vintage almost there: August barrel tasting by valleyfog

Trying to keep track of all the wine during barrel sampling

One thing about being in the wine business and dealing with so many vintages is you start to forget what year it is. We’re in the middle of releasing and selling our 2008 vintage of pinot noir, the 2009s are still in barrel, and we’re finalizing our plans for 2010. All exciting stuff for us here at Waits-Mast and each vintage has its own story and requires its own focus.

We’ve written much about our 2009 vintage and its five different vineyards and we are really pumped about this wine. We recently tasted through all five vineyard-designate pinot noirs in barrel and the wines truly represent a broad portfolio of pinot noir. In barrel since October of last year, each one is distinct and supremely tasty in its own right. These are the type of wines that you could easily distinguish one from the other, because they are so site-specific. Here are some brief observations of each wine from this barrel tasting:

Hayley Vineyard, Anderson Valley: this vineyard on the valley floor gets a lot of morning fog and then warmer afternoons that combine to extend flavor development. Bright raspberry and coconut on the nose, bursting with red fruit on the palate with nice acidity and fine tannins on the finish.

La Encantada Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills: our third vintage with this Santa Barbara County vineyard, the La Encantada is delivering once again. The 2009 has a lot of exotic spices, firm tannins, and an intense core of red and black fruit.

Deer Meadows Vineyard, Anderson Valley: Rich Savoy’s upper (1600′) vineyard in Boonville is going to rock your world. A lighter touch than our other pinots, it has wonderful floral aromatics with bright cherry, orange peel and coriander. Intense red cherry and great acidity make the wine dance on the palate.

Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino County (Comptche): this one is going to be coming out of its shell a bit later, but the potential that we’re tasting in this this wine is intriguing: dried lavender, purple-tinged color, earthy tones and firm tannins. Patience will serve you well with the Oppenlander.

Amber Ridge Vineyard, Russian River Valley: for those not wanting a wine that is playing hard-to-get, this pinot noir will be lush, flirty and seductive right out of the gate. Lots of cherry and raspberry, smooth tannins with a brightness to counteract the warm spices that this wine serves up. In a word: yum.

Ready to treat yourself to a flight of this amazing pinot noir? We are too, but we need to let these wines brood a little more, do a little blending and then get them in bottle. They’ve all been racked to neutral barrels. We’ll let you know about final bottling and the planned release dates, which will likely be in 2011.

2008 Amber Ridge currently on the shelves at Pleasant Hill Wine Merchant

We still have a handful of cases of our 2008 Hein Vineyard, Anderson Valley and 2008 Amber Ridge Vineyard (equally as flirty) left and will be releasing our 2008 La Encantada in September. All three of these wines are award-winning and continue to evolve beautifully, so treat yourself to one today.

Barrel Tasting the 2009 vintage: February Notes by valleyfog

After a busy holiday season and with our 2009 vintage resting comfortably in barrel for over four months, we were ready to check in on its progress. Each of the five different Waits-Mast vineyard-designate pinot noirs made in 2009 are doing quite well and each exhibits its own personality and distinctive flavor profile. Here are some tasting notes on how each is coming along, as of February 19, 2010:

2009 barrel tasting: five barrels, eight glasses, one spit cup

Amber Ridge vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County (clones: 115, 667, 777; two barrels, one new (Francois Freres), one neutral): the first word I wrote down was “awesome.” The fruit leaps out of the glass and is juicy and dark, with a candied raspberry finish. This will mellow, for sure, but this will definitely be a wine that will be very drinkable, very soon.

Deer Meadow Ranch vineyard, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County (clones: 115, Wadenswil; two barrels, one new (Cadus), one neutral): This is Rich Savoy’s higher elevation (1600 ft.) vineyard (official vineyard designation to-be-named) in Boonville. We’ve tasted this twice in the last month and we are very excited about this one. We feel it will deliver that complex, earthy Anderson Valley pinot noir that we love so much. Definitely some funky earth on the nose, with a mix of red and dark fruit. The tight-grained French Cadus oak is very restrained on the nose.

2009 Oppenlander vineyard from Comptche: vibrant and violet

Oppenlander vineyard, Comptche, Mendocino County (clones: 114; two barrels, one new (Remond), one neutral): Whoa! Crazy violet-tinged 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 acidity.” Indeed, and some firm tannins, too. This will be a vibrant wine and we’re eager to see how it progresses as it comes together.

Hayley’s vineyard, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County (clones: 114; one barrel, 33% new French oak, Francois Freres): Hayley’s is on the valley floor, or benchland, where a lot of fog sits late into the morning. A lighter wine in comparison to some of the others, with nice red cherry fruit. Floral on the nose, with a distinct wild vanilla and coconut aroma, reminiscent of Malibu Rum (oh, the days of yore…).

La Encantada vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County (clones:115, 777; one barrel, 33% new French oak, Francois Freres): last but not least, this 100% organic vineyard always delivers beautiful and exciting wines. The 2009, our third vintage in a row with La Encantada, is showing an exotic herbal and spicy nose (consistent with previous vintages) and nice tannins. Should be another winner – so far, so good!

We’ll be back with more barrel tasting notes throughout the spring and summer and remember, we still have two different 2008 pinot noirs yet to be released. So stay tuned to our blog or sign up at our website to get on our mailing list for the latest news.

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!