Should You Pay $300 For an Oregon Pinot Noir?
Oregon pinot noir may not be high on your list of wine priorities yet, but movie producer and wine entrepreneur Mark Tarlov is convinced it should be. That’s why he’s charging an eye-popping $300 each for his two just-launched Chapter 24 Double Zero pinots. “The price is a poke,’’ he tells me. “It’s a signal to say Oregon matters.”
It’s a pretty loud signal, since these are now the state’s most expensive wines. But are they worth the price of grand cru Burgundies?
I sipped and compared his two ’00’ wines, 2012 Shea Vineyard and 2012 Hyland Vineyard, as Tarlov filled me in on the wines’ backstory over lunch at Porterhouse restaurant in New York.
A long-time Burgundy aficionado, the tall and trim Tarlov told me he started his career writing speeches for Chief Justice William Burger and later ditched a federal attorney job in Washington for Warner Brothers in Hollywood. His first film was based on Stephen King’s creepy novel, Christine.
He stubbed his toe with his first wine project, Evening Land Vineyards, however. That ambitious undertaking, founded in 2007, went off the rails because it tried to do too much: Evening Land included vineyards in California, Oregon, and France, a Burgundian winemaker, and projects with celebrity sommeliers. Tarlov lost control of it in 2011 and left, pushed out by his big money backer.
His comeback is Chapter 24, named for the final section of Homer’s Odyssey. It’s focused solely on Oregon pinot. Why? “Oregon, Tarlov says, “is America’s most elegant terroir for the grape.” I’d add the west Sonoma Coast to that, myself, and maybe the Santa Cruz mountains. But Oregon, once thought too cold and wet to ripen grapes, is definitely on a roll. In 1980, there were 34 wineries. In 2013, the number hit 605. Tarlov likes to say that Oregon pinot is “the drink of the thinking class.”
Chapter 24’s three-fold partnership includes Burgundian star Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, who is making some of the wines, and Mike ‘Mikey’ Etzel, Jr, son of the co-owner of Oregon winery Beaux Freres Mike Etzel. Etzel oversees the day-to-day tasks, and makes the ‘00’ wines.
The ‘00’ wines are a Chapter 24 spin off experiment that will soon get their own winery. Tarlov, inspired by another Burgundian, wanted to simplify the winemaking process. His idea was to eliminate—as much as possible—the distance and time between the vine and the wine in the barrel. (Double 00, get it?)
That’s why pickers toss the whole clusters into small barrels that have been brought out to the vineyard, where the grapes are crushed right away.
The hand-snipped bunches include the tiny stems between grapes called pedicels, which Tarlov believes give the wines more fragrance, a spicy flavor and a silkier texture. He claims it takes 15 pairs of hands five hours to scissor enough grapes to fill a barrel. An old-fashioned hand-cranked basket press squeezes out the juice, and wild yeasts clinging to the grapes kickstart fermentation.
In 2012, a great vintage in Oregon, the team made 600 bottles of ‘00’ wines from two of the state’s most famous vineyards. The ‘00’ Shea is wonderfully silky, perfumed, and lush right now, but I give the edge to the more intense, spicy, sexy, smoky ‘00’ Hyland. Both have a purity and freshness that reminds me of Burgundy—though they’re not yet at the grand cru level.
So, $300? The wine doesn’t live up to the pricetag, at least not on its own. Not long after our lunch, Tarlov sent me an email with a bunch of new ideas to justify the ‘00’s $300 price tag. Half the amount will go to charity, he says.
They’re amazing and worth following, but I’d rather put my money on Chapter 24’s two $60 pinots, Fire + Flood, and the $90 Last Chapter, all made by Liger-Belair.
The 2012 The Fire, from four vineyards with volcanic soil, is all tangy red cherries and spice, while the 2012 The Flood, from four vineyards with sedimentary soil, is smokier, darker, more brooding and intense.
The 2012 Last Chapter is even better, a mouth filling, succulent blend that has a texture as whisper-soft as cashmere. Liger-Belair puts that down to an infusion technique he learned from the late legendary Burgundy winemaker Henri Jayer.
Right now, the ‘00’ wines, which get their own website next fall, are available only direct from Chapter 24 winery (call 503-487-6341 and ask) or from oregonpinotnoir.com.