Wines With A Volcanic Explosion Of Flavor

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - July 29, 2009
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A smoooth Pinot Noir

So I’m in a helicopter flying over the volcano on the Big Island with all this real estate forming before my eyes as the lava flows into the ocean. There is so much new volcanic rock just waiting to be planted with vines. I wonder to myself what type of vine I would plant on such volcanic rock and soil that would make any wine worth drinking. Maybe I should plant Coda di Volpe and Aglianico like they do on Mount Vesuvius in Italy. Or maybe Grenache or Shiraz would do well as in the volcanic/basalt soils of McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley in Australia. Or how about my favorite Burgundian varieties Pinot Noir and Chardonnay? I wonder what that would taste like?

Well, I guess I don’t really have to wonder because there is already someone who is making some really good wine from a vineyard that has its origins in volcanic soils.

Evening Lands is a winery that produces wines from three distinct vineyards, each considered to be some of the greatest in each region. In Oregon, they make wines from the Seven Springs Vineyard in the Eola Hills American Viticultural Area (AVA) near Salem, of which they have the monopoly. In California, they also are the sole producers of wine from the Occidental Vineyard in the “true” Sonoma Coast AVA, as well as the Odyssey Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills AVA.

The wines in Oregon are made by Isabelle Mugnier with Dominique Lafon, of Domaines de Comte Lafon fame, as the consulting winemaker. Many connoisseurs consider Dominique one of the world’s greatest winemakers, including myself. The California vineyard wines are made by the jovial and cerebral winemaking talent of Sashi Moorman.

Each vineyard features three levels of quality akin to the quality pyramid in Burgundy. Seven Springs Vineyard starts with the Seven Springs Estate Pinot Noir or Chardonnay ($45) much like a “village” wine in Burgundy. The next step up, like Premier Cru, would be called Seven Springs La Source Pinot Noir or Chardonnay ($89). The Grand Cru wine is called Seven Springs Summum ($149).

What sets the Seven Spring Vineyard apart from the California vineyards is its volcanic origin. The soil here is mineral-rich, red volcanic rock with basalt, something akin to what you see on the Big Island but much older and more eroded. What Pinot Noir and Chardonnay express from soil such as this is something completely unique. It is much less new world-ish than almost anything I’ve tasted from anywhere. Both the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir share a minerality that makes me think first of Burgundy rather than Oregon. I was even blind-tasted by a friend on the 2007 Evening Lands Seven Springs Vineyard “La Source” Pinot Noir and I thought it was a Premier Cru from Gevrey Chambertin. Don’t get me wrong, these are not wines that belong to Burgundy. Instead they are a bridge between the new and old worlds.

Another amazing character about the Seven Springs wines is that they are all under 13 percent alcohol (yes, you read that right, under) and yet they have terrific concentration of flavor and are balanced, elegant wines. This is truly an amazing feat when you consider almost everyone else in Oregon - and California, for that matter - make wine with much higher levels of alcohol, easily over 14 percent.

I am not one prone to hyperbole, but I do believe that these are truly some of the finest examples of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to come from the new world. The 2007 Seven Springs Summum Pinot Noir has hedonistic amounts of sweet cherry and cranberry with a spicy undertone of earthiness. The palate has a sensual appeal to it, it is so smoooth. It leaves your palate wanting more. The 2007 Seven Springs La Source Chardonnay reminds me a lot of a top Meursault Perrieres from Burgundy. It is loaded with citrus, pear, red Delicious apples and a sweet, wet-stone minerality. It has great nerve and energy on the palate that lead to a tremendously lengthy aftertaste.

If you have the opportunity to drink any of these wines, consider yourself lucky. The wines are only sold in New York and Hawaii (otherwise you have to go online to obtain them). They make a grand total of about 1,000 cases (in a good year) from the Seven Springs Vineyard.

Lucky we live in Hawaii.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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