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From their first official vintage in 2015, when they made just 600 cases of wine, Chris and Kathryn Hermann were destined to never be part of Oregon Pinot Noir herd. They were far more excited by the old-vine Chardonnay they could get from the Willamette Valley’s most iconic vineyards: Chehalem Mountain, The Eyrie, Eola Springs, Shea, Hyland and, the greatest of all, Seven Springs. For Chardonnay, they all offer ideal combinations of exposure and Jory volcanic basalt and oceanic sedimentary soils.
Many of these great terroirs were planted to Chardonnay clones that had originated in California. This included the Wente clone David Lett had planted in The Eyrie in the 1960s and Dick Erath had planted in Chehalem Mountain. It also included the Mendoza clone Carl Stevens had planted in Eola Springs.
What both clones had in common was that, initially, they had difficulty ripening in the cooler Willamette Valley. But the recent fine growing seasons, beginning in 2014, have brought these small clusters of concentrated, complex fruit to gloriously complete maturity.
Their Chardonnay sources secured, the Hermanns turned their attention to learning how to make wine from them with the aromas, flavors, texture and longevity of the great white Burgundies. As Chris told The Wine Advocate’s Erin Brooks, “I didn’t know how one takes Oregon fruit and creates something that has an echo of white Burgundy, especially the textural component. What makes Coche-Dury and Roulot what they are?"
Chris found his answer through the widely admired Burgundian, Pierre Millemann. Millemann began advising the Hermanns in 2016, introducing them to a traditional Burgundian method of 60 to 80 years ago, Black Chardonnay.
Conventional wisdom in recent years, largely in response to Burgundy’s “premox” scourge, is that Chardonnay must be handled with kid gloves, gently pneumatically pressed and protected from oxygen by nitrogen and sulfur.
But the Black Chardonnay method championed by Millemann—and used by Coche-Dury and Roulot—takes exactly the opposite approach. At 00 Wines, the fruit is picked fully ripe, but at relatively low sugar levels. And the whole clusters are foot-crushed, chilled and macerated overnight. It then sees a long “heavy press cycle” with no sulfur additions.
The intent is maximum extraction of phenolics from the skins and seeds, capturing the essence of terroir and vintage in their aromatics and texture. The must goes into the press pan and immediately turns dark brown to black through oxidation of the molecules from the skins, hence the method’s name.
This dark must is then put into tanks in which the phenols then perform their next magical function: they are the major oxygen consuming component in the must, and when they fall out of suspension, they take the dark color and oxidation with them.
The result is juice that, while retaining all of the complex aromatics, flavors and texture from the phenols, is astonishingly oxidation-resistant and fresh. The must goes straight to barrel, retaining all but the gross lees, for native-yeast fermentation and aging. The top wines develop for 18 months in barrel, gaining in complexity and richness of texture through contact with the thick layer of lees.
As Chris told The Somm Journal’s Michelle Metter, “It’s an incredible dance between human ideas and nature’s gifts. For us, this is about pushing Chardonnay to its capacity [and] producing distinctively textured and aromatic wines in a relentless pursuit of the extraordinary.”
Through this approach, 00 Wines has been making Chardonnays that, as a group, may surpass any we’ve ever tasted from the New World.
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