Yesterday I had the pleasure of listening to a webinar sponsored by the French Wine Society featuring veteran Champagne expert Peter Liem. The subject was grower Champagne. I was most struck by Liem’s frankness, advising us not to be allured blindly by the market buzz of grower bubbly because it is (seemingly) artisanal, and not to inherently reject the big Champagne houses or négociant fizz because it is (seemingly) industrial. Drink what you like! Ahhhhh, yes….
For us wine geeks, Liem explained the French labeling terms Récoltrant Manipulant (RM) vs. Négociant Manipulant (NM). In simplest terms, RM means that the grape grower and winemaker are the same. NM means that the winemaker has purchased grapes from someone else. Again, Liem offered a cautionary note, even going so far as to say that he would abolish this distinction because it is somewhat arbitrary and thus not really helpful to the wine industry or to consumers. For example, if a grower with small land holdings needs more grapes for a certain vintage, what’s to say that s/he can’t or won’t buy some additional grapes from cousin Pierre?
This presentation sent my thoughts flying off to the exciting Bells Up Winery adventure of Cincinnatians Dave and Sara Pearson Specter, and to taste a bottle of their wine I had been saving for just the right moment. A few years ago, Dave caught the wine bug in a major way. He left behind working as a lawyer to learn how to make wine. With visions of Pinot Noir dancing in his head, he convinced his creative (and portable) wife and daughter to buy property in Willamette Valley suitable for planting a new vineyard.
Keenly aware that I am making a long story short, Bells Up Winery was soon born. But what’s a newbie winemaker to do when he has just planted his vineyard? Buy grapes and start making good wine from growers in Willamette Valley! So Dave and Sara started out making wine as NMs, and when the grapevines are ready, they will gradually morph into artisanal growers (RMs). It was clearly a smart business strategy.
I remember telling Dave when the winery was branded that I didn’t understand the imagery and name. If other readers are similarly challenged by musical terms, let me explain the artistic connection gratefully shared on the back label of Bells Up wines: “The versatile French horn: in an orchestra, its warm, smooth tone balances a composition; when solo, its bold, brassy character unleashes a heroic, spiritual sound. Lifting the instrument to a ‘bells up’ position projects its voice to maximum intensity. At Bells Up Winery, we compose our handcrafted wines to highlight the versatility and individuality of each varietal.” And of course, winemaker Dave plays the French horn!
Now to the tasting notes. Only 27 cases of the 2013 Villanelle Willamette Valley Reserve Pinot Noir were bottled and released in 2015, the inaugural year. So no surprise, it sold out quickly. But please enjoy it vicariously. In the glass, Villanelle is so light and pale, a bit cloudy as if unfiltered. Winemaker notes reveal a brief period of aging in neutral oak. Things quickly change as the savory and earthy aromas of Burgundian-style Pinot Noir leap from the glass. On the palate, there is initially a tinge of sweet bubblegum which gives way quickly to subtle notes of bright red fruit and rose petal.
Wine glass image courtesy of wineenthusiast.com.