Winestyr scours the country to find America's best small wineries and winemakers. We make their wines available on our website and through our wine club, which serves as a great way to support small wineries and gain access to hundreds of hard-to-find wines at unprecedented price points. Our "Notes From The Road" series is brought to you by Winestyr's VP of Wine, Will Whelan.
Today I write you from the rain soaked streets of Portland, Oregon where, I'm told, it's normally quite beautiful. I'll be spending the rest of this week visiting with our producers here, touring their vineyards and having the chance to taste with the winemakers themselves. Things started off with a bang today, as I met with Barnaby Tuttle of Teutonic Wine Company in the heart of Portland's industrial waterfront.
After planting their first vineyards in 2005, it took Barnaby and his wife Olga 11 years to secure their own urban winemaking space, where they now have a fully functioning winery as well as a tasting salon that feels very much like a handful of dorm rooms I...hung out in...during my years at University. This is not by accident of course. Such an array of bumper stickers from legendary west coast record stores, band posters, and eclectic furniture only reminds those who have tasted Teutonic's wines that they taste as they do for a very specific reason. Barnaby did not attend a prestigious academic winemaking program--rather, he found his way in the restaurant scene as a buyer and crafted one of Portland's most iconic wine lists full of Germany's best wines. Like many of us who find ourselves telling tales of soil and vine, the Tuttles found themselves here unexpectedly but by no means accidentally.
"I DON'T CARE TO BE ONE OF THOSE ROCK STAR WINEMAKERS"
While each wine Teutonic produces is unmistakably theirs, Barnaby insists he has no interest in that effect. "I don't care to be one of those rock star winemakers," he said, telling stories about being uninvited to swanky industry parties meant to show off wines much like his own but in a category he couldn't belong to, New California. "We're really apart of the New West Coast. All I've ever wanted to do was make terroir wines."
And how exactly does one accomplish such a feat? First, climate rules all. While other winemakers sought out the warmest vineyards found in the Willamette Valley, Teutonic ventured to the high elevation sites where chilling winds whipped through winding rows of grapevines. These ambitious sites yielded grapes of phenolic maturity without excess sugar ripeness, resulting in wines that are all (every. single. one of them.) entirely translucent and wildly perfumed. Through the entire lineup, a defined mineral character can be easily identified. That could be the result of dry farming these marginal sites. Regardless of the cause, the effect is one Barnaby has always endorsed.
"YOU SHOOT FOR MINERALITY BECAUSE YOU'LL ALWAYS HAVE FRUIT"
"You shoot for minerality because you'll always have fruit," he said. Going on, he compared a wine's fruit to the finer acoustic details of classic rock, jazz, or broadly defined funk rock. But the minerality, he said, was the bass. "I want that funky a** s*** in the bass line."
Playing flirtatiously with divergent blends like Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir or Riesling and Merlot is no small task. But neither is accepting multiple tons of Roter Veltliner, the red counterpart to the green, Grüner Veltliner. Having a strong DTC channel surely affords one the opportunity to take chances like that but Barnaby sees it as something deeper.
"THIS IS LIKE OREGON ARCHEOLOGY THAT WE'RE TRYING TO DO HERE"
"Imagine if you were at an excavation site and you took the fossils, blended them up, and put them into gravel," he said of the way winemakers often treated varieties like Roter Veltliner, Chasselas, and more by throwing them into bulk, homogeneous blends. "This is like Oregon Archeology that we're trying to do here." The final wine of the day was, even among the previous thrills, a fittingly emotional conclusion. Tasting a 2016 Riesling planted on a steep slope of nothing but bedrock--planting the vines meant him taking a jackhammer to the ground--that I immediately called as a direct ringer for the famed wines of Selbach-Öster, located in the commune of Zeltingen-Rachtig deep in the heart of Mittelmosel. Watching Barnaby nearly shield his face in bashfulness caught me off guard. Through the whole day, he spoke so candidly about their work and their wines. He told stories of how things used to be in the Oregon wine trade, of the struggles their friends went through in the industry. He spoke with no hesitation or filter, until that moment.
"THAT'S EXACTLY WHO I MODEL MY WINES AFTER," HE SAID.
I could not think of a more fitting compliment to give a varietal wine than saying it tasted of such quality reminiscent of Zeltingen's finest estate, whose vines have been passed on for more than 450 years on the ridiculously steep slopes of the Mosel River. Ending the day sitting there with him, sharing stories of Johannes Selbach hunting wild boar, the wine world's serendipity skipped through the air as if a small token of humor, reminding us of our universal experience as shepherds of the vine. That my story, his story, and your story too, is one of land and poetry real enough to pour in a glass and drink with new friends, while toasting to those thousands of miles away, is something I will never forget.
You can taste the very best wines from Teutonic Wine Company and many other acclaimed small wine producers by joining one of Winestyr's wine clubs. To learn more about our wine clubs, click here.
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