As the seasons roll on, the wine geeks around the world gather together to celebrate the release of this years’ offerings. If you’re lucky enough to be a fan of Willamette Valley wine, your taste buds, cellar, and glass are in for a true treat. 2015 saw a long, warm growing season that has fueled a complex and exceptional vintage. The whole valley is seeing wines that showcase layered flavor profiles and a depth of character that hopefully foretells of a truly outstanding vintage across the board. We were lucky enough to share a glass (or two) with Bryan Laing from Hazelfern Cellars who took us through his latest offerings and a few hidden gems.
Grab a glass and join us for a quick fortune telling session with one of the Willamette Valley’s rising stars.
A Quick Q & A with Bryan Laing of Hazelfern
People are hailing the 2015 harvest as an exceptional vintage, but what do you feel is the “X Factor” that will set this vintage apart from previous years?
2015 featured an extremely warm growing season without disease pressure on the fruit and optimal ripening hang time. It also featured higher crop loads but with good natural acidity. It was very similar to 2014.
X-Factor: the sun and heat! The Willamette Valley is typically a much cooler climate with vintage variation – that is loved by wine geeks, but sometimes harder for wine novices to stomach (see the 2011 vintage). 2015 featured an early bud break and fruit set, with some cooler days throughout the summer that extended the hang time without bringing late rains and fruit rot/disease. The result is ripe and rich flavors but balanced with good acid and elegant structure. The 15’s are delicious and very easy to drink – most people can get behind that.
What characteristics can we expect as we open a bottle of Hazelfern’s 2015 offering?
We are stoked about our 2015’s! All of our 15’s show really ripe fruit, and I am proud of the elegance and balance we achieved for a warmer year. Texture is also a really big focus for our winemaking, and I think all of the 15’s show really nice texture.
How do you foresee this vintage aging?
That really depends on the vineyard site. When looking at the ageability of a wine, we are looking for solid tannin structure balanced with good acidity and low pH’s. In 2015, we saw slightly higher pH’s from our vineyard sites in some AVA’s, and lower pH’s with exceptional acid/tannin structure in other AVA’s. For example, our Eola-Amity vineyard fruit delivered low pH and great tannin structure, while our sites in other AVA’s carried slightly higher pH’s. For ageable 2015 wines, I am really excited about what the Eola-Amity sites delivered in 2015.
I know it’s like asking a parent to pick their favorite child, but is there a wine or, wines, that you are most excited about in this vintage?
I am really pleased with all our 15’s ;-). I love to cook and love throwing coursed winemaker dinner parties,
so I work with vineyard sites that will deliver wines to pair well across different foods and courses of the meal. Our Pinot Noir vineyard designates are made to pair with different foods and range from light in style too more intense. So, I like all of the 15’s in their own ways and with their own foods.
That said, if I had to pick an absolute favorite, it would be our 2015 La Chenaie Vineyard designate. It’s a special wine. The vineyard showed really well in 2015. Its 100% Pommard from a SE facing block with deeper Jory soils – all things that played to our favor in the hot 2015 season. The vineyard is also situated in the SW Corner of the Eola-Amity AVA with a direct view of the Van Duzer gap. In August of 2015 when it was 98 degrees in Newberg, I would drive to La Chenaie, and have to wear a jacket because of the ocean winds coming through the Van Duzer. That led to energetic acidity, great tannic structure, and an extremely low pH – all things that favor aging. It’s also a very complex and unique wine. It literally tastes like Raspberry ice cream with exotic spices – pumped about it!
What do you feel will be the overall character of the 2015 vintage throughout the valley? Acid, Alcohol levels, Minerality?
Clean wines due to no disease pressure
Higher alcohols than average, but balanced
Complexity due to optimal length in growing season. Season started early but had some rain and cooling in August that helped add some additional hang time
You’re releasing a Chardonnay this year for the first time. How do you feel it showcases the vintage?
This is our first time making Chardonnay, so it’s hard for me to compare against our own style in past vintages. With Oregon Chardonnay, I am really looking for laser acidity balanced with a rich texture that has a kiss of fresh cream without turning buttery. The juxtaposition of laser-acidity with a rich texture is something special that Oregon can achieve, and was a big focus with our 2015.
Our Chardonnay has lemon and pear notes, with strong acid, and creamy notes with some barrel toast. We worked with 1980’s fruit from a site near Corvallis, and the site also delivered a ton of minerality and salinity in the final result which is great. The fruit came in really clean and was golden ripe.
Can you sum up the style, character, and profile of the 2015 vintage for wine-loving novices?
Delicious. The fruit was ripe and clean. Flavors will be rich and full with good supporting acid and structure. Easy to drink and really just delicious. 2015 was a great year for the Willamette Valley!
Whether you’re a wine aficionado, newbie to the scene, or simply along for the ride, tasting through the 2015’s is a real treat for all of the senses. Plan a trip to the valley to grab a glass with Bryan at Hazelfern, and treat yourself to a truly top-tier wine tasting experience. (If you can find it, or pry it out of our hands, the Chardonnay is a must and for you Cab Franc fiends, there might be a secret release soon… just don’t tell him we told you.)