In the heart of the Newburg wine country sits a hundred-year-old house, filled with a gang of gamblers. Four people willing to bet time, money, and passion on the small batch lots of a winemaking team who has set their own status quo.
The leader of this loose bunch of hooligans is a tall man, watching over his fermenting experiments like physical embodiments of his late-night visions. The second in command, or maybe more like the keystone of the group, holds the daily operations and the big picture together. Then there are the two baby blondes, who make up the muscle of the crew. With endless energy and a quenchless love of life, the two partners in crime push the foursome into undiscovered territory.
The Laing Family, as they like to be called, are a close-knit band straddling the razor’s edge of a hope that their hard work, determination, and craft will pay off. Their end goal? To make Hazelfern Cellars a success, and in my opinion, they have already succeeded.
The duo of Bryan and Laura have the support of their loving blonde daughters Adalyn (4) and Ava (2) to help drive their efforts through the transition from Portland basement to Sherwood acreage. Dimly lit nights in the dungeon of their Laurelhurst home brought to life not only a dream but a true talent in Bryan. Laura’s ability to harness the creativity that swelled inside of Bryan into not just a long shot, but a sure shot, expanded the budding family from the urban wine scene to the rolling green hills of Sherwood.
The hundred-year-old house, that they now call home, has seen its fair share of a life lived, but when the previous owners had to leave their newly constructed barn behind, little did they know that the fruits of long hours of labor would result in barrels of delicious possibilities.
Greeted by the pelting Spring rain, and the sound of vibrant tunes pumping from the open barn, the tasting promised to be at the very least unique. Adding to the mix the elements of a gracious host in Laura, a seemingly endless wealth of wine knowledge in Bryan, and of course a multicolored ribbon maze Adalyn and Ava had made for me to navigate, something told me this tasting would not soon be forgotten.
With a glass full of their full-bodied rosé, and an eager palate, Laura and Bryan took me to what can only be described as a luxury barn fit for a winemaking king. Having been built by the previous owner as a potential equestrian care facility, the previous owner’s plans changed on a dime, and before they could bring an animal inside they were off to the East Coast to start a new chapter. This turning of the page for one family allowed another to write its own chapter and realize Hazelfern Cellars.
The hand-crafted table, Edison-bulb chandelier, and sidebar that frame the new tasting area testify that Bryan’s creativity is not limited to wine. Passing by, with some hesitation, the gourmet cheese, and sausage plate Laura put together, Bryan led me through the barn and towards the waiting wine. Sneaking his wine thief into the sleeping barrels, he stole sample after sample of the evolving wine. Armed with only my well-seasoned palate, and a seemingly bottomless glass, we wove our way through the maze of oak vessels. Bryan spoke about each barrel as if it were a part of him, all exemplifying a different aspect of his own personality.
Tasting through the vast array of Pinot Noir clones, all sleeping in different barrels, each sip revealed how the wines were gleaning unique nuances from the varying styles of wood and toast. These massive wooden beakers further anchored the charming mad scientist label, to the passionate winemaker. This was far more than just a simple exploration of wine. This was beyond an attraction to experiment with fermenting styles. This was the beginning of something new. This was a man with a vison that could not be, and will not be, contained by the status quo.
As we sipped, conversed, and dissected, I realized that Bryan’s lack of formal book and lab training had freed him up to believe in a vision without limits. His unbridled approach to honing flavor profiles was not bound to an exact process. He did not buck the accepted trend, he simply didn’t care for how things ought to be done, and every sip proved whichever way he traveled, was the right way.
With quirky aspects like hanging CDs on the barrels rather than naming them after vineyards brought to light a sort of endearing element. His explanation for the CDs was that the barreled-wines showed different characteristics that reminded him of various artists. The “Hole” and “Nirvana” barrels sat next to each other, in an adolescent rage, waiting to mature. The “U2” was soulful and mellow. However, the one that caught me off-guard was one I am still pining for as I write; The simple 777 clone Pinot Noir in neutral oak, aptly named “Tupac”. Balanced and slightly bold, it has layer after layer of complexities that present like a tapestry of acidity, body, and fruit.
As we wound down the tasting, I found myself back in their kitchen talking about what was to come. The Cabernet Franc still lingered on my palate, helping me to recall my first winetasting oh so many years ago. I swirled the opulent Syrah sample and tried my darnedest to not let on with how impressed I was with how each wine spoke volumes. Maintaining a sense of professionalism without becoming a fan was proving to be harder than I expected. I was watching the genesis of something great, and seeing how humble, inviting, and approachable the Laing family is; it was hard to not beg and plead to be the first on the wine club list.
As Hazelfern Cellars opens their doors this Memorial Day, I will sip their newly released wine, and bear witness to a journey that has spanned from city to vineyard, reach the first of many milestones in a long line of success. Music will be playing, two blonde pig-tailed employees will be running through their self-made obstacle-course, and people will get the chance to taste, what after so many long hours, doubts, and setbacks, has now become a beautiful, uncorked reality.