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Finding a White Wine for Oregon and Wine Naming Conventions

generic Oregon vineyard

There are times that wine regions often struggle with finding a matching white wine, if they have an established red or vice versa.  While vintners never want to admit it, I think Oregon might be going through a bit of that currently. Oh and some words on winery naming conventions.  Trade names are harder to sell than varietal specific ones, but they do give winemakers more control which is a good thing.

Video Transcription: Hi guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I’m joined today by a bottle of Brooks Amycus White Table wine. Brooks has shown up in our cheapest wine clubs, the Explorations in the past. This was a returned bottle that we just found laying in the corner waiting for a good home. Obviously, if it’s returned we’re not allowed to resell it so good home was my dinner table last night.

I thought Brooks was interesting for a few reasons. First, if you don’t know the Brooks story, Jimmy Brooks moved to Oregon and started a winery focused on quality in the seventies. He passed away suddenly leaving a young child, Pascal, who ended up growing up with his mom outside of Pittsburgh but still ended up owning this Oregon winery. There’s a real spirit of comradely in the wine industry that I talk about a lot and these guys, both the wine maker and then a bunch of other people involved with other wineries in the region where they are, basically helped keep this thing afloat until Pascal got out of college and was ready to take over which just happened a few years ago. There’s been a few documentaries about it. It’s a great story if you have time.

I think this is interesting on a couple levels. First, Amycus White is obviously not a great name. This is pinot blanc which is just a genetic mutation of pinot noir. I think it talks about two names. First, as far as trade names, there’s some good and some bad if you do a trade name as opposed to a varietal name. The good is that this is 58% pinot blanc this year. It could be 45% next year or 75%, it really doesn’t matter, the wine maker can do what he wants. As long as you keep a consistent style it shouldn’t hurt sales.

The part that does hurt sales is that if you walk through a wine store you might say, “Good label. What the heck is Amycus? I don’t know, I just want a chardonnay.” That’s where you start to lose some folks. Some people go in the wine store looking for a very specific varietal of wine because they know that they like that so it makes it a little more difficult. This is obviously a really nicely done bottle so it’s something that, if people were to ask a wine store employee that’s actually tried it, they would say, “Look, that’s a really nice bottle of wine for twenty bucks or so,” etc.

The second part is that in the state of Oregon they obviously have pinot noir which is driving the course, so to speak, as far as sales but there’s no natural white wine accompaniment right now so that’s what they’re trying to figure out a little bit. What’s a white that you could make to pair with pinot? I think a lot of people would say, “Well chardonnay makes the most sense” but that’s a really crowded marketplace. If you think, Napa does chardonnay, Sonoma does chardonnay, blah, blah, blah, you could go down the list. Almost every major wine region does chardonnay at some level.

I think Oregon really has some challenge of, “Should we do pinot blanc? Should we focus on pinot grigio?” What’s going to be the major style that’s going to work for a lot of the wineries? I know a lot of people are going to say, “Look, they should make whatever makes sense on their site” and that’s definitely true but the core issue also becomes, wineries, especially in states like Oregon which are a little bit off the beaten path still, I know we don’t feel like it that way all the time because Oregon is a wine destination in its own right, but if you’re sitting in the middle of St. Louis, Missouri, Oregon might feel a world away from where you think of as far as wine growers go.

Marketing dollars need to go in one pile to try to get something established so then you can bring in other groups and other varietals. If you look at, Paso Robles is a great example,Paso’s kind of driven train with the Rhone’s and now you’re starting to see some other plantings and Cabernet and some other stuff getting going in.

In any case, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I think there’s a couple interesting points here both on why would you use a trade name instead of a varietal name, how that helps and hurts you, and Oregon’s continued looking around almost for what’s going to be the white wine that matches with pinot noir.

Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Have a good one everybody.

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