Behind the Wine Label Part 2

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Personality can be defined as the evident traits in one’s character as it impresses

another. To say that every wine embodies its own personality would not be a bold

enough statement. How each winemaker influences their wine’s personality is

reminiscent of parent’s influence on some of the personality traits of their child.

Each wine may start from the same place, but both nature and nurture will predict

the qualities it expresses in the end.

 

In the second part of the Behind the Wine Label series, we’ll take a closer look at

some of Oregon’s male winemakers and how they’re imprinting their personality

stamp on their wines.

 

Thomas Houseman: Anne Amie Vineyards

 

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After spending six years as a modern dancer in New York, New York, Anne Amie

Winemaker Thomas Houseman danced his way into the Oregon wine scene

in search of sunrises, sunsets and a connection to nature. Houseman has been

stealing the spotlight in Oregon winemaking ever since. Over the last decade, he

has come into his own style. All his wines are remarkable, but his white wines are

showstoppers. From the müller thurgau to the prismé pinot noir blanc, wine lovers

everywhere give him a standing ovation. “White wines don’t get their due, they’re

like second class citizens,” said Houseman. Describing the purity of white wine like

a man of the stage, he continued, “White wines are like red wines without all the

makeup; they’re not all dressed up with oak and tannins.”

 

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 photo by NowDesign


When Houseman joined Anne Amie in 2007, he inherited the existing label but was

also given carte blanche to completely change the image of the winery. He made the

wines in his own style and launched the modern and approachable Cuvée A label. He

also produced the more glamorous reserve labels L’Iris pinot noir and Prismé pinot

noir blanc, which have received much public attention and critical acclaim. He also

started making two remarkable dessert wines from late harvest müller Thurgau.

One is fortified and the other is crafted in an ice wine style. I do have a secret to

share, just between you and me: Houseman says we can anticipate the February

release of a new Brut Rosé. Bubbles!

 

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Houseman is always experimenting with new projects, those that stretch him as

a winemaker. He says winemaking and dancing have many similarities. There is

always the performance factor. He still finds himself on stage at releases, winemaker

dinners and events. Then he retreats back to his lab for “rehearsal,” where he hones

his craft until his next big performance.

 

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Making wines he believes in has become Houseman’s formula for success—pretty

wines that are acid-driven and graceful. They are ideal food wines, with the right

food pairing making them sing (and dance). When asked which wine is Houseman’s

favorite, he gets excited. “I’m most in interested in my pinot gris rosé because it goes

against what people expect. And also because it’s amazing with popcorn covered in

Da Sauce by Sok Sab Bai.”

 

Barnaby Tuttle: Teutonic Wine Company

 

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In 2000, Barnaby Tuttle started making hobby wines in the Mosel style from nine

rows of grapes in his backyard. In 2008, he produced the first Teutonic commercial

vintage, a pinot noir-pinot meunier that paired perfected with quail, duck and

squab. The fowl pairing inspired the recognizable bird on his label, a nod to the slow

food movement. According to his wife and co-owner Olga Tuttle, “The label also

recognized that Barnaby likes to go hunting more than anything in the world.”

 

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As the Tuttle’s portfolio has grown, the couple has developed new labels. An old-
world, Germanic-style castle with Swiss-like mountains in the background sets the

scene for their Laurel Vineyard wines—and represent the vineyard’s high elevation.

Teutonic’s wine labels include food icons on the side, indicating what foods best pair

with the wine’s personality. The Alsea Blanc label is a crusty crab. Can you guess

what type of food pairing they recommend? There’s also a boar label; you see where

I’m going with this.

 

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The labels exude a classic European style, and describe the Tuttles’ wines to a “T”.

Tuttle said that three things set Teutonic wines apart from others in this region:

wild fermentation, neutral oak and not giving the grapes a period of cold soak before

they are pressed. The result is fruit-forward red wine that drinks more like white.

The wines are light, lithe, and crisp, with low alcohol and racy acidity. The 2012

pinot meunier tastes of cherry licorice, pomegranate and strawberry. The vintage is

pure red fruit with mouth-pleasing minerality, sans distractions of barrel notes.

 

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As most winemakers I speak with seem to be, Tuttle is humbled by his success. “I

wake up and pinch myself every day. I get to make the wines I want to drink,” he

said. In his spare time, one of his greatest pleasures is rediscovering lost wines of

the world and wines from lesser-known regions. For instance, the Teutonic white

blend (currently sold out) is a blend of white pinot noir, müller thurgau, silvaner

and chasselas (from David Hill Vineyard’s 46-year-old vines).

 

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The Tuttles are both full of quirky personality, and it comes through in every bottle

and label. Olga Tuttle is a marketing savant. She’s used drawings Barnaby drew in

the fourth grade (including one his teacher would not hang alongside the rest of the

class’ drawings) to humorously relate to the wine. One drawing represents their

daily battles in the wine industry, titled The Crackin’. According to Olga Tuttle, “The

Crackin’ represents … everything from mold in the vineyard to lousy weather, lack

of funds, red tape—it’s our battle wine.” When faced with the challenge of how to

let consumers know they’d produced a pink sparkling rosé, Olga thought to put pink

tutus on the bottles. I want a pink tutu on my bottle!

 

Rollin Soles: Roco Winery

 

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Rollin Soles was bitten by the wine bug while working in Switzerland and has since

worked in wineries the world over. After twenty years of dreaming, research and

planning, he produced his first vintage of Roco wine in 2003 (when he was still head

winemaker for the prestigious Argyle Winery in Dundee), producing 100 cases of

Private Stash pinot noir from his own estate. Soles and his wife, Corby Stormbraker-
Soles, have since increased their production to 5,000 cases. When asked about

owning his own winery, Soles said, “Sharing Roco with my wife Corby is the best

part.” (awwwww).

 

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Stormbraker-Soles personally designed the labels using woodblocks from an

artist in Yamhill County. The labels are simple, strong, creative and playful, much

like Soles and his wines. The ancient petroglyph of the thunderbird on the labels

represents the area’s intriguing history, as well as Rollin Soles’ thirty-year Oregon

winemaking history. The Soles believe it captures the region’s wild essence.

Soles is proud of Oregon’s overdue national and international recognition as a

reputable wine region, and said he’s most excited that he’s survived thirty years in

the Oregon wine world. But survived is an understatement. He’s helped put Oregon

on the map as a world-class producer of sparkling wines. “Sparkling wine was one

wine I could make with consistent high quality year after year,” he said.

 

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Still, consistency isn’t everything. Soles said that because the region’s vintages are so

different from year to year, wine drinkers benefit from the diversity and variability

each vintage brings. “We had to become better farmers, and winemakers have to

show their skills because they can’t just rely on making wines by recipe,” said Soles.

All in all, Soles stays true to himself. Roco wines focus on elegance and the whole

package. Soles say his goal is to find the right balance between tannin, alcohol and

ripe fruit. He seeks balance between grace and power, while maintaining a solid

core of juiciness. He credits his audience for allowing him to make wine and said,

“Even if it’s a small audience, if you focus on quality, growth will come.”

 

These examples provide just a glimpse into the personality behind the label. The

next time you’re wandering the aisles looking for a bottle, seek out those from

smaller producers. You can be confident they will be full of charming personality.

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