Thursday, December 17, 2015

Grochau Cellars – At the Intersection of Agriculture, Chemistry, and Artistry

John Grochau readily admits that he does as little as possible. Not that the owner and winemaker at Grochau Cellars in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA in Oregon doesn’t work hard. He just believes that his wines express their true natures best with the absolute minimum of intervention.

Grochau grew up in the backyard of the Oregon wine industry in Portland. Later in life he was introduced to the world of wine while living in France, where he raced bicycles. After his retirement from the sport and return to the United States, he wanted to pursue wine as a career and was drawn to the idea of creating his own expression of the land he knew so well.

His first full-time job with a winery was at Brick House, which has been certified organic since 1990 and presently practices Biodynamic agriculture. This reverence for nature has deeply informed Grochau’s winemaking style and has driven his non-interventionist style.  “Brick House taught me about wine from bud break to bottle,” says Grochau. “By working with the right sites and letting nature take its course, you are best served with minimal work in the vineyard.”

When it was time to strike out on his own, Grochau wanted to make the expression of place his highest priority, and was drawn to the Eola-Amity Hills region of the Willamette Valley. With its thin and rocky volcanic soil, the water holding capacity of the ground is limited, resulting in small grape bunches that are highly concentrated. The Van Duzer corridor, a lowland route that leads directly to the Pacific coast, also provides a wide variation in daytime and nighttime temperatures, even in the heat of summer, which also prolongs the growing season and adds even more concentration to the grapes. The finished wine tends to show darker red and black fruit, high acidity, and earthy minerality. “This is what I feel like is classic Pinot Noir,” adds Grochau, “bright acids with earthy and mineral undertones.”

In addition to the Eola-Amity Hills and Bjornson Vineyard, Grochau also makes Pinot Noirs from Dundee Hills further north as well as a greater Willamette Valley designate. After manual harvest, all the grapes are hand-sorted and partially destemmed, with some whole cluster fruit being used in each wine. He uses native yeast fermentation and the wines are aged entirely in French oak, of which 15-30% of the barrels are new.

A newer addition to Grochau Cellars, the Commuter Cuvée is meant to be a go-to Pinot Noir at a price that makes it accessible for everyday drinking. Unlike the other wines, it is completely destemmed and also aged partially in stainless steel. “With the Commuter Cuvée, I really wanted it to be about the purity of the fruit,” says Grochau. “I want people to be able to smell the grape, which sets it apart from a lot of Pinot Noir at the same price point.” While still adhering to his sustainable tenets, he has managed to create a wine that is approachable and pairs beautifully with a variety of foods.  

In addition to the range of Pinot Noirs that form the core of his lineup, Grochau is also working to expand his range. He has already released a Gamay made in a Beaujolais-Villages style, with about a year of aging in used oak. Next up is a Burgundian-influenced Chardonnay from a slightly warmer site near Dundee Hills. This wine will have fairly low alcohol, somewhere between 12.5-13%, and is aged in only 12% new oak to preserve the flavors of the grape.

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