Troon, Tannat, Temptation

This is exciting. This is what wine growing should be about. We’re planting more Tannat — a temptation I can’t resist. Yes, Tannat, nothing could be more refreshing than being out of the “fighting varietal” business.

I believe Tannat is a variety that can define the Applegate Valley. Tannat in southern France is famed for its tannic rage, but our granitic soils take off just enough of that edge to reveal a distinctive Southern Oregon personality — all without taming its wilder side. All of our Tannat is grown on our estate vineyard on the higher, second bench of the Applegate River Valley.

Europe is full of regions like Madiran and Cahors, places Tannat has traditionally called home. Many appellations like these that almost died a few decades ago are now reborn and vital due to better winemaking and viticulture — and enlightened consumers. Happily the wine energy today seems to be shifting away from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa and so on to new regions and new varieties. As Leonard Cohen sang, “Hallelujah”. These wines are not new to me. In the early 80s I was introduced to the hedonistic pleasures of less than famous place names by Christopher Cannan in France and Spain and by Neil Empson in Italy. At Direct Import Wine Company in Chicago I aggressively imported wines from Madiran, Languedoc-Roussillon, Bandol, Le Marche, Puglia, Priorat and others. They were not easy to sell even at ridiculously low prices, but they were very easy to fall in love with. Of course, I was importing a small cadre of visionary, elite producers that were, in those days, leading the way for their appellations. Today there are many famed producers from these regions and most of the wines I first imported are now, rightfully, famous and not cheap.

Some of you may have tasted previous vintages of Tannat from Troon Vineyard, but those wines are related to these wines in name only. Starting with the 2014 vintage we moved to a natural wine growing and winemaking philosophy. Prior vintages were produced with conventional methods and it shows. These new Tannat releases are from grapes harvested from LIVE and Salmon Safe certified vineyards. The pickers are the same hands that worked in the rows for the entire vintage. Upon harvest the bins are treaded by foot for skin contact and to encourage the native yeast populations. After a day or two, they are de-stemmed into small fermenters for native yeast fermentation and hand punch downs. There are no acids, sugar, enzymes or sulfur added to the fermenters. After fermentation is complete the wine is pressed into used French Oak barrels. No new oak is used. The wines are bottled after 18 months in barrel.

The new releases:

2014 Troon Blue Label Estate Tannat, Applegate Valley $35

100% Tannat from our estate vineyard. This is unrestrained pure Applegate Valley Tannat. Deeply colored with intense dark fruit flavors and mouth-coating tannins, this is an in-your-face Oregon wine, but can seem restrained compared with many California wines. Despite the strength of this wine, I believe it is not for long aging, but should be enjoyed over the next five years as it’s better to revel in its youthful power rather than wait for a refinement that may or may not arrive. 169 cases produced.

2014 Troon Black Label MT, Applegate Valley $50

This is a co-ferment, not a blend, and that makes all the difference. Blending can enhance and lift the character of a wine, but a co-ferment creates a new wine all together. The unique chemistry of a co-ferment releases whole new ranges of flavors, aromas and textures that would never exist in a blend. We feel we’ve found the right balance with this vintage using 60% Tannat and 40% Malbec. The Malbec gives a round warmth that envelops the power of the Tannat to make a more complete and complex wine. The Tannat is from our estate vineyard and the malbec is from the Full Quiver Vineyard, which is contiguous with our estate. 240 cases produced.

As much as I like these wines, they are just a beginning point for us — a launching pad. These wines are delicious, but the upcoming vintages still in the cellar — 2015 and 2016 — have gained in complexity and depth as we learn more with each vintage. It’s a thrilling voyage.

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