Tart blackberry and black raspberry are prominent in Brittan’s 2010 Pinot Noir Basalt Block along with notes of cardamom and fruit pit piquancy, not to mention mineral dimensions suggestive of salt and crushed stone that set up a somehow crystalline, shimmering interaction with vividly fresh fruit such as I would normally only expect from a great white wine. Weighing-in at little more than 13% finished alcohol; this exhibits an uncanny sense of levity. The tannins are evident but ultra-fine, making for a handsome leanness of texture. This finishes with an unforgettably vibrant, sappy, and protracted persistence of the aforementioned fruit and intriguing if ineffable mineral elements. Since the first significant crop from the vines Brittan planted here was in 2008, it’s far too early to do more than speculate as to this wine’s aging potential, but I shall speculate, nonetheless, that it will be worth following for at least a decade.
After nearly three decades in California – most prominently directing activities at Far Niente and Stags’ Leap Winery – and a long search for the place to pursue his passion for Pinot Noir, Robert Brittan returned in 2004 to his home state, planting his hopes and a wide range of well-mixed vine selections on a high, 180 degree hillside south of McMinnville unusually full of basalt surface rock (along with other volcanic remnants and glacial debris) and exposed to the winds of the so-called Van Duzer corridor at a spot where they eddy, moderating the effect, though the resultant wines – as well as the delay in getting vines to produce even pathetically low yields – are extreme. The wines are extremely (some may think even exaggeratedly), bright, vivacious, vibrant (some might say “nervous”), possessing a mouthwatering savor that only the best – and a sheer mouth-shaking energy such as none others I’ve tasted – among Oregon’s Pinots possess. When my immediate predecessor in this role, Jay Miller, wrote in Issue 197 – with whose text I was confronted only now, on the winery’s web site – that Brittan’s “wines with low pH and firm acidity (without sacrificing flavor) are sure to send bolts of rapture through lovers of great Burgundy,” he predicted precisely my reaction. (And then there’s Chardonnay and Syrah – for more about which see my notes below on the most recent instantiation of each.) Among Pinot cuvees (which enjoy partially-inoculated fermentation at tightly-controlled temperatures; significant post-fermentative maceration; roughly one-quarter new barrels; and bottling already at 11 months) you can choose your – or rather, the vine’s – punishment: Gestalt Block comes from the most wind-exposed west-facing sector with bedrock basalt, while Basalt Block – comprising the balance of productive vines, for now consisting of Pommard and several Dijon clones – is, as it’s name suggests, plenty rocky but in a more jumbled, weathered way. “It was important to me that I find a piece of property that could make more than one Pinot,” notes Brittan, so as he approaches full production – at around 25 vine acres – in the next several years (including recent plantings of California heirloom selections that reflect what he calls “my complete conviction that genetic material is horribly important”), we may well look forward to additional cuvees of Pinot; what’s more, a block of mixed Rhone varieties including even Carignan, Cinsault, and Persan is planned “as a project (hopefully) for my grandchild.” Even if Brittan had not crafted the wines I tasted from his estate, his prowess (or at least, my perception of it) would already be obvious from my assessments of the quite distinctively delicious collections I tasted (and have reported on in this issue) from Ayoub and Winderlea, for both of whom he is the winemaker of record, but about most of whose recent wines – through literally dumb luck on my part – I managed to record my initial tasting notes before learning of their Brittan connection.
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