Walking The Rows: Résonance Vineyard And The Fool’s Errand Plot

Food & Drink

Résonance Vineyard, owned by Résonance Wines in Oregon’s Yamhill Carlton AVA, is rare. Certainly from the looks of it — situated in the beautiful rolling hills of the Willamette Valley, surrounded by old oaks dripping with sage-colored lichen — one can tell this is a special and well-cared-for place. But one of the most interesting details is not evident at a glance, and it’s tied to one of the most impactful aspects of the modern global wine industry.

A Short History Lesson Of A Devastating Insect

Grape phylloxera is an insect that consumes the roots of grapevines. You’ll be forgiven if this isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when pouring a lovely glass of Oregon Pinot Noir, but spend any time around wine industry folks, and phylloxera will eventually find a way into the conversation. During the 19th century, this pest wiped out millions of hectares of vineyards. “Phylloxera is native to the eastern and southeastern United States, where native American grape species coevolved with the insect,” according to Oregon State University Extension Service. Because of this, vines grafted onto phylloxera-resistant American rootstock could survive. The adaptations brought about during this time changed viticultural practices worldwide and ultimately restored the viticulture industry across Europe. In short, many vineyards around the world today have the roots of one species of grape, while the fruit- and leaf-bearing part is another species, Vitis vinifera — recognizable as many of the most famous varieties such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

What Makes Résonance Vineyard So Special?

This is a simplified summary of one of the most fascinating stories in viticultural history. But it brings us to 1981 when then-owner Kevin Chambers planted Résonance Vineyard. These vines are all set on their own roots, ungrafted plantings of three clones (Pommard, Dijon 777, and Wädenswil) of Pinot Noir in a massal selection fashion, meaning that any new vines come from cuttings from original plantings, not from a nursery. The 20-acre vineyard is managed organically and is dry-farmed, so there is no irrigation.

Three decades later new faces arrived at Résonance, Thibault Gagey and Jacques Lardière, seemingly unlikely visitors with an even more unlikely vision. Lardière had recently retired a 42-year career making wine at Maison Louis Jadot, one of the most historic and influential wine houses in Bourgogne (Burgundy) since 1859. Gagey, part of the family in charge of Jadot was in search of a new project. Considering that Jadot operates a legendary and thriving négotiant business and cultivates 528 acres of estate vineyards — including 280 acres of Premier Cru and Grand Cru plots — it would seem that the Jadot team and seen and done it all.

But Résonance was different, and not only because it is in Oregon. When Gagey and Lardière surveyed Résonance in 2013, it is likely that this was the first ungrafted vineyard they’d considered — as most vineyards in France are set on rootstocks rendering wines from this spot doubly unique. “Generally speaking, Résonance Vineyard offers a rare opportunity to taste wines from some of the oldest ungrafted vines in the Willamette Valley — a rare treat for any Oregon wine lover,” says L.M. Archer, US Contributor at The Drinks Business.

To put this in perspective, consider that Bourgogne’s wine board alongside several chambers of agriculture and other local bodies have just announced a new investment initiative to test new rootstocks. “With climate change shifting the world as we know it, the future of Bourgogne wines depends on its rootstocks, the diversity of which has yet to be fully explored,” according to the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB) in a recent press release. “The GreffBourgogne program aims to test new rootstocks across Bourgogne’s full range of microclimates. In the long term, it will allow winegrowers to choose the right rootstock for every location.” This is happening in volunteer vineyards with experimental protocols around the region.

Résonance Is Breaking New Ground Today

Jadot purchased Résonance after that exploratory trip in 2013 and made its first release under the label in 2014. In 2017 another key person arrived from Bourgogne, Pouilly Fuissé native and Jadot assistant technical director Guillaume Large. Large relocated to Oregon with his family to head up winemaking for Résonance Wines. With several successful vintages under his belt, Large has also become a valued member of the Willamette Valley winemaking community, serving as a board member for the International Pinot Noir Celebration and working in support of ¡Salud! The Oregon Pinot Noir Auction. “Burgundian-born vigneron Guillaume Large brings a respectful, old-world approach in both the vineyards and the cellar,” says Archer. “Personally, I delight in his wines’ delicate balance between depth and finesse, structure and soul.”

Large also oversees additional estate vineyards Découverte Vineyard in Dundee Hills AVA, Koosah Vineyard in Eola-Amity Hills AVA (2022 was the first harvest here), and Home Ranch, which is visible from the tasting room near the town of Carlton. The gravity fed winery facility featuring custom, handcrafted French oak barrels made by Jadot-established Tonnellerie Cadus is a few miles from the tasting room. A brand new tasting space at Décoverte Vineyard is in construction and set to open in time for summer 2023.

The Fool’s Errand Plot

One of the most exciting projects on the property is a plot called Fool’s Errand, planted in 2020 in a U-shape as a clos, the French word for a walled vineyard — in this case, the wall is composed of native trees. All of the Pinot Noir here originated in Résonance Vineyard — wood from the vineyard was planted in a small nursery on the property until it formed roots — a massal selection of all three clones (Pommard, Dijon 777, and Wädenswil) on marine sedimentary soil. Large explains that these are high-density plantings, aimed at controlling vigor and encouraging the plants to reach upward. Each vine is positioned next to a post or stake, unlike the wire and trellis systems more commonly used in Oregon and Bourgogne, and are farmed organically and totally by hand. “We want to see the expression and then maybe consider biodynamics,” says Large.

Large expects the expression to share some characteristics with Pinot Noir from Résonance Vineyard, but that is left to be seen. He says that this blueprint is more expensive to farm and thus would likely sell at a higher price point but it’s a “fun project” that furthers the spirit of the unique life of Résonance Vineyard. “It’s experimentation, and we want to make sure the fruit will be special,” says Large.

He says that if the planting style doesn’t bring complexity, adjustments could be made, such as the removal of rows, but that’s not the goal. If this method is successful, the team might be willing to convert a small number of additional acres within the estate. Until then, the job will be to monitor canopy management and vegetation control to ensure the plants get the right about of sun and shade and are protected from mildew. This form of planting is seldom seen in a flat vineyard like Fool’s Errand, but it is a method relied on for steep plantings such as in France’s Northern Rhône Valley or Germany’s Mosel Valley. As far as Large knows, there’s none other in the Willamette Valley. If the track record for Résonance Wines continues, tasting wine from this plot will be a groundbreaking experience for fans.

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