If I have learned anything since starting this blog over five years ago, it’s that there are no certainties in the wine world. I know that does not sound all that profound, but I really have stopped trying to have any expectations whatsoever where ever I go.
As I have mentioned at least a few times now, last summer I was on a press trip to the great state of Oregon.* There were a few other journalists on that trip (I say “journalist” since they were actual journalists—I was the only blogger and pretty convinced that I was an alternate for someone who dropped out at the last-minute, but that is not the point of this article…) and at least a couple of them were solely interested in visiting organic and biodynamic wineries.
Don’t get me wrong: I have absolutely nothing against organic or biodynamic wines. Nothing. In fact, truth be told, I am a tree hugger (we own two Priuses for goodness sake) and anything that is better for the planet is just fine and dandy with me.
Many who make biodynamic wines and those that will “only” drink them are a little too holier than thou for me (and, with two Priuses, I think I have pretty much cornered that market—what kind of mileage do you get? I get between 72-80 mpg. Yeah, that’s what I thought, but that is not the point of this article….).
But then there is Johan Vineyards.
I doubt there are many people who would describe Dag Sunby, the owner of Johan, or Dan Rinke, the winegrower, as “holier than thou.” Sure, they believe that wine growing requires “diversity in the biological ecosystem of the vineyard” but they do it because the result is better fruit with a stronger sense of place. Neither, though, seeks to foist their world-view on others—they do it since it feels right for them, even though they feel that some of the biodynamic processes are a bit, well, odd.
When pressed, however, Dag and Dan stop just short of agreeing with Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe fame, who categorized Rudolph Steiner, the founder of biodynamic agriculture, as “bat-shit crazy.” They stressed that they are making wine in Oregon, after all, where a full 50% of the vineyards are sustainable or organic (compared to 1% in California) and 23% meet the very stringent certification requirements of either LIVE-certified sustainable or the Demeter-certified biodynamic (Johan Vineyards is the latter).
They also know their clientele: Johan Vineyards is not large by any standard, but they have a dedicated following of “mostly millennials” (according to Dan) who are looking for more responsibly farmed products, including wine.
Johan Vineyards (which Dag purchased as a way to rebel against his father, who wanted him to go make a ton of money on Wall Street) currently has 87 acres under vine, far more than is needed for their 3000 case production. The rest of the fruit, which is cooled by the breezes of the nearby Van Duzer corridor is sold to a slew of beginning winemakers and “up and comers” who are drawn to the healthy fruit (along with the Oregon staples of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris, there is Grüner Veltliner and Balufränkisch at Johan) and the relaxed atmosphere.
“We like hipsters and people like us” Dan intimated as we sat down at a picnic table in the vineyard with a few of said “hipsters” to taste through a bevy of wines made from Johan fruit.
While I am far from a hipster, I did enjoy hanging out with Dan and Dag most of the weekend at the International Pinot Noir Celebration. There are several more stories to tell there, but I am having a very difficult time remembering them.
2014 Statera Chardonnay Johan Vineyard: Retail $35. Focuses only on Chard from the Willamette. 16 months in neutral. 50 cases. Bright and focused. Lemony fruit and impressive weight and depth. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2014 Johan Chardonnay Visdom: Retail $45. Vanilla and custard and lemon. On the palate really full and deep with a salinity that is said to come from the Van Duzer influence. Whoa. A bigger style without being ridiculous. A bunch of lime to go along with the lemon. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2012 Johan Chardonnay Visdom: Retail $45. Tart and angular. Some lees are left in so presents a bit cloudy. A bit too tart. Very Good. 88-90 Points.
2012 Minimus Chardonnay Dijon Free Chardonnay: Retail $43. No Dijon clones: including old Wente clone, L’Espiguette clone, and Musque clone. Tart. Also cloudy like the Johan. Really bright, very un-Chard like in flavor but not in weight. Lemon drop. A go go. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2013 Johan Grüner Veltliner: Rich with some petrol. A unique expression. Round and full with a baked fruit aspect to it. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2013 Minimus Grüner Veltliner: Brighter and more traditional expression of Grüner. More herbal and savory. Nice. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2013 Johan Nils Pinot Noir: Deep cherry nose with some forest floor. Rather lean but nice fruit with a soft savory side. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2014 Johan Estate Pinot Noir: A bit richer than the Nils, which reflected the different vintages. Depth, flavor, verve. Very nice. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2011 Minimus #5 Reduction Johan Vineyard: 25% Blaufränkish 75% Pinot Noir. Gamey and meaty on the nose. Almost Korean BBQ. On the palate? Ok I resisted due to blending fabulous Pinot with Blaufränkisch, but this almost gets a whoa. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
*[On a side note: is there any state in the country that does not refer to itself as ”The Great State of X”? Iowa? Alabama? Do the denizens of those two states say, for example, ”The pretty good state of Iowa”? Or, ”The Above Average State of Alabama”?—no offense to my readers of either of those states—you were merely place-holders. The fact that those two states popped into my head first is purely coincidental.]