Oregon’s Willamette Valley is widely considered one of the world’s premier Pinot Noir producing regions. Among its 7 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) is the Chehalem Mountains AVA which sits just under 20 miles southwest of Portland, stretching 20 miles long and 5 miles wide. 53 of the Willamette Valley’s 700+ wineries live here including such well-respected names as Adelsheim, Ponzi and ROCO. A recent new discovery for us was Alloro Vineyard, a winery on a living farm that brings the best things in life to the table along with an invitation for anyone to come have a seat.
Many of the wine proprietors we meet are also the winemakers. In David Nemarnik’s case he’s the Vineyard Manager because he has always loved the farming and agricultural aspect of winemaking the most. He is as down-to-earth as you would expect from a true farmer; greeting you with a handshake and a look so warm that you’re instantly made to feel as though you’ve known him for years. His jeans and work boots denote his easygoing manner while his eyes provide a hint of the high intelligence and curiosity lurking behind.
“I get a kick out of wine growing with all the little steps and details you do at certain times. For me, it’s about doing the right thing at the right time. I love the whole process year to year and it’s right in front of you—pruning, bud break, chute thinning, constantly paying attention and doing the appropriate things. Thomas (Fitzpatrick) the winemaker is very talented and we’re very much on the same page as far as the style of Pinot Noir we like to see which is why we got together.”
David grew up in a lively household with his Italian mother and Croatian father. Wine was always part of the meal which not only ignited his passion for wine but also his joy for the pleasures of the table and how wine and food bring people together. This upbringing has very much influenced his philosophy behind the winery as well as the look and feel of the tasting room. They are housed in a Mediterranean concrete building with a natural stone face and a terra cotta roof much like you would see in the Italian countryside, “It reminds of taking family trips to Italy when I was a kid and represents the days of small artisans each doing their specialty.”
The name of the winery also pays homage to his Italian roots though maybe not as originally planned. Alloro is Italian for “Laurel” named after Laurel Ridge where the vineyard sits. Laurel Ridge in turn is named after the brownish, wind-blown form of loess soil called Laurelwood which sits atop the basalt layer at the Alloro Estate Vineyard. For David, Pinot Noir is all about place but since there was already a winery called Laurel Ridge, he used the Italian translation instead.
David began planting Alloro’s 34-acre vineyard in 1999 primarily to Pinot Noir along with Chardonnay, Riesling and a small amount of Muscat. All the wine produced at Alloro is estate fruit but he also sells some of his fruit from other blocks on the property to other wineries. Alloro produces approximately 3500 cases and will top out at about 4,000. “4,000 is a good number, you can wrap your arms around it. If you go much bigger than that, you lose the fun part of the business and as my mom used to say, “when’s enough, enough?”.
David’s respect for the land is obvious as he explains that the Ethos in the Oregon wine industry is to be good stewards of the soil, “You grow the wine. It’s been proven that the healthier your soil is, the better the wine is going to be. Oregon’s only game is quality.” As you’ll see from the tasting notes below, he’s definitely winning the game. He considers himself an environmentalist that chooses science over ideology using LIVE certification (an organization that independently certifies sustainable practices based on research and internationally accredited standards) as his point of reference.
“As an example, I can control mildew with sulfur which I can spray 2-3 times a week. It also helps control the bad insects like mites and mealy worms that do damage, but the problem with using sulfur is that it wipes out the beneficial insects. Sulfur is organic but it’s also caustic and harmful to beneficial insects which means you have to spray every week because there are no more good insects to fight the bad ones. So I wonder what’s more environmentally sustainable—using a synthetic mildewcide at 4oz/acre that doesn’t harm beneficial insects and is less caustic than sulfur? That’s where LIVE is really good. It’s based on the latest research, not an ideology.”
David also confirms our observation that Oregon possesses one of the most collaborative wine communities we’ve visited worldwide, “I think a lot of it comes from the fact that we’re small, and the first wave that came up from UC Davis or Fresno State–no one knew how to grow grapes up here. They were constantly collaborating and checking to see what each was doing and what was working. I believe that’s a big reason the collaborative culture is still here to this day.”
The current tasting room was originally David’s apartment before he built his house in 2008/2009. He’d stay there in the summers while commuting from Portland. After the house was built, he converted his apartment into the tasting room and just a few weeks ago broke ground for a new tasting room on a 40-acre parcel he purchased next door. The vision for the much larger facility is borne out of a need for more indoor space (particularly in the winter) and his desire to build on the enjoyment of wine, food and people he’s created at Alloro.
As he shows us the architectural model, his excitement at this new project is palpable, “It will be very purposeful and much more spacious for guests with lots of glass overlooking the Chehalem Mountains and our vineyards. It will have a rock wall with terraced yards, a fireplace, wood burning oven, demonstration kitchen, commercial kitchen, and a cellar underneath for both barrel storage and a tasting table for intimate events.” He adds that the new facility will be similar in style using the Mediterranean look of natural stone face and Terra Cotta roof, but it will be a bit more modern.
What gets him most excited about the entire concept of having a winery is the food and wine pairing aspect, “having a meal where a chef creates dishes around our wines is fun stuff—that’s life you know.” And what a great life it is. How lucky for all of us to be invited to the Alloro table.
2017 Alloro Chardonnay
We have written many times on these pages about how we think Chardonnay from Oregon State has leapt forward in terms of quality over the past 5 vintages. Alloro is one of the leaders of that charge. From their estate vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains this is a medium bodied, intensely flavoured beauty of a Chardonnay that rests on the fulcrum showing terrific balance between fruit, body and acidity. Notes of pear and golden delicious apple come together with citrus notes carrying the long finish. The texture of this wine is simply gorgeous! Fermented in barrel using battonage (the French term for stirring the lees or spent yeast cells) that adds texture to the wine, there is a richness here that is very seductive. Among the top Chardonnay we have tasted this year.
Excellent (USD$34 at tasting room – particularly good value for this quality level)
2015 Pinot Noir Estate
Red cherry, raspberry and baking spices form the flavour profile of this medium-bodied, suave and luscious Pinot Noir. With some air we start to detect blue fruits and on the back end, hints of cracked pepper. Together they form a complex wine that brings you back for another sip to check outs its evolution in your glass.
Very Good/Excellent (USD$40 at tasting room)
2016 Pinot Noir Estate
Quite similar to its older brother but here the dials are turned up, and in a very good way. Dark cherry and blueberry meld together in a very seductive style on the luscious medium to full bodied frame. The finish is long and peppery. The tannin is present but ripe and not at all obtrusive.
Excellent (USD$40 at tasting room)
2016 Pinot Noir Riservata
Just 300 cases of this barrel select wine were made in 2016. Sadly, they are now sold out. If David had made 3,000 cases of this Riservata, I am sure he would still be sold out. At a similar quality level to other prestige cuvées coming from the top estates in the Willamette, but selling at prices 40% to 50% below, this is a spectacular wine and not to be missed in the next vintage. Morello cherry, blueberry, earth and baking spice all dance together and take turns being centre-stage as this wine shifts and plays and gathers complexity as it unfolds in our glass. Intense flavours and gorgeous mouthfeel. 35% new oak and has the complexity and stature of stem inclusions, but if we recall correctly, he de-stems all of his fruit.
Excellent+ (USD$50 at tasting room-particularly good value for this quality level)
2017 Nettare Dessert Wine
A blend of 65% Muscat and 35% Riesling grown on their estate. This is an ice wine, but not in the traditional Canadian method. Oregon’s winters don’t generate the –10 degrees Celsius required to freeze the berries on the vine. Instead, David picks the fruit at optimum ripeness and crushes and then freezes the resulting juice. As the ice melts, the water melts first before the other solids and is drained off leaving a more concentrated must. This is then vinified to about 10% alcohol leaving enough residual sugar to make a tasty treat but not so much as to make it cloying. Citrus fruits, orange blossom and honey comes through in a lightly syrupy body that is refreshing and delicious.
Excellent (USD $40 at tasting room)
22075 SW LeBeau RD.
Sherwood, OR 97140
503-625-1978 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Tasting Room Hours: 11am-5pm Daily