Most of Oregon’s wineries are small. Over 70 percent of the state’s wineries produce fewer than 5,000 cases a year (there’s 12 bottles to a case). There are many—call them micro-producers—that work with 1,000 cases or less. These are great places to find not only good-value wines, but some of the most ambitious.
Often irreverent, working to their own principles and following their obsessions, these winemakers may not have a fixed abode. Working at cooperatives or using other people’s equipment, they may have day jobs to support their passion. I’ve picked a few of my current favorites, though this list could have been much longer.
Fossil & Fawn
Husband and wife team Jim Fischer and Jenny Mosbacher approach winemaking with a cheeky, goofy impudence. They started Fossil & Fawn in 2011 and now produce 1,000 cases—though they expect to improve on that this year. You’ll find a good Pinot Noir in their lineup, but otherwise, they’re guided by their personal compulsions and appetites. The 2017 White Blend ($20) is an odd concoction of six different cool-climate grape varieties. It’s the kind of thing that could be a disaster but is actually wonderful—rich, bright, and engrossing. It’ll do well with food or on the back porch.
If you’re after something damned unusual, then uncork the 2017 Do Nothing. Made from Mondeuse, a variety better known in France’s alpine region of Savoie than the Willamette Valley, it offers a mouthful of intense and wild flavors. fossilandfawn.com
Chris Lubberstedt has been a winemaker in the Willamette Valley for two decades. In 2016 he set up Stedt, operating out of the Southeast Wine Collective, to focus on cool-climate wines. He has a Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gamay, and Gewürztraminer in his lineup. I’ve only had the 2016 Sparkling Brut Gamay of Noir Rosé ($35), which had me hooked on the first sip. Made the same way as champagne, it’s dry, and brings together luscious red fruit, a mineral underlay, and candy notes that make it way too easy to follow one glass with another. stedtwines.com
Ross and Bee Maloof are another husband and wife team who gave up their jobs on the East Coast to commit themselves to the Pacific Northwest wine biz. They produce quality wines that can be quirky, though never gimmicky. With a less-is-more approach to winemaking (“minimal tinkering” is how Ross describes it), they do as little to the wine as possible.
The 2017 Ross & Bee Maloof Riesling ($18) is dry and low in alcohol, with an endearing frizzante quality that makes it invigorating, especially as the thermometer creeps above 80 degrees. They have an unusual Gewürztraminer made with skin contact and rested on the lees for five months, which gives it a wonderful floral aroma but a savory flavor (if that sounds like gibberish, I still urge you to try it, preferably with pizza or a Gruyère-style cheese). Finally, check out the 2017 Where Ya PJs At? ($21) for an original blend of Pinot Gris and Riesling—but mainly because it has a man in his underpants on the label. rossandbee.com
This family-owned winery grows its own fruit and is located in the Cascade Foothills area of the Willamette Valley, east of I-5. Their Gamay Noir ($25) was one of my favorites at the recent I Love Gamay festival—bright and juicy with tart fruit. Also look out for their Pinot Blanc ($17), which also has some skin contact and is very distinctive—my notes say “briny saltiness balanced by overripe fruit, savory finish.” I have friends who became obsessed with it, but others who were just confused... so maybe it’s not for everyone. Winemaker Jason Hanson is also experimenting with some oddball but intriguing grapes—mention Golubok, Marechal Foch, and Léon Millet to stump the wine nerd in your life. hansonwine.com