Posts Tagged ‘Ben Casteel’

When we planted it in 1979, the Southeast Block looked just like the other two Pinot blocks planted that year on the newly cleared east side of our vineyard, with cuttings from Dick Erath’s Pommard clone Pinot noir stuck directly into the ground without benefit of phylloxera-resistant rootstock.

But soon after these three look-alike Pinot blocks started producing fruit, differences in their soil depth began to assert themselves. The South Block was always a bit overly vigorous; the Flat Block was always a bit weak.  The Southeast Block was always Just Right, and was clearly destined to be Goldilocks’ favorite.

To top it off, in 1998 the famous French geologist Yves Herody, consultant to many of Burgundy’s biodynamic vignerons, declared that our Southeast Block was created by a different geological event than the blocks next to it, giving its parent rock a Unique Mineral Content.  By then it had already become our glory hog.

During the ‘80’s, when we were still selling most of our fruit to other wineries, the Southeast Block was the Chosen Block of Domaine Drouhin Oregon.  After 1991, when we started bottling our own Southeast Block designated wine, it regularly got the highest score of all our Pinots.  It was almost always our Featured Wine at the International Pinot Noir Celebration.  It usually provided our Chosen Barrel for the ¡Salud! auction.

Always a prima donna, unwilling to share the spotlight, the SEB has never been a component in our Casteel Reserve.

In 2006 the Southeast Block was the Chosen Block for the Cellar Crawl Collection, a “best block” fruit trade experiment between Bethel Heights, Penner-Ash, Ken Wright, Cristom and Solena.

This year the 2008 Southeast Block was selected as the only Oregon Pinot for the inspiring wine list at Boston’s new Legal Harborside Restaurant, a collection of only 50 wines from around the world “whose personality originates from an individual place, wine whose identity reflects a single family’s connection to the particular parcel of earth that it tends.”

As Ben described it for the Harborside Collection, “The roots of these own-rooted vines have grown down and explored our rocky volcanic soil for over thirty years, and in doing so have produced wines that are defined far more by their place, than by vintage or by the hand of the winemaker.  Since my father first started bottling wines from the Southeast Block as single-block designates in 1991, this block has given us wines with a firm backbone combined with robust savory fruit and a deep minerality that is unique to this place.”

The Southeast Block is thirty-two years old this year. There are signs that phylloxera has finally discovered its unprotected roots, but Mimi’s worm tea is being liberally applied to boost its immune system, and we believe its best years may still be ahead.  Certainly the 2007 and 2008 Southeast Block Pinots are two of the most glorious and ageworthy wines we have ever produced.

If the Southeast Block were a person, who would it be?

Ted:  Spencer Tracy or Humphrey Bogart  (a bit rough on the outside, but solid intellect and sweet heart on the inside)

Mimi:  Robert Redford (good when young, great when old)

Ben:  Paul Newman (better than Redford, same reasons)

Kate:  Katherine Hepburn

Mimi:  SEB can’t be a woman, but if it were, it would be Katherine Hepburn

Pat:  Sean Connery (tough but smooth, becoming more interesting with age)

Mimi:  Not Sean Connery.  SEB can’t have an accent.

Terry:  Jamie Tombaugh (because if the SEB has anything, it has character)

Read Full Post »

Bethel Heights is pleased to announce the release of our first 2009 vintage Pinot noir. We had a very warm summer in 2009 that gave us ripe, rich Pinot flavors, with a cool end of season to retain acidity.  The wines are luscious and vibrant, and drinking beautifully even at this early stage in their life.

We are also pleased to announce that both our 2009 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (immediate release) and our 2009 Estate Grown Pinot Noir (anticipated June release) have Stelvin closures instead of corks, promising that the wine in every bottle is exactly the same vibrant, flawless wine we put into the bottle, uncompromised by any degree of cork taint.

Our fearless second-generation leaders, Ben Casteel and Mimi Casteel, precipitated this decision to move from corks to screwcaps after a long, arduous year of road trips.   After opening and pouring many bottles of Pinot noir at trade tastings, seminars, wine dinners, and distributor ride-withs all over the country, each of them returned home with stories about repeated experiences of bottles that were just a bit “off.” The bottles that put them over the edge were not the ones that were obviously corked, with that nasty smell that no one can miss; they were just dumb. It was the subtle variations that bothered them the most.  No one could tell there was any problem with those bottles except those who knew the wines intimately, and knew how beautiful the wine was before it went into the bottle.

Lots of excuses are made for such bottle variability.  We are finally convinced the problem is with the corks.  No matter how much we pay to get the best corks, there is always a certain percentage that robs the wine of its integrity after it goes into the bottle, maybe as high as 10%.

We’ve been using Stelvin closures on most of our white wines since 2004.  Without fail, they retain their purity and freshness in the bottle.  Many wineries throughout the world have been using Stelvin closures on their highest quality ageworthy wines for years now, with great success. There was simply no longer any reason to say no, when Ben and Mimi dug in their heels and said “no more corks” for these wines that travel all over the country making new friends for Bethel Heights.

Our 2009 Casteel Reserve and single vineyard Pinots are still cork-finished, since these are destined primarily for the cellars of people who already know our wines.  But we’re keeping an open mind about 2010…

Meanwhile, the entire Bethel Heights family is very pleased to introduce our 2009 cork-free Pinot noir and we welcome comments from all who meet them.

Read Full Post »

Terry was recognized as Legacy Winemaker of the year at the ¡Salud! Pinot Noir Auction on Saturday, for his many contributions to the work of ¡Salud! and to Oregon wine over the years. He received a standing ovation for the thoughts he shared when he stood up to acknowledge the honor.

“As Oregon Pinot noir has grown in stature and reputation, it has been built by growers and winemakers who trust this place to be the right place; who have learned from the land how it needs to be farmed; and from the grape how it needs to be treated and respected in the winery so when it finally goes to bottle, it is an honest reflection of vintage and place.  Pinot noir is a creature of place.  It teaches us lessons, lessons about respecting differences, about putting differences at the very center of our values, of not giving in to the late night temptation to bury our mistakes in the big tank around the corner, and standing strong against the temptation to lose the unique and special offering of the land in “essence of oak” or over-extraction. The winemakers who follow that broader path are not trusting the wine to tell its own story.  It is a uniquely Oregon story, rooted here, not transferable to any other place.

“My hope for my sons’ generation is that they will continue to celebrate the differences, take heart in each other’s triumphs and support each other when they inevitably fall short of the mark; that they will continue to relish a healthy competition that forces us all to get better, but never forget that it was the spirit of cooperation and shared vision and purpose that won us a place at the world’s wine table.”


Read Full Post »

Finally got them to  stand still long enough to be introduced!  Top to bottom, wearing their new Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine t-shirts:

Kate Ayres, Mimi Casteel, Jaime Guzman, Alex Bogetti, Pat Dudley, Don Kowitz, Jose Luis Martinez, Ben Casteel, Ted Casteel…   and Marilyn

Read Full Post »

Don, New Kate, and Mimi smiling on Pinot

Another long and very satisfying day:  25 tons of gorgeous Pinot noir, including all of the Southeast Block and South Block, harvested under sunny skies.   6:45 pm:  Sun setting, Moon and Jupiter rising, and everyone is still smiling tonight as the work goes on.

Ted, Marilyn and Ben smiling on lunch

What the crush crew had for lunch today:  beef kebobs with chanterelles over risotto, and a side of Caesar salad – Marilyn is spoiling us, but no wonder everyone is still smiling!   We have TWO chanterelle hunters on our crush crew this year, our brand new Kate and our good old Alex.

Jack hanging in there

Jack is home from the kennel, cannon shell-shock averted.  Now that harvest is underway, he can head for the winery at daybreak (cannon-break) and spend the day under the table in the office until Ted turns off the cannons and it’s time for a moonrise walk!


Read Full Post »

Mimi and Ben spent the last few weeks rolling out the barrels for our first bottling of 2009 Pinot noir – about 180 barrels, selected for our 5000 case Bethel Heights Willamette Valley blend.

They kept bringing little tastes of the blend into the tasting room as it grew – very happy with this wine!

First thing Monday morning Jon Casteel will roll his mobile bottling truck up the hill and Casteel Custom Bottling will go into action.  A sight to see, if you  happen to visit next week!

Read Full Post »

photo-pne07Bethel Heights 2007 Pinot Noir Estate Grown (aka the Black Label Pinot) is finally released! The 2006 Estate Pinot was sold out months ago, but we held back the release of the 2007 until now, instead of releasing in November as we did in 2006.  That’s because 2007 was a cool, classic Oregon vintage – slower to open up, but with great promise for long life.

2007 in Oregon was similar to 2005 (and 1999 and 2001) and very different from 2006 (our hottest vintage on record).   In 2007, the summer provided adequate heat to ripen the fruit, and the fall finished cool, allowing the grapes to fully express their varietal character without losing acidity and without accumulating excessively amounts of sugar, as Pinot noir tends to do in hot vintages.

However, periods of rain at the end of the season meant that 2007 was a year when it definitely made a difference to have well drained soils, mature vines, and years of experience in the vineyard and the winery. 

Our thirty-year-old vines at Bethel Heights have deep reserves to draw on when skies turn grey, so they can go the extra distance at the end of the season, bringing their fruit to maturity rather than stopping short at green flavors.

In the vineyard, 2007 was tricky.  Nice weather at bloom produced a large crop that had to be severely thinned to achieve optimum ripening.  Just the usual thinning back to one cluster per shoot wasn’t enough.  This is where thirty years of experience in the vineyard paid off:  Ted had his crew thin the crop three times.  The final thinning took off wings and shoulders from the clusters, very picky work, but this is one of the details that makes a difference in a cool vintage. When the fall turned rainy and cool, Ted again sent the crew through the vineyard to pull more leaves around the fruit, as a hedge against botrytis, and to get more sun on the fruit.  In the end the extra effort gave us clean ripe grapes that could weather the rain.

And finally, 2007 was a year when years of experience in the winery also paid off.  The decision when to pick is the most critical decision of every vintage. You are not just waiting for the Brix to reach some magic number, you’re really waiting for the final stage of flavor development, which is more a matter of hang time than anything else – it can happen at 20 Brix or it can happen at 25 Brix. The only way to know you have it is to taste it, and you have to have the courage to trust your palate and wait for the flavors, even when the first of the big fall rainstorms is on the horizon.

There are people (especially those who live in warmer regions) who think rain at harvest spells disaster for a vintage.  But the truth is, it often rains during harvest season in Oregon.  It is one of the reasons we plant our vineyards on hillsides in the first place; drying out quickly after rain is what our famous well drained hillside soils are good for.  If your fruit is clean and your vines are mature, you can safely wait to pick during the windows of dry weather between rain events – which is what we did in 2007.

When the fruit was finally picked, Ben and Terry agreed that 2007 was not a year to ferment whole clusters, so the fruit was completely de-stemmed before the cold soak. During fermentation it was punched down only twice a day instead of three times – 2007 was not a year for heavy extraction.

In the end, 2007 gave us wines with moderate alcohol, bright acidity, and pure fruit character.  As Ben said, “2007 needed very little intervention in the winery.  The work was all done in the vineyard.”

Asked to compare 2007 to 2006, Ben said:  “In Oregon 2002, 2003, and 2006 were all hot vintages: big and lush.  Great for wine bars.  Not necessarily great with food.  For new Pinot drinkers, these hot vintages serve as a transition from the Big Reds to classic Pinot noir like 2005 and 2007.  Classic cool vintage Pinot noir has more acid, less alcohol, and wants to be paired with food to be appreciated. It is also more ageworthy, when the fruit is there, for the same reasons:  more acid, less alcohol.”

The trade-off for ageability is that these wines take a little longer to open up than the hot vintages, which are often ready to show off as soon as they are bottled.  That’s why we held back the release of the 2007 Estate Pinot until January, instead of releasing in November as we did in 2006.  You can taste where it’s going if you let it open up in the glass for a half hour, or open the bottle 24 hours ahead – or better yet, decant. 

The 2007 Pinots are made for food.  Mimi says:  “They won’t compete with beautifully prepared food, but rather lift it up.  They become part of the symphony of the meal, compared to the prima donna soloist wine bar pinots from hot vintages.  With 2007 you don’t have to build the meal around the wine; you can count on the wine to play the perfect harmonic backup to the meal.”

What the critics say:

Jay Miller, The Wine Advocate (October 2008):

The vast majority of [Oregon’s] 2006s are enjoyable now, but Burgundy fans who prize elegance will have to wait for one more year when what looks to be a superb 2007 vintage is released . . . Although there was never a clear window for picking, with some growers continuing to harvest well into October, the results were terrific.  This was not immediately apparent but after malolactic fermentation was complete, almost everyone was thrilled with what they achieved.  These wines will be lower in alcohol than the 2006 but with better concentration, more elegance, and very good aging potential.  In other words, it will be a vintage to please both the intellect and the senses. 

Harvey Steiman, The Wine Spectator (December 31, 2008):

For those who like Oregon’s white wines and were fans of the lighter-weight 2004 and 2005 Pinots, 2007 will not be the disappointment it looked like it might be.  Despite all the rain, good producers made ’07s that won’t embarrass anyone.  

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »