Posts Tagged ‘Bethel Heights Vineyard’

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)

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Predatory Beetles

Flying in from everwhere

Escaping   flooded fields

Fleeing bird’s beaks

Zooming   through vent holes   of compost bins

Feeling safe

Suddenly becoming

The top   of the food chain.

A congress    of beetles

Skating across

The orange flows     Directs the food chain

Of flyers and crawlers.

With the Beetles

In charge

It’s only poop for so long.


(from The Return of the Fertilizer King and Other Tales, by Mark U. Sturges)*


The microcosm of organisms that Mimi has been cultivating inside the old dairy tank experienced a population explosion over the winter, fueled by all those sacks of leftover vegetables that people keep leaving on her desk.

Oblivious to freezing winter temperatures, the red worms have become a mass of squirming spaghetti.  (These are the eisenia fetida worms that are sold live at $45.95 per 1000 in home gardening catalogues, credited with eating half their weight in organic matter every day.)  The tiny threadlike white worms and fat little grubs have been just as prolific, and one can only assume the invisible microorganisms have been no less busy.

In spite of all this prolific life, Mimi has been fretting about the absence of beetles, so imagine the thrill when she opened the lid last week and found they had finally arrived …

The Argytids look

over the pumpkin supply

and then    they breed their way

into proper numbers

to accomplish the job.*

* Mark Sturges, author of 

The Return of the Fertilizer King and Other Tales,


is an old friend of Bethel Heights.  A extraordinarily effective wine salesman in his day job, Mark is now almost entirely devoted to growing compost, which for Mark is a poetic activity.  It was Mark who inspired Mimi’s worm farm project, taught her how to brew compost tea, and provided her starter set of bugs and worms to get it going.   Mark’s farm, Chili Nervanos in Bandon, Oregon, ships organic compost and nematodes and dung beetles to thirty states. Rather than concentrating on thermal composting or composting with worms, as many composters do, Mark encourages the greatest number of creatures possible to inhabit his compost.  He wants “the whole neighborhood.”

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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.

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Kate’s fresh fragrant trees, just cut yesterday, were lining up last night outside the tasting room door, ready for this weekend’s Wine and Trees Special.  Terry was poised to get first choice, but they are all beautiful!

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Kate selecting trees for harvest

If you come to Bethel Heights this weekend (December 4th and 5th) you’ll not only get to taste some great wines; you can also take home a fresh cut, sustainably grown Christmas tree.  This weekend, just $30 will get you a taste of all six wines we are pouring (including a special sneak peek at one of our delicious 2009 pinots!) and a beautiful, sustainably grown, 5-7 foot noble fir Christmas tree to take home and deck with yule-tide splendor.

If you’ve ever visited Bethel Heights, you’ve probably met Kate, our Tasting Room/Cellar Club manager.   But you may not know that the Feldman Tree Farm, just a short distance up the road from Bethel Heights Vineyard, is Kate’s family business.  The level of care the Feldman family takes with their trees is above and beyond the rest of the industry.  And it shows; these are beautiful trees!

This coming weekend Kate is going to bring some of her trees down to the winery, and one of them can be yours! So come on out, friends, we have a fire going, we’ve got warm, mulled cider for your post-wine-tasting sipping pleasure, and hey, you needed that tree anyway!

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“Bethel Heights’ most recent collection is uniformly outstanding.” Thus spake Dr. Jay Miller in the October issue of The Wine Advocate.

Eight 2008 Pinots rated 90 or above. Four current release whites “represent excellent to outstanding value.” We could have said it ourselves, but it’s so much nicer when someone else says it for us. Check out the reviews!

The entire 12-bottle Uniformly Outstanding Collection is ready to ship as a holiday package with $10 flat rate shipping through December 1.  A wine for every celebration of the season, so no one has to be “that guy” who comes to dinner without the Bethel Heights.    Quick, before the curtain falls on our shipping window!


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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.”


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