The Full McCarty

“Abbey Ridge is one of the oldest vineyards in the
venerable Dundee Hills of Oregon; the oldest vines
are now 25 years old and it is exclusively from these
vines that we produce the “Abbey Ridge” designate.
The reason becomes obvious when tasting all of the
various lots of wine in a particular vintage from this
vineyard: there is so much more going on in the
mouth when one is tasting old vines wine.In all, Abbey
Ridge has around 22 acres and of this approximately
15 in Pinot noir
The most important part of the wine-making is that the
Abbey Ridge had three beautiful women who did a
pigeage of the wine (ie took off their clothes in the
time-honoured French tradition and entered the warm
fermenter at the height of its fermentation)! I am
certain that this was very good for the wine as it was
very good for the winemaker! I can’t remember who
climbed into the Clos Electrique fermenter!”

It is entirely possible that my naked visage exists somewhere on a unsavory German web site. It’s a long story.

When I was a young wine salesperson, one of the first road trips we took was to the Willamette Valley. Our first stop was Cameron, in the hills above Dundee, just a right turn at the Nuthouse (a.k.a. Argyle Winery) and then look for the unwelcoming entrance. It was an evening stop, for a rustic dinner and elegant wines. I tire of all the references to Cameron winemaker/owner John Paul as eccentric or a character. So what if he has dressed up like Martha Stewart. He seems perfectly sane to me in a world that appears intent on losing it’s marbles. John Paul was a gracious host, patient with so many rookie sales-persons. We knew the stories. Here is where one truly becomes one with the wine. There was the visit in the early days. Only a half dozen employees in the novice firm. A visit to test the waters, nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more. Samples were poured, guards were let down. It was late fall and the cap needed punching down. What else to do but the natural thing – strip and submerge.

It is said that the original idea of hot-tubbing came from abandoned wine fermenters in California. But an actively fermenting tank of Pinot is quite warm and bubbly, I can assure you. We did not engage in the act of pigeage that year. There were too many young souls, and owners who were suddenly aware that they had a real live business on their hands. It was bacchanal but not Caligularian.

A few years later I took a week off work to volunteer at crush time. Most of my time was spent in the nut house, at Argyle, where we worked hard, ate well, and worked on our abs. (Volunteer to work the business end of a punching down paddle, if you want to know what I mean.) After a week of 14 hour days I took for the hills. I pulled into Cameron an unexpected volunteer. I worked hard, and earned some respect. John Paul made an announcement, not as a pontiff, but as a tired boss. “Well, we need to punch down those caps.”

“Um, can I do it John?” Fine with him, the Tom Sawyer of cap punching. I stripped down and showered off quickly. Me and a paid worker climbed the scaffolding and got in the tank. It was warm and prickly and decidedly lacking in oxygen. We worked on opposite sides of the tank, pushing the thick cap down with our cupped hands, laboring through the slurry that is Abbey Ridge to be. Did I mention we stayed on the opposite side of the tank? I mean, we were yin and yang, baby, and never the twain were going to meet in that mixture.

The wine came up to my low hips. I would have been happier to have had a bigger harvest, I mean a little more juice in the tank. I was working up a sweat by now, and we were nearly done with our labors. Then I heard the sounds of German men speaking rapidly. And power winders on camera’s with long lenses. “Um, John Paul, were you going to tell us about the German camera crew coming to do a feature on the winery?” “Hmm.?” No, I guess not. I’ve just become a Lucy episode.

I still enjoy telling people that I have had an intimate relationship with wine. They need not know just how intimate. I’ve drunk the last of my 1995 Abbey Ridge, long ago. And no, I do not, after skipping a daily shower, find myself breathing deeply and reminiscing over past vintages. Come on people, wine is a natural bactericide! It is good to be intimate with wine, for we, after all, are intimate with it. And lest you let this article dissuade you from trying one of the excellent wines from Cameron vineyards, you would do well to remember that fourteen percent of alcohol kills off just about anything. Not to mention the tannins.

Published in: on February 26, 2008 at 6:52 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I had never heard the term ‘pissage’ until I read this post. Perhaps you could create a wine glossary on your blog that explains some of the more common wine terms to a beginner, like myself. Just a suggestion. Thanks for the interesting entries — keep up the good work.

  2. Done! thanks for your interest Fellini. Given your name, you must like Italian wines?

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