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Hundred Suns Wine's Amphora-Aged Gamay Noir, Flame-Grilled Foods, and Our First Post-Pandemic Dinner Party #WinePW

 

This month the Wine Pairing Weekend bloggers are looking at wines aged in amphorae. Gwendolyn, the Wine Predator, invites us: here.

If you are reading this early enough, feel free to join our live chat on Twitter. We gather on Saturday, August 14th at 8am Pacific time. Follow the hashtag #WinePW and be sure to add that to anything you tweet so we can see it. Here's the line-up from the writers...

Hundred Suns Wine

Back in 2016 I became acquainted with Hundred Suns Wine. Thanks to social media, I saw that a school mate Renée Saint-Amour, along with her husband Grant, is behind Hundred Suns Wine. I immediately ordered two bottles of Pinot Noir, pouring one for our Easter feast and one for a girls' day. And, then, I ordered another three bottles: two Pinot Noir and one Syrah.

I have been an avid fan ever since. And each year, I order a few bottles to open for special occasions. This year we were celebrating being together for the first time since March 2020 when the pandemic struck. Years ago I had a back and forth email interview with Renée - about their 2015 Ciel du Cheval, an amphora-aged Syrah - and I wanted to share their thoughts since it's relevant to this month's topic. 

photo via Hundred Suns Wine

C: Those amphorae! What inspired that journey? How did it go? Thoughts on the wine? 

Hundred Suns: The amphora project was inspired by wines Grant tried from Elisabetta Foradori, who used amphora on her Touraldagos which were deep and rich, complex and layered. Also from the white amphora aged wines which always seemed oxidative to Grant. This indicated to him that there might be more oxygen exchange with amphora. Why then, not make a bigger, denser wine and age it in amphora to try to develop the tannins and make the structural elements more supple and soft as well as building complexity that come from the amphora itself? In the end his hypothesis felt true. It definitely softened the [2015 Ciel du Cheval] you'll be drinking. That thing was a tannic monster when it came in the door, and watching it go from blood and iron, to fruit, fading in and out...it just went through so many stages as it aged. At the end we felt like the end result was something complex and much rounder and more supple than where it began. 


The 2016 Klipsun Syrah was another 100% whole cluster wine aged in the amphora. 

photo via Hundred Suns Wine

C: About winemaking in general...How has the industry changed in the past few years? Any keen observations about the wine market?

Hundred Suns: Grant thinks there is a big shift in the industry away from winemakers trying to just please a single palate (or reviewer) and more interest in a return to experimentation. The natural wine movement has come charging in and in some ways it is almost polarizing.  He thinks there is a new interest in simpler techniques with less intervention. Things like organic and biodynamic farming have more cache with buyers and producers alike. I think we are in a very specific Oregon bubble of producers that are like-mindedly producing wines on small scales and with low interventions, but I also know that there is another movement in the opposite direction that revolves around machine harvesting and giant factory-like wineries cranking out thousands of cases a year.

A new crop of young, Millennial drinkers are growing into a powerful market force. I know on our end, everyone is trying to figure out how to bridge the gap between the tradition boomer consumer whose cellar is full but who appreciate and afford big dollar wines and the Millennials who are just getting interested. Research out there tells us that the American market is growing and that the average dollar amount people are willing to spend is growing; people are learning and trading up. That is good for us.

Here in Oregon, we are also seeing a really interesting phenomenon of some prominent wine houses getting bought up by large wine corporations, especially from France and California. We have some very close friends who have sold and cashed out it big ways to "the invasion." We came here to Oregon because Grant wanted to make Pinot Noir, but also because we knew that starting a bootstrap project in California is so expensive and difficult. We felt like here, we might be able to save for the little farm with a winery barn and some plantable acreage. I'm afraid those days are starting to feel over. Without investors, folks like us can't compete with cash buyers with deep pockets, so although this area has in the past been a hot bed for small producers, we may see that become harder.

photo via Hundred Suns Wine

This email exchange was back in 2017, so that's the context of her answer. C: Are there any challenges? Any triumphs you care to share?

Hundred Suns: We had some real challenges this year in the 2017 vintage. We had to make some decisions that sent us pouring some wine down the drain, which is really hard when fruit is so expensive as are the resources that are required to make it into wine. Grant will always want to be as non-interventionalist as possible. Everything is done with native yeast and as little sulfur as possible He doesn't use any kind of additives or nutrients in the wines he makes. This means you have to be hyper vigilant about the process you use because you can't depend on those elements to clean things up for you on the back end. Sometimes, just because of the microbial stew in the winery, conditions of the fruit, etc, you have ferments that don't go how you want. We had a ferment this harvest that just went off the rails in the weirdest way, and when we tasted through the wine before it went to barrel, we just knew it wasn't going to be good enough for us to put our name on. So we had to let it go.

In 2016, we had a couple of ferments that we thought were a little off, but we barrel aged them and when we put them into the Eight Cut Blend, they are the barrels that made the entire thing sing. They added complexity and layer to the mix. Making those calls is hard, and the wines are living, breathing things that obviously change long after you put them in the bottle. There will always be an element to winemaking which is ...letting go.

I think our biggest triumph with Hundred Suns is that it is a dream we've had for a long time, and we are making it a reality every day. Building something special with your partner is a lovely process. The danger is that since Grant's work at Flaneur is so all-consuming, most of our conversations take place from 9 pm -12 am after kids are asleep. Still, the wines feel weirdly like an extension of our family in a way.

2019 Tualatin Estate Gamay Noir

The grapes for this wine come from the historic Tualatin Estate Vineyard which was established in the early 1970s by pioneer Bill Fuller. The name of the vineyard, 'Tualatin', originates from the indigenous people and means 'gentle and easy flowing.' 

The Hundred Suns' parcel of Gamay is, in fact, the only Gamay planted at the site and came from a hidden corner of the vineyard. Evan Martin uncovered it and offered the one-acre piece to Hundred Suns. They jumped at the opportunity.


Once grapes were harvested, they divided the Gamay into three lots.  The first was 100% de-stemmed, the second was 50% whole cluster, and the third was 100% whole cluster Carbonic. Aged in a combination of amphorae and neutral oak for 11 months, this wine is fruit heavy with a beautiful texture and restrained acidity.

Other Amphora-Aged Wines

I have long been fascinated by wines aged in amphorae - probably since I wandered through Pompeii in the mid-90s and saw the remnants of amphorae preserved in hardened lava. I've even posted about a few throughout the years. 


The 2016 Wine Thieves Rkatsiteli was a qvevri-aged Rkatsiteli from the Republic of Georgia. Qvevri are enormous ceramic urns though I read that the differentiation is that qvervi are buried during fermentation while amphorae are not. I poured that wine with an unlikely match: Kao Pad Bpu, Thai Crab Fried Rice. 


Just last month I poured the Espaco Rural Bojador Vinho de Talha Tinto 2018 and paired it with Basque Pipérade with Grilled Tuna Steaks. Winemaker Pedro Ribeiro aims to create wines in the historical traditions of the area, in this case the Alentejo region of Portugal. This wine is made with an ancient winemaking technique, that is to say it was aged in an amphora.


And, to kick off my husband's birthday festivities as couple of years ago, I shared the Keeler Estate Vineyards' 2017 Terracotta Amphorae Riesling with a Birthday Cheese BoardThe terracotta imparted a subtle spice and enhanced the wine's texture.
 
 Our First Post-Pandemic Dinner Party

Our last dinner party with friends was for Jenn's birthday back in 2020. It was actually that evening that we heard word that the world, well, at least our world, was locking down. And we haven't been around the same dinner table since then. That's sixteen long months, if you're counting.


Back then, I hosted a Pi-Day dinner with everything from sweet to savory pies. It seemed only fitting that our first post-pandemic dinner party was with those same friends. And I was thrilled when Mike said he would grill. I offered to bring a salad, the wine, and dessert.


So, in the middle of July, we had a slightly belated Independence Day party with some safe and sane sparklers. Yes, I see the irony in that photo: they look neither safe nor sane.

Flame-Grilled Foods

I mentioned that Mike offered to grill and said that he would do steaks and some zucchini from his garden. They were perfectly cooked. And I brought fresh corn and a salad to round out of the plates.


Nothing says 'summer' like an entire meal grilled over a flame, right? And fire grilled flavor just feels elemental, basic but strong. Funny note: I can't remember the last time I had a steak, so neither could my boys. I usually just grill one steak, slice it into strips, and split it four ways to add protein to our meal. So, when the boys saw that they could have a whole steak for themselves, their eyes were about as big as the pieces of meat!

Well, that's a wrap for the #WinePW amphora wines event. We'll be back next month with articles about organic wines paired with vegetarian dishes. Stay tuned...

Comments

  1. What a great interview! Thank you for sharing that with us! Also, Wine Thieves is available in the US??

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! Don't ask me where I got that. I am assuming online.

      Delete
  2. I can't believe you saved that interview and are now sharing it 4 years later. You are too much. I don't think I know anyone else quite as organized as you.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for sharing the interview with Hundred Suns. I have been very curious about oxygen transfer rates among all aging vessels, including oak and of course all the variations on ceramic vessels.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for putting Hundred Suns on my radar! I'm a fan of Keeler as well -- typically biodynamic offerings, will look for their amphora wines but didn't see them in OR last week at a place that carried some of Keeler's other wines. Thanks for participating this month.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I actually tried to arrange a visit at a Hundred Suns while I was just in Oregon but it didn't work out, so was very interested to read your post. Of course, now, I'm only more excited to try their wines next time.

    ReplyDelete

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