Tag Archives: Burgundy

Lenné Knows

I attended a wine bloggers conference in Portland, Oregon earlier this year.  I was quite eager to go since GUY and I had written a proposal for the Virginia wine industry and our main selling point was the fact that Oregon went from fringe wine to the #3 wine producer in under 30 years.  Although I had researched the subject, I had never visited Oregon, but of course I’ve tasted many wines from all over the state.

For this trip, however, I was seeking a more philosophical approach; I reached out to those wineries that I felt embodied PROTOCOL’s organic and grassroots mentality.  Enter Lenné Estate, and proprietor Steve Lutz, where dry farming and recognizing terroir is the norm.  Steve says of his wine, “Being organic isn’t a goal, making great wine is and doing it in a sustainable way is just common sense to us.”

It’s All in the Peavine

I visited Steve and his gorgeously intimate tasting room not far out in Newberg, Oregon. He hadn’t let on when we spoke a few weeks prior, but Steve arrived this day just for our tasting. He laid out a spread of charcuterie and fresh, chewy bread. And sitting contentedly right next to that plate was a glass jar full of this clay-like, rocky soil called Peavine.

This soil would become Lenné’s bread and butter.  Mountain-made, the Peavine series consists of well-drained soils made from a clayey colluvium and residuum soils derived from sandstone, siltstone, basalt, tuffaceous rock and shale. This poor, gravelly Peavine is ideal for the intense flavor development of Pinot Noir.

Peavine Soil at Lenné Estate

Peavine Soil at Lenné Estate

Whatever Lenné Estate’s doing up there, it’s working.  Steve was gracious enough to send samples of his 2008, 2009 and 2010 Estate Pinots. For a region like Oregon, it’s extremely important to communicate the vintage characteristics because they are slaves to climate, much like Burgundy.  And knowing what went on in the vineyard gives us a better understanding as to what will happen in bottle.

A little Shy for a Burgundian

We started our tasting with the 2008 bottling. Steve told us that this was a stellar vintage, “It is an epic vintage for Oregon and in my opinion will be the longest lived vintage ever.” He went on to describe the details of the vintage, “The temperatures were moderate, with slight heat in early September and then cool, dry weather. All this created fruit set characterized by small clusters with tiny, thick-skinned berries.  And just like fine Burgundy, the 08s are showing a little shyness of late, with acids up front and fruit waiting until ready to be seen.”

Finally Steve nailed his point home with the decisive remark, “I have a strong sense that they [08s] will be legendary when they emerge and I have held back 25% of the vintage betting on that idea.”

As I tasted his Pinot Noir from 2008 his words hit home.  It’s a restrained wine, no doubt, but there’s impacted depth within this restraint, biding its time to unravel its true story.

We moved on to the next vintage and as restrained as 2008 was, 2009 struts in like the naughty girl at the party: big, bold and showy. The vintage was hot and as such, the fruit developed large, thin-skinned berries, prone to dehydration. The resultant wines have higher alcohol and super ripe fruit and although Steve says it’s his “least favorite vintage…” folks do love it because of its intensity.

Finally we finished with the 2010 vintage. Where 2008 was brooding and 2009 bold, 2010 was recorded as one of the coolest in the Northern Willamette. With a cool Spring came worry that grapes wouldn’t ripen fully. But the rains held off until late October and the result was a remarkable vintage. Steve says of the wine,  “The 2010s are right up there with my favorite wines Lenné has ever produced. The wines have density and are still light on their feet which is rare and something I hope I experience many more times in my lifetime.”

 I Grew up Here

Tasting the wines at the winery I noticed a distinct moist forest soil characteristic within all the wines, something akin to a particular guitar riff or drum solo—a “tell” about the wines that says this is where I was grown.  Indeed, Lenne’s wines are known for a mocha aromatic and a denseness in the mid-palate. These characteristics are in direct correlation to that Peavine, Yamhill County’s poorest soil type and Lenné’s terroir signature.

It Takes only One

That signature terroir palate has proven a winner for Steve and Lenné.  Recently, a Spanish restaurant representative had the opportunity to try the wines at a tasting. Immediately the rep saw the value in his glass and summarily bought 50 cases of wine.  Of course Steve was skeptical of the whole thing, but the rep later disclosed that Lenné is the favourite wine of the Spanish Prime Minister’s wife. I imagine Steve closed shop early that day.

Vintage Selection of Lenné Estate Pinot Noir:

2008 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir
2009 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir
2010 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir

Lenné Estate Pinots

Lenné Estate Pinots

Lenné ~ 18760 NE Laughlin Road ~ Yamhill, OR 97148 ~ 503-956-2256


Tina and GUY, Partners
PROTOCOL wine studio


Steve Lutz



Lenné Estate Vineyards


Developing Cover


Dry Farming at its best








Gratuitous Rooster Sculpture


Your Sommelier Hates You

Dubious Honor

It’s Saturday night and you’ve got a date!  You’re dining at the well-received Acme Anvil Steakhouse.  The Sommelier approaches you for the dubious honor of wine selection.  Aiming to impress, you scan the list for the familiar.  One Napa Cabernet stands out and you ask, “I’ve heard a lot about this Cabernet, I went to Napa and visited their tasting room, do you like it?”

Ahhh, the Sommelier’s element–he knows the drill and the answer flows smoothly, with a soft smile he says, “That’s one of our most popular!  I sell more of that wine than any other.  All of our guests who love Napa Cabernet find this wine delicious.  I’m sure you will too.”  You order the wine, proud of your intelligent selection.  The wine is opened, poured and you do indeed love it.  All seems well, but little do you know, your Sommelier hates you.

I recently attended a professional wine seminar that boasted “Best of the Best.”  These were delicious wines from around the world, but the conversation turned when the Master Sommelier suggested a high-end Australian Shiraz would make a good transition from Napa Cabernet.  Many Sommeliers and restaurateurs lamented with the common cry, “Our clients only drink Napa Cabernet, they won’t try anything else!”

From Coke to Coffee

Not more than a few decades ago American wine was considered subpar.  The common assumption was that only Europe produced wines of distinction.  Fortunately, this attitude has evolved, now New World wine-making regions produce quality wine, including Napa.  Considering this evolution newness, it’s surprising how quickly wine has matured in the States.  It only took some thirty years since American wine entered the world stage for us to develop our style: hedonistic.  This is evidenced by the popular brands possessing consistent characteristics: big fruit, heavy, extended oak treatment and higher alcohol.  Intensity is what America loves!  A diet focused on rich, meaty foods craves big, intense wines.

Many Old World (European) wines are for the advanced palate.  Unlike American wine, it took generations to create the unique styles of Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone and the like.  These are complex wines, rich with history, and it takes time to discover why—an evolution in taste.

I’ve always been a beverage guy.  As a teen I loved soda, so much so that I forced myself to abstain for many years.  Eager to find a new fix, at age 16 I tried coffee. It was impossible to appreciate.  I’d grown up on Big League Chew, Coca Cola and Fun Dip candy.  This coffee stuff was disgusting–but I persisted.  Coffee isn’t so bad if you add sugar, cream and chocolate, so I drank mocha.  Then I attended a coffee tasting at Seattle’s Stumps Town Coffee.  It was served hot, fresh and black–my palate revolted.  But again I persisted, encouraged by the “Coffee Sommeliers.”  It took time, but now I enjoy coffee black and surprisingly all the flavors I’d been adding: dairy, sugar and cocoa were already present!  It just took time and effort to reach a point of understanding and appreciation.

One Step Away

And so we return to your Sommelier, the one that hates you.  It’s not you he hates, he’s simply frustrated that in a world of many complex, amazing wines, almost every bottle he sells is rich in style.  Combined with the high-pressure atmosphere of restaurant work, the situation is explosive.  Next time you’re in a fancy restaurant take a peak into the “back of the house.”  Odds are you’ll see a sign reading: “Guests Can Hear You” or “This is a Quiet Zone.”

Imagine the scene, a disgruntled server making insulting comments laced with profanity about the table five dude with the paisley tie and his insistence that we drop new glassware because he’s opening ANOTHER Napa Cab!  These incidents generally end the same, one employee loses his job, one table gets a free meal and one back of the house area gets a warning sign.

At this point you may be wondering: do Sommeliers really care this much about my wine choice? Think back how that Sommelier answered your question. Was that smile genuine, or perhaps a bit sarcastic?  He never said he liked the wine.  What he said was people like you like that wine.  Upon reflection the whole comment was backhanded!

If you’re a bit upset because you fail to see how spending $300 on a Napa Cabernet and tipping the Sommelier to open it is insulting, I understand.  But there’s something more important going on here.  This backlash against customers ordering popular wines happens more and more often now, both in retail and dining establishments.  I believe it is a harbinger of change.  Our wine culture is on the verge of transitioning from hedonistic, one-dimensional, intense wines to those of nuance and regional character.

This change is already underway as wine lovers ask more in-depth questions.  Some of my favorites are: What organic wines do you have?  What is the alcohol of this wine?  And most impressive:  I really like Cabernet Sauvignon do you have another varietal I might enjoy?

Wineries are responding.  Winemakers are making revolutionary comments: “We don’t submit our wines for scoring.” or, “We spent a lot of time and money identifying the proper grapes for our vineyard” or my favorite, “I like to make wine that I enjoy drinking!”

So don’t take it personally if your Sommelier doesn’t cotton to your taste.  Perhaps it’s just a sign that wine is about to change.  Instead go ahead and ask for a trousseau from Healdsburg.  That’ll turn his head!

GUY, Partner
PROTOCOL wine studio

PROTOCOL’s Wine Score Proclamation!

There is no more derisive topic in the world of wine than scores.  You either love them or hate them.  The subject has been well argued and like so many of life’s quandaries we fear the “right” answer is not forthcoming.  But scores are a bellwether when looking for a source to evaluate or purchase wine.  How an organization approaches scores says a lot about their approach to wine.

PROTOCOL wine studio has some thoughts on this subject:

Scoring as Inevitable:

By serendipitous means the fermented grape was first brought to our tables.  But as the demand for wine grew and styles evolved, so was born another fine tradition, that of the wine critic.  With two glasses in hand, a different wine in each, there would be those who would come and listen to the words of this “sage” for he was known to say which was the better of the drink.

And there you have it, as with all art, the critic follows closely behind.  The evolution of the 100-point system was natural, even anticipated.  And as styles and technology evolved, so has the practice of wine evaluation.  But all critics suffer from the same dilemma: how do I communicate my opinion of this wine in the simplest terms?–Because (and let’s face it) most consumers don’t take the time to read and interpret the pontifications of critics.

Perhaps the first expression of wine scores was as simple as thumbs up or thumbs down.  This is the most efficient form of critique, but even Siskel and Ebert must find the cruel simplicity of this evaluation restrictive.  And so the system has expanded, eventually resting on the natural scale of 100.  In short, if Parker had not adopted the 100-point system when he did, someone else would have.

Understand the Impact: 

Scores are here and they’ve made an impact.  It’s important for the wine professional to understand this when making buying decisions.

Perhaps the most glaring example of scores changing winemaking styles is in Bordeaux.  Beginning with his lauded evaluation of the 1982 vintage, Robert Parker made his mark.  Thirty years later everything from micro-oxygenation in winemaking to skyrocketing futures prices can be traced back to Parker’s influence.

Understanding this influence and more importantly understanding how your client will perceive the results of this influence is critical.  In short how we feel about Parker is irrelevant when making buying decisions for our clients.  The true question is how does the consumer feel?

If Joe consumer loves fruit bombs and high scoring wines, we can accommodate that passion.  Just as important, if the same consumer is open to learning about old-word style and grace, then we can leave the world of scores and fruit extraction aside for a more funky ride.

Using the Toolbox:

The well-appointed toolbox has many instruments.  Delicate ones for fine work and severe ones for more extreme circumstances.  If knowledge of the Grand Cru system in Burgundy is the fine bit drill, then surely wine scores are the hammer!  If one chooses the hammer at every turn, perhaps a course in refinement is long overdue.  Likewise the toolbox without a hammer is definitely incomplete.

The true professional is not necessarily judged for the tools he brings to the table, but for the quality of his work.  Our ultimate business goal is to sell wine.  We prefer to achieve this via cultural context.  Let us expound from our prospective.  As wine professionals, we are tasked with searching out good wine.  We are Sommeliers, which means we have been trained to assess a wine’s soundness.  We look for wines that our customers would like (accounting for varying palates) and that we know we can sell for particular reasons.  This is the critical function of our work, and scores may well be a part of this consideration.

But there’s an essential next step we call it: The Hunting.  There has to be a story behind a glass of wine for us to really get behind it.  As human beings we make connections with others in many different ways.  We want to hear about the family behind the bottle, the farm and vineyard and for goodness tell us about the dogs on the property.  As professional wine buyers we are always hunting, looking for that story.  In this element of our work, tradition, culture and poetry take center stage.  There is no consideration for scores when hunting.


At PROTOCOL wine studio, we propose a different way:  loyalty, honesty and integrity in wine buying.  The story behind the wine is most important, the social aspect; the wine itself becomes part of that whole experience.  But scores must be part of the intelligent wine professional’s buying decision.  But be wary, sometimes scores will help us to determine what we don’t want as much as what we do want.  Knowing the difference in the mind of your customer is the key.

Tina and Guy
Partners, PROTOCOL wine studio

Tune to #winechat Wednesday 1 August for a complete discussion.


The Startup, Volume II Paddle 305


Eric and I participated at the Hart Davis Hart Burgundy wine auction at Tru Chicago a few weeks back.  More specifically, we were there with a client, assisting them in their burgundy bids.  Most of the auctions that we help clients with are conducted over the internet.  But this was our first live auction!  The action was crazy fun, even bordering on maniacal.  In fact, writing about it now, I’m feeling that nervous gut all over again.

But I digress.  This whole nervousness about the Startup is at once aging me and keeping me young.  With a bootstrap business we wear all hats:  writer, techie, wine geek, handyman, social media person, presenter and the list goes on, but you’re in it, learning on a daily basis–I love it!  It’s an exciting time, but damn, I’m nervous and agitated about everything now and rightly so. (I think Eric hides it much better than I do.)

So it’s been a ridiculously busy past few weeks: Chicago for a multi-million dollar wine auction, a presentation to the Virginia Wine Board in Charlottesville, then to San Diego for a cellar drop off.  It’s funny though:  I was spectacularly nervous about the whole thing, renting a cargo van, driving around with about 20 cases of wine, particularly a 1959 Maison Leroy and thinking, “Hey, my parents were married in 1959!” In that one moment when I thought about my parents, I realized that I had a connection with this wine without even drinking it.  I can picture myself in that van, smirking, because even though Eric and I are crazy busy, we’re also crazy happy in this business.  And we’re just getting started…

Tina and GUY
Partners, PROTOCOL wine studio

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