Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Like the Pinot Gouges of Henri Gouges in Burgundy

The News Tribune / Tacoma, WA

Strange fruit on Oregon vine yields tasty wine

Is it possible that a new wine grape, a variety that exists nowhere else in the world, has sprung forth from the red hills of Dundee, Ore.?

Is it possible that a new wine grape, a variety that exists nowhere else in the world, has sprung forth from the red hills of Dundee, Ore.?
Several years ago, Don Lange, owner of Lange Winery in Dundee, noticed something strange going on in pinot gris grapes that he received from a nearby vineyard. When ripe, pinot gris has reddish skin, even though it makes white wine. But some of these grapes were bright green, sort of like chardonnay.
At first, Lange, an Oregon winemaker for more than 25 years, thought the grapes were unripe. However, when he tasted them, he realized they not only were ripe, but they also were delicious.
This oddity occurred in a number of ways. Sometimes, it would be entire clusters of grapes coming from the same vine. Sometimes it would be individual grapes within a cluster. And on rare occasions, he noticed individual grapes that were partly red and partly green.
Lange had a genetic mutation on his hands.
While this is unusual, it is not unheard of, especially in the pinot family, which is notorious for being genetically unstable. Pinot gris and pinot blanc, both white varieties, are mutations of pinot noir, a red grape.
Others have seen genetic mutations before, especially in Oregon, where pinot noir and pinot gris are the dominant grapes. But Lange liked what he tasted in this new grape, so he took action. He took cuttings from the mutation, propagated it and ultimately planted three long rows of vines, taking up nearly an acre of space on his estate vineyard. He nicknamed the grape “Pinot Pierre” – after a local character named Pinot Pete (“Pierre” being the French equivalent of “Pete”).
In 2008, the vines provided a small crop, enough to make a little wine. But Lange was stuck on what to call it. Legally, the grapes were no longer pinot gris, so he couldn’t label it as such. But the grapes were not a known variety, and Pinot Pierre was just a working title, nothing that could be used legally. So he bottled it as a “white table wine” with the fanciful proprietary name “Indigene,” and he included some of the story of the unusual grape on the back label. He also bottled as part of Domaine TrouvĂ©re, a new label for Lange Winery.
In its youth, the resulting wine tastes similar to grner veltliner, an Austrian variety that is starting to gain favor in the New World. After a bit of time in the bottle, it reveals rich aromas, and flavors of melon and citrus.
In 2009, he got another crop, albeit a small one that resulted in just 20 cases of wine. In 2010, the cool vintage did not allow the grapes to ripen, so there was no Indigene. And 2011 is even cooler, so the likelihood of bottling Indigene this year is sketchy at best.
Lange isn’t sure where he will take this project. As far as he can tell, this is a new grape variety that is indigenous to Oregon’s Dundee Hills; it exists nowhere else in the world. But to have it legally recognized by the federal government as a new grape variety would mean DNA testing and a whole lot of scientific work. He’s hoping a college student looking for a doctoral project might take a fancy to it, or perhaps a university might be interested in unraveling the mystery.
In the meantime, Lange will continue to nurture his vines and learn more about them through the wines he produces – and be satisfied that he has added another level of intrigue to the Oregon wine industry.

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