Parra Wine Co
Considering how we have recently covered both Columbia Valley and Willamette Valley, this month is less of a spotlight on a region. It is rather a producer spotlight and, mostly, a way to get some great, high-value wines on the table for the holidays. We used our purchasing power, did some negotiating with these fellas, and got these wines to a price that allowed them to be in the club. Together, the combined retail price of these two bottles is $70, but you still only pay $45… looks like Christmas came early!
Additionally, since these are from our two largest wine regions (but two different vintages), I thought we’d use our pulpit to educate about the 2021 Vintage as nicer bottlings of this vintage start to land on shelves across town.
Willamette Valley -
The 2021 vintage is generally recognized as one of the greatest ever seen in the Willamette Valley’s 60-something vintage history. A combination of factors early in the growing season, including a late cold/snow/ice spell that happened in February and the ‘heat dome’ event in June, caused yields to drop. These reduced yields saw a concentration of flavors during the long, exceptionally dry summer going into the harvest season. Less rain during the summer = less dilution of sugars, more concentrated flavors, albeit less yields. By the time harvest started in late August, many growers saw yields down as much as 50%, with 30% reduction being the average. That said, the grapes were perfectly ripe with little pressure from birds, pests, or disease. Temperatures dropped going into September / October and the wines were left to balance their phenological ripeness (tannins of seeds & skins) with their sugar ripeness (Brix level). A few rains came at the end of harvest, but they weren’t enough to cause distress. Overall, an incredible vintage that will be good out the gate, but exceptional with age due to the lovely balance of acid and tannins.
Columbia Valley -
In line with Oregon, Eastern Washington saw a good 2021 vintage, though not as far as to be considered to be the best ever seen. Budbreak began earlier than usual, in the very beginning of April. By the time the buds were blooming, a spell of dry hot winds in late May caused some damage and a drop in yield. The heat dome in late June caused more damage, due to the highs of 118 degrees in some areas. This event reduced cluster and berry size significantly, and reduced yields to a similar tune as the Willamette Valley - down 50% in some areas but 30% average. Ripening and harvest happened around the same time as other recent years, however the average degree days of the season were near a record high (‘tied’ with 2015). The same cool weather in September / October allowed extra hang time for anyone who wanted it, however it wasn’t as beneficial in Washington as in Oregon. Washington, as a whole, does not struggle to ripen wine to the adequate Brix in the same way that Oregon does, so these extra hot years are not as sought after in the Columbia Valley . That said, this vintage is good for those who like riper, fuller wines. I wouldn't specifically seek them out to age further, but you won’t be disappointed if you do.
Savage Grace, ‘Blanc Franc’ Cabernet Franc, Red Willow Vineyard, Yakima Valley, WA 2020
Many of you may remember Savage Grace from our April feature, where we showcased their 2015 ‘Les Collines’ Syrah from Walla Walla. You’d be safe to assume that I’m a huge fan of Michael Savage’s winemaking. Michael has a European-styles lightness of touch that, paired with wines from the warm Columbia Valley and cooler, near-Alpine Columbia Gorge, make for an exceptional range of wines. His wines could be considered ‘natural wines’ if you looked at the ingredient list, however they verge more towards the conventional in flavor profile. This is because the wines are made with low chemical intervention, but with a high level of observation and monitoring.
This is a unique wine, a blanc of Cabernet Franc - aka a Blanc Franc. It is made by picking the Cabernet Franc early, when acids are higher and sugars are lower than a red wine might see. It is then directly whole-cluster pressed and fermented as a white wine. The wine sees no oak, only stainless steel and is given a small amount of Sulfur Dioxide to inhibit bacterial spoilage. Overall, it is a crisp and mineral-driven white with a whisper of the peppery, green notes that Cabernet Franc is known for, and a nice pop of citrus.
The grapes are sourced from Red Willow Vineyard, which is a family owned, organic-certified, 50 year-old vineyard in Yakima Valley. It is the furthest west vineyard in all of Yakima, which itself is the furthest west sub-appellation in the Columbia Valley, aside from the Gorge. The Sauer/Stephenson family sell fruit to over 25 different wineries, so you may see the Red Willow Vineyard name on other bottles!
(Note - even though Columbia Valley was affected by smoke from the fires in 2020, it wasn’t as bad as the Willamette Valley. That said, harvesting early and pressing light, like Michael did for this cuvee, is always helpful.)
Parra Wine Co, Syrah, Havlin Vineyard, Willamette Valley, OR 2021
The first time I met Sam Parra was at the tail end of the 2020 harvest. I was working harvest at Roco Winery and, during my lunch break, read about him in a feature from The Oregonian, highlighting his Latinx roots for Hispanic Heritage Month. At that point I was fully exhausted by the words Pinot and Noir, so I excitedly sent him an email to inquire about his Willamette-grown Tempranillo and Albariño. The next day he stopped by Roco on one of his many trips around the Valley to drop off a few bottles. We drank them at Thanksgiving that year. When the time came to open Dogwood, Sam was the first winemaker I reached out to, and we’ve worked together ever since.
Sam grew up in St. Helena, both sides of his family having been there since 1942 when the ‘Bracero’ program brought a number of Mexican laborers into the US to work on farms. Having grown up in Napa, wine practically is in Sam’s veins. In fact, his maternal grandfather worked at wine giant Beringer for 37 years, starting and ending his wine career there. Sam is not the only in his family to work in wine, but he’s the only so far to leave California in search of entrepreneurship in Oregon. He launched Parra Wine Co in 2019, and has been expanding his number of vineyard sources and range of wines ever since.
The Havlin Vineyard is a young-ish vineyard, planted in 2008, in an even younger AVA - the Van Duzer Corridor. Jeff and Ling Havlin, who own the vineyard, were instrumental in applying for and getting the Van Duzer Corridor AVA approved - and for good reason; their vineyard and others in the area are in a wonderful area for tense, rustic wines. Like clockwork, every summer afternoon, winds pick up and warm air from the Valley rushes through the ‘wind gap’ towards the cooler coastal air. These winds rapidly cool the grapes, preserving acidity, and thicken their skins, adding texture and concentration.
Parra’s 2021 Syrah from Havlin is the second vintage he has worked with the grape. Sam ages this Syrah for 10mo in neutral oak. The result is a bright, acid-driven Syrah with a backbone of pepper, spice, and fresh red fruits.