Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Nicolas-Jay: At the intersection of Burgundy expertise and Oregon fruit

Nicolas-Jay is a new producer (first vintage 2014) located in the Yamhill-Carlton District of Oregon's Willamette Valley. The enterprise brings together the grapegrowing and winemaking expertise of Burgundy's Jean-Nicolas Meo (Domaine Meo-Camuzet) and the wine enthusiasm and business acumen of Jay Boberg. The two men were scheduled to barnstorm Florida for five days to promote their wine with the first stop a seminar at Winter Park's Wine Room. arranged for me to attend this seminar. Unfortunately, Jean-Nicolas' flight was delayed, precluding his attendance at the event.

Jean-Nicolas Meo is the head of the famed Burgundy house Domaine Meo-Camuzet. Jay Boberg was a music industry executive with over 35 years of experience to include: cofounding the indie label I.R.S. Records; selling that business to Thorn/EMI in 1993; President of MCA Music Publishing; establishment of Liberation Entertainment (independent film and TV company); and Chairman of the Board of Isolation Network. These two gentlemen have been friends for over 30 years.

Boberg has been a long-time winelover and when he approached Jean-Nicolas about a potential collaboration, the pump had already been primed by a positive Pinot Noir experience for the latter at the International Pinot Noir celebration in 1991. But this alone was not enough. According to Jay, Jean-Nicolas' response to the initial overture was "We'll see." And so they set out on a journey, tasting grapes and wines from over 200 producers and growers in the region. The understanding was that if they were to do something, they would buy fruit and leverage Jean-Nicolas' winemaking skills.

Jay Boberg of Nicolas-Jay
During this exploratory phase they got word that one of the vineyards (Bishop Creek) where they had tasted was available for purchase. This did not fit with their plans but the fruit had been so impressive that they could not pass the opportunity by. And thus  a new Oregon winery was born: Nicolas-Jay.

The Bishop Creek Vineyard (shown on the map below) covers 30 acres in the Yamhill-Carlton District of Oregon's Willamette Valley AVA. Yamhill-Carlton experiences moderate growing conditions and its soils are coarse-grained ancient marine sedimentary soils over sandstone and siltstone.

Bishop Creek Vineyard plus other Nicolas-Jay
fruit sources (black dots). Source:
Thirteen of the 30 acres were planted to vine in 1980, nine as own-rooted Pinot Noir and the remainder as Pinot Gris. The vineyard had been planted 2000 vines/acre (high density for the area, according to Jay) on a steep slope and had been farmed organically. Since the acquisition by Nicolas-Jay, the Pinot Gris has been grafted over to Chardonnay and some additional Pinot Noir has been planted on rootstocks.

In addition to the estate fruit, Nicolas-Jay buys fruit from eight other growers sprinkled around the Valley (shown as black dots on the map above). Vines from these producers are managed to Nicolas-Jay specifications with the vineyards being organic, biodynamic, or LEED. The goal is for 2 to 2.5 tons/acre from partner estates while Bishop Creek yields 3 tons/acre.

The Nicolas-Jay goal is to make wines that have great fruit expression but are balanced with tension and richness. According to Jay, they are making wine that they like and hope that they can find enough people with similar tastes so that they can have a going concern.

In terms of winemaking, optimal harvest time is determined through exhaustive sampling and tasting beginning about three weeks prior to the estimated harvest. Grapes are harvested into cherry bins and transported to the crush pad where they are sorted, de-stemmed, and placed into tanks for cold soaking. Each block is harvested, fermented, and aged separately. The grapes are fermented with natural yeasts after a 4 - 7-day cold soak. Cap management is via pumpover in the early stages of fermentation, supplemented by two to four punchdowns over the course of the fermentation process.

Solids are subjected to a bladder press with the resultant wine assigned to barrels for malolactic fermentation and aging. The aging regime calls for 1/3 new oak for 15 months. The barrels are kept in low temps in the early stages in order to extend the malolactic fermentation timeframe. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered.

At the seminar we tasted two wines from Domaine Meo-Camuzet and two wines from Nicolas-Jay

The Meo-Camuzet 2014 Bourgogne Hautes Côte de Nuits had a beautiful match flint nose which I normally associate with robust sulfur addition at bottling. Citrus, lime, and matchflint. A bit austere, high acidity, and unresolved oak.

We tasted 2014 and 2015 editions of the Nicolas-Jay. According to Jay, 2014 had been very hot, with no rain during the summer and it began raining during harvest. The following year's harvest started out the same way but then they got 0.5 inches of rain in mid-August. The 2014 had a faded strawberry nose and baking spices. Bright red fruit, good concentration, spice and slight tannic grip. Light bodied. The 2015 had more structure, definition and focus than the 2014. Austere. Astringency and tannin apparent. Lengthy finish. 2014 more approachable while 2015 has more aging potential.

We closed out the tasting with the Meo-Camuzet 2015 Premier Cru Nuits-Saint-Georges aux Murgers. Strawberry nose, red fruit, coconut oil, baby powder, coal, tar. Good concentration and mouthfeel. Round. Lengthy finish.  Illustrates the challenge confronting Nicolas-Jay.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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