When last I was given the chance to address readers, I wrote of upcoming wine trends. Shortly thereafter, I was lucky enough to be proven right. Just when I began to wonder if canned wines really were the wave of the future a west coast distributor contacted me to sample some new juice headed to Wilmington. I sat down with Ari Walker at downtown’s Bespoke Coffee and Dry Goods (202 Princess St.) recently to discuss his work with The Great Oregon Wine Company.
Walker and I met one morning while he was in town on other business. Fun fact: He wasn’t even here to show wines—his reasons were purely financial. The locally owned Live Oak Bank specializes in beverage distributorships. Walker had travelled 3,000 miles almost exclusively to work with them.
The conversation itself was eye-opening. The Great Oregon Wine Company, established in 2015, after the purchase of Stone Wolf, is a major innovator in the wine industry. They approach their work differently, always asking, “What problem are we solving?” before undertaking a new venture.
For example, let us return to trendy canned wines. Walker is a fan of the Underwood wines mentioned in Devour’s last issue. But Underwood only offers 12-ounce cans, or approximately 2.5 glasses to be opened in containers, which won’t reseal.
The Great Oregon Wine Company solved this problem by offering 187 milliliter cans—exactly 1 glass worth or, as the math on the side of the box explains, four cans equals one 750 milliliter bottle. They cut out waste in packaging and in lost product, thus streamlining everything and making the entire process, from canning to consumption, more practical and less costly.
Their first wine available in North Carolina is an even more fun story. It comes from their Replica Wine series. They built an analytical chemistry lab to analyze flavors and found ways to duplicate them more cheaply and efficiently. Thus, they introduced an exact replica of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay named Knockoff.
How do you not love that? They made a knockoff and had the guts to call it Knockoff. And it’s available at Fresh Market for anyone who wants to put it to the test.
OK, so they’re brilliant and innovative. But the real question: Is the wine any good? I have now dedicated a pretty fair amount of testing to their wines, and I can safely say, they are not only good for the price, but they are quality wines in their respective categories. The 2014 pinot noir is the big winner in the bunch. Though it is just a touch thinner on the tongue than I prefer, it is still classic Willamette Valley pinot. It’s got a mildly earthy flavor with unmistakable dark cherry taste, which marks Oregon pinot noir.
The non-vintage version of the pinot noir available in cans is every bit as dry as the 2014 bottle, only with more earth tones and less fruit. I couldn’t help but think the oak was muted in the canned version, but I suspect it was my mind’s bias about the effects of the stainless steel can. The wine itself is definitely barrel-aged.
I haven’t yet gotten around to the bottle of rosé Walker was kind enough to send me, but I have sampled the canned version, and it tastes like days spent at the pool in the heat of summer. It is a dry fruit salad, with just a touch of residual sugar to make it one of the best summer wines I’ve tasted this year. I have long been a proponent of quality rosés, particularly in an area with more than its share of 100-degree days. The Great Oregon Wine Company makes a worthy one, and they were kind enough to put it in a metal container so drinkers can safely bring it anywhere, from the pool to the beach to the barbeque.
The pinot gris is another winner. Walker texted me hours after our meeting to tell me he was enjoying a dozen oysters at Shuckin’ Shack’s downtown location (read about their lobster roll on pages 18-22). He quite rightly suggested his pinot gris, available in cans or bottles, would wash down the briny shellfish nicely. The bright pear and melon flavors on it make it an excellent aperitif.
The Great Oregon Wine Company is very new to Wilmington. I’m hoping by the time readers are engaged in this piece, it will be a staple in some of our finer restaurants and wine shops. If it isn’t, I would suggest asking for it. The quality for the price is difficult to match.
I think I’ve found my wines for summer.