Minerality, emotional energy, and hedonistic joy are for me very important parts of a good wine. A wine without a lively, defined or precise expression of terroir cannot be a great wine, much less a vin d’émotion.
This was my statement before tasting the wines from Rose & Arrow. Yet while this still holds true, I have learned a thing or two sampling these fine Oregon wines.
Rose & Arrow – a short presentation
Rose & Arrow is the brainchild of Mark Tarlov, the man who started Evening Land, and who is also a well-known movie producer.
For the Burgundian-minded, the project was started under the consultancy of Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, who brought legendary terroir consultant Pedro Parra onto the team.
Today, winemaker Felipe Ramirez is in charge, and the Rose & Arrow team has spent the past years decoding the terroirs of the Willamette Valley. They have literally been looking at plots within parcels, and have been scanning the topography for special geological formations.
The endeavour started in 2012 with a sensual tour de force of tastings. Then the tasting notes were overlaid onto the data from Pedro Parra’s vineyard-mapping techniques.
Terroir: a systematic approach
Parra used electromagnetic mining technology and old-fashioned soil pits (over 200 dug) to accumulate his data. Using them, the Rose & Arrow team was able to pinpoint the exact types of geology that produced the most exciting, minerally thrilling pinot noir.
With this new understanding of what might be possible, land was acquired. Today, Tarlov owns or farms over 60 hectares, although most of the harvest goes into a separate project called Chapter 24.
The very best plots, just over 2 hectares (less than 4% of the crop), produce the 100- to 350-case cuvées that make up the Rose & Arrow range. These special cuvées come mostly from east-facing volcanic soils at mid-slope.
Winemaking-wise, there is clear inspiration from Vosne-Romanée, although implemented to suit the different geological formations.
The wines come in three quality tiers: the ‘Village’ wines represent small vineyard holdings that share similar rock composition; the ‘Articulates’, from specific rocky sections within vineyards, display especially individual characteristics and are bottled separately.
Finally, the ‘Prime Expressions’ are three wines that come from very specific geological formations and express the utmost of these terroirs. 1er cru or Grand Cru … if you like.
The aim, goal and possible result
The aim – or should I say the goal – was in theory simple: to make the best Oregon wines by uncovering the state’s best terroirs. “Aim” indicates that you know it’s there, while “goal” is more on the visionary level.
This, however, is where the plot thickens! The characteristics of the different terroirs do seem to work as an intensity benchmark, or perhaps even on a more a traditional points scale. Yet for me, these characteristics do not necessarily serve as a hedonism benchmark – at least not when the wines are tasted very young.
Some of the wines have a stronger hedonistic likeability and harmony. Others, however, seem at this stage more designed to impress with their precise volcanic minerality, power and intensity.
Tasted young, a few of these cuvées do not really inspire me, while others are much more sensually appealing and do give some upfront, hedonistic pleasure.
Precision and definition vs hedonistic pleasure
People who know red Burgundy well will understand the term “painstakingly mineral” – a descriptor that can be applied to, for example, the Chambolle Combe d’Orveaux from Bruno Clavelier: a wine with so much mineral energy and stony oomph that it is almost too much when young. Yet one has this feeling while simultaneously adoring the wine’s other components on the palate. In reality, it’s almost a Musigny, yet without the pleasing mid-palate generosity to soften the youthful blow.
Some Rose & Arrow wines have an immediate likeability, whereas others show a more limited, mineral expression – at least when young. There is a monolithic feel to the latter wines; one could say they lack initial complexity or charm. They somehow become too much of a good thing, and could perhaps have been blended with other terroirs to provide a core of fruit as the basis on which the more extreme mineral notes could be displayed.
These are thoughts that relate to wines like Red Dust, whereas a wine like Gathered Stones has much more initial appeal while still showing a relatively sharp mineral profile.
When we come to Stonecreek, all seems to fall into place, and the few reluctant comments about Gathered Stones disappear. Stonecreek has the mid-palate generosity to really shine.
Let’s go to the Stonecreek tasting note and see what I’m talking about.
The Rose & Arrow Stonecreek 2017
Stonecreek is the top cuvée, and very Burgundian – and this is both good and bad. Bad because it will be compared to the top 1ers crus in Burgundy; good because it has the hedonistic feel found mainly in the beloved pinots from Côte de Nuits. It is richer and has more mid-palate generosity than Gathered Stones. Perhaps it’s a bit less precise, although there is great aromatic complexity, and it does not have the monolithic, slightly technical mineral presentation. This is a more emotional wine per se, with hedonistic generosity. Everything falls into place in this complete expression. The points rating is somehow Burgundy-consistent, although it perhaps should not be.
(Drink from 2032) – Very Fine+ – (93-95p) – Tasted 27/09/2020 –
A Rose & Arrow wine like Black Walnut Vineyard has some of the hedonistic qualities of Stonecreek, yet lacks complexity and depth despite its fine mid-palate weight. It is not monolithic, and shows with fine liveliness. It has the qualities that I am looking for.
Complexity is a strange thing, particularly when one starts from the beginning and aims to create new terroirs and new wines. What will work and what will not? Black Walnut, Gathered Stones and Stonecreek really worked for me, whereas Red Dust required some getting used to, with its metallic minerality.
I – as always – really appreciate the opportunity to experience and learn!
This was an unexpected Oregon treat …