The smoke from the wildfires east of Salem, Oregon, have drifted west, blanketing Willamette Valley and leaving its vines at risk of smoke taint.
“It’s unsettling,” said Nat Klostermann, winemaker of Argyle Winery in Dundee, Oregon. “We’ve never dealt with this environment. The impact of the smoke, whether it will affect the wines or not, that’s the unknown we’re dealing with.”
The winemaker is behind our wine of the week winner — the Argyle, 2018 Nuthouse, Eola-Amity Hills Chardonnay at $45. This is a gorgeous Burgundian-styled chardonnay that’s acid-driven. It has great balance, with aromas and flavors of apple, pear, melon and mineral. The Argyle has a crisp intensity that’s irresistible. It’s striking.
Other tasty chardonnays to consider: Pam’s Unoaked, 2018 California Chardonnay, $13; Cuvaison, 2018 Kite Tail, Napa Valley, Los Carneros, $50; MacRostie, 2018 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, $36, and Davis Bynum, 2017 River West Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Chardonnay, $60.
As for the winning Argyle chardonnay, Klostermann said it benefited greatly from the picture-perfect vintage of 2018.
“It was warm and dry, with no rains in the fall,” he said. “We could let the fruit hang on the vine and pick at the perfect moment.”
The winemaker said the 2020 vintage, by comparison, is confounding.
“It used be the rains we had to deal with. But after going through the trifecta of the harvest — the wildfires, the pandemic and the potential rains — it will make rain seem less intimidating.”
The winery has sent grape samples to the lab to examine whether they have smoke taint. The results will determine which way the winery pivots, Klostermann said.
“One of the biggest tips we got from Australian winemakers was how to mitigate smoke taint,” he said. “We learned if we separate the juice from the skins right away, it’s better for the wines.”
Argyle has a sparkling wine program, so the winery can shift gears. It can produce more sparklers and fewer red still wines to reduce the risk of smoke taint, Klostermann explained.
“We can kind of flow with Mother Nature and take what she gives us,” he said.
Klostermann, 39, earned a degree in food science at the University of Minnesota in 2005. He joined Argyle as a harvest intern in 2005, working his way up to winemaker in 2013.
The most challenging part of winemaking, Klostermann said, is finding the sweet spot that captures the freshness as well as savory and spice notes in wine.
The winemaker said he enjoys his craft because he likes the long game.
“I make small decisions and see how they unfold in the end,” he said. “I try not to make knee-jerk reactions. I’m patient.”
The winemaker refuses to be discouraged, even though this harvest is particularly challenging.
“There are no golden-ticket fixes,” Klostermann said. “It’s a good reminder we’re beholden to Mother Nature. But we’re trying not to overreact to things. We’re trying to be positive.”
Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at email@example.com or 707-521-5310.