Spring, 1990. The barn was not yet a winery. It was, however, home to a third generation of owls. The eaves of the old house were swarming with honey bees. And in a field to the south, a great yellow earth mover pushed over the last remaining trees of what was once 16 acres of filberts (hazelnuts) to make way for the first planting of Pinot noir at Brick House.
It was about then that we first heard that Oregon State University had acquired some pretty exciting new plant material from vineyards around the village of Meursault, France. These Old World plantings are recognized as the source of some of the world’s finest Chardonnay. Word was the college, as OSU is known among farmers in the valley, was going to sell some to growers and nurseries on a first come, first serve basis.
By May of 1990, our first order for three of the new Dijon Clones (see Pinot Noir for an explanation of the phrase ) reached the college’s Foundation Seed and Plant Material department. We were among the first to obtain and plant three clones that promise to forever change Chardonnay from Oregon.
Prior to the introduction of the Dijon clones, Chardonnay in the Willamette Valley had been the exclusive domain of the clone 108, a hardy, workmanlike family of vines that thrived in the warm climes of California. But it struggled around the 45th parallel in Oregon. Difficult to ripen, it made for outstanding wines in only the warmest of years. The new clones hailed from a climate similar to our own. It was as if cool Burgundian Springs and long, mild summers were programmed into the Dijon Chardonnay clones’ DNA.
They flourished in the block just north of the barn. The first commercial harvest of clones 75 ( since re-numerated as clone 46), 78 & 96 produced a rich, intense 1995 Chardonnay. That year, we planted two more adjoining acres of clones 76 and 96. In 1997 the clones demonstrated that even in exceptionally short, cool Oregon vintages, they produced consistent ripeness and outstanding quality. A third planting of clones 75 & 77 on a north face where the fruit retains its natural acidity was completed in 2000.
Once the vines began bearing fruit, the hard work of understanding them began; what rootstocks are most appropriate, what kind of soil allows them to thrive, and the all important question of when do they achieve perfect ripeness — not too acidic and not too fat — in order to fashion the finest wines possible. At Brick House, that work continues, year in and year out.