Scott and Lisa Neal are lost on a windy, dusty gravel road in the foothills of Oregon’s Coast Range. They didn’t mind being lost as they were more explorers than tourists. Fate was with them as they soon chanced upon a for sale sign behind which spread out what they were looking for: a place to plant a vineyard. It was a promising site with rolling hills, a rainbow of soil types and the warm protection of the lovely, inappropriately named, Muddy Valley. So in 1998 Scott and Lisa started to plant their vineyard. They didn’t yet have a name, but fate was soon to step in again. During a walk on their new property Lisa spotted a large boulder that, with closer examination, revealed its unique heart shape. So Coeur de Terre Vineyard was born and an appropriate name it is as everything about Scott and Lisa’s vineyards and wines truly come from their hearts and the earth on which they live.
Coeur de Terre is one of the undiscovered gems of Oregon winemaking. The passion and precision with which the Neals are pursuing their dream of making great wine is impressive to say the least. In my opinion they have the potential to be one of Oregon’s most interesting and distinctive wine producers. From their lovely new winery and tasting room to their vineyards, which are planted in blocks by soil type and exposure, everything at Coeur de Terre shows their deep connections to the art, nature and science of winemaking.
One of the most promising things about Coeur de Terre is their decision to expand their plantings based on a massal selection. Today, most wineries buy all new vine stocks based on clone and rootstock from commercial nurseries who start the vines and do the grafts. However, despite all the attention to individual clones of pinot noir, most winemakers agree that site always trumps clone. In other words, each clone reacts differently to each site, which makes some sort of an exact clonal stew recipe for great pinot noir a ridiculous fantasy. What you have to do is observe each individual vine, regardless of clone, to see which ones love the micro-climate of your site. A massal selection means that you take cuttings from the most successful vines on your site instead of relying on individual clones purchased from a nursery that may or may not be right for your vineyard. It seems obvious that it would be best to plant your vineyards based on individual vines, regardless of clone, that clearly thrive on the unique micro-climate of your vineyard, but very few vineyards choose this course. This is the laborious process that the Neals have selected to propagate the best vines for their unique site throughout their Coeur de Terre Vineyard. It should be noted while this practice is rare in the new world, it’s not exactly cutting edge as it is the traditional method of propagating wines in Burgundy, a region that has made more than a few exceptional pinot noirs over the centuries.
The current releases from Coeur de Terre are all excellent wines that are well worth laying down as they will certainly improve with bottle age. By today’s standards they are moderately priced and good values. The 2006 Riesling has excellent structure and a brightly fruity dryness. Notes of petrol are just starting to peek out behind the young, fresh citrus aromas and flavors. I think this will develop into an outstanding riesling with a few years in the bottle. The 2006 Estate Pinot Noir is one of the better balanced 06 Oregon pinots you’ll find. It is rich, but firmly structured as you would expect from the McMinnville AVA. Its bigger brother, the 2006 Renelle’s Block Pinot Noir, is a bolder, more powerful version of the 2006 Estate. Both show ripe black fruit with hints of cassis layered over coffee and bitter chocolate highlights. The Renelle’s Block is still a bit closed and brooding and really requires two or three more years of bottle age to show all it has to offer. The 2006 Estate is certainly enjoyable now, but will be much better in a year. It should be noted that production of all of these wines is in the hundreds of cases, not thousands, so supplies are limited and you can expect them to sell out.
Scott describes their wines as, “time and place in a bottle.” I would add soul to that list, for Scott and Lisa have also put their souls into their wines.