I wrote recently about the gutsy, soul-cleansing move my friend Craig Camp made from the Napa Valley to southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley. Camp was president of Cornerstone Cellars, a stellar producer of wines from Napa and Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Not too long ago, Camp pulled the plug on a nine-year stint at Cornerstone and his life in Yountville, Calif., in favor of a more laid-back existence at Troon Vineyard, a small, artisanal winery in Grants Pass, Ore. How small? Well, they crush nearly all their grapes by foot at Troon if that gives you any idea.
For Camp, the move wasn’t about size, it was a lifestyle and wine making choices. In his exit letter, Camp called it “leaving forward,” and said he was looking forward to making wines with many different grape varietals in a natural and sustainable way.
That’s wonderful, but how do they taste? To me, that, would be the litmus test of Camp’s decision. I’m here to tell you Troon wines have passed that test with flying colors.
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I tried five of Troon’s latest releases: A vermentino-sauvignon blanc blend, a second white wine blend called Longue Carabine, a dry rose, a zinfandel and a tannat, and I liked them all. Before I get into the specifics of the wines, I thought I’d give you some background.
Troon was established in 1972. It’s in the heart of the Applegate Valley American Viticultural Area, the southernmost appellation in Oregon, halfway between Grants Pass and Jacksonville. If you’re not familiar with that area, you’re not alone. I’ve never been there, but I hear that’s it’s drop dead gorgeous.
Troon Vineyard is one of the first grape growers in Southern Oregon, home to the region’s earliest planting of Zinfandel, which dates back to 1972. Troon grows more than 20 different grape varieties in its 40 planted acres. For me the standouts, at least from what I’ve tasted, are vermentino, tannat, and zinfandel.
I liked the Longue Carabine and the dry rose, but the vermentino-sauvignon blanc blend is a knockout. Vermentino is an Italian wine — one, quite honestly, that has never impressed me much. But here, playing a co-starring role with sauvignon blanc, one of my all-time favorite grape varieties, the vermentino sings with lemon and peach while the sauvignon blanc contributes a nice grassiness and some melon notes. Together this wine provides beautiful harmony.
On to zinfandel, which again, has never been a favorite of mine as they area often over-extracted, overly high in alcohol, and, in general, overwrought. Troon’s zin, however, is a pure joy to drink. It reminds me of a Cru Beaujolais on steroids with huge notes of baked dark red fruit buttressed against a background of chocolate with a hint of spice.
Finally, tannat, a French grape that’s causing a bit of a stir in South America. I like Troon’s bottling better than any I’ve had from the southern hemisphere. This is not a wine for the weak-kneed. Think of the opposite of the light and bright vermentino-sauvignon blanc. Troon’s tannat is deep, dark, full-bodied and armed with plenty of tannin. I had this wine without food, which I would not recommend.
Instead, I’d wait till the dead of winter, cook an osso bucco, and pop the cork on a bottle of Troon Tanat. You will not be disappointed.
When he left Napa, Camp wrote that he was “truly excited about the future.” Tasting these wines, I can see why. I can’t wait to get out to Troon and taste the wines with Camp in person. I’m sure it will be a memorable experience.
By the way, if you can’t get to the Applegate Valley, Troon has a second tasting room in the Willamette Valley just south of Portland. You can also buy all the wines I tasted and many others at www.troonvineyard.com.
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.