Red Figures:~Being A Wine Groupie

In my teens, it was movie stars. In my twenties, I transferred my affection to musicians. Now in my (very late) thirties, I have become a bit of a winemaker groupie.

No, I don’t have posters on my walls or anything, but learning the history and personal anecdotes from behind the scenes, or should I say bottle, gives me a little thrill.

So much goes into the production of good wine. Careful selection of the grape best suited to the terroir, monitoring weather patterns, careful pruning and nurturing of the vine. Through years of study, experience and intuition, there are decisions to be made about how and when to harvest, types of fermentation and how to age the wine. It is truly a marriage of art and science.

It is, therefore, not surprising that when I had the opportunity to meet Rollin Soles, of Argyle Winery and RoCo Winery, I jumped at the chance. Originally from Texas, Soles attended Texas A&M and earned a Bachelor’s degree in microbiology.  He went on to enology and viticulture at UC Davis and, after working in Switzerland, Australia and California, he found his home in Oregon. In 1987 Rollin began Argyle Winery. Through his dedication and expertise, he has been instrumental in securing Oregon’s place in the wine industry.

It didn’t take long to realize that Rollin Soles is his own man: intelligent, free-spirited and not afraid of stepping outside the box.  Within the first five minutes of meeting, he was eliciting participation in a prank on a local wine merchant. He told stories of snagging samples of fruit in Burgundy, much to his host’s chagrin. At Argyle, Rollin became one of the first winemakers to use screw-top closures. And now, he and his wife have begun RoCo Wines, in addition to his venture with Argyle.

This man knows Pinot Noir. We sampled three from his RoCo line, and they were each uniquely delicious. Rollin described ’09 as a perfect summer, the kind that would entice visitors to never leave, and the fruit as “voluptuous.” You can taste that in the glass. The wine is just lovely to look at — great clarity and a beautiful ruby red with a hint of violet. On the nose, full and juicy cherry notes with a hint of blueberry. The palate was similar: black fruit and cherry with a hint of earthy spice and maybe something smoky. Light tannins and full flavor.

If ’09 made visitors want to stay, ’10 made residents want to leave. In color, this wine was straight ruby. Compared to the ’09, it seemed more Old World in style. I noticed red cherry and a lot more earth in this wine. Rollin shared that Pinot is a grape that really allows the earth notes to shine through. The French refer to that as sur bois.  This wine had an incredibly long finish, a sign of a great wine.

Our final taste of the evening was the 09 Private Stash from the Wits’ End Vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains. Rollin and his wife planted their vineyard with the best Dijon clones he could find. It shows. This wine was magnificent. The nose was powerful and inviting, perfumed and luscious. It lived up to that promise: Bright red cherry, blackberry, and mouth-watering spice. The finish was almost sweet, with lingering notes of burned sugar. Pure elegance in the glass. It is everything you’d hope for in a Pinot Noir.

When Rollin Soles first began marketing his wines from Argyle Winery, Oregon wines were not yet well known. In fact, he had a hard time getting an audience at some restaurants. That is hard to imagine now, when Oregon’s Pinots are known as the New World counterpart to the Old World Burgundian wines. This is due in part to Mr. Soles and his tenacity, his Texas spirit, and dedication to quality. So next time you enjoy a Pinot Noir from Oregon, raise a glass, or maybe tip your hat, to Rollin Soles. I know I will be doing so in the near future.