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Doing Acrobatics With Oregon Wine

by Andrew Chalk

When a large organization has or acquires a small winery as part of its portfolio you always worry that quality will go down and accountants will be the final arbiters of brix levels. Certainly this has happened, but it is not inevitable. A large acquirer could bring much needed resources to the small winery enabling the viticulturalists and winemaking staffs to do their jobs better.

That is, I think, what Bill Foley has done. From a successful background in the financial sector the billionaire has come to wine proprietorship and constructed a string of pearls, each a winery with a different terroir-driven message, from as far afield as New Zealand and Sonoma.

Acrobat Winery, which he purchased from King Estate in 2016, is his ambitious attempt to create, frankly, budget-price wines of quality from Oregon, something that seems to have eluded most wineries, despite the salability of the Oregon brand. Acrobat wines are Pinot Gris $15, Chardonnay $16, and Pinot Noir $19. Less than one is used to paying. Making wines to those price constraints imposes a considerably different discipline on the winemaker than making wine at, to cite another Foley property, Chalone Vineyard.

One difference is sourcing fruit from outside just the star of Oregon wine areas, the Willamette Valley. Acrobat actively searches out fruit from the southern Oregon Rogue Valley AVA and the Umpqua Valley. Two other differences are modest use of oak, and using economies of scale (the winery made around 150,000 cases in 2018, more than the typical Oregon boutique winery).

At a recent media tasting, Master of Wine Bree Stock took us through the current lineup and gave us deeper insight into the Acrobat family. Although I was frequently distracted by the quality of what she said, I did manage to put together these skeleton notes on the wines.

The high notes in what follows is that this brand achieves the quality with value objective that it seeks and my personal favorite was the Pinot Noir.

2019 Acrobat Winery Chardonnay, Oregon ($16)


Fruit from Rogue Valley (2m acres). Key thing is elevation (2000 ft.)

Sedimentary soils and volcanic soil from volcanic shifts in the earth.

100+ degrees in summer;

Very dry in summer;

Maritime climate? More an alpine maritime climate. Cooler at night than most maritime climates;

70% malolactic fermentation.

Oak treatment? Neutral puncheons;

Tasting Notes

Appearance: Day bright, silver;

Nose: Meyer lemon, white peach, ripe yellow apples;

Palate: Vibrant acidity underpinning not overripe fruit;

The scoop: Not in the California style at all. More southern Burgundy (Maconnaise, Chalonnaise). Very broad matching with food, and that is the way to enjoy it to maximum satisfaction. Do not age.

2018 Acrobat, Pinot Gris, Oregon ($15)


David Lett, et. al planted in the 1960s.

Spice elements from UV light. They have to strio a lot of foliage to get ripeness. Open canopies.

Fruit from southern Willamette Valley. Cool vineyards at the foot of the Cascade Range.

Tasting Notes

Appearance: Straw

Nose: Earth, wood, lime, peach stone, sweet yellow apple;

Palate: Ripe, fruitiness (esp. apple). No gout de terroir, a la Alsace. Little minerality.

The scoop: Classic Oregon Pinot Gris.

2018 Acrobat Pinot Noir, Oregon ($19)


Return to cooler weather. Perfect year.

Lett brought up Pommard - low yielding. Small berry, tight cluster.

Wedenville clone -- swiss research clone. Only planted in Switzerland. Bright florals.

Tasting Notes

Appearance: Translucent, red/purple. Color saturation is more real than CA affected;

Nose: Savory, cherries, candy. Perfumy

Palate: Sarsaparilla, high acid. Spicy. Forest floor.

The scoop: One of the least expensive Oregon Pinot Noirs on the market but nonetheless true to type. Good value.

2019 Acrobat Rose, Oregon ($15)


Mainly Pinot Noir, some Pinot Gris.

Dedicated rose;

Tasting Notes

Appearance: Sunset, raw salmon flesh;

Nose: Strawberry, maraschino cherries;

Palate: Light, good acid.

The Scoop: Pleasant rosé, appearing at just the right time in the market;

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