David Paige used to be the winemaker at Adelsheim Winery. If you’re an American who drinks Pinot Noir, that tells you the whole story. David was there for a long time and oversaw the meaty part of Adelsheim’s ascent into Pinot Legend.
So, when a package arrived at my door – totally out of the blue; no email query, no notice of impending shipment, none of the usual rituals of someone sending me stuff – I shook it and thought maybe it was some sort of Whiskey. Then I saw the return address: “David Paige Wines” and that cleared things up…except for why he would send me a Pinot or Chardonnay that he needs no help whatsoever selling. David Paige Pinot and Chard are what’s called Hot Juice in the wine universe, meaning that folks of a certain persuasion – aka “wine geeks” – will happily barter off a minor family member or a non-vital body part to get them.
I open the box. It’s white. “Fuck me,” I sigh, “Another friggin’ Chardonnay.“
I have managed, by sheer force of will, to get back to drinking Chardonnay, after an almost twenty year hiatus in which the mere sight of the name on a bottle engaged my gag reflex. Chardonnay (and its red kid brother, Merlot) is the Prodigal Son of American wine, an expressive, bright-eyed grape that was seized upon by evil-doer winemaking types and tarted up like an Albanian whore with all manner of lavish French oak barrel viscosity and vanilla/buttercream rouge and lipstick and made to dance for the masses. If that seems snotty, you’re right. It is. And I had to taste and drink so much of it, over a 35 year period – I mean, c’mon, when was the last time you went to any sort of party or public reception where the white wine offering was not some knee-jerk oaky Chard? – that I finally just hit an oaky/fruity Wall and gave it up. For YEARS.
I turn the bottle around and see the words “Pinot Blanc” and NOW, brethren and sistern, we are In Bizness.
I’m going to TRY, here, to give you the 411 on Pinot Blanc, its French origins, and how it’s different from its greasy cousin, Pinot Grigio/Gris in ONE paragraph because, if you’re not a rock-ribbed Burgundy freak, it’s kinda, uh, b-o-r-i-n-g…
In 1936, a French grape grower/winemaker happened upon something, uh, weird, right there in his own vineyards. Henri Gouges (French Pronunciation: Aw-REE GOO-zshuh)(American Southern: Hin-REE GOW-jes) owned an estate on the Nuit St. Georges, an area roughly halfway between Dijon (yes, where they make the mustard) and Beaune, (French: BOW-n) a city which, contrary to Seattle legend, was not named after former Mariner, Jay Buhner. Henri “discovered” a mutated form of Pinot Gris that seemed different from the usual run of Pinot Blanc that had been knocking around Burgundy for ages, in one of his rows and liked the way it swerved into cool, pale green, decidedly different from the gray/green or pale red/brown and slightly oily character of the normal Pinot Gris. He started propagating the offshoot vines and, eleven years later, wound up with a whoppin’ two barrels of what he called Pinot Blanc and which others, seeking to fix the blame properly, called Pinot Gouges. Somewhere along the line, a couple of decades later, some of the Gouges vines made their way Over Here, to Oregon. David Paige recalls, “By one of these ‘it came over in the lining of my coat’ stories, this Pinot Gouges clone made its way to the Willamette Valley. The vineyard it was planted in here was pulled out in 2006, but not before John Zelko acquired enough cuttings to plant some in his vineyard. John sold us that vineyard at the end of 2018, so we are now the proud stewards of this unusual clone and its story in our RPG Vineyard.“…And now you’re up to date. Got it? Me, neither…but there is this bottle…
I’ve actually tasted one of the Pinot Gouges French editions, years ago, when a Seattle importer was bringing it in, and had my chromosomes rearranged. I am a stone Pinot Blanc FREAK, despite my frequent savaging of French wines, and seek it out wherever I go, and I’m tellin’ you, the pickins are slim. I mostly buy Lucien Albrecht, which has a firm major in Pinot Blanc, even making their iconic Lucien Albrecht Brut Cremant d’Alsace from it, with minor additions of Pinot Gris and the seldom-seen Pinot Auxerrois. The Blanc is usually dominant and it is soft and crisp and dripping wildflowers, stone-fruit, and sweet minerals and makes me all warm and runny.
David Paige now owns what has been renamed the RPG Vineyard, where the descendants of those very same Gouges vines are still growing and kickin’ out grapes. A self-described skeptic by nature, Paige was not quite ready to buy the ‘lining of my coat‘ legend, so when a member of the Gouges family visited Oregon, he asked them to confirm that it was their fruit and, turns out happily, it is.
Which brings me to this David Paige RPG Vineyard Pinot Blanc 2020. With my freakish sense memory, I vividly remember that first Pinot Gouges; the light-but-firm textures, the elusive glycerin character, the firm core of mixed citrus, honeydew, cantaloupe, white peaches, jasmine, and a sort of woodsmoke hint, just a feather-touch that becomes a Quest to isolate. All that, from my first tasting notes in 2001, is in this wine. The texture is tongue-painting, one of the few whites that coats the palate the way a big red will. For all that viscosity, though, this Oregon Gouges is light, crisp, and lively, an evolving wash of fruits and minerals and minerals and herbs and some maddening spices that flit between India and Persia and Provence.
I received this Friday, opened it Saturday evening, and fidgeted until here on Monday morning, waiting to write this. I get flat-damned excited, sometimes, by things I taste but it happens less and less as my mental encyclopedia grows. I’ve tasted maybe 25 Pinot Blanc bottles in the past five years and a similar number before that, all from Alsace, the US, or from several killer Canadian sources, and wasn’t really moved to write about any of them.
This is the best American Pinot Blanc I have ever tasted. Period. Hunt over, piss on the fire and call in the dogs.
I had no idea Dave Paige had ever even heard/read my name in his life, much less knew (which he doesn’t, I suspect) that I am the geekiest Pinot Blanc fan of any wine writer in at least this half of the United States but, how ever it happened, he sent this to the Fool Most Likely to go bug-nutty over it, so here’s me, flat buggin’ for this wine.
I’m not saying this will ever happen to you but I cannot imagine a life in which I would just habitually swill the same wine, the same grape varietal, the same style, or even from the same region or country, over and over and over again, world without end, amen. So, if I am projecting onto you, I’m sorry but, should you find yourself becoming a bit bored with just chugging Chard after Chard after Sauv Blanc after Pinot Gris and would like a change, I’m suggesting Pinot Blanc. And – happily! – David Paige Wines has this available on the website for $28 which – considering the extortionist tags attached to a growing number of whites, lately – is a steal. Where you might find it in shops, if it is even released to shops, I have no idea, but I haven’t tasted anything in quite a while which will come with a stronger recommendation than this. Superb stuff. 98 Points