I recently had Mark Vlossak, the president and winemaker at St. Innocent Winery in Salem Oregon visit Ottawa for a day of exclusive wine events. St. Innocent is consistently regarded as one of Oregon's overall best wineries: prized by the most enthusiastic collectors, listed by the best restaurants and rated highest by the critics. The man behind the wine is a former pediatric doctor who moved to Oregon for an internship in 1980, then after being randomly inspired by an article in Bon Apetite magazine that predicted Oregon to be the best location to grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in America, he changed careers and never looked back.
Since then Mark has become one of the foremost advocates of Oregon wines and is regarded as one of the Willamette Valley's pioneers and greatest ambassadors. This was more than evident when he came to Ottawa, as he wanted to educate everybody on top Oregon wines overall, as well as his own.
So to best showcase Mark's wines we reserved the entire Wellington Gastropub for a Masterclass on Oregon wines followed by an intricate four course lunch designed by Chef Chris Deraiche to pair perfectly with the wines. Then we invited a room full of Eastern Ontario's top buyers of American wine and wine writers to learn all about Oregon.
[caption id="attachment_51" align="aligncenter" width="584" caption="Brookstreet Hotel Sommelier Rene Wallis, also a blogger: http://www.wine-base.com/blog/"][/caption]
The great thing about this seminar was that Mark didn't want it to be just about his wines from St. Innocent. He asked me to bring some other great examples of Oregon wine from our portfolio to showcase alongside his to help build context and promote Oregon as a whole. Luckily we have an outstanding portfolio of Oregon wines in addition to St. Innocent, so I was able to bring great examples from Westrey, Bethel Heights, Adelsheim Vineyard, R. Stuart & Co. Winery, as well as Amity Vineyards. It was such a great learning experience because Mark not only knows all the winemakers from the rest of these vineyards personally, but in many cases has shared vineyards or even made wine with them.
[caption id="attachment_53" align="aligncenter" width="584" caption="Always animated: Mark using a knife to explain something about Oregon Sub-AVAs"][/caption]
The major takeaway points of Mark's presentation were that his wines are made to go with food, to be an extension of a meal, in a sense built to heighten the pleasure and experience of dining. They tend toward higher acid levels rather than being overly fruity, jammy or alcoholic; they are spicy, savory, incredibly complex and age worthy wines. All of Mark's wines are grown organically and in most cases biodynamically. He believes this adds complexity to the grapes while they're in the vineyard, rather than needing to compensate for uninteresting fruit with overly intrusive wine making techniques in the cellar. They key to really great wine is starting with really great fruit, and when you can let nature do most of the work, minimal intervention in the wine making process will produce far more interesting wines. He looks to Burgundy for inspiration in his wines, in other words: they're complex, spciey and earthy like his 'Momtazi' Vineyard, but there is a subtlety and elegance even in his more powerful vineyards like the 'Freedom Hill'. Another major focus of the seminar was highlighting the outstanding white wines of Oregon. Likely most famous for its Pinot Noirs, Oregon often gets overlooked in its ability to produce some of the very best Burgundian style Chardonnays and Alsatian style Pinot Blancs and Pinot Gris. In fact, the St. Innocent 'Vitae Springs Vineyard' Pinot Gris was one of the day's favorite wines.
Since the lunch seminar was geared toward those in the wine trade, we wanted to have a slightly less academic version open to the public in the evening. The great team at Restaurant Eighteen volunteered to host the dinner and Chef Matthew Carmichael created an outstanding six course tasting menu paired with seven of Mark's wines from St. Innocent for $150/person. This intimate wine dinner was capped at 30 people and sold-out immediately. Mark entertained the guests throughout the evening with his famous passion, dry wit and keen insights into the wine. Most winemakers are really interesting and passionate people who are crazy about one thing or another in relation to their wine...Mark's passion lies in wine dinners. This is why he makes wine: to enhance a great meal. So the very best place to find him in his element is at an outstanding wine dinner, and he said that the dinner at Restaurant Eighteen was one of his most memorable.
[caption id="attachment_54" align="aligncenter" width="584" caption="2008 & 2007 St. Innocent 'Momtazi Vineyard' Pinot Noir @ Restaurant Eighteen"][/caption]
Since Mark's visit to Ottawa, St. Innocent has really taken off in the city. The wines have been bought by the case by many collectors and has found homes on many amazing wine lists around town. For more information on the wines themselves you can visit Lifford Wine Agency, St. Innocent Winery, The Wine Advocate or The Wine Spectator.
These wines are produced in very limited quantities and often have waiting lists for the following vintages, but you can still find lots on wine lists around town for your next great dinner out at Restaurant Eighteen, The Wellington Gastropub, Brookstreet Hotel, Hy's Steakhouse, The Shore Club, Play Food & Wine, Fraser Cafe, Bin 790, Juniper Kitchen & Winebar, Courtyard Restaurant or Absinthe Cafe.
And finally here is a fun video interview with Mark Vlossak by our very own Nick Keukenmeester for Lifford's 'Wine of the Week'. If you are interested in more info on St. Innocent or just want to be informed of similar events and wine dinners in the future feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org