Oregon is the land of Pinot Noir. Or it’s been that way for a while, but things are changing fast up here in what folks like Isaac Asimov and Alice Feiring have recognized as North America’s most exciting wine production scene in 2017.
Those plaudits are due in no small part to Oregon’s collection of small artisan winemakers, many producing 1000 cases or less each year, working together in collaborative spaces and hunting out the best fruit from across the region. It’s a scrappy négociant model and in the right hands, it works.
So goes Sterling Whitted, an Oregon winemaker working under the name Holden Wine Company. Whitted’s wines run the gamut in terms of style and expression, from a springy Vermentino to a lush Nebbiolo rose to this newest Pinot Noir release, from the famed biodynamic Johan Vineyards in the heart of the Willamette Valley, near Salem.
Holden’s Johan Pinot is minimalist and funky, left for two years to age on the lees and another year in the bottle. And what a bottle! It features absolutely incredible bottle art from Eat Cho, the accomplished international gallery artist and muralist based in Portland. (Fun fact: he also played Warren G. in Episode 7 of Yacht Rock.)
To learn more we chatted digitally with winemaker Sterling Whitted, who spared a few moments for Sprudge Wine in the middle of the 2017 harvest.
Hey Sterling! To start off, tell our readers a bit more about Holden.
Holden is a small winemaking project that I started in 2011. We focus on low intervention winemaking techniques and work with Italian varietals as well as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I work out of Medici Winery in Newberg, alongside a few other producers in a shared space. All of the wines are made using spontaneous fermentations, unfined, rarely filtered, and low levels of sulfur dioxide. My goal as a winemaker is to express the energy and qualities of the vineyard, without anything else getting in the way. I spent some time traveling in Northern Italy and the Republic of Georgia learning from other winemakers, trying to figure out the best way to make Oregon wine in a similar fashion.
We’re enjoying the 2014 Holden Pinot Noir Johan Vineyard! How was it produced?
The Johan Pinot Noir was produced by crushing and destemming into a large stainless steel tank, with about 30% whole clusters. The grapes were covered with dry ice and sealed without being touched until fermentation began. Afterwards, I began doing pigeage twice a day. I pressed the grapes at about one degree Brix, while it was still fermenting, to minimize extraction and exposure to oxygen. The wine was then transferred to neutral barrels and allowed to sit on its lees for two years, then saw an additional year of bottle aging. Only 50 cases were produced.
Who designed the label?
Eat Cho designed the label, and it is sick. He has done a few of the Holden labels and they are all dope. We met at a bar called the Free House around seven years ago, and since then he has done about half of our labels. I was studying biology around the same time Eat Cho started releasing his pieces based on science, and was like dude, you should do something on photosynthesis. And he did, and that’s the label, and it’s rad.
Describe the look in your own words!
To me, it looks like an awesome piece that Eat Cho did on plants and photosynthesis. I’m not really trying to cultivate a look, I just want to work with rad artists and hope they are stoked on the wines too.
Where can I buy a bottle of this in the wild?
Is it available online?
It’s not available online, but I believe Liner and Elsen ships.
Thanks so much for your time!
Label Wine is a feature series by Zachary Carlsen on Sprudge Wine. Read more Label Wine here.