While out selling his own wines, Josh Bergström has found himself in some of America's best restaurants, either getting the wines on their lists or wining and dining customers. That's how he got behind the scenes at Le Bernardin in New York, and used some of what he saw there in designing the new Trisaetum winery in Oregon, including a room full of white boards.
Wineries use white boards all the time, to keep track of fermentations, write reminders notes about what needs to be done, that sort of thing. Restaurants use them to list what dishes are gone, so the waiters don't keep selling them. But at Le Bernardin, Bergström saw a room with every wall covered in white board, where chef Eric Ripert and his kitchen staff brainstorm recipe ideas.
"That clicked for me," says Bergström. "The more I thought about it, the more I thought wineries ought to start acting more like restaurants." Restaurant kitchens use innovative designs to give chefs what they need to make the food they want. Wineries do that, too, but Trisaetum's new winery not only has state-of-the-art equipment, it has a room full of white boards.
"It's all about the thought process," says owner James Frey. "They think about recipes, we think about what we can do to make the best wines."
Maybe it was the lunch Bergström, Frey and I were sharing in San Francisco that got us talking about restaurants as we tasted Trisaetum's first efforts. The 2005 and 2006 Pinot Noirs are placeholders. They used grapes from the Bergström family's vineyards. The '05 is a delicate, crisp style that's slow to develop, but tasted quite elegant over lunch. The '06, which seemed simple and fruity when I tasted it at the winery last fall, has become richer and more compelling.
The Freys' vineyards produced their first crop, and the winery got its first use, in 2007. It was a challenge. Rain interrupted the vintage repeatedly. Fanatical sorting was necessary to get the wines right. Plenty of other wineries did it, and many vintners actually seem optimistic now that the wines are through their first winter, none more so than Bergström and Frey, who had the advantage of "the most expensive sorting table in Oregon," according to Frey.
Thank you, white boards.
It'll still be a few years before we know if all these details will result in something special. After all, the vineyards are new. They are in good spots, but what kind of wine will they actually make, and will they develop in the bottle?
Frey, incidentally, is not the writer of the same name who got caught making up his memoirs, but a young corporate type who decided to buy land in Oregon, plant vineyards and build a winery with his wife, Andrea, and parents, Jim and Valerie Frey. They hired Bergström as winemaker. Although he has had to give up his several other winemaking deals (he had been making the wines for Ayoub, for example), this is the one outside position he has retained.
He got the Freys to invest in a winery built to his specifications. It uses innovative technology to sort, cool, dry and handle the fruit so that, as Bergström puts it, "nothing goes into the tank that we don't want: no leaves, no bugs, not even the little spurs that are left after de-stemming."
That's one of the ideas that came from the white-board sessions. So did the innovative approach of planting two vineyards in two different AVAs with the idea of blending them together into one wine, and having no second label to compete against this single blend, rather than nearly every other winery's holy grail of single-vineyard wines.
"Rather than making a lot of separate wines, I'd rather put all the effort into keeping track of weather forecasts, the progress in every corner of the vineyards, and sampling every barrel and every tank so we know how the wine is developing," Bergström adds. All on the white boards, of course.
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