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harvey steiman at large

After the Shakeup at Domaine Serene

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Sep 17, 2008 10:29am ET

I paid a visit to Domaine Serene this week to taste through the 2007s in the cellar, part of a series of visits to get a handle on the vintage coming next from Oregon. Owners Ken and Grace Evenstad were there, too. I had met them at other events but they never seemed to be around on my previous visits. It seemed clear to me that they were making an effort to confirm themselves as the real face(s) of the winery, now that Tony Rynders is gone.

The winemaker's sudden departure from Domaine Serene back in May had the folks in the Oregon wine community scratching their heads. He had been there since 1998, producing one outstanding bottling after another. He represented the winery to the trade and the media. For many, he was the face of Domaine Serene.

He left under a cloud. In a terse statement in May, owner Grace Evenstad said only that Rynders "did not share the same vision" for the winery. During my recent visit she added, "He was developing other interests." Recently they filed a lawsuit in Minnesota, where the Evenstads live and the wine company is incorporated, alleging misconduct. Meanwhile, Rynders plans to plant his own vineyard and start a winery. Currently he is working on Laurent and Danielle Monthalieu's Grand Cru Club, a new project to make custom wines for an exclusive membership.

Also present for my visit were Eleni Papadakis, the new winemaker, and Drew Voit, consulting winemaker. Papadakis, who came to Oregon after a long stint at Bargetto in California's Santa Cruz Mountains, has the title of associate winemaker. Voit, whose full time job is winemaker at Shea Vineyard, worked for Serene a few years ago, and did most of the talking as we tasted through the wines.

The '07s, still in barrel, look very good, with a bit more density than most in this elegant vintage. We were tasting fractions, lots that will be blended to make the flagship Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve or perhaps bottled separately as individual vineyards. And that got us talking about the winemaking process.

"It has always been a collaborative process here," Voit explained. "When I was here, we would all taste samples of every barrel, put them together several different ways and when we thought we had it right take the (proposed blends) to Ken and Grace. If they didn't like it, we went back to the drawing board. It's always been their taste that determines what we bottle."

One new wrinkle in the wine lineup involves Syrah, which is bottled under the Rockblock brand. Until now, the wines were bottled as single vineyards, generally one from Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon and one from Seven Hills Vineyard in Walla Walla, in eastern Oregon bordering Washington.

"We decided we didn't like the consistency of what we were getting from Rogue Valley, so we're now making a single Syrah from Walla Walla that will be patterned after Evenstad Reserve," Voit said. Rockblock will continue to use Seven Hills and blend it with Stone Valley vineyard, which is planted on the old river stones. It gives the winemakers two very different terroirs to put together, just as they use the different personalities of vineyards in Willamette Valley for the flagship Pinot Noir.

I got the first taste of the Rockblock 2007, and it showed gorgeous plum and berry flavors and a ripe, silky finish. If it makes it into the bottle that good, it should be worth seeking out.

Sandy Fitzgerald
Centennial, CO —  September 17, 2008 11:37am ET
Harvey; thanks for the great update. In addition, we were told, over the weekend, that the Evanstads didn't plan on hiring a new head winemaker until after the first of the year. Is the Del Rio Vineyard Syrah the one you're referring to as in Rogue Valley? Will this decision also affect their Voignier, which I believe came from that same vineyard? I'm glad the 07 Vintage is looking up in barrel after all the earlier poor press!
Domaine Serene
Yamhill County, Oregon —  September 17, 2008 1:57pm ET
Thanks for the write-up, Harvey. I'm glad you enjoyed the wines. Just a small point of clarifications, I was associate winemaker with Domaine Serene for 4 years. I left in early April of this year, returning to consult beginning in mid-May.

Sandy, there will still be a Rockblock Viognier produced, in very small quantities, from the Rogue Valley. The vineyard sourcing has changed, however, from Del Rio Vineyard to Folin Vineyard, beginning in 2008.

Drew Voit
Shea Wine Cellars
Mark Hashimoto
Albuquerque, NM —  September 18, 2008 10:24pm ET
Is there any word if Domaine Serene will continue making Monogram and Coeur Blanc?
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  September 18, 2008 11:50pm ET
Both Monogram and Coeur Blanc will definitely continue.
Danny Nelson
Oregon —  September 19, 2008 12:27am ET
They just sent out the pre-offer for the 2005 monogram earlier this month or possibly in late august. At a dinner this summer tey mentioned they also have a 2006 but that 2007 has not been decided on yet.Not sure on the Coeur Blanc.

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