Celebrated Oregon winemaker Tony Rynders left Domaine Serene earlier this year because he felt he was ready to hang out his shingle and start making wine for his own label. Overall, he has been cagy about his exact plans.
A full announcement is expected in mid-July, but in the meantime, here's some of what he sketched out in a phone interview earlier this week. Let's just say, it's a unique approach to the luxury end of the Pinot Noir world.
Instead of making wine to sell through the usual channels, he'll make custom barrel-sized blends for restaurants, retailers or those wealthy enough to buy a barrel (or share the cost with friends). Wines will be made at Laurent Monthalieu and Danielle Andrus Monthalieu's Northwest Wine Company's winery, where Solena and their other brands of wines are made. Rynders will also consult on their wines, beginning this year.
"I can launch the label at this location, help out Laurent and Danielle, and do some consulting gigs," said Rynders, "until I get my own program running."
Rynders, who has made some of Oregon's finest Pinot Noirs in his 10 years at Domaine Serene, told Domaine Serene's owners that he wanted to go off on his own and offered to stay through a transition. They said that they could manage without him, which put a little more urgency into his plans to start something on his own.
Aiming for the high end of the market in these trying economic times might seem counterintuitive. "I've been around this business long enough to know it's cyclical," he said. "Actually, it's a good time to be getting into this. By the time the wines are ready, I expect the [economic] cycle to have come around again."
Rynders' idea is to sell club memberships—much as Bill Harlan did with his Napa Valley Reserve—but instead of members having rights to specific vines, they can call on Rynders to put together a single barrel for them. "Designer wines for individuals," he called the club. Members can select a single vineyard or have Rynders blend lots from several vineyards. In the end, they get about 25 cases of their own cuvée. He expects to make 30 or 40 barrels in 2008.
"Laurent and Danielle have access to 1,500 tons of great fruit," noted Rynders. "And I have my own contacts." The winemaking facility, near Gaston, Ore., has a capacity of 10,000 cases; Rynders expects to use about one-third of it.
No word yet on how much a membership would cost, but I can see wine-oriented restaurants giving it a try. Sommeliers and wine-savvy restaurateurs love the idea of having something on their wine list that no one else has. Having a value cuvée that no one else offers is a staple of the low-to-moderate corner of the wine list these days, but it also happens at the high end. The closest parallel I can see is the Hospices de Beaune auction in France, where the Hospices owns specific plots in good to great vineyards, and its own vigneron makes the wines. When someone buys a barrel, they get it under a Hospice label, and it's unique. The difference here is that the buyer gets involved earlier in the process.
It also occurs to me that it makes Rynders virtually critic-proof. How can anyone review all those different wines? Clever guy.