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Changes at Evening Land Vineyards Spark New Wineries

Former president Mark Tarlov launches a new Oregon winery; sommelier Rajat Parr and winemaker Sashi Moorman buy Santa Barbara vineyard

Katherine Cole
Posted: March 12, 2013

Mark Tarlov, the film producer who founded Evening Land Vineyards in 2005, only to leave in January 2012, has launched a new Oregon wine label. “After I left Evening Land, I felt I had more to say about Oregon Pinot Noir,” Tarlov told Wine Spectator. Named for the final chapter of Homer’s Odyssey, Chapter 24 produced approximately 4,200 cases of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from the 2012 harvest.

Tarlov, who hired Dominique Lafon of Meursault-based Domaine des Comtes Lafon as consulting winemaker for Evening Land's Oregon winery, has brought on another high-profile Burgundian to direct winemaking at Chapter 24. Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, who revived his family’s Vosne-Romanée domaine, is working with on-the-ground winemaker Mike D. “Mikey” Etzel, the 26-year-old son of Beaux Frères winemaker Michael Etzel.

The younger Etzel, who worked stints in Spain and New Zealand as well as at Brick House Vineyards and WillaKenzie Estate in Oregon prior to joining Tarlov, is bullish about creating what he calls a “disruptive Pinot Noir” under the Chapter 24 label. “There is going to be a stylish uniqueness about our wines,” he said. (Etzel will continue to produce his own Etzel Brothers label in partnership with older brother Jared, 29.)

Additionally, Chapter 24 has joined in a marketing partnership with Patricia Green Cellars, a 13-year-old winery in Newberg known for its single-vineyard Pinot Noirs. Owner-winemakers Patricia Green and Jim Anderson assisted Etzel and Tarlov in securing vineyard contracts just before the 2012 harvest. While winemaking operations will remain separate, the two wineries have collaborated on a joint project, Two Messengers, the 2011 vintage of which is a barrel-selection blend of Patricia Green Cellars Pinot Noir.

Chapter 24’s 2012 vintage includes fruit from the “Etzel Block” of the 52-acre Patricia Green estate on Ribbon Ridge. “We were thrilled when Mikey came on board,” said Green of the partnership. Chapter 24’s additional vineyard sources—which include Hyland Estates, Shea Vineyard, Lachini Vineyard and Nysa Vineyard—represent every subappellation of the northern Willamette Valley.

Etzel vinified the 2012 vintage at Soléna Estate in Yamhill. Tarlov plans to establish his own winemaking facility within the next year and is in negotiations to purchase one or two vineyards in the Valley and sign long-term contracts with several more. Tarlov already has dibs on a 10-acre parcel, which he plans to wall in as a Burgundy-style clos.

Tarlov's new venture is an interesting coda to the Evening Land story. The brand hit the market with a splash in 2007 under his enthusiastic guidance, but appeared to be pulled in too many directions, producing custom bottlings for celebrity sommeliers and focusing on three disparate terroirs—the Willamette Valley’s Eola-Amity Hills as well as California’s Sonoma Coast and Sta. Rita Hills. And that was before it launched additional winemaking operations in Burgundy.

When Evening Land's board parted ways with Tarlov, chairman Steven Webster hired Greg Ralston, a veteran executive from Wilson-Daniels and Chateau Montelena, as president and CEO.

The changes at Evening Land have also helped spark another Pinot project. Last summer Evening Land sold its Sta. Rita Hills vineyard holdings to winemaker Sashi Moorman—who made the wines for Evening Land's Santa Barbara venture—sommelier Rajat Parr and their business partners. Moorman and Parr plan to introduce their own estate label, Domaine de la Côte, in the fall.

The 40 acres of Pinot Noir comprising Domaine de la Côte are the same that produced fruit for the Evening Land label. So what's different? Parr explained that the new ownership removes any lingering uncertainty from the Evening Land project. "Corporations have to pay a lot of people to make it work," he told Wine Spectator. "Now it's essentially just Sashi and me. We've got golden handcuffs. This is for the long term."

Moorman will make the wines in the same style: whole-cluster fermentations, no enzymes, ambient yeast. "We couldn't get these vineyards to produce wines much more than 13 degrees of alcohol if we tried," said Moorman.

That's what attracted Parr to this project. One of the four parcels, known as Siren's Call, is what he called "as marginal a site as you'll find. To get it ripe is superhard. That's why it makes wines that are so special—nothing comes easy."

The four vineyards, located six miles from the ocean, are planted on a soil base unique to a small section of the Sta. Rita Hills. Known as diatomaceous earth, the soil consists of fossilized remains of hard-shelled algae, offering excellent drainage. The brittle soils can be deceiving. "I've brought Burgundian winemakers here who think they're looking at limestone," Parr said. "I haven't seen it in vineyards anywhere else in the world." 

Moorman said that Parr’s involvement has brought new energy. "It feels like what it always should have been."

With reporting by Evan Dawson.

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