Mark Tarlov developed an interest in wine as an avid drinker and collector. But instead of building a fancy winery in Napa Valley, he took a different route. Coming to the wine business from the film world, where connections and star power are the currency for success, he applied those same elements to the wine world.
As a film producer, Tarlov worked with such directors as John Carpenter, Sidney Lumet and John Waters. His films include Christine, Carpenter’s early film about an evil car, Copycat starring Sigourney Weaver, and The Man Who Knew Too Little with Bill Murray.
His wine company, Evening Land, makes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines from Oregon, California and Burgundy. Dominique Lafon, one of the true stars of Burgundy, is the consulting winemaker for the Oregon side of the project, and the most visible face for it. Tarlov also got some of America’s leading sommeliers involved early on, including Rajat Parr of Michael Mina and RN74, Daniel Johnnes of Restaurant Daniel and Bernie Sun of Jean-Georges.
More connections: Tarlov began his wine business by offering custom bottlings, made from purchased grapes in California, for restaurateurs he already knew as a customer, including Thomas Keller, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Daniel Boulud and Alain Ducasse. Those wines were only intended for wine-by-the-glass programs, but he saw other possibilities. “It was a Trojan horse,” he said. "I was the Spartan in the tail ready to pounce."
That’s how Tarlov got the sommeliers involved, a brilliant tack that created an immediate market for the wines he really wanted to make: Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in Oregon, California and Burgundy.
To get there, he used more connections. He got Lafon interested in Oregon through Véronique Drouhin-Boss, who makes wine for her family’s firm, Domaine Drouhin, and for Domaine Drouhin Oregon. Lafon came on board for Oregon, and he started making wines in Burgundy separately from his Comte Lafon wines, for Evening Land and for his own label.
Then there is the art of the deal, a staple of the movie biz. Tarlov assembled one of the more audacious deals in Oregon wine, reuniting the two halves of Seven Springs Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA. It had been split by a family dispute, but Tarlov managed to secure leases with options to buy on both parts, and now has the vineyard exclusively.
Of course, none of that would matter if the wines did not live up to the billing. So far, the Oregon wines are the stars. The first vintage, 2007, produced a stunning pair of Chardonnays, which I rated 94 and 93 points. Their balance, power and distinct minerality mark them as turning points for Oregon, great wines and influential over other producers of Chardonnay. Because the 2007 vintage was more of a challenge for Pinot Noir, these Chardonnays quickly overshadowed Evening Land’s first-release Pinots.
In a way, it’s not surprising that Chardonnay did so well. Lafon is famous for his white Burgundies, and his touch is palpable in the Oregon wines. In particular, I was taken with how transparently they expressed the stony terroir.
Last week Tarlov and I sat down at RN74 to taste through the Evening Land 2008s. Hands down, the stars were the Oregon wines. If anything the Chardonnays are a step up from 2007, which seemed to expand on the previous vintage with more depth and, at the same, more transparency.
I will taste the wines officially for publication as they are released, but as a preview, this is the vintage that should establish Evening Land's Pinot Noirs, with their pure fruit character, elegance and refinement, mingling with minerality on the long finishes. “You singlehandedly made us into a Chardonnay house,” Tarlov joked, referencing my high scores for the 2007s. “Now when we go around to show the wines, people say, ‘Oh you make Pinot Noir, too?’”
The California wines in the tasting are due for release later this year under the same oval Evening Land label. The only visible difference will be the appellation. For the California wines, I liked the peach puree character in a 2008 Chardonnay sourced from Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, but I found the entry-level 2008 Pinot Noir a bit rough in texture, tart and chewy. It’s not nearly as welcoming as the comparable bottling from Oregon, which was supple and offered earthy plum and cherry flavors. Both sell for $25.
Starting with the 2010 vintage, the Evening Land label will include eight Pinot Noirs from California, four from Oregon, and a series of village and premier cru-level bottlings from Burgundy. Prices start at $25 for the basic level and go up to $150. They’re worth seeking out.